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Victorian Biography Reconsidered A Study of Nineteenth-Century 'Hidden' Lives by Juliette (British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University College London) Atkinson


Victorian Biography Reconsidered A Study of Nineteenth-Century 'Hidden' Lives by Juliette (British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University College London) Atkinson

In 1939, Virginia Woolf called for a more inclusive form of biography, which would include 'the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious'. She did so in part as a reaction against Victorian biography, deemed to have been overly preoccupied with 'Great Men'. Yet a significant number of Victorians had already broken ranks to write the lives of humble, unsuccessful, or neglected men and women. Victorian Biography Reconsidered seeks to uncover and assess this trend. The book begins with an overview of Victorian biography followed by a reflection on how the bagginess of nineteenth-century hero-worship enabled new subjects to emerge. Biographies of 'hidden' lives are then scrutinized through chapters on the lives of humble naturalists, failed destinies, minor women writers, neglected Romantic poets rescued by Victorian biographers, and, finally, the Dictionary of National Biography. In its conclusion, the book briefly discusses how Virginia Woolf absorbed earlier biographical trends before redirecting the representation of 'hidden' lives. Victorian Biography Reconsidered argues that, often paradoxically, nineteenth-century biographers regarded the public sphere with intense wariness. At a time of instability for men of letters, biographers embraced the role of mediators in a manner that asserted their own cultural authority. Frequently, they showed little interest in vouchsafing immortality for their unknown or forgotten subjects, but strove instead to provoke amongst their readers a feeling of gratitude for the hidden labour that sustained the nation and an appreciation for the writers who had brought it to their attention.


The force of Juliette Atkinson's quietly revolutionary study ... lies in its demonstration that the Victorians were in fact intensely interested in neglected lives. * Dinah Birch, Times Literary Supplement * [Eliot is] an informing presence in this fascinating reappraisal of Victorian biography. * John Rignall, George Eliot Review * An eye-opening panorama of biography in Britain ... This book is a major contribution to historical studies of biography in English ... Since reading Victorian Biography Reconsidered, I have had the pleasure of applying Atkinson's fresh contributions in my own teaching and research ... The book fills a need for anyone interested in the history of what the English-speaking world thought about writing lives. * Alison Booth, Biography * One of the delights of reading Victorian Biography Reconsidered: a Study of Nineteenth Century 'Hidden
Lives is watching Juliette Atkinson show what excellent biography scholarship can look like

... The text bristles with striking observations that should stimulate further scholarship ... The result is one of the most accomplished and valuable books to date on Victorian Biography, and on biography criticism and theory in general. Juliette Atkinson therefore joins Alison Booth, David Amigoni and other major scholars of Victorian Biography as the author of a book that can only be described as essential reading. * Craig Howes, Life Writing * Victorian Biography Reconsidered would be vital reading on the strength of its thoroughness and diversity alone ... Because of the utter clarity, sophisticated assurance, and humane intelligence of Atkinson's prose, her explorations of tiny textual details and large-scale cultural concerns are equally persuasive and even revelatory * Sarah J. Heidt, Journal of British Studies *

About the Author

Juliette Atkinson completed her education at the University of Oxford and University College London. She was awarded her PhD in February 2008, and in May 2009 accepted a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her current research focuses on Anglo-French literary relations in the fin-de-siecle.

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Book Info

Publication date

26th August 2010


Juliette (British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University College London) Atkinson

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Oxford University Press


326 pages


Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900
Biography: general



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