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An autobiography, sometimes informally called an autobio, is a self-written account of one's own life.

It is a form of .

The word "autobiography" was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the periodical The Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as "pedantic". However, its next recorded use was in its present sense, by in 1809."autobiography", Oxford English Dictionary Despite only being named early in the nineteenth century, first-person autobiographical writing originates in antiquity. Roy Pascal differentiates autobiography from the periodic self-reflective mode of journal or diary writing by noting that "autobiography is a review of a life from a particular moment in time, while the diary, however reflective it may be, moves through a series of moments in time". Autobiography thus takes stock of the autobiographer's life from the moment of composition. While biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints, autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. The form is closely associated with autobiography but it tends, as Pascal claims, to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer's review of their own life.


Autobiographical works are by nature subjective. The inability—or unwillingness—of the author to accurately recall memories has in certain cases resulted in misleading or incorrect information. Some sociologists and psychologists have noted that autobiography offers the author the ability to recreate history.

Spiritual autobiography
Spiritual autobiography is an account of an author's struggle or journey towards God, followed by conversion a religious conversion, often interrupted by moments of regression. The author re-frames their life as a demonstration of divine intention through encounters with the Divine. The earliest example of a spiritual autobiography is Augustine's Confessions though the tradition has expanded to include other religious traditions in works such as 's An Autobiography and Black Elk Speaks. The spiritual autobiography often serves as an endorsement of the writer's religion.

A is slightly different in character from an autobiography. While an autobiography typically focuses on the "life and times" of the writer, a memoir has a narrower, more intimate focus on the author's memories, feelings and emotions. Memoirs have often been written by politicians or military leaders as a way to record and publish an account of their public exploits. One early example is that of 's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, also known as Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. In the work, Caesar describes the battles that took place during the nine years that he spent fighting local armies in the . His second memoir, Commentarii de Bello Civili (or Commentaries on the Civil War) is an account of the events that took place between 49 and 48 BC in the civil war against Gnaeus Pompeius and the .

Leonor López de Córdoba (1362–1420) wrote what is supposed to be the first autobiography in Spanish. The English Civil War (1642–1651) provoked a number of examples of this genre, including works by Sir and Sir John Reresby. French examples from the same period include the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1614–1679) and the Duc de Saint-Simon.

Fictional autobiography
The term "fictional autobiography" signifies novels about a fictional character written as though the character were writing their own autobiography, meaning that the character is the first-person narrator and that the novel addresses both internal and external experiences of the character. 's is an early example. ' David Copperfield is another such classic, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a well-known modern example of fictional autobiography. Charlotte Brontë's is yet another example of fictional autobiography, as noted on the front page of the original version. The term may also apply to works of fiction purporting to be autobiographies of real characters, e.g., 's Memoirs of .

Autobiography through the ages

The classical period: Apologia, oration, confession
In antiquity such works were typically entitled , purporting to be self-justification rather than self-documentation. John Henry Newman's Christian confessional work (first published in 1864) is entitled Apologia Pro Vita Sua in reference to this tradition.

The Jewish historian introduces his autobiography ( Josephi Vita, c. 99) with self-praise, which is followed by a justification of his actions as a Jewish rebel commander of Galilee.Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. Life of Josephus : translation and commentary, Volume 9

The (c. 314–394) framed his life memoir ( Oration I begun in 374) as one of his , not of a public kind, but of a literary kind that could not be aloud in privacy.

Augustine (354–430) applied the title Confessions to his autobiographical work, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the same title in the 18th century, initiating the chain of confessional and sometimes racy and highly self-critical, autobiographies of the era and beyond. Augustine's was arguably the first Western autobiography ever written, and became an influential model for Christian writers throughout the . It tells of the lifestyle Augustine lived for a time within his youth, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits; his following and leaving of the anti-sex and anti-marriage in attempts to seek sexual morality; and his subsequent return to due to his embracement of Skepticism and the movement (developing the view that sex is good, and that virginity is better, comparing the former to silver and the latter to gold; Augustine's views subsequently strongly influenced Western theologyFiorenza and Galvin (1991), p. 317). Confessions will always rank among the great masterpieces of western literature.

(2008). 9780199537822, Oxford University Press.

In the spirit of Augustine's Confessions is the 12th-century Historia Calamitatum of , outstanding as an autobiographical document of its period.

Early autobiographies
In the 15th century, Leonor López de Córdoba, a Spanish noblewoman, wrote her Memorias, which may be the first autobiography in .

, who founded the of kept a journal (Chagatai/بابر نامہ; literally: "Book of Babur" or "Letters of Babur") which was written between 1493 and 1529.

One of the first great autobiographies of the is that of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), written between 1556 and 1558, and entitled by him simply Vita (: Life). He declares at the start: "No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty."Benvenuto Cellini, tr. George Bull, The Autobiography, London 1966 p. 15. These criteria for autobiography generally persisted until recent times, and most serious autobiographies of the next three hundred years conformed to them.

Another autobiography of the period is De vita propria, by the Italian mathematician, physician and astrologer (1574).

One of the first autobiographies written in an Indian language was Ardhakathānaka, written by , who was a businessman and poet of . The poetic autobiography Ardhakathānaka (The Half Story), was composed in , an early dialect of linked with the region around Mathura.In his autobiography, he describes his transition from an unruly youth, to a religious realization by the time the work was composed.

(2015). 9781783741021, Open Book Publishers. .
The work also is notable for many details of life in Mughal times.

The earliest known autobiography written in English is the Book of Margery Kempe, written in 1438.

(1985). 9780140432510, Penguin. .
Following in the earlier tradition of a life story told as an act of Christian witness, the book describes 's pilgrimages to the and , her attempts to negotiate a celibate marriage with her husband, and most of all her religious experiences as a Christian mystic. Extracts from the book were published in the early sixteenth century but the whole text was published for the first time only in 1936.
(1985). 9780140432510, Penguin. .

Possibly the first publicly available autobiography written in English was Captain John Smith's autobiography published in 1630 The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith into Europe, Aisa, Africa and America from Anno Domini 1593 to 1629 which was regarded by many as not much more than a collection of tall tales told by someone of doubtful veracity. This changed with the publication of Philip Barbour's definitive biography in 1964 which, amongst other things, established independent factual bases for many of Smith's "tall tales", many of which could not have been known by Smith at the time of writing unless he was actually present at the events recounted.Barbour, Philip L. (1964). The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

Other notable English autobiographies of the 17th century include those of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1643, published 1764) and ( Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666).

(1783–1864) was the first African American woman to have a published biography in the United States.

(1998). 9780813525143, Rutgers University Press. .

18th and 19th centuries
Following the trend of , which greatly emphasized the role and the nature of the individual, and in the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, a more intimate form of autobiography, exploring the subject's emotions, came into fashion. 's autobiographical writings of the 1830s, The Life of Henry Brulard and Memoirs of an Egotist, are both avowedly influenced by Rousseau.
(1971). 9780801491245, Cornell University Press. .
An English example is 's Liber Amoris (1823), a painful examination of the writer's love-life.

With the rise of education, cheap newspapers and cheap printing, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop, and the beneficiaries of this were not slow to cash in on this by producing autobiographies. It became the expectation—rather than the exception—that those in the public eye should write about themselves—not only writers such as (who also incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels) and , but also politicians (e.g. Henry Brooks Adams), philosophers (e.g. John Stuart Mill), churchmen such as Cardinal Newman, and entertainers such as P. T. Barnum. Increasingly, in accordance with romantic taste, these accounts also began to deal, amongst other topics, with aspects of childhood and upbringing—far removed from the principles of "Cellinian" autobiography.

20th and 21st centuries
From the 17th century onwards, "scandalous memoirs" by supposed , serving a public taste for titillation, have been frequently published. Typically , they were (and are) largely works of fiction written by . So-called "autobiographies" of modern professional athletes and media celebrities—and to a lesser extent about politicians—generally written by a ghostwriter, are routinely published. Some celebrities, such as , admit to not having read their "autobiographies". Some sensationalist autobiographies such as James Frey's A Million Little Pieces have been publicly exposed as having embellished or fictionalized significant details of the authors' lives.

Autobiography has become an increasingly popular and widely accessible form. A Fortunate Life by (1979) has become an Australian literary, 2010 With the critical and commercial success in the United States of such memoirs as Angela’s Ashes and The Color of Water, more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre. 's book The Argonauts is one of the recent autobiographies. calls it "autotheory"—a combination of autobiography and critical theory.

A genre where the "claim for truth" overlaps with fictional elements though the work still purports to be autobiographical is .

See also



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