Private Lives Made Public: The Invention of Biography in Early Modern EnglandAndrea Walkden $70.00
November 2016 | cloth | ISBN 978-0-8207-0482-1
Following the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649, the later seventeenth century witnessed an explosion of print culture in England, including an unprecedented boom in biographical writing. The vogue for such texts, which were known during the period as “lives,” encompassed an unruly social cast and generated visible and affectively powerful forms of public expression. Andrea Walkden offers a case study examination of this fascinating trend, bringing together texts that generations of scholars have considered piecemeal and primarily as sources for their own historical research.
Private Lives Made Public: The Invention of Biography in Early Modern England contributes an incisive, fresh take on “life-writing” — a catch-all label that, in contemporary discourse, encompasses biography, autobiography, memoirs, letters, diaries, journals, and even blogs — and examines why the writing of life stories appeared somehow newly necessary and newly challenging for political discourse in the late seventeenth century. To what purpose did contemporaries model and interpret that era through the lens of the life? How might their endeavor reframe our understanding of the political culture of later Stuart England, of the history of biography’s form prior to the Enlightenment, and of our own use of biography in academic literary culture?
Walkden engages readers in a compelling discussion of what she terms “biographical populism,” arguing that the biographies of this period sought to replace political argument with life stories, thus conducting politics by another means. The modern biography, then, emerges after 1649 as a cultural weapon designed to reorient political discourse away from the analysis of public institutions and practices toward a less threatening, but similarly meaningful, conversation about the unfolding of an individual’s life in the realm of private experience. Unlike other recent studies, then, Walkden moves toward a consideration of widely consumed works — the Eikon Basilike, Izaak Walton’s Lives, John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, and Daniel Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier — and gives particular attention to their complex engagement with that political and literary moment.
Private Lives Made Public, by combining literary studies and popular trends, will appeal not only to scholars and historians but to practicing memoirists and biographers as well.
ANDREA WALKDEN is assistant professor and director of graduate studies in English at Queens College, City University of New York. Her writing focuses on early modern British literature, including the poetry and prose of John Milton. Walkden has contributed to Writing Lives: Biography and Textuality, Identity and Representation in Early Modern England, as well as the journals Studies in English Literature and English Literary History.