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Title: Autobiography : its genesis and phases
Author: Clark, Arthur Melville
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1947
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So numerous are autobiographies today that one may forget how rare they were in the past. Though the self is the one subject of which everybody is supposed to have the details, and so the most natural subject in the world, and though talk about themselves supplies most people with their chief topic, the writing down and publishing, not only episodes, but the whole of one's history was almost unknown till within the last 200 years. The very word "autobiography" was coined only in 1809, though the thing was by then extant. Even today the urge to self-publication is still exceptional and it is generally recognised by autobiographers themselves to require some excuse, explicit or implicit, though not necessarily the true one. We are all reluctant to give ourselves away, to reduce our armaments in the face of a world we vaguely fear. This distrust may be a bequest from primitive man who bristled with suspicions and who, concealing even his true name, the key as it were to his personality, lived under a lifelong alias. The need for perpetual vigilance became gradually less acute and the barriers of reserve were lowered. But men, outside autobiographies, "still keep something to themselves they scarce would tell to any". The expansive man remains as close as a clam on what really matters and expands only on the unimportant, the creditable, and the misleading. All fear the direction of public attention, and possibly ridicule or censure, on their private lives. Since they have never lived them before, they prefer, like learners on the fiddle, not to be overlooked in the process. Moreover, they all live a kind of double life. Be they in the world's eye as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, and as transparent as the day, they are not quite what they seem; they are pettier in their motives, less disinterested in their generosity, and less nice in their scruples. "That I, or any man", says Trollope, "should tell anything of himself, I hold to be impossible. Who could endure to own the doing of a mean thing? Who is there that has done none?" So most men keep the shabby arrangements and the threadbare pretences of the house of life dark behind the shutters. It may even be a haunted house into many of whose rooms the tenants rarely peep, preferring to live in the outhouses and the verandah.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Litt.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available