Telling Women's Lives: The New Biography

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Rutgers University Press, 1994 - Biography & Autobiography - 201 pages
Placing herself in the avid reader's chair, Linda Wagner-Martin writes about women's biography from George Eliot and Virginia Woolf to Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Mead, and even to Cher and Elizabeth Taylor. Along the way, she looks at dozens of other life stories, probing at the differences between biographies of men and women, prevailing stereotypes about women's lives and roles, questions about what is public and private, and the hazy margins between autobiography, biography, and other genres. In quick-paced and wide-ranging discussions, she looks at issues of authorial stance (who controls the narrative? who chooses which story to tell?), voice (is this story told in the traditional objective tone? and if it is, what effect does that telling have on our reading?), and the politics of publishing (why aren't more books about women's lives published? and when they are, what happens to their advertising budgets?). She discusses the problems of writing biography of achieving women who were also wives (how does the biographer balance the two?), of daughters who attempt to write about their mothers, and of husbands trying to portray their wives. Amid the current controversy over biography as partial invention, she weighs the possibilities of ever achieving a true depiction of a life and outlines the responsibility of the biographer and the art of biographical writing.
As an accomplished biographer herself, Wagner-Martin weaves comments about her experiences writing about Sylvia Plath, Ellen Glasgow, John Dos Passos, and, most recently, Gertrude Stein throughout her discussion. Her point of view is always illuminating, lively, and readable.
Telling Women's Lives is the first overview of the writing and the history of biographies about women. It is a significant contribution to the reassessment of the work of the hundreds of women writers who have made a difference in our conception of what women's stories - and women's lives - have been, and are becoming. The book is a must-read for anyone who loves reading biographies, particularly biographies of women.

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User Review  - Kirkus

A well-researched, engrossing history and critique of biographies about women. After publishing Sylvia Plath, A Biography (not reviewed), Wagner-Martin (English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of ... Read full review

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About the author (1994)

Linda Wagner-Martin is Hanes Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina. She is the author of "Favored Strangers':

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