AJ54090 Theory of Biography

Faculty of Arts
Autumn 2022

The course is not taught in Autumn 2022

Extent and Intensity
0/2/0. 6 credit(s). Type of Completion: zk (examination).
doc. Michael Matthew Kaylor, PhD. (lecturer)
Mgr. Michal Mikeš (lecturer)
Guaranteed by
doc. Michael Matthew Kaylor, PhD.
Department of English and American Studies - Faculty of Arts
Contact Person: Tomáš Hanzálek
Supplier department: Department of English and American Studies - Faculty of Arts
Course Enrolment Limitations
The course is only offered to the students of the study fields the course is directly associated with.

The capacity limit for the course is 25 student(s).
Current registration and enrolment status: enrolled: 0/25, only registered: 0/25
fields of study / plans the course is directly associated with
there are 12 fields of study the course is directly associated with, display
Course objectives
What today constitutes "biography proper" arose in many ways from the merging of two earlier forms, autobiographical Confessions such as those by St. Augustine or Jean Jacques Rousseau and biographical Lives such as those by Plutarch or Giorgio Vasari. While the first genre tended to trace certain intimate moments of spiritual or intellectual evolution, and the second, the lives of prominent individuals displaced by decades if not centuries from the biographer who often drew from very limited sources, the biographical writing that came after tended to merge the autobiographical residues a figure had left behind--letters, journal and diary entries, remembrances of conversations by contemporaries, personal documents--with the biographical details that were used to construct the traditional Life. From James Boswell's "The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D." (1791) to Sir Leslie Stephen's grand project, "The Dictionary of National Biography" (1885-), one finds the biographer constructing a life from as many concrete details as could be compacted within the boards of a book (or several books) and according to prescribed stages, namely "Family background—Birth—Childhood—School years—University—Marriage—Career, adventures, and/or discoveries—Maturity—Decline—Death—Impact beyond the grave" (or slight variations on the same). The Modernists of the Edwardian period (notably the Bloomsbury circle of Stephen's daughter Virginia Woolf) began to question this portrayal of lives, a questioning that led to seminal biographical experiments such as Lytton Strachey's "Eminent Victorians" (1918), which irreverently demolished the reputations of four leading Victorian personages; T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph" (1922), which recounts his own experiences as a British soldier but rather obtusely; and A. J. A. Symons's "The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography" (1934), a meta-biography that is as much about the biographical quest as the life being portrayed. The Modernists birthed new approaches to writing their own lives as well as the lives of others, influenced by psychoanalysis and other ways of approaching the self. This course will examine those trends, from Boswell forward, and will consider their influence on contemporary biography. Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to discuss the writing of others with sensitivity and appreciation; have an understanding of the contexts of English (auto)biography; and be familiar with the key biographers and their texts.
Learning outcomes
Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to: - understand autobiographical fiction in its historical and social contexts - see what influence 19th-century autobiography has had on contemporary biography - discuss the writing of others with sensitivity and appreciation - be familiar with the key biographers and their texts.
  • Lesson 1 (February 26): Introduction. Lesson 2 (March 12): Read Novarr, "Preface" and Chapters 1-3. Lesson 3 (March 26): Read Novarr, Chapters 4-5. Lesson 4 (April 9): Critical issues: Student presentations and classroom discussions based on Rollyson. Lesson 5 (April 23): Alternative biographies. Lesson 6 (May 7): Closure.
  • Dowling, William C. The Boswellian Hero.Athens: U of Georgia P, 2008
  • Spengemann, William C. The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980
  • David Novarr, The Lines of Life: Theories of Biography, 1880-1970. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 1986
  • Clifford, James L. From Puzzles to Portrait: Problems of a Literary Biographer. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1970
  • Symons, A. J. A.. The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography. New York: New York Review of Books, 2001
  • Rollyson, Carl. Biography: A User's Guide. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2008
  • Broughton, Trev Lynn. Men of Letters, Writing Lives: Masculinity and Literary Auto/Biography in the Late Victorian Period. London: Routledge, 1999
  • Rollyson, Carl. Biography: An Annotated Bibliography. Lincoln: iUniverse, 2007
Teaching methods
One 2-hour seminar on alternating weeks, plus individual tutorials prior to the end of course assessment.
Assessment methods
In regard to the PowerPoint presentation (10 minutes), the topic that the student chooses should accord with one of the entries in Rollyson. Students will be asked to select their topics by Lesson 2, given that a topic can only be used once as a presentation. Although the entry in Rollyson will serve as the basis for the presentation, the student should augment this with a wider range of specific materials. In regard to the essay, the biography that the student chooses to write on should be approved by the instructor beforehand. The essay (roughly 2,000 – 2,500 words) should be scholarly in tone and handling.
Language of instruction
Further comments (probably available only in Czech)
The course is taught only once.
The course is taught: every week.
Information on course enrolment limitations: Předmět si nemohou zapsat studenti Bc. studia AJ

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