Biography pp 13-66 | Cite as

Biography as an Institution

  • Ira Bruce Nadel

Abstract

The extremes Lytton Strachey proposes for the length of biography highlight the problem Bernard Shaw expresses which persists throughout the history of the genre: the proper size and scope of life-writing. In the nineteenth century, this issue was especially acute as the Victorian attraction to history, leading to the inclusive life, opposed the plea for an interpretative life indicated by George Eliot in 1852.1 Initially, the analytic life was a minority voice as large, multi-volume biographies dominated Victorian lives. However, a tradition originating in short Latin lives, renewed by antiquaries of the sixteenth century, popularized by Aubrey’s Brief Lives in the seventeenth, dignified by Johnson’s Lives of the Poets in the eighteenth and culminating in works like Strachey’s Portraits in Miniature in the twentieth reasserted the centrality of the brief life. In the nineteenth century, the form reached its apogee in collective lives, biographies in series and biographical dictionaries. Their extraordinary sales and continued influence is a measure of their importance.

Keywords

Manifold Trench Cambrian Editing Sonal 

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Notes and References

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© Ira Bruce Nadel 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ira Bruce Nadel
    • 1
  1. 1.VancouverCanada

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