Biography: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780199533541

Hermione Lee
192 Pages
113 x 174 mm
Pub date
Jul 2009
Very Short Introductions


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  • Looks at the origins and development of biographical writing
  • Considers why certain historical periods and figures arouse so much interest
  • Looks at the relationship between biographies, history and fiction
  • Examines the impact of religion on the development and direction of biographies
  • Reveals the ways in which biographers write their stories - from the start and close, to the tone they use, and the rhetorical devices they employ

Biography is one of the most popular, best-selling, and widely-read of literary genres. 

But why do certain people and historical events arouse so much interest? How can biographies be compared with history and works of fiction? Does a biography need to be true? Is it acceptable to omit or conceal things? Does the biographer need to personally know the subject? Must a biographer be subjective? 

In this Very Short Introduction Hermione Lee considers the cultural and historical background of different types of biographies, looking at the factors that affect biographers and whether there are different strategies, ethics, and principles required for writing about one person compared to another. She also considers contemporary biographical publications and considers what kind of 'lives' are the most popular and in demand. 

"It would be hard to think of anyone better to provide a crisp contribution to OUP's Very Short Introductions." - Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

"A sophisticated overview for the general reader." - Andrew Lycett, Literary Review

"Enjoyable book on the subject." - Henry Power, TLS


1: The Biography Channel
2: Exemplary Lives
3: Warts and All
4: National Biography
5: Fallen Idols
6: Against Biography
7: Public Roles
8: Telling the Story

About the author: 

Hermoine Lee is a well-known literary biographer, author of critical studies of Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, and Philip Roth. She has also written major biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), and Edith Wharton (2007), a selection of which was published by Princeton University Press as Virginia Woolf's Nose (2005). From 1998 to 2008 she was the Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of New College at the University of Oxford. She is now President of Wolfson College.

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