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Thread: The Rise of Autobiographies

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    The Rise of Autobiographies

    You Think We’re Self-Obsessed Now? The 19th Century Would Like A Word | FiveThirtyEight
    As an old man, former president John Adams loved to describe the ways history had mistreated him — to detail the “perpetual volcano of slander, pouring on my flesh all my life time.” This habit eventually led to a manuscript of 440 pages and America’s first presidential memoir. Today, there’d be a bidding war to publish Adams’s tell-all. But in the early 1800s, Adams knew his book could not appear until after his death. Too many Americans saw publishing an autobiography, or even writing an autobiography, as a strange and arrogant act.
    Author Craig Fehrman has written a book about Presidents' literary output, "Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote"

    In 1946, a certain Louis Kaplan started a project to make a comprehensive list of autobiographies published in the United States.
    After 14 years, Kaplan and his colleagues finally had their “Bibliography of American Autobiographies.” They ended up identifying 6,377 autobiographies published in the U.S. between 1675 and the 1940s, and their data shows the genre’s notable growth. Between 1800 and 1809, Americans published a total of just 27 autobiographies. One century later, during the decade between 1900 and 1909, that number had exploded to 569, easily outpacing population growth.
    As an indicator of attitudes toward autobiographies,
    One early American reader, for example, dismissed Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s classic “Confessions” as “an unnatural compound of vanity, meanness, and contemptible self-love.”
    Autobiography - that was also the title of the autobiography of Augustine of Hippo (354-430). He moaned and groaned at length in it about a terrible sin that he had committed. In hid childhood, he and some other boys had stolen some pears.

    Sociologist Diane Bjorklund then coded LK's data to look for trends in it. In the first half of the 19th cy., over half of the autobiographies came from two sources: religious figures and criminals.

    In the 1840's and 1850's, escaped slaves' accounts became common, in the 1860's, Civil War military figures did so, more than in the previous six decades combined, and in the 1880's and 1890's, business figures did so, more than in the previous eight decades combined.

    The Roaring Twenties had lots of autobiographies of entertainers, while religious figures and criminals declined to about 20% of the total.

    By the 1940's, autobiographies were very diverse, with numerous categories of people represented. Just like the present day.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    The point of the pear parable wasn't that the act was terrible, but that its motivation (a pure desire to act badly, though he was not hungry) made him realize that even when young, humans are not fundamentally good or society-minded. An interesting fact: Augustine, Arius, and Tertullian, giants each of early Christian philosophy, were all of Amazirh (Berber) descent. The fates of North Africa and Europe were ever entertwined. It's a pity only Augustine completed an autobiography, Arius' perspective on the Nicene controversy would have been an interesting read.

    At the same time as escaped slave narratives, "captivity narratives" were also in vogue; accounts of usually white women, sometimes men, being kidnapped and defiled by Plains Indians but surviving against all odds by God's grace and her internal virtue alone. This was the second go-around for that genre, which had also flourished in the years leading up to the War of Independence no doubt for similar reasons.

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    And how about the modern classics: Marky Mark (1992) with the immortal inscription, "I wanna dedicate this book to my dick", or the magisterial Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started (2102), in which Sir Justin, er, in which Justin delineates the first 4 years of his career in the musical arts.

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