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Victorian biography and the representation of 'obscure' lives.

Atkinson, J.; (2008) Victorian biography and the representation of 'obscure' lives. Doctoral thesis , University of London. Green open access

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In 1940, Virginia Woolf called for a more inclusive form of biography, which would include 'the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious'. She did so partly as a reaction against Victorian biography, deemed to have been overly preoccupied with the great and the heroic. Yet a significant number of Victorian biographers did in fact write biographies that went against the trend of hero-worshipping 'Great Lives' and focused instead on the humble, the marginal, or the neglected. Though many are simplistic, pious productions, others sought to engage in contemporary debates surrounding the role and place of the individual in society in a sophisticated and complex manner. The thesis begins with an overview of the period's biographical writings. The second and third chapters explore the representation of marginality and powerlessness through biographies of female and working-class subjects. The fourth and fifth chapters are concerned with issues of canonisation: the championing of neglected artists, and the Dictionary of National Biography are discussed. A final, brief, chapter on Virginia Woolf s conception of 'obscure lives' seeks to broaden our understanding of her literary influences. The 'obscure' biographical subject emerges as a paradoxical figure used as a safe means of exploring the boundary between the private and the public. Above all, and in contrast with the trend instigated by Woolf, biographers were not concerned with securing immortality for their subjects, but with prompting within their readers feelings of empathy and gratitude. The thesis attempts to balance a survey of this trend with close analysis of works that manipulated the biographical genre in interesting ways. It is also a study of how Thomas Carlyle's and George Eliot's influence was disseminated within an under-studied literary genre. The thesis includes, as an appendix, a descriptive catalogue of over two hundred Victorian biographies.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Victorian biography and the representation of 'obscure' lives.
Identifier: PQ ETD:593538
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by Proquest
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1446206
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