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Ira Bruce Nadel. Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form 51 Martin's Press. 248. $25.00 Despite the importance of biography as a major form of non-fiction interestingly linked to developments in fiction on the one hand and to developments in history and psychology on the other, the genre has received surprisingly little attention from literary critics. We are used to judgingindividual biographies as contributions to our knowledge of their subjects or as examples of their authors' artistry, but we infrequently group together for consideration biographies of a specific type or time, although significant patterns begin to emerge as soon as we do. In the first chapter of this book Ira Bruce Nadel traces the nineteenth century's institutionalization ofbiography in the form ofcollectionsoflives, more or less inspired by a Plutarchian emphasis on brevity and on the subject as moral exemplar. The period had a mania for such collective biography. The popular success of George Crail<'5 Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties encouraged the publications of dozens of comparable works, from Samuel Smiles's Livesofthe Engineers and SelfHelp to a rather less well known volume cited by Nadel- Lives of Distinguished Shoemakers (1849). Biographical dictionaries abounded, culminating in the great Dictionary of National Biography. So did biographies in series: consider as a pair John Henry Newman's Lives of the English Saints and John Morley's English Men of Letters Series (a rather different set of English saints). This chapter is a stimulating and valuable contribution to the study of biography, historically considered. In his second chapter Nadel extends his historical thesis by tracing the rise of the professional biographer, with John Forster as his principal example of nineteenth-century forerunner to the twentieth -century professionals in the field. His third chapter considers the issue of multiple versions of a single life, with the many biographies of George Eliotas his principal example. The fourth chapter treats the special case of the creative writer as biographer of another creative writer (Gaskell on Charlotte Bronte, Trollope on Thackeray, James on Hawthorne , Woolf on Sackville-West), and the sixth considers some examples of twentieth-century experiments in biography. Nadel cannot, of course, be thorough or conclusive in dealing with so vast a topic as the historical development of biography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but he is consistently interesting and thought-provoking in his pursuit of the topics he has selected. Interspersed with his historical treatment of biography are critical comments, ranging in length from a few lines to a few pages and dealing with a wide variety of works and authors. As a critic Nadel will sometimes push a point too far (for example, the supposed influence of Morley's positivism on the English Men of Letters Series), but in general his HUMANITIES 125 judgments are sensible and sound enough, if not exciting or strikingly original. The third element in the book is theoretical, as in his fifth chapter, which is subtitled 'Steps towards a Poetics.' This ambitious undertaking is necessarily even less conclusive than his historical survey or his critical analyses of specific works, but he does raise a number of valuable points (for example, his identification of three biographical narrative voices - the dramatidexpressive, the objective/academic, and the interpretive/analytic). The book has been handsomely produced byStMartin's Press but is not especially well written. Nadel always makes his meaning clear, and his prose is generally serviceableif never graceful, but he allows himselfsome remarkable errors of clumsy or ungrammatical phrasing, especially for a professorof English. These are minor flaws: taken as a whole the book is a valuable contribution to an interesting and much neglected field of study. (PETER ALLEN) Alice A. Jardine. Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity Cornell University Press. 218, $29.95 'Arefeminism and modernityoxymoronicin their terms and terminology? If so, how and why? If not, what new ruse of reason has made them appear - especially in France - to be so?' This is the author's own summation of the questions that inspired her study. Preparing the reader to weigh those questions, the book looks at the place given to the concept of Woman, to 'feminine' qualities, approaches, 'spaces,' in the works of post-modem theorists, from Lacan's trealrnentofFreud to the assertion of Deleuze and Guattari that in the next phase of our civilization all of humanity must 'become woman.' Central to the study are the works of Derrida, with whom Jardine clearly feels the greatest affinity; indeed, she begins her chapter on the subject with a dazzling passage in the style of the philosopher himself at his most (word-)playful. These expository chapters, grouped under the heading 'Intertexts,' are framed by two introductory sections ('Intersections' and 'Interfacings') and a concluding look at some 'Interferences.' The former contain a most useful discussion of the problems posed by recent trends in French thought for feminist theory in the United States. The latter offers some comparative analYSis, based on what has preceded it, of American and French fictional texts - a section not to be missed by the reader whose bias is literary. Gynesis is a book likely to prove both 'important' and 'controversial.' Jardine anticipates, and meets convincingly, the objections of those who will wonder why female critics such as Irigaray and Cixous are here so much subordinated to male and oftenanti-feministtheorists. Readers may ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 124-125
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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