Review of The Intimate Empire: Reading Women's Autobiography, by Gillian Whitlock
What seems to be a particularly recent interest in autobiography and biography, indeed in all forms of what is often referred to as life writing, has a long and conflicted history. This includes the struggle to establish narrative fiction as a valued genre in which the notion of a true story by an authenticated narrative self plays a part. Gender has also had its role in that history. At different times autobiographical writing has been admired and adopted as a masculine genre or trivialised by being aligned with women's stories of their lives. That literary history, as well as the specificities of life writing, have been amplified and subjected to radical reinterpretations in the proliferation of contemporary critiques and rereadings. Among such critics are those Gillian Whitlock acknowledges as particular sources for her work: Sidonie Smith, Drusilla Modjeska, Leigh Gilmore and Shirley Neuman. The renewed popularity of life writing, revisions of its traditional forms, and the ways feminist, deconstructionist and postmodern critical strategies have complicated literary categories for writers and readers have together produced a dynamic literary field for readers and researchers. Within this increasingly rich domain—which includes diaries and journals, travel writing, letters and memoirs— fiction and life writings are now less separated than previously. Women's writing, so prominent in those categories previously unacknowledged as literary, has been reinscribed as centrally significant to them.
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