Pure lives : the early biographers /
Reed Whittemore.
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, c1988.
v. 1. ; 24 cm.
0801835488 (v. 1 : alk. paper)
More Details
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, c1988.
0801835488 (v. 1 : alk. paper)
general note
Includes index.
catalogue key
Bibliography: v. 1, p. [151]-154.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1988-10:
The author believes that much of modern life-writing is disguised as history, political science, or psychology, or represents assiduous and exhaustive scholarship. These are hardly characteristics to include in a definition of a literary genre. Taking his cue from Samuel Johnson (The Rambler, no. 60, Oct. 13, 1750), Whittemore points to "inclusiveness or the pursuit of trivia" as the great offender. Writers are mistaken if they believe that accumulations of detail in some chronological order will yield up the true character of the subject. In Pure Lives, Whittemore searches for the tradition that "gradually molded the biography as a genre," finding the sources in narrative technique and Aristotelian tragedy. Thus he concentrates on Plutarch's Lives, Aelfric's Lives of the Saints, Vasari's Lives of the Artists, Holinshed's Chronicles, and Johnson's Lives of the Poets. In these and similar works, the modern order of emphasis is reversed. Subjects were selected for social rank and representation. Individual traits played a secondary role. Trivia was relegated to the satirists. In both, chronology was a factor; however, in the earlier tradition, it was not the only one. It is evident that the book was written by a teacher as well as a scholar. It provides a corrective to much writing about bibliography as a genre and introduces the student to a methodology. Johnson's essay on biography is provided in the appendix, and instead of an impressive and extensive bibliography, there is a serviceable "List of Primary Readings." Levels: graduate and undergraduate. -D. Kolker, Cleveland State University
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, October 1988
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