Category Archives: Monitoring

Jane McVeigh: In Collaboration with British Literary Biography: Haunting Conversations

PUBLICATIONS

Jane McVeigh:

In Collaboration with British Literary Biography

Haunting Conversations

 

Palgrave Macmillan,  2017

 

This book is about one person’s reading and what has been learnt about how the lives of other people, particularly authors, have been written in British literary biographies over the last fifty years. It is less interested in what happened in the lives of the people described in these biographies, and more concerned with how these stories have been told. It aims to have a conversation with British biographers, particularly Michael Holroyd, Richard Holmes, Hermione Lee and Claire Tomalin, to make their voices heard, to set them talking. It understands biography as an ongoing collaboration, not only between biographers and their subjects, but between biographers and their readers. This is also a study of haunting, in which we haunt the lives of others to help us come to a better understanding of our own.

Jane McVeigh is an Honorary Research Fellow in the English & Creative Writing Department at the University of Roehampton, UK. 

Thomas Keller: „Transkulturelle Biographik und Kulturgeschichte“

Thomas Keller

„Transkulturelle Biographik und Kulturgeschichte“

Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur

38, no 1 (2013): 121–171

https://doi.org/10.1515/iasl-2013-0009

 

This remarkably erudite article by Pr Thomas Keller, of Aix-Marseille University (ÉCHANGES E.A 4236), examines the particular case of transcultural biographies, especially in the context of German/French cultural transfers. Keller focusses on the life stories of migrants, exiles and other intermediaries who bridge the gaps between the two cultures. In the process, he defines the ‘biographical pact’, thus underlining the specificity of biography relatively to autobiography and other forms of life writing. This is only one of the several thought-provoking operative concepts he coins, which are most likely to prove seminal for the advancement of biography theory. Among these, one of the most arresting aspects of Keller’s theoretical thinking is his reflection on what we could call the idea of emplotment, or, in other words, the shaping influence of discourses and other narratives and mythological models, close to what Émile Durkheim (after Francis Bacon) called ‘pre-notions’ (‘prae-notiones“), intervene not only in the writing of biographies, but already in the ways in which the subjects lead their lives, especially the pluri-/trans-cultural life courses or life stories that he analyses here with entomological precision. These frontier-zone personalities, he says, who are not so much individuals as ‘dividuals’, inhabit fully neither the one cultural area nor the other, but develop a third space, a contact zone of their own, in which they exist by a kind of continual role-playing and role-shifting, or ‘role rotation’, chameleon-like, evolving in the midst of ‘plurivocal archives’ of their one making, which create special challenges for their biographers. Keller’s argument is backed by a plethora of references to biographies in the French-, German- and English-speaking worlds, in the brilliant, pragmatic, no-nonsense tradition of Literatuwissenschaft: just the type of sturdily effective work that is needed to trigger breakthroughs in Biographieforschung, i.e. academic Biography Studies.

January 11, 2018

Joanny Moulin, membre senior de l’Institut  Universitaire de France

Aix Marseille Univ, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France.

Eminent Victorians at 100 – MLA Convention 4-7 Jan. 2018

Session 59: Eminent Victorians at One Hundred

Thursday, 4 January 1:45 PM-3:00 PM,
Union Square (Sheraton)

 

A Session of the 2018 Conference of the Modern Language Association, jointly organized by the Division on Life Writing and the Division on Victorian and Early-20th-Century English Literature

Session Description
Anyone with a passing knowledge of twentieth-century literature is well aware of the tremendous changes that both poetic and novelistic writing experienced in the wake of World War I: the fragmentations of form; the reassessment of aesthetics; the struggle to express the shattering loss of confidence that had shaken the western world. One is likely to be less aware, however, of the parallel transformation that took place in the genre of biography — a revolution spearheaded by a single
iconoclastic volume. In its reinvention of form, in its acerbic critique of the pious follies of the century that preceded it, and in its refusal to lament the twilight of the fallen order, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians changed the genre of biography as forcefully and irrevocably as Ulysses and The Waste Land transformed theirs. Despite his tremendous influence on literary history and life writing in our time, Strachey has not been the subject of an MLA session since 2004. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Eminent Victorians, and the centennial affords a unique opportunity to reflect upon the book, its author, and the Bloomsbury group at large as indispensable agents in the process by which life writing came of age. Co-sponsored by the MLA Divisions on GS Life Writing and on LLC Victorian and Early-20th-Century English, and moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer John Matteson, “Eminent Victorians at 100” observes Strachey and his contemporaries in a richly diverse variety of contexts, understanding him in his relation to the emergent literary theory of his time; in the deep resonances between his nonfiction and the biographically inspired fictions of Virginia Woolf; in his conflicted assessment of that most indispensable of Victorians, the queen herself; and in his powerful influence on continental letters through the work of his great French admirer, André Maurois. The session also looks at Strachey through the newly acquired but distorted lends of the Trump presidency, comparing Strachey’s understanding of truth with Trump’s constructed world of “alternative facts.”

The session will consist of four 15-minute presentations. It will commence with “Reconstituting Democracy: Strachey, Woolf, and Modernist National Biography.” In a paper that both navigates and subtly redraws the boundaries of genre, Ryan Weberling examines Woolf’s and Strachey’s ironic responses to the task, so diligently pursued by their fathers’ generation, of making the life of the British nation publicly legible through biography. Mr. Weberling argues that Strachey’s fictionalization of biography and Woolf’s infusion of biographical tropes and strategies into her novel Orlando were both undertaken expressly to challenge the nationalistic aspirations of biography, giving voice to interests that are pointedly feminist, foreign, undignified, and idiosyncratic. Professor Floriane Reviron- Piégay then takes Strachey’s influence in a continental direction in her paper “Lytton Strachey and André Maurois: Eminent Modernists in Search of the Biographical Truth.” Probing the friendship and intellectual interplay between Strachey and Maurois, Professor Reviron-Piégay sees Maurois as an indispensable conduit through which Strachey’s sense of irony and satire crossed the Channel and transformed life writing in French life writing between the wars.
Our third paper, Gretchen Gerzina’s “Aging Backwards: From Strachey’s Victoria to the Modern Queen” moves the reconsideration of Strachey to a less frequently considered work, his eponymous biography of Queen Victoria.

Presentations
Ryan Weberling is a doctoral candidate in the English department at Boston University, where he is also completing a graduate certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Professor Gerzina sees in Queen Victoria a refinement of the author’s approach to life writing, a reinvention that sets aside some of the author’s penchant for acerbic wit in favor of a more nuanced and sympathetic psychological understanding. Professor Gerzina suggests that it is Strachey’s understanding of Victoria and her time that has principally informed the recent spate of cinematic depictions of the queen, such that Strachey’s Victoria is now essentially our Victoria.

Our session concludes with a gesture toward our own disconcerting political moment, as Mallory R. Cohn presents “Strachey’s Alternative Facts: Life Writing in the Face of Modern Catastrophe.” Ms. Cohn reassesses Eminent Victorians by examining his exchange of the typical strategies of a biographer for those of a novelist. Viewing Eminent Victorians through the lens of Georg Lukacs’s Theory of the Novel, Ms. Cohn observes how both Strachey and Lukacs decry the deadening force of bourgeois cultures that reduces any gesture of heroism to comedic futility. Turning her attention to the present day, Ms. Cohn will consider ways of retaining a Strachey-like approach to historical criticism, preserving a relation to truth that, while skeptical, does not descend into a post-factual nihilism.

Taken together, these papers raise compelling questions that span from the psychological to the political, from the cinematic to the sociological. They offer an invigorating new look not only at Lytton Strachey, but also at the worlds of life writing and critical thought that have been brought into being by the children’s children of his generation.

As this proposal was being finalized, word was received that Georgia Johnston, who served as chair of GS Life Writing in the year just concluded, has passed away after a long and courageous struggle with cancer. Professor Johnston, an expert on Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, had been especially looking forward to this session on Strachey at MLA 2018. This proposal and the proposed session are respectfully dedicated to her memory.

Charles Darwin: a Victorian Mythmaker, by A.N. Wilson

A. N. Wilson
(
John Murray, 7 September 2017)

Editor’s presentation

Charles Darwin: the man who discovered evolution? The man who killed off God? Or a flawed man of his age, part genius, part ruthless careerist who would not acknowledge his debts to other thinkers?

In this bold new life – the first single volume biography in twenty-five years – A. N. Wilson, the acclaimed author of The Victorians and God’s Funeral, goes in search of the celebrated but contradictory figure Charles Darwin.

Darwin was described by his friend and champion, Thomas Huxley, as a ‘symbol’. But what did he symbolize? In Wilson’s portrait, both sympathetic and critical, Darwin was two men. On the one hand, he was a naturalist of genius, a patient and precise collector and curator who greatly expanded the possibilities of taxonomy and geology. On the other hand, Darwin, a seemingly diffident man who appeared gentle and even lazy, hid a burning ambition to be a universal genius. He longed to have a theory which explained everything.

But was Darwin’s 1859 master work, On the Origin of Species, really what it seemed, a work about natural history? Or was it in fact a consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes, reassuring them that the selfishness and indifference to the poor were part of nature’s grand plan?

Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is a radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book which isn’t afraid to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy while bringing us closer to the man, his revolutionary idea and the wider Victorian age.

Biographical Notes

A. N. Wilson was born in North Staffordshire, and taught literature for seven years at New College Oxford, where he won the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize and the Ellerton Prize. He is the author of over twenty novels, and as many works of non-fiction. His biography of Tolstoy won the Whitbread Prize in 1988. His biography of Queen Victoria was published to critical acclaim. He is also the author of The Victorians and of God’s Funeral, an account of how the Victorians lost their faith. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives in London, and is the father of three daughters.