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Bedford RD, Davis L, Kelly P. Early Modern Autobiography: Theories, Genres, Practices. 2006.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/839
Early Modern Autobiography: Theories, Genres, Practices
"There is no description so hard, nor so profitable, as is the description of a man's own life. Yet must a man handsomely trimme-up, yea and dispose and range himselfe, to appeare on the Theatre of this World. Now I continually tricke up my selfe; for I uncessantly describe me selfe." (Montaigne, 'Of Excercise or Practice', Montaigne's Essays, trans. John Florio, 3 vols, London: Dent, 1965, vol. 2, 49-61 p 39)What are the moments that successfully "describe my selfe"? Are they the stylized moments of self-revelation -- those in which, as Montaigne puts it, one "trimmes" oneself with an an eye to the public appearance -- or the myriad of modest repetitive actions that fall outside of the realm of careful disposition? This question goes to the heart of current debate about literature and autobiography. It addresses the contentious issues of what is meant by early modern English autobiography; what is meant, essentially and socially, by the notion of "self-hood,"1 how autobiography was written, and whose writings can be deemed appropriately self-representational. Many scholars are now skeptical of finding the key to expressions of hugely worked-over plays and occasional writings that have been marked as literary treasures, but this skepticism should be tempered by an acknowledgement of the highly structured society in which carefully "trimmed-up" writings were taken as the template for many more harried, and perhaps necessarily less contemplative people -- people who did not have the luxury of time and means afforded to scholars such as Montaigne -- to use as guides for living their lives.