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Biographical Criticism

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Chris Hough

on 26 August 2013

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Transcript of Biographical Criticism

A Biographical Approach to Literary Criticism
An Overview
When taking a biographical approach to literature, it is assumed that there is a relationship between the author's life and the work.
The purpose of such an approach is to discover connections between the author's personal growth and the development of the work.
We can understand the literary work better as we understand its creator better.
There is often times a link between particular stories, plays, and peoms to particular events and people in the author's life that can be seen through a biographical lens.
Limitations and Critiques of Biographical Criticism
Many people think that the work should be studied without including any connections to the author's life.
They argue that when less is known about the author, more of the reader's attention can be paid to the literature.
Reader's should never become distracted from the author's work by their biographies as this can challenge the true meaning of the author's words.
These critics believe that it is possible to understand a piece of literature without knowing the personal and psychological motives the author may have included in his work.

"[Poetry is] not an expression of personality, but an
escape from personality."
- T. S. Eliot

Of what use is biographical criticism to a writer such as William Shakespeare?
Effects on Reading
Should we let outside knowledge on the author effect out judgement of the work?
Should our response differ due to the author's personal life?

Should the piece of literature be able to stand on it's own without any impact from biographical research?

There is a fine line that is straddled when taking a biographical approach, and the critic must be wary to not sway too far to one side or the other.
A Biographical Investigation into The Metamorphosis
"Out, Out"
by Robert Frost
Benefits of Biographical Criticism
Biographical Criticism enables readers to approach the writer's work with a deeper understanding of how they were crafted and their meaning.
The lens allows us to see the imaginative spirit of how writers have taken events from their own lives and shaped these experiences into their works for the readers to enjoy.
What is really known about his life?
Does this lack of knowledge on the author impact his works?
Why or Why Not?
What to Look For and What to Ask
This lens will require doing outside research. During this research, a critic should seek particular events or characteristics in the work that can be related back to the author's life. In order to take a biographical approach to literature, one must operate under the assumption that such connections exist.
There are not any particular questions, per say, that must be asked in order to look through a biographical lens, but there are a few common areas that can draw connections. These areas include similarities in the character personalities that reflect the author, and events in the plot that mirror events in the author's life.
Gregor and Kafka
Gregor is a traveling salesman working at his current company for four years to pay off his parents’ debt. Kafka worked as a traveling insurance salesman most of his life, and at the time of the story's writing, he was in his fourth year at that particular job.
Kafka describes himself as weak and thin, which is identical to what Gregor becomes after his change.
Gregor's Family and Kafka's Family
Gregor's father is shown to be dominating and, at times, abusive. Kafka's father was very overbearing, and often degrading to him.
After Gregor's metamorphosis, his mother could never accept him. Kafka's mother was never able to understand or accept his dreams of becoming a writer.
This poem is based on a real-life event that occurred in March of 1910.
Raymond Fitzgerald, the son of Frost's neighbor, lost his hand to a buzzsaw and went into shock.
He died despite doctor's efforts.
The poem was not published until 1916, giving Frost plenty of time to see the reactions from the family. Frost specifically uses the final lines of the poem to express his personal viewpoint on life, which he attributes in part to this event.
"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It Goes On"
- Robert Frost
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