Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives

By D. L. Macdonald; Anne McWhir et al. | Go to book overview

Memoirs Discourse and William Godwin's
Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of
the Rights of Woman

Helen M. Buss

In her 1981 essay on Godwin's Memoirs, Mitzi Myers writes of the unruly intangibles of life writing, quoting Virginia Woolf's reference in Orlando to that riot and confusion of the passions and emotions that every good biographer detests (“Godwin's Memoirs” 309).' It is my purpose to make use of the theorization of life writing that has been taking place in the last two decades to show how the unruly aspects of Godwin's text have become less intangible to critical analysis. Explicating the subject position of a writer who may be seen to be in a difficult personal position as biographer, because of the riot and confusion of his passions, requires that we understand that a memoirist is not exactly the same thing as a biographer: differentiating more precisely between the two modes of writing is now possible, given that we live in a cultural moment when theoretical discussion of the varieties of life writing has become a preoccupation in the academy. The traditions of the spiritual and secular confessional and the developmental modes of mainstream autobiography,2 the changing nature of the way biography “recognizes” its subjects,3 and the (largely) feminist invention of words such as autogynography, autograph, and testimonio4 are witness to a current critical activity of describing, both ideologi-

Notes are on pp. 123–25.

-113-

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