The Lines of Life: Theories of Biography, 1880-1970

The Lines of Life: Theories of Biography, 1880-1970

The Lines of Life: Theories of Biography, 1880-1970

The Lines of Life: Theories of Biography, 1880-1970

Excerpt

The origins of this book go back forty years to my own search for criteria by which to measure Izaak Walton's achievement as a biographer. I had set out to write a critical study in biographic technique, based largely on a structural analysis of each of the Lives, on Walton's use of his sources, and on his revisions. I meant by structural analysis something different from what a reader in the 1980s might expect: I was interested in the architectonics of a life, in the relation of the parts to the whole, in Walton's use of proportion and emphasis, not in the degree to which he approved of or conformed to a cultural or mythological or ideal pattern (though it was clear to me that the Life of Donne increasingly veered toward hagiography in its revisions, and that Walton had other patterns in mind when he wrote the other lives). As I proceeded I found that I had to discuss, too, Walton's purposes ; his assumptions, predilections, and principles; his own emotional and intellectual range. I was aware that Walton had been less than candid in projecting an image of himself as a simple, moderate, and artless man. Before I wrote my last chapter, one of summary and assessment, I knew that I would call it, despite Walton's own disclaimers, "The Artist as Biographer," and I knew, too, what issues I wanted to discuss, but I needed some assurance that I had not ignored others which were conventionally considered to be important. I read and re-read what was at hand—Carlyle, Strachey, Maurois, Virginia Woolf—but it was a struggle even to put together a bibliography of the theory and criticism of biog-

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