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Encyclopedia > Autobiography
Cover of the first English edition of 1793 of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography
Cover of the first English edition of 1793 of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography

An autobiography, from the Greek autos, 'self', bios, 'life' and graphein, 'write', is a biography written by the subject or composed conjointly with a collaborative writer (styled "as told to" or "with"). The term was first used by the poet Robert Southey in 1809 in the English periodical Quarterly Review, but the form goes back to antiquity. Biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints; an autobiography however may be based entirely on the writer's memory. Closely associated with autobiography (and sometimes difficult to precisely distinguish from it) is the form of memoir. This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... This article is about the American political figure. ... For other uses, see Biography (disambiguation). ... Robert Southey, English poet Robert Southey (August 12, 1774 – March 21, 1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called Lake Poets, and Poet Laureate. ... Quarterly Review was a review journal started by John Murray, the celebrated London publisher, in March 1809 (though it bore a title page date of February), in rivalry with the Edinburgh Review, which had been seven years in possession of the field, and was exerting, as he judged, an evil... As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning memory), or a reminiscence, forms a subclass of autobiography, although it is an older form of writing. ...

See List of autobiographies and Category:Autobiography for examples.


Nature of autobiography

The classical period: Apologia, oration, confession

In antiquity such works were typically entitled apologia, implying as much self-justification as self-documentation. John Henry Newman's autobiography (first published in 1864) is entitled Apologia Pro Vita Sua in reference to this tradition. J H Newman age 23 when he preached his first sermon. ... Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Latin, A defence of ones life) is the classic defence of the religious opinions of John Henry Newman, published in 1864 in response to what he saw as an unwarranted attack on Roman Catholic doctrine by Charles Kingsley. ...

The pagan rhetor Libanius (c. 314-394) framed his life memoir (Oration I begun in 374) as one of his orations, not of a public kind, but of a literary kind that could be read aloud in privacy. Pagan may refer to: A believer in Paganism or Neopaganism Bagan, a city in Myanmar also known as Pagan Pagan (album), the 6th album by Celtic metal band Cruachan Pagan Island, of the Northern Mariana Islands Pagan Lorn, a metal band from Luxembourg, Europe (1994-1998) Pagans Mind, is... Rhetoric (from Greek ρητωρ, rhêtôr, orator) is one of the three original liberal arts or trivium (the other members are dialectic and grammar). ... Libanius (Greek Libanios) (ca 314 AD - ca 394) was a Greek-speaking teacher of rhetoric of the later Roman Empire, an educated pagan of the Sophist school in an Empire that was turning aggressively Christian and publicly burned its own heritage and closed the academies. ... Orator is a Latin word for speaker (from the Latin verb oro, meaning I speak or I pray). In ancient Rome, the art of speaking in public (Ars Oratoria) was a professional competence especially cultivated by politicians and lawyers. ...

Augustine (354-430) applied the title Confessions to his autobiographical work, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the same title in the 18th century, initiating the chain of confessional and sometimes racy and highly self-critical, autobiographies of the Romantic era and beyond. Augustinus redirects here. ... Confessions is the name of a series of thirteen autobiographical books by St. ... Rousseau redirects here. ... Romantics redirects here. ...

In the spirit of Augustine's Confessions is the 11th-century Historia Calamitatum of Peter Abelard, outstanding as an autobiographical document of its period. Historia Calamitatum, also known as Abaelardi ad Amicum Suum Consolatoria, is an autobiographical work in Latin by Pierre Abelard, one of medieval Frances most important intellectuals and a pioneer of scholastic philosophy. ... Abaelardus and Heloïse surprised by Master Fulbert, by Romanticist painter Jean Vignaud (1819) Pierre Abélard (in English, Peter Abelard) or Abailard (1079 – April 21, 1142) was a French scholastic philosopher, theologian, and logician. ...

Early autobiographies

One of the first great autobiographies of the Renaissance is that of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), written between 1556 and 1558, and entitled by him simply Vita (Italian: Life). He declares at the start: 'No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty'.[1] These criteria for autobiography generally persisted until recent times, and most serious autobiographies of the next three hundred years conformed to them. This article is about the European Renaissance of the 14th-17th centuries. ... Gold Salt cellar by Cellini. ...

Another autobiography of the period is De vita propria, by the Italian physician and astrologer Gerolamo Cardano (1574). Gerolamo Cardano. ...

The earliest known autobiography in English is the early 15th-century Booke of Margery Kempe, describing among other things her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visit to Rome. The book remained in manuscript and was not published until 1936. Margery Kempe (ca. ... For other uses, see Holy Land (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Rome (disambiguation). ...

Notable English autobiographies of the seventeenth century include those of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1643, published 1764) and John Bunyan (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, (1666)). Edward Herbert, Baron Herbert of Cherbury (March 3, 1583 - August 20, 1648) was a British soldier, diplomat, historian, poet and religious philosopher. ... John Bunyan. ...


Main article: Memoir

A memoir is slightly different in character from an autobiography. While an autobiography typically focuses on the "life and times" of the writer, a memoir has a narrower, more intimate focus on his or her own memories, feelings and emotions. Memoirs have often been written by politicians or military leaders as a way to record and publish an account of their public exploits. The English Civil War (1642-1651) provoked a number of examples of this genre, including works by Sir Edmund Ludlow and Sir John Reresby. French examples from the same period include the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1614-1679) and the Duc de Saint-Simon (1675-1755). As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning memory), or a reminiscence, forms a subclass of autobiography, although it is an older form of writing. ... For other uses, see English Civil War (disambiguation). ... Edmund Ludlow (c. ... Sir John Reresby, Bt. ... Jean François Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz (1614 - August 24, 1679), French churchman and agitator, was born at Montmirail. ... Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (January 16, 1675 - March 2, 1755), French soldier, diplomatist and writer of memoirs, was born at Versailles. ...

18th and 19th centuries

Notable 18th-century autobiographies in English include those of Edward Gibbon and Benjamin Franklin. Following the trend of Romanticism, which greatly emphasised the role and the nature of the individual, and in the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, a more intimate form of autobiography, exploring the subject's emotions, came into fashion. An English example is William Hazlitt's Liber Amoris (1823), a painful examination of the writer's love-life. Edward Gibbon (1737–1794). ... This article is about the American political figure. ... Romantics redirects here. ... Rousseau redirects here. ... Confessions is a book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. ... // William Hazlitt (10 April 1778 – 18 September 1830) was an English writer remembered for his humanistic essays and literary criticism, often esteemed the greatest English literary critic after Samuel Johnson. ...

With the rise of education, cheap newspapers and cheap printing, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop, and the beneficiaries of this were not slow to cash in on this by producing autobiographies. It became the expectation - rather than the exception - that those in the public eye should write about themselves - not only writers such as Charles Dickens (who also incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels) and Anthony Trollope, but politicians (e.g. Henry Brooks Adams), philosophers (e.g. John Stuart Mill), churchmen such as Cardinal Newman, and entertainers such as P. T. Barnum. Increasingly, in accordance with romantic taste, these accounts also began to deal, amongst other topics, with aspects of childhood and upbringing - far removed from the principles of 'Cellinian' autobiography. Dickens redirects here. ... Anthony Trollope (April 24, 1815 – December 6, 1882) became one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. ... Henry Adams Henry Brooks Adams (February 16, 1838 – March 27, 1918) was an American novelist, journalist, historian and academic. ... John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 8 May 1873), British philosopher, political economist, civil servant and Member of Parliament, was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century. ... John Henry Newman John Henry Newman (February 21, 1801—August 11, 1890), English cardinal, was born in London, the eldest son of John Newman, banker, of the firm of Ramsbottom, Newman and Co. ... -1...

Versions of the autobiography form


Main article: Diary

Diaries were originally written for personal reference, but the successful publication of the diaries of the English 17th-century civil servant and bon viveur Samuel Pepys in 1825 (transcribed from his manuscript in shorthand) drew attention to the possibilities of the diary as a form of autobiography in its own right. From the 20th century onwards, diary publication became a popular vehicle for politicians seeking vindication. Notable British examples have included the diaries of Richard Crossman and Tony Benn. == c programming[[a--203. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... Samuel Pepys, FRS (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, who is now most famous for his diary. ... Shorthand is an abbreviated, symbolic writing method that improves speed of writing or brevity as compared to a normal method of writing a language. ... Richard Howard Stafford Crossman (15 December 1907 to April 1974) was a British politician and writer. ... Anthony Tony Neil Wedgwood Benn (born 3 April 1925), formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate, is a British socialist politician. ...

Autobiographies as critiques of totalitarianism

Victims and opponents of totalitarian regimes have been able to present striking critiques of these regimes by autobiographical accounts of their oppression. Amongst the most renowned of such works are the writings of Primo Levi, one of many personal accounts of the Shoah. Similarly, there are many works detailing atrocities and malevolence of Communist regimes (e.g. Nadezhda Mandelstam's Hope against Hope). Primo Michele Levi (July 31, 1919 – April 11, 1987) was a Jewish Italian chemist, Holocaust survivor and author of memoirs, short stories, poems, and novels. ... kobe is the best NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yesssssssssss not because KG is. ... This article is about communism as a form of society and as a political movement. ... Nadezhda Mandelstam Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (Russian: , neé Hazin; 18 October 1899 — 29 December 1980) was a Russian writer and a wife of poet Osip Mandelstam. ...

Sensationalist and celebrity 'autobiographies'

From the seventeenth century onwards, "scandalous memoirs" by supposed libertines, serving a public taste for titillation, have been frequently published. Typically pseudonymous, they were (and are) largely works of fiction written by ghostwriters. A well-known example is Daniel Defoe's 'fictional autobiography' (see below) Moll Flanders. For other uses, see Alias. ... Ghostwriters (sometimes also called The Ghostwriters or referred to as Ghosties by fans) are an Australian rock band, a collaboration principally involving former Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and Hoodoo Gurus bassist Rick Grossman. ... Daniel Defoe (1659/1661 [?] â€“ April 24 [?], 1731)[1] was a British writer, journalist, and spy, who gained enduring fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. ... The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders is a 1722 novel by Daniel Defoe. ...

So-called "autobiographies", generally written by a ghostwriter, are routinely published on the lives of modern professional athletes and media celebrities—and to a lesser extent about politicians. Some celebrities, such as Naomi Campbell, admit to not having read their "autobiographies." For other uses, see Ghostwriter (disambiguation). ... Naomi Campbell (born May 22, 1969) is a British supermodel. ...

Autobiographies of the non-famous

By the 1940s, the American James Thurber was able to write of Cellini's strictures of fame and age for autobiographers, 'Nowadays, nobody who has a typewriter pays any attention to the old master's quaint rules'. For the political scientist, see James A. Thurber. ...

Until recent years, few people without some genuine claim to fame wrote or published autobiographies for the general public. But with the critical and commercial success in the United States of such memoirs as Angela's Ashes and The Color of Water more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre. This trend has also encouraged fake autobiographies, particularly those associated with 'misery lit' , where the writer has allegedly suffered from dysfunctional family, social problems or political repression. Cover of Angelas Ashes Angelas Ashes is a memoir by American author Frank McCourt, and tells the story of his childhood. ... Book cover The Color of Water: A Black Mans Tribute to His White Mother is the autobiography of James McBride; it is also a memoir for his mother. ... A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior and even abuse on the part of individual members of the family occur continually, leading other members to accommodate such actions. ... Political repression is the oppression or persecution of an individual or group for political reasons, particularly for the purpose of restricting or preventing their ability to take part in the political life of society. ...

Fictional autobiography

The term "fictional autobiography" has been coined to define novels about a fictional character written as though the character were writing their own biography, of which Defoe's Moll Flanders, mentioned above, is an early example. Dickens's David Copperfield is a classic, and J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye a well-known modern example, of fictional autobiography. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is another example of fictional autobiography, as noted on the front page of the original version. The term may also apply to works of fiction purporting to be autobiographies of real characters, e.g. Stephen Marlowe's The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes (1996). For other uses, see David Copperfield. ... Jerome David Salinger (born January 1, 1919) (pronounced ) is an American author, best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as for his reclusive nature. ... The Catcher in the Rye is a famous novel by J. D. Salinger. ... Charlotte Bront - idealized portrait, 1873 (based on a drawing by George Richmond, 1850) Charlotte Bront (April 21, 1816 - March 31, 1855) was an English writer. ... This article is about the Victorian novel. ... Stephen Marlowe (born: Milton S. Lesser 7 August 1928 - ) is an American author of science and Mystery fiction novels. ... Cervantes redirects here. ...


  1. ^ Benvenuto Cellini, tr. George Bull, The Autobiography, London 1966 p. 15


The Encyclopædia Britannica is a general English-language encyclopaedia published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. ...

Books about autobiography

  • Barros, Carolyn A. Autobiography: Narrative of Transformation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1998.
  • Buckley, Jerome Hamilton. The Turning Key: Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse Since 1800. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Lejeune, Philippe, On autobiography, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1988.
  • Olney, James: Memory & Narrative: The Weave of Life-Writing. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • Pascal, Roy. Design and Truth in Autobiography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960.
  • Pei-Yi Wu, The Confucian's Progress: Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Reynolds, Dwight F., editor Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

See also

An alphabiography is an autobiography consisting of a set of twenty-six short stories or chapters about the writers life. ... Autobiographical and biographical songs. ... This Side Of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a famous example of an autobiographical novel An autobiographical novel is a novel based on the life of the author. ... Autobiographical comics (often referred to in the comics field as simply autobio) are autobiography in the form of comic books or comic strips. ... For other uses, see Biography (disambiguation). ... == c programming[[a--203. ... Family history is the study of multiple generations of people who appear to be related. ... Historical documents are document that contain important information about a person, place, or event. ... As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning memory), or a reminiscence, forms a subclass of autobiography, although it is an older form of writing. ...

  Results from FactBites:
Autobiography Summary and Analysis Summary (417 words)
Autobiography is a form of religious literature with an ancient lineage in the Christian, Islamic, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
An autobiography, from the Greek autos, 'self', bios, 'life'; and graphein, 'write', is a biography written by the subject or composed conjointly with a collaborative writer (styled "as told to" or "with").
In an autobiography being published after her assassination, Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said she was warned that four suicide bomber squads would try to kill her, one led by Osama bin Laden's 16-year-old son.The former Pakistan prime minister — who was killed in Rawalpindi...
Autobiography - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (734 words)
An autobiography (from the Greek auton, 'self', bios, 'life' and graphein, 'write') is a biography written by the subject or composed conjointly with a collaborative writer (styled "as told to" or "with").
Such autobiographies, often written by a ghostwriter, are routinely published on the lives of professional athletes and media celebrities—and to a lesser extent about politicians.
Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1869
  More results at FactBites »



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