Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography

Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography

Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography

Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography


This collection of twelve essays discusses the principles and practices of women's autobiographical writing in America, England, and France from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.


Autobiography is stranger than fiction which as everybody knows must be stranger than life.--Jane Lazarre, A Slight Distortion of the Truth

The modern era in autobiographical theory began in 1960 with the publication of Roy Pascal's now classic Design and Truth in Autobiography. Since then, virtually all autobiographical theorists have arranged their arguments within a complex, interconnected spectrum based on the terms in Pascal's title. Design has been treated under such headings as genre, form, mode, and style; truth has been handled in a bewildering variety of ways, including its relation to fiction, nonfiction, fact, fraud, figure, memory, identity, error, and myth. The word autobiography has frequently been analyzed in terms of its three separate components: autos or self, bios or life, and graphe or writing.

The consistent attempt to write about autobiography by working with these terms has produced, in the thirty years since Pascal's benchmark, a multitude of scholarly activity--books and articles, including bibliographies, collections of essays, special issues of journals, and journals devoted to the topic (Biography, Prose Studies, and A/B: Auto/Biography Studies); the formulation of both the Modern Language Association Nonfictional Prose Division and the Modern Language Association Autobiography and Biography Discussion Group; and countless papers delivered at conferences, followed by entire conferences and symposia devoted to particular aspects of the subject. The latter include Black Autobiography (College Language Association--hosted by Fisk University and Tennessee State University), the Self and Other (University of Louisville), Women's Autobiography and Biography (Stanford University), Symposium on Canadian Autobiography (University of Ottawa), the First International Symposium on Autobiography and Autobiography Study (Louisiana State University), the Autobiography Conference (University of Southern Maine), and Autobiography and Avant-garde (Johannes Gutenberg University).

What this critical outpouring of over a quarter century has produced is a paradox--an astonishing ability to generate lively and valuable commentary on and ingenious and helpful readings of an enor-

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