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12 - Life writing in the twentieth century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2007

John Wilson Foster
Affiliation:
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
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Summary

Issues of genre

The novel has always borne a close relationship with the 'literature of fact' - history, travel writing, confession, letters and the diary - and the parallels between fiction and life writing are similarly deep and long-standing. James Joyce chronicles his coming of age in a third-person narration about young Stephen Dedalus, and writers as diverse as Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Costello and Seamus Deane offer as novels thinly disguised versions of their early years. Calling his three-volume autobiography, Hail and Farewell (1911-14), a 'novel about real people', George Moore draws attention to the blurring of genre endemic to life writing, as does Oliver St John Gogarty when he prefaces As I Was Going Down Sackville Street (1937) with the disclaimer, 'The names in this book are real, the characters fictitious.' Yet while autobiographical fiction and the fictionalised autobiography both play fast and loose with facticity, the two genres are not synonymous, and a consideration of their differences elucidates the contributions life writing has made to the development of prose narrative in modern Ireland.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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