Category Archives: Monitoring

Reviews of John Aubrey: My Own Life by Ruth Scurr

Ruth Scurr

The TLS has released its Books of the Year list for 2015, which includes Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey: My own life (Chatto). Here is William Boyd’s note on the book:

Fiction has always happily pillaged and cannibalized all the various formats of non-fiction for its own ends. Any expropriation in the opposite direction is less obvious and more subtle, though, as Donald Rayfield sagely remarked in his introduction to his magisterial biography of Chekhov, all biography is, in essence, “fiction, but fiction that has to fit the documented facts”. This year saw one of the most audacious biographies I can remember reading: Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey: My own life(Chatto). It is in fact biography skilfully reimagined as an “autobiography” in the form of a notional diary made up almost entirely of Aubrey’s own words. What we are presented with is a wonderful artificial composite; a fascinating patchwork made up of extracts from Aubrey’s notebooks, journals and letters, chronologically rearranged with consummate editorial and novelistic artfulness by Scurr. The result is haunting, memorable and, in the field of non-fiction, unprecedented.

Full TLS Books of the Year 2015 article:

Also read Stuart Kelly’s in-depth review for the TLS, in which Kelly also discusses the art of biography and possible forms for biography in the digital age.

“Scurr emphasizes the fuzziness and partial nature of all biography, which emphasizes the ambiguity and unfinishedness of all life. Our actual lives are singular to ourselves; our afterlives are necessarily plural.” (Kelly, TLS)

Full article on the TLS website:

Monitoring of publications

by Michael Benton
Palgrave Macmillan – Sept. 2015
ISBN 9781137549570

Drawing upon a wide range of biographies of literary subjects, from Shakespeare and Wordsworth to William Golding and V.S. Naipaul, this book develops a poetics of literary biography based on the triangular relationships of lives, works and times and how narrativeTowards a Poetics of Literary Biography operates in holding them together. Biography is seen as a hybrid
genre in which historical and fictional elements are imaginatively combined. It considers the roles of story-telling, factual data in the art of life-writing, and the literariness of its language. It includes a case study of the biography of Ellen Terry, discussion of the controversial relationship between a subject’s life and works, ‘biographical criticism’ and, through the issue of gender, the social and cultural changes biographies reflect. It frames a poetics on the basis of its strategy and tactics and demonstrates how the literal truth of verifiable data and the poetic truth of what is narrated are interdependent.

edited by Zachary Leader
Oxford University Press – Oct. 2015
ISBN 9780198704065

Life-writing’ is a generic term meant to encompass a range of writings about lives or parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives or parts of lives are composed. These writings include not only memoir, autobiography, biography, diaries,On Life-Writing autobiographical fiction, and biographical fiction, but letters, writs, wills, written anecdotes, depositions, marginalia, lyric poems, scientific and historical writings, and digital forms (including blogs, tweets, Facebook entries). On Life-Writing offers a sampling of
approaches to the study of life-writing, introducing readers to something of the range of forms the term encompasses, their changing fortunes and features, the notions of ‘life,’ ‘self’ and ‘story’ which help to explain these changing fortunes and features, recent
attempts to group forms, the permeability of the boundaries between forms, the moral problems raised by life-writing in all forms, but particularly in fictional forms, and the relations between life-writing and history, life-writing and psychoanalysis, life-writing and philosophy. The essays mostly focus on individual instances rather than fields, whether historical, theoretical or generic. Generalizations are grounded in particulars. For example, the role of the ‘life-changing encounter,’ a frequent trope in literary life-writing, is pondered by Hermione Lee through an account of a much-storied first meeting between the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova; James Shapiro examines the history of the ‘cradle to grave’ life-narrative, as well as the potential distortions it breeds, by focusing on Shakespeare biography, in particular attempts to explain Shakespeare’s so-called ‘lost years’.