Date of Award

1990

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

James Olney

Abstract

This dissertation examines the prefaces and autobiographies of creative writers as "authorial introductions," textual spaces in which writers present themselves to their readers as authors. It consists of three main parts. Part One concerns autobiographical prefaces by two writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Shelley, who did not write autobiographies and who were defensive about the autobiographical content of their prefaces. Both writers were ambivalent about authorship and hesitant about bringing themselves "forward in print," but within the limits of their prefaces, they were able to speak autobiographically and portray themselves as authors. Part Two examines the autobiographies and prefaces of three prolific novelists as "stories of authorship." The lives of Vladimir Nabokov, Ellen Glasgow, and Henry James were all "centered on literature." Their autobiographies and prefaces reveal their pride in authorship and their ambivalent relationships with their readers, whose responses sometimes gratified, but more often frustrated these writers. For these three authors, the conviction that they were great writers was accompanied by a sense of being set apart from the mass of humankind. Their prefaces and autobiographies are attempts to bridge the gap between author and reader without sacrificing the privileged stance of the author for whom literary creation is its own reward. Part Three focuses on prefaces to autobiographies. A theoretical chapter addresses two questions. First, what prompts an autobiographer, who is already addressing the reader in the first person, to step outside the text in a preface? Second, what effect does the presence of a preface have on the autobiography? The final chapter discusses two autobiographies which not only begin with prefaces but include prefatory interchapters: Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood and Lillian Hellman's Three. In both autobiographies the elusiveness of truth becomes a central issue, largely because of these interchapters and the authors' awareness of themselves as writers which is manifested there. These autobiographies are contrasted with McCarthy's How I Grew and Hellman's Maybe, less successful autobiographies in which the consciousness of a dual role as storyteller and autobiographer, which the use of interchapters encouraged, is lost.

Pages

441

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