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Lee, Hermione

Biographies are one of the most popular and best-selling of the literary genres. Why do people like them? What does a biography do and how does it work? This book examines different types of biographies, why certain people and historical events arouse so much interest, and how they are compared with history and fiction

Paperback, Book. English.
Published Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009
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Statement of responsibility: by Hermione Lee
ISBN: 0199533547, 9780199533541
Physical Description: 144 p. : ill. ; 18 cm.
Series: Very short introductions
Subject: Literary appreciation; Biography; Biography as a literary form.


  1. The Biography Channel
  2. Exemplary Lives
  3. Warts and All
  4. National Biography
  5. Fallen Idols
  6. Against Biography
  7. Public Roles
  8. Telling the Story

Author note

Hermoine Lee is a well-known literary biographer, author of critical studies of Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, and Philip Roth. She has also written major biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), and Edith Wharton (2007), a selection of which was published by Princeton University Press as Virginia Woolf's Nose (2005). From 1998 to 2008 she was the Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of New College at the University of

Oxford. She is now President of Wolfson College.


Biography is one of the most popular, best-selling, and widely-read of literary genres.

But why do certain people and historical events arouse so much interest? How can biographies be compared with history and works of fiction? Does a biography need to be true? Is it acceptable to omit or conceal things? Does the biographer need to personally know the subject? Must a biographer be subjective?

In this Very Short Introduction Hermione Lee considers the cultural and historical background of different types of biographies, looking at the factors that affect biographers and whether there are different strategies, ethics, and principles required for writing about one person compared to another. She also considers contemporary biographical publications and considers what kind of 'lives' are the most popular and in demand.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.


It would be hard to think of anyone better to provide a crisp contribution to OUP's Very Short Introductions.
Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian||A sophisticated overview for the general reader.
Andrew Lycett, Literary Review||Enjoyable book on the subject.
Henry Power, TLS