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The Textual Contract: Distinguishing Autobiography from the Novel

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Abstract

How is autobiography to be generically distinguished from the novel? It is often assumed that autobiography is based more emphatically on fact or reality, the novel on fantasy or imagination. Autobiography is a declared attempt to represent the life of the author; the novel may well represent that life to some degree, introducing characters who might be composites of aspects of the author’s personality, but it makes no claims to correspond in any direct way to the author’s life. However, we all know that many novels read like autobiographies and, indeed, much of the frisson of the writing depends on this close but unaffirmed identification. Philippe Lejeune’s definition of autobiography as a pact between reader and writer, confirmed by the use of the author’s name for both protagonist and narrator, is useful in that it gives a straightforward technical means of defining the genre, distinguishing it from the novel and allowing the critic to bypass endless discussions about truth, sincerity and intention (Lejeune, 1989: 3–30). However, in doing so, Lejeune’s pact encourages the critic to ignore the fascinating points of intersection between the two genres. Here I will first look at what the categories autobiography and novel have in common and then attempt to pull them apart again. To this end, I call upon the French hermeneutic philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, and the New Zealand novelist, poet and autobiographer, Janet Frame.

Keywords

  • Universal Time
  • Axial Moment
  • Fictional Narrative
  • Narrative Discourse
  • Julian Calendar

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© 2000 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

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Blowers, T. (2000). The Textual Contract: Distinguishing Autobiography from the Novel. In: Donnell, A., Polkey, P. (eds) Representing Lives. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230287440_9

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