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Autobiography

  • ... to look back on one's life is to experience the capriciousness of memory. ... the past is not static. It can be relived only in memory, and memory is a device for forgetting as well as remembering. It, too, is not immutable. It rediscovers, reinvents, reorganizes. Like a passage of prose it can be revised and repunctuated. To that extent, every autobiography is a work of fiction and every work of fiction an autobiography.

  • Your life story would not make a good book. Do not even try.

  • I used to think I was an interesting person, but I must tell you how sobering a thought it is to realize your life's story fills about thirty-five pages and you have, actually, not much to say.

  • This is an autobiographical-loving age ...

  • ... autobiography at least saves a man or woman that the world is curious about from the publication of a string of mistakes called 'Memoirs.'

    • George Eliot,
    • letter (1876), in J.W. Cross, ed., George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals ()
  • But I confess, that the more I think of the book [Harriet Martineau's memoirs] and all connected with it, the more it deepens my repugnance — or rather creates a new repugnance in me — to autobiography, unless it can be so written as to involve neither self-glorification nor impeachment of others. I like that the 'He, being dead, yet speaketh,' should have quite another meaning than that.

    • George Eliot,
    • 1877, in Gordon S. Haight, ed., The George Eliot Letters, vol. 6 ()
  • The urge to write one's autobiography, so I have been told, overtakes everyone sooner or later.

  • It may be that this autobiography [Aimee Semple McPherson's] is set down in sincerity, frankness, and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • "Our Lady of the Loudspeaker," in The New Yorker ()
  • All fiction may be autobiographical, but all autobiography is of course fiction.

  • Sometimes I think there are two kinds of people — the autobiographists and the biographists.

  • What I absorbed from autobiographies was not how to be great so much as the littleness of the great.

  • ... the autobiography is at one and the same time a single element in the series of the writer's created works and an interpretation of the whole series.

  • Mark this well, I told myself, when you come to write the History of your own Life; ne'er forget that 'tis not Fidelity to Fact alone that makes a Story stir the Blood, but Craft and Art! And 'tis perhaps the greatest Craft to seem to have no Craft.

  • Memory is the crux of our humanity. Without memory we have no identities. That is really why I am committing an autobiography.

  • ... the unconscious of an artist is her greatest treasure. It is what transmutes the dross of autobiography into the gold of myth.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "Jane Eyre's Unbroken Will." What Do Women Want? ()
  • ... I verily believe some censuring Readers will scornfully say, why hath this Lady writ her own Life? since none cares to know whose daughter she was or whose wife she is, or how she was bred, or what fortunes she had, or how she lived, or what humor or disposition she was of? I answer that it is true, that 'tis to no purpose to the Readers, but it is to the Authoress, because I write it for my own sake, not theirs.

  • I have always hated biography, and more especially, autobiography. If biography, the writer invariably finds it necessary to plaster the subject with praises, flattery and adulation and to invest him with all the Christian graces. If autobiography, the same plan is followed, but the writer apologizes for it.

  • Documenting one's life in the midst of living it is a strange pursuit.

  • [On Margot Asquith's autobiography:] Never before or since has any book been so much relished by its author.

  • One cannot use the life to interpret the work. But one can use the work to interpret the life.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Under the Sign of Saturn," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • This is a circular book. It does not begin at the beginning and go on to the end; it is all going on at the same time, sticking out like the spokes of a wheel from the hub, which is me. So it does not matter which chapter is read first or last.

  • Hiring someone to write your autobiography is like hiring someone to take a bath for you.

  • Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.

  • Thus, in a real sense, I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility.

  • ... an autobiography held out the promise of hearing truths that only friends confess to one another but are knowledge you need to live.

  • There is no real escape from autobiography into biography. The self has to be faced, or we die.

  • This is an attempt to narrate a real life, my own, and to find the pattern within it. The pattern can't really be completed, of course, until death, when autobiography so rudely turns into biography ...

  • ... there is no truly honest autobiography.

  • To be sure, the ego is not always odious. Few books are more thrilling than certain confessions, but they must be honest, and the author must have something to confess.

  • Writing an autobiography, usually thought of as a looking back, can just as well be a looking across or through, with the passing of time giving an X-ray quality to the eye.

  • Death is the advertisement, at the end of an autobiography, wherein people discover its virtues.

  • There is no such thing as autobiography. There's only art and lies.

  • ... it's a feature of our times that if you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography — but if you write your biography, it's assumed you're lying your head off.

  • Writing the story of your own life, I now know, is an agonizing experience, a bit like drilling your own teeth.

  • I'll be eighty this month. Age, if nothing else, entitles me to set the record straight before I dissolve. I've given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book.

  • [On her autobiography:] I'm a goddam image, not a person, and the poor girl who worked on it had to write about the image. ... I think she'd have been better off with Lassie.

    • Joan Crawford,
    • in Roy Newquist, Conversations With Joan Crawford ()
  • I've told youngsters not to write their autobiographical novel at the age of twenty-one; to save it for the time when they're fifty-one or sixty-one. They should write other novels first, to learn their craft; they shouldn't cut their teeth on the valuable material of childhood because they'll never have better material, ever, to work with.

  • Among the hundreds of requests that have come to me are: ... 'Will you write my autobiography?'

  • Egotism is the sin of autobiography, and vanity naturally takes the pen to trace its dictation.

  • Everybody, they say, has one good novel in them — their own autobiography.

  • Lives there a man with soul so dead that never to himself has said, 'My life would make a book.'

  • All autobiography is self-indulgent.

  • A memoir is an exercise in vulgarity, candor, excess, and overkill.

  • There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.