Writing the author: Sylvia Plath, Henry James, Virginia Woolf and the biographical novel

Hudson, Elaine C. (2015) Writing the author: Sylvia Plath, Henry James, Virginia Woolf and the biographical novel. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the effect produced when contemporary novelists write about fellow authors. Since the mid-1990s, the biographical novel, which fictionalises the lives of real-life historical authors, has become an increasingly popular literary genre in Britain and the United States. This contemporary exploration of authorial subjectivity, viewed here through the lens of life-writing, provides a reengagement with debates surrounding the crisis of the author-figure (exemplified by Roland Barthes), and the unreliability of biography as a discourse of subjectivity at the turn of the twenty-first century. Through its inherent self-reflexivity (with its exposure of both the author-biographer alongside the author-subject), I consider how the biographical novel succeeds in reconciling the author-figure with the literary text in new ways.

While critical interest in the biographical novel has tended to focus on a limited number of texts, little attention has been paid to their status as an emergent sub-genre of life-writing. Through the exemplary figures of Sylvia Plath, Henry James and Virginia Woolf and their corresponding biographical novels, I draw together a core body of texts to demonstrate their unity as a literary form. With an emphasis upon the role of life-writing in the construction of authorial subjectivity, I consider how each of the three author-subjects have cultivated — and been cultivated by — particular recurrent motifs: firstly through their own texts (whether fictional or biographical), then as they become manifest once again in the writing of the contemporary biographical novelists.

Modernist developments in biographical modes, particularly Woolf's revision of the relationship between the biographer and his or her subject, provide both context for the biographical novel, and a rich framework upon which to build contemporary forms of life-writing and authorial subjectivity. Taking these as a starting point through which to view the 'author question', my thesis reveals how the genre of the biographical novel offers a redefinition of both the author as a multiple, progressive and changing figure, and a highlighting how the reinterpretation of life-writing in fictional form both enhances and supports the future of biography and autobiography as an equally evolutionary form.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Kore-Schröder, L.K.
Ward, A.L.
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General) > PN 80 Criticism
P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 30403
Depositing User: Hudson, Elaine
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2015 12:00
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2016 22:12
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/30403

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