The Art of Autobiography

Right now I’m working on reading two different yet impressively lengthy autobiographies — that of Madame George Sand and that of Mr. H. G. Wells.

ImageThese are both authors I have long admired and all it took was for my mother-in-law to send me this aging copy of Wells’ Experiment for me to dive in.

And while I’ve only just begun both works, I have found myself pleased and amused by how dissimilar their voices are from one another and yet how similarly they both approached the art of autobiography.

I journal everyday to help me tackle and make sense of my own thoughts and daily reflections, but part of me had always wondered if there wasn’t some vanity involved in deciding to actually write and publish a full autobiography. And, to my great delight, Sand addresses this in her very first line:

“I do not think there need be vanity or impertinence in writing the story of one’s own life, still less in choosing from among the memories that life has left us those which seem worth saving.” (71)

I find I greatly like this idea that life conducts its own version of editing, as if your Life itself is a writer of sorts, pruning you and your memories into the ultimate yet ever unfinished text. And while Sand maintains that a major reason for writing her own biography is in order to clarify the issues present in the various other biographies about her that were already floating around, there is also a  clear underlying desire to wrestle with the big Herself. (I can’t wait!)

For Wells, it appears so far that the autobiography for him was not only to be an experiment in writing but in attempting to understand himself and where he wants to go with the rest of his life — almost as if his autobiography was a response to a mid-life crisis of sorts. He explains,

“Imperfection and incompleteness are the certain lot of all creative workers. We all compromise. We all fall short. The life story to be told of any creative worker is therefore by its very nature, by its diversions of purpose and its qualified success, by its grotesque transitions from sublimation to base necessity and its pervasive stress towards flight, a comedy.” (7)

So far, reading about the humility and feelings of failure in these authors has got me reevaluating how great I was feeling about my own career this morning. Although, it also has me feeling better about it in some ways. If Wells couldn’t appreciate his own accomplishments, after all, then who can? Who can act as an accurate judge of their own lives, careers, and accomplishments?

What do you think? Do you journal? Do you read or write autobiography?



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