María Teresa del Olmo Ibáñez: Teoría de la Biografía

Published by Dykinson (2015) –

Author’s presentation:

The goal of this work consists in reaching a complete understanding of Biography as a literary genre. Among the relevant difficulties of this research, is the insufficient number of previous theoretical studies focusing on the poetological questions of Biography. Its limits have not been established, whether it concerns its poetic starting points or the doctrinal knowledge relating to its genre, making this study necessary. Perhaps, one of the possible causes of the ambiguity surrounding the technical knowledge of the biographical genre might be its own essayistic nature. This fact results in a wide range of sub-categories, which go from rigid historical, scientific or clinical types to taking huge freedom in dealing with documental information.

The main aim of the book is to define Biography as a literary genre. This would concretize in locating it inside the General Literary Genres System, in assessing the state of the art, and in proposing a new poetic and rhetoric perspective. Four main points are developed in the book: determining Biography’s place inside the General Genres System, theoretically synthesizing the category of character and its evolution, the origin and evolution of Biography, and a taxonomic proposal for biographical sub-genres. Furthermore, four more issues related to Biography and its history have been taken into account: Saint-Beuve’s biographical method; biography, hagiography and exemplary lives as pedagogical writings; biography and exemplary lives as pedagogical tools; and, the role played by biography in its relationship with Historiography and Education.

Also, the book tries to describe a modern stage for biography, including a selection of the most relevant American and European biographers; and a section of Spanish ones, who have not yet been recognized as such, though these authors have developed their own biographical paradigms as well as a biographical theory in both explicit or implicit ways. In terms of method, this work adopts a literary perspective: a poetological and doctrinal analysis, and the critical analysis of the books by these selected authors. Chronologically, the research covers biography from its origins to the mid XXth century. Biographical and autobiographical digital creations are also mentioned.

In terms of content, the book presents two main sections. The first part focuses on critical, taxonomic and general poetical issues in biography. It includes an overall view of the state of the arts, a definition of the essayistic nature of Biography, its relationship with Historiography and Education, and with literary genres (autobiography, confessions, novel); it tries to describe the evolution of the genre since its origins, following continuity lines up to the XXth century. This is one of the criteria that has been applied in order to propose a taxonomy as complete as possible, including Biography of nations, with special consideration given to the Bible considered as Jewish biography.

In an alternative to common forms of classification, a thematic basis has been chosen to analyze modern biography, concluding in a paradigmatic definition for each one of the biographers in question. XXth century authors André Maurois, Lewis Mumford, Emil Ludwig and Stefan Zweig appear as the main international representatives for that period, special focus is given to their theoretical reflection about Biography. Four other Spanish writers are separately
considered since their biographical contributions have not received the attention they deserve:  Eugenio d’Ors, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Gregorio Marañón and María Zambrano. Their work as biographers has scarcely been studied and their important thoughts about biography have been ignored although the value of their works is widely acknowledged in other literary fields. The book also contains considerations about Saint-Beuve, biography of cities, fictional biography, Biobibliography and, briefly, XXI digital biographies.

Literature on Biography has been analysed from different points of view: philosophical
perspectives, disciplinary location, theories according to biographical subjects, poetological and methodological theories, and character theories related to biography. The second part establishes a constructive proposal for Biography as a literary genre, according to classical poetic and rhetoric criteria. Following Aristotle’s procedure in defining Tragedy, and rhetorical resources, biography components and methods are established in contrast with Aristotelic conclusions for dramatic elements and characters. That way, differences between fictional characters and real people, their actions and rhetorical resources become evident and allow conclusions concerning Biography from a literary theory perspective. At the end of the book there are two schema proposals, which intend to reflect how character is created in biography according to its components and features; and, on the other hand, biography sub-genres and category taxonomy, also indicating the lines of continuity between them up to the XXth century.