Release of Biography issue 40.3

We are pleased to announce the release of issue 40.3. Here is what you can find in the issue:

Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 3 • Summer 2017:

Editor’s Note


Andrew Jewell
Why Obscure the Record?: The Psychological Context of Willa Cather’s Ban on Letter Publication

This essay provides an explanation for American author Willa Cather’s confounding decision to ban the publication of her letters, arguing that one must understand the specific personal and psychological contexts of the execution of her final will in 1943. Since the ban on publication has now been lifted by Cather’s executors, the essay uses ample direct evidence from the letters themselves to analyze the concerns that led to Cather’s choice. I argue that Cather’s ban emerged from a time of grief, physical pain, and growing hopelessness about the future while the world was at war.

Jayne Lewis
“Strange Imagination”: Valentine Greatrakes’s Healing Aura and the
Autobiographical Impulse

The controversial Irish Protestant healer Valentine Greatrakes’s 1666 autobiography is an under-appreciated text in the history of anglophone life writing, one that invites us to rethink the early history of a genre that has long been linked to a spatialized, specular, and mimetic model of the self. In contrast to the post-Lockean texts that posit that model, A Brief Account of Mr Valentine Greatrak’s and Divers of the Strange Cures by Him Lately Performed incorporates Greatrakes’s unorthodox method of healing by touch over time into the process of literary self-representation. As it plays between poles of distance and proximity, objectivity and contingency, shadow and substance the resulting textual “perform[ance]” may be historicized in terms of late-seventeenth-century conceptions of what Greatrakes’s implied reader, the pneumatic chemist Robert Boyle, called the “little atmospheres” that surround human bodies—“atmospheres” that anticipate Walter Benjamin’s modern notion of the aura but treat aura as a uniquely communicative aspect of the person. Greatrakes’s shamanistic practice binds his readers to his patients, thereby developing a therapeutic form of transpersonal, transhistorical, transgeneric personal identity uniquely realized in the literary text.

Anna Poletti
Putting Lives on the Record: The Book as Material and Symbol in
Life Writing

This article develops an understanding of the role of life writing in putting marginalized voices on the record by examining the material and symbolic history of the book and its relationship with life writing. Taking two key points in the history of the book as its focus, the article argues that “the record” is a material and symbolic performative site that authorizes a life writer’s claims to knowledge and experience. Through a reading of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1963 autobiography Les Mots (The Words) the article demonstrates the importance of the book to how life writers and scholars of life writing conceptualize the cultural, political, and social importance of telling stories from life.

Linda Zygutis
On the Lecture Circuit with Gertrude Stein’s Portraits

This essay intervenes in recent scholarship on modernism and celebrity that treats fame as a unidirectional performance by emphasizing the extent to which Gertrude Stein’s celebrity is the product of external artifice: particularly, the invocation of preexisting social types drawn from mass culture and circulated by publishers and promoters eager to market Stein to an audience expecting a very specific model of (feminine) success. Having become a best seller in no small part due to its “gossipy” look into the glamorous world of the Parisian art movement, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas transformed Stein into a bona fide star. But while Stein had actively courted commercial success, her first taste of celebrity came with a discomfiting loss of control. With so many people eager to “know” her, Stein felt her own sense of self slipping away. By pairing critical analysis of Stein’s own thoughts on celebrity with her often-overlooked Lectures in America, I argue that Stein’s lectures, presented as they were to audiences expecting the same “gossipy” depictions they received in the autobiography, are not only a subversion of the expectations associated with fame but a frank depiction of its failures, a self-conscious demonstration of the artifice of celebrity.


Nostalgia and Auto/Biography: Considering the Past in the Present,
by Hilary Dickinson and Michael Erben
Reviewed by Janelle L. Wilson

In Haste with Aloha: Letters and Diaries of Queen Emma 1881–1885,
selected and edited by David W. Forbes
Reviewed by Riánna M. Williams

Self as Nation: Contemporary Hebrew Autobiography, by Tamar S. Hess
Reviewed by Michael Keren

Diaries, by Eva Hesse
Reviewed by Charles Reeve

Love Among the Archives: Writing the Lives of Sir George Scharf,
Victorian Bachelor, by Helena Michie and Robyn Warhol
Reviewed by Amanda Kotch

Postcolonial Life Narratives: Testimonial Transactions,
by Gillian Whitlock
Reviewed by Philip Holden