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Autobiography in Early Modern England


  • Author: Adam Smyth, Birkbeck College, University of London
  • Date Published: August 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521761727

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About the Authors
  • How did individuals write about their lives before a modern tradition of diaries and autobiographies was established? Adam Smyth examines the kinds of texts that sixteenth- or seventeenth-century individuals produced to register their life, in the absence of these later, dominant templates. The book explores how readers responded to, and improvised with, four forms - the almanac, the financial account, the commonplace book and the parish register - to create written records of their lives. Early modern autobiography took place across these varied forms, often through a lengthy process of transmission and revision of written documents. This book brings a dynamic, surprising culture of life-writing to light, and will be of interest to anyone studying autobiography or early modern literature.

    • Considers previously overlooked forms of life-writing, analysing less conventional forms of biography
    • Each chapter looks in detail at one particular kind of writing, building up a picture of the culture of autobiography
    • Contains a detailed analysis of the transmission and revision of these documents, and how these changes produced accounts of individuals' lives
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Smyth's arguments are persuasive, blending methods from both history and literary criticism to produce an elegantly written, meticulously research[ed] book. It will be essential reading for historians of early modern England.' History Today

    '… persuasive and fascinating … Bringing the eye of a literary critic to bear on materials that have conventionally been assigned to historians, Smyth is wonderfully lucid and comprehensive in his exploration of both historical and literary dimensions … this is a book of substantial theoretical sophistication, and also of considerable charm. Smyth writes with style, and with a splendid eye for the telling detail and the wittily placed illustrative quotation. His enthusiasm for these marginal and obscure stories makes this book not only an outstanding contribution to debates on life-writing and the history of subjectivity, but a genuinely delightful read.' Katharine Hodgkin, The English Historical Review

    '… where Smyth truly triumphs is in the care and sensitivity with which he describes his archival material … Full of warmth, humour, and a humane inquisitiveness, such acts of close reading lie at the heart of Smyth's book, and the delicacy with which they are elaborated belies the daunting archival expertise upon which they rely. No student of early modern culture will fail to be moved by them … magisterial and surely unrivalled … [this book] deserves a wide and appreciative audience.' Andrea Walkden, Renaissance Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2010
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521761727
    • length: 234 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 150 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • contains: 7 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Note on references
    1. Almanacs and annotators
    2. Financial accounting
    3. Commonplace book lives: 'a very applicative story'
    4. Entries and exits: finding life in parish registers

  • Author

    Adam Smyth, Birkbeck College, University of London
    Adam Smyth is a lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the author of 'Profit and Delight': Printed Miscellanies in England, 1649–1682 (2004) and he also edited 'A Pleasing Sinne': Drink and Conviviality in Seventeenth-Century England (2004).

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