Biographical and Autobiographical Writing in English Text: Preview of It's Journey

Biographical and autobiographical prose is more or less true-to-life stories and often bears great literary merits. They pervade the world of history, philosophy, psychology, ideology, propaganda, untold mysteries, confessions, criticism, travelogues etc. These works are conventionally classified into factual writing and fictional writing, or simply, true and semi true. The present essay deals with biography and autobiography and its truthfulness and literary merits. As a descriptive term, biography and autobiography is completely meaningless, since all story is beyond eyewitnesses when it first appears. Further, if one takes it as applying to all modern perceptions, one soon discovers that they differ so much among themselves that any simple definition of the school will exclude a number of important lies. One perception will emphasize close reading, another symbol, another morality, another psychology, sociology, and till another mythical as of criticism.

Now coming to the terminology into better introspection, the fertile of English biography emerged in the late eighteenth century, the century in which the terms "biography" and "autobiography" entered the English lexicon. The word autobiography was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical the Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid but condemned it as 'pedantic'; but its next recorded use was in its present sense by Robert Southey in 1809. The form of autobiography however goes back to antiquity. Biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints; an autobiography, however, may be based entirely on the writer's memory.


A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life written by another person. More than a list of basic facts (education, work, relationships, and death), biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events. Unlike a profile or curriculum vitae (résumé), a biography presents the subject's life story, highlighting various aspects of his or her life, including intimate details of experience, and may include an analysis of the subject's personality.

Biographical works are usually non-fiction, but fiction can also be used to portray a person's life. One in-depth form of biographical coverage is called legacy writing. Biographical works in diverse media—from literature to film—form the genre known as biography. An example is Nzeogu written by Olusegun Obasanjo and My Unfortunate Brothers and Sisters: An Authorised and Biography of Stephen Ibn Akga written by Gideon Tseja. A person's biography may be written while he is still alive, or after his death. The biographer presents the facts of the person's life as he uncovers them through research, interviews and visits. But it is possible for the biographer to insert his own imaginative thought, stories and appreciative comments, to bring out the life of that person. Thus, unlike a scientific or technical text, a biography may consist of imagery, figures of speech, narration, description, argumentation and exposition. The Boswellian approach to biography emphasized uncovering material and letting the subject "speak for itself." Johnson did not follow a chronological narration of the subject's life but used anecdotes and incidents selectively. Johnson rejected the notion that facts revealed truth. He suggested that biographers should seek their subject in "domestic privacies", to find little known facts or anecdotes which revealed character. The romantic biographers disputed many of Johnson's judgments. Jean Jacques Rousseau's exploited the romantic point of view and the confessional mode. The tradition of testimony and confession was brought to the New World by Puritan and Quaker memoirists and journal-keepers where the form continued to be influential. While the historical impulse would remain a strong element in early American biography, American writers carved out their own distinct approach. What emerged was a rather didactic form of biography which sought to shape individual character of the reader in the process of defining national character.

The only repositories of knowledge and records of early history in Europe were those of the Roman Catholic Church. Hermits, monks and priests used this historic period to write the first modern biographies. Their subjects were usually restricted to church fathers, martyrs, popes and saints.

Meanwhile in the medieval Islamic civilization (c. AD 750 to 1258), biographies began to be produced on a large scale with the advent of paper, beginning with the Prophetic biography tradition. This led to the introduction of a new literary genre: the biographical dictionary. By the late Middle Ages, biographies became less church-oriented in Europe as biographies of kings, knights and tyrants began to appear. Due to the development of the printing press in the 15th century and the gradual increase in literacy, Biographies in the English language began appearing during the reign of Henry VIII.

Indeed, the most difficult part of writing a biography is to be neutral and objective. There is the tendency for the biographer to be a sycophant, praise singer or an utter brute that condemns the person whose biography he is writing about completely. A biography loses its credibility if it is packed full of lies. Although the writer has the liberty to invent stories, they should not be all lies.

List of Biography

The life of Charlemagne by his courtier Einhard.( semi secular Christian Propaganda)
The Book of The Major Classes by Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi( Islamic Prophet dictionary)
Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (biographies of kings, knights and tyrants)
Lives of the Artists (1550) by Giorgio Vasari (focusing on secular lives)
Acts and Monuments (1563) by  John Foxe, better known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs (dictionary of biography in Europe)
The History of the Worthies of England (1662) by Thomas Fuller (focus on public life)
A General History of the Pyrates (1724) (prime source for the biographies of many well-known pirates)
Critical Lives of the Poets (1779–81) by Samuel Johnson
Life of Johnson (1791) by James Boswell


The difference between a biography and an autobiography is that the autobiography is an account of the person's life written by him personally. Modern biographies and autobiographies show the tendency of adopting forms used in writing a novel. The straightforward narrative is largely broken by presentations of dialogue, conversations, flashbacks suspense, descriptions of a particular issue, exposition, varieties of English, etc. Despite its relative newness in relation to poetry, novel and drama, the biographies and autobiographies has developed by leaps and bounds to be the most popular and widely read of the genres and has successfully embraced the changes.

List of Autobiography

Memorias 15th  Leonor López de Córdoba (considered to be the first autobiography in Castillian)
Confessions (1781–88) by Jean Jacques Rousseau 
Autobiography (1791) by Benjamin Franklin 
Book of Babur or Letters of Babur (between 1493 and 1529) by Zāhir ud-Dīn Mohammad Bābur
Vita (1556 and 1558) by Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571)
De vita Propria (1574) by   Gerolamo Cardano
Booke of Margery Kempe (the early 15th-century) by Margery Kempe
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) by John Bunyan
Liber Amoris (1823) by William Hazlitt 



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