Melancholy and Literary Biography, 1640-1816
|Publication Date||June 2013|
|Formats||Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) Hardcover|
This book offers an original account of the development of literary biography in the long eighteenth century and reveals different ways in which biographers probed the inner life through writers' melancholy. The first half tracks the unstable status of melancholy in biographical writing from Walton to Johnson in the context of changing medical and theological understanding of the condition.
The second half focuses on biographical experimentation of the 1790s. Two case studies, Godwin's Memoirs of Wollstonecraft and Currie's Life of Burns, are examples of a significant if short-lived genre: philosophical biography. The dispassionate exploration of melancholy in these new secular biographies renders obsolete older notions of the 'dignity' of biography. Anxieties about the increasingly intrusive nature of the genre intensify over Hayley's Life of Cowper, coming to a head in 1816 with Wordsworth's impassioned critique of literary biography and the scandal caused by Cowper's posthumously published conversion narrative Adelphi.