Fabricating Lives (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
The advantages and dangers of autobiography are perhaps too obvious to require mentioning at length. Certainly, in one sense, no one is more qualified to discuss an individual’s life than the person himself or herself. At the same time, no one is more likely to have good reason to paint that life in terms most flattering to the subject. While it is often hard to distort facts available in the public record, autobiographers frequently find themselves able to take great liberty in detailing the private side of their lives or in explaining motives for acts that many may have witnessed. Perhaps it is for this reason that autobiography has been viewed with a jaundiced eye by scholars and given slight attention by critics of belles lettres; it seems to reside in a kind of no-man’s-land between history and fiction, following the conventions of the latter as often as it openly ascribes to the demands of the former.
Nevertheless, in recent years critics—especially literary critics—have turned their attention to autobiographical works, attempting in most cases to focus on the way literary conventions such as style, selection (or suppression) of details, organization of materials for presentation, and efforts to achieve a sense of coherence are applied by writers to the raw data of their own lives. The trend seems to be to consider autobiographical writing akin to fictional production, wherein the subject, who is also the writer, transforms the life and in...
(The entire section is 1668 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Kirkus Reviews. LVII, July 15, 1989, p.1061.
Library Journal. CXIV, September 1, 1989, p.189.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 1, 1989, p.4.
The New York Review of Books. XXXVI, December 7, 1989, p.16.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIV, November 5, 1989, p.30.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVI, July 14, 1989, p.65.
The Washington Post Book World. XIX, October 8, 1989, p.9.
(The entire section is 48 words.)