Reading the Hero: Biography and Self-Transformation from Carlyle’s On Heroes to Bertram’s Nietzsche
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This chapter revisits the heroic biographies of Thomas Carlyle and traces their complex legacy in the biographical tradition. For Carlyle, ‘the History of the World Is the Biography of Great Men’: biography plays a central role in the creation of a canon of masculine cultural heroes. But the patriarchal narrative of individual achievement is complicated by the interactive poetics of biography, both in Carlyle’s Romantic didacticism and in modernist approaches to biography after 1900. A close reading of one of the major German biographies of the early twentieth century, Ernst Bertram’s Nietzsche, reveals an emphasis on animation and imagination and on the intersubjective weave of elusive other and mutable self. Although Bertram, in the orbit of the Stefan George circle, has ideological and aesthetic commitments quite remote from those of the Bloomsbury modernists, he shares with them the desire to dispense with the positivist, fact-laden biographies of previous generations in favour of ‘biographical legend’ and ‘creative fact’.