Biography is one of the most popular, best-selling, and widely-read of literary genres.
But why do certain people and historical events arouse so much interest? How can biographies be compared with history and works of fiction? Does a biography need to be true? Is it acceptable to
omit or conceal things? Does the biographer need to personally know the subject? Must a biographer be subjective?
In this Very Short Introduction Hermione Lee considers the cultural and historical background of different types of biographies, looking at the factors that affect
biographers and whether there are different strategies, ethics, and principles required for writing about one person compared to another. She also considers contemporary biographical publications and considers what kind of 'lives' are the most popular and in demand.
1. The Biography Channel
2. Exemplary Lives
3. Warts and All
4. National Biography
5. Fallen Idols
6. Against Biography
7. Public Roles
8. Telling the Story
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Hermoine Lee is a well-known literary biographer, author of critical studies of Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, and Philip Roth. She has also written major biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), and Edith Wharton (2007), a selection of which was published by Princeton University Press as
Virginia Woolf's Nose (2005). From 1998 to 2008 she was the Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of New College at the University of Oxford. She is now President of Wolfson College.