For other uses, see Autobiography (disambiguation).
An autobiography (from the Greek, αὐτός-autos self + βίος-bios life + γράφειν-graphein to write) is a self-written account of the life of oneself . The word "autobiography" was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the EnglishperiodicalThe Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as "pedantic". However, its next recorded use was in its present sense, by Robert Southey in 1809. Despite only being named early in the nineteenth century, first-person autobiographical writing originates in antiquity. Roy Pascal differentiates autobiography from the periodic self-reflective mode of journal or diary writing by noting that "[autobiography] is a review of a life from a particular moment in time, while the diary, however reflective it may be, moves through a series of moments in time". Autobiography thus takes stock of the autobiographer's life from the moment of composition. While biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints, autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. The memoir form is closely associated with autobiography but it tends, as Pascal claims, to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer's review of his or her life.
See also: List of autobiographies and Category:Autobiographies for examples.
Autobiographical works are by nature subjective. The inability—or unwillingness—of the author to accurately recall memories has in certain cases resulted in misleading or incorrect information. Some sociologists and psychologists have noted that autobiography offers the author the ability to recreate history.
Spiritual autobiography is an account of an author's struggle or journey towards God, followed by conversion a religious conversion, often interrupted by moments of regression. The author re-frames his or her life as a demonstration of divine intention through encounters with the Divine. The earliest example of a spiritual autobiography is Augustine's "Confessions" though the tradition has expanded to include other religious traditions in works such as Zahid Rohari's "An Autobiography" and "Black Elk Speaks". The spiritual autobiography works as an endorsement of his or her religion.
Main article: Memoir
A memoir is slightly different in character from an autobiography. While an autobiography typically focuses on the "life and times" of the writer, a memoir has a narrower, more intimate focus on his or her own memories, feelings and emotions. Memoirs have often been written by politicians or military leaders as a way to record and publish an account of their public exploits. One early example is that of Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, also known as Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. In the work, Caesar describes the battles that took place during the nine years that he spent fighting local armies in the Gallic Wars. His second memoir, Commentarii de Bello Civili (or Commentary on the Civil War) is an account of the events that took place between 49 and 48 BC in the civil war against Gnaeus Pompeius and the Senate.
Leonor López de Córdoba (1362–1420) wrote what is supposed to be the first autobiography in Spanish. The English Civil War (1642–1651) provoked a number of examples of this genre, including works by Sir Edmund Ludlow and Sir John Reresby. French examples from the same period include the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1614–1679) and the Duc de Saint-Simon.
The term "fictional autobiography" signifies novels about a fictional character written as though the character were writing their own autobiography, meaning that the character is the first-person narrator and that the novel addresses both internal and external experiences of the character. Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders is an early example. Charles Dickens' David Copperfield is another such classic, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a well-known modern example of fictional autobiography. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is yet another example of fictional autobiography, as noted on the front page of the original version. The term may also apply to works of fiction purporting to be autobiographies of real characters, e.g., Robert Nye's Memoirs of Lord Byron.
Autobiography through the ages
The classical period: Apologia, oration, confession
In antiquity such works were typically entitled apologia, purporting to be self-justification rather than self-documentation. John Henry Newman's Christian confessional work (first published in 1864) is entitled Apologia Pro Vita Sua in reference to this tradition.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus introduces his autobiography (Josephi Vita, c. 99) with self-praise, which is followed by a justification of his actions as a Jewish rebel commander of Galilee.
The paganrhetorLibanius (c. 314–394) framed his life memoir (Oration I begun in 374) as one of his orations, not of a public kind, but of a literary kind that could not be aloud in privacy.
Augustine (354–430) applied the title Confessions to his autobiographical work, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the same title in the 18th century, initiating the chain of confessional and sometimes racy and highly self-critical, autobiographies of the Romantic era and beyond. Augustine's was arguably the first Western autobiography ever written, and became an influential model for Christian writers throughout the Middle Ages. It tells of the hedonistic lifestyle Augustine lived for a time within his youth, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits; his following and leaving of the anti-sex and anti-marriage Manichaeism in attempts to seek sexual morality; and his subsequent return to Christianity due to his embracement of Skepticism and the New Academy movement (developing the view that sex is good, and that virginity is better, comparing the former to silver and the latter to gold; Augustine's views subsequently strongly influenced Western theology). Confessions will always rank among the great masterpieces of western literature.
In the spirit of Augustine's Confessions is the 12th-century Historia Calamitatum of Peter Abelard, outstanding as an autobiographical document of its period.
The first autobiographical work in Islamic society was written in the late 11th century, by Abdallah ibn Buluggin, last Zirid king of Granada.
In the 15th century, Leonor López de Córdoba, a Spanish noblewoman, wrote her Memorias, which may be the first autobiography in Castillian.
Zāhir ud-Dīn Mohammad Bābur,who founded the Mughal dynasty of South Asia kept a journal Bāburnāma (Chagatai/Persian: بابر نامہ; literally: "Book of Babur" or "Letters of Babur") which was written between 1493 and 1529.
One of the first great autobiographies of the Renaissance is that of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), written between 1556 and 1558, and entitled by him simply Vita (Italian: Life). He declares at the start: "No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty." These criteria for autobiography generally persisted until recent times, and most serious autobiographies of the next three hundred years conformed to them.
Another autobiography of the period is De vita propria, by the Italian mathematician, physician and astrologer Gerolamo Cardano (1574).
It is often claimed that the earliest known autobiography in English is the early 15th-century Book of Margery Kempe, describing among other things Kempe's pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visit to Rome although it is, at best, only a partial autobiography and arguably more a memoir of religious experiences. The book remained in manuscript and was not published until 1936.
Possibly the first publicly available autobiography written in English was Captan John Smith's autobiography published in 1630  which was regarded by many as not much more than a collection of tall tales told by someone of doubtful veracity. This changed with the publication of Philip Barbour's definitive biography in 1964 which, amongst other things, established independent factual bases for many of Smith's "tall tales", many of which could not have been known by Smith at the time of writing unless he was actually present at the events recounted. 
Other notable English autobiographies of the 17th century include those of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1643, published 1764) and John Bunyan (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666).
18th and 19th centuries
Following the trend of Romanticism, which greatly emphasized the role and the nature of the individual, and in the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, a more intimate form of autobiography, exploring the subject's emotions, came into fashion. Stendhal's autobiographical writings of the 1830s, The Life of Henry Brulard and Memoirs of an Egotist, are both avowedly influenced by Rousseau. An English example is William Hazlitt's Liber Amoris (1823), a painful examination of the writer's love-life.
With the rise of education, cheap newspapers and cheap printing, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop, and the beneficiaries of this were not slow to cash in on this by producing autobiographies. It became the expectation—rather than the exception—that those in the public eye should write about themselves—not only writers such as Charles Dickens (who also incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels) and Anthony Trollope, but also politicians (e.g. Henry Brooks Adams), philosophers (e.g. John Stuart Mill), churchmen such as Cardinal Newman, and entertainers such as P. T. Barnum. Increasingly, in accordance with romantic taste, these accounts also began to deal, amongst other topics, with aspects of childhood and upbringing—far removed from the principles of "Cellinian" autobiography.
20th and 21st centuries
From the 17th century onwards, "scandalous memoirs" by supposed libertines, serving a public taste for titillation, have been frequently published. Typically pseudonymous, they were (and are) largely works of fiction written by ghostwriters. So-called "autobiographies" of modern professional athletes and media celebrities—and to a lesser extent about politicians, generally written by a ghostwriter, are routinely published. Some celebrities, such as Naomi Campbell, admit to not having read their "autobiographies".. Some sensationalist autobiographies such as James Frey's A Million Little Pieces have been publicly exposed as having embellished or fictionalized significant details of the authors' lives.
Autobiography has become an increasingly popular and widely accessible form. A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey (1979) has become an Australian literary classic. With the critical and commercial success in the United States of such memoirs as Angela’s Ashes and The Color of Water, more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre.
A genre where the "claim for truth" overlaps with fictional elements though the work still purports to be autobiographical is autofiction.
Notes and references
- Ferrieux, Robert (2001). L'Autobiographie en Grande-Bretagne et en Irlande. Paris: Ellipses. p. 384. ISBN 9782729800215.
- ^Oxford English Dictionary, Autobiography
- ^ abPascal, Roy (1960). Design and Truth in Autobiography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- ^Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. Life of Josephus : translation and commentary, Volume 9
- ^Fiorenza and Galvin (1991), p. 317
- ^Chadwick, Henry. Confessions. Oxford University Press. pp. 4 (ix). ISBN 9780199537822.
- ^Benvenuto Cellini, tr. George Bull, The Autobiography, London 1966 p. 15.
- ^The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith into Europe, Aisa, Africa and America from Anno Domini 1593 to 1629
- ^Barbour, Philip L (1964) The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.
- ^Wood, Michael (1971). Stendhal. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0801491245.
- ^about-australia.com.au, 2010
Language Learning Autobiography
I believe everyone has experienced how a language is learned. For me, I have learned Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka), English, and Korean. I can speak Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka) very fluently, and I speak English well enough to cope with any everyday situations. However, Korean is a language that I am still learning, and able to speak some sentences.
My Language Background
I was born and raised in a little village in Guangdong, China, where most of the people speak Hakka and Cantonese. My father and mother’s first language is Hakka but they are also able to speak Cantonese. Both of them can also speak Mandarin, though with accents. However, my mother tongue is Hakka, which is the main language that we use in our family. The Hakka dialect that I speak is the Guangdong Hakka dialect. I am also capable of speaking Cantonese is all because of my grandparents (mother’s parents), as Cantonese is their mother language. They are much more fluent in Cantonese than in Hakka. I have plenty of opportunities to speak and practice my Cantonese when I see my grandparents. For my language acquisition in Hakka and Cantonese just similar to natural language acquisition in bilingual children, and I learned these languages in a natural linguistic environment through imitation from parents and family members, which is what we called behaviorism, according to B.F Skinner. Beside from these two languages that I can speak fluently, I am also able to speak and write in Mandarin. I learned how to speak and write in Mandarin when I first started to go to school, because every school in China requires teachers to teach in Mandarin, and students to communicate in Mandarin.
I had my second language, English, first learning experience when I was seven years old. Because my parents paid a lot of attention to my early education, they hired a private tutor for me to learn English on the weekends. Three years later when I was in fourth grade, our elementary school offered the English classes, and I begun to reject having tutor in weekend. I still remembered that my English teacher in my elementary school spent a lot time to teach us the pronunciation of 26 character, and some simple words and sentences, such as “Hello! How are you? I am fine. Thank you!” When I entered middle school I learn English because there is a reason, just like Ryuko Kubota, an assistant professor of foreign language education in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had mention in her experiences of learning English as a second language on the Reflections On Multiliterate Lives book that “I was interested in popular songs in English and was eager to learn the subject.” (Belcher, 2001, p.103)
In my high school, I learned a lot of English knowledge that I never had before, because my whole family moved to Hawaii when I was thirteen years old. Because this is the period of time that I have to speak English everywhere, and that is the only way that I can communicate with other people beside my family. Finally in college, I decide to major in Second Language Studies and minor in Chinese as well as study Korean at the same time. Because I am really interested in Korean culture, and I believe the most basic way to know more about Korean culture and history is to study its language. I have learned Korean for a year so far. I can introduce myself briefly in Korean, say basic words and sentences.
From these languages that I have learned, I found out the best way to learn a language form my experiences or myself is through reading and communicate with native speaker in target language. Reading is so important to language development, and affects all areas of language acquisition. I believe if a person is a good reader, they will also be a good writer and good speaker. In my experience, as a new student first entered high school being place in English as a second language (ESL) learning program, and I started to learn English through listen, writing, speaking, and reading. For myself, I found that reading really helpful and useful way to learn English. The more I read, the better comprehension and more information I will get. For instance, I know a lot Americans’ culture by reading extensively in my ESL class; teacher allowed student choose books, magazine or newspaper that they like or interested to read in the first 15 - 20 minute of the class. Another effective approach to learn a language is to communicate with native speaker, it can help us improves our listening skill, pronunciation, increases your vocabulary and modes of expression.
Education and Language
As an ESL teacher in the future, I believe one of the main components of being an effective language teacher is to give students a motivating learning environment. I think motivation is a very important key in either teaching or learning. In order to motivate students toward language learning, a teacher’s showing interest about what he/she is teaching is an important factor in student’s motivation. If you are bored and apathetic, I believe students will be too. For example, making the material relevant to their lives, and not just based on form. Also, it is important to believe that students can succeed, and to show them that you believe in him or her and give them support that they should trust themselves and can do well. If you believe it, students will realize it and will work harder. It is also an important job for teacher to create an environment in which they feel safe and welcome to express their own opinions and their own ideas.
Another component of being a successful ESL teacher is to help students to achieve communicative competence by giving them confident. Because being students in an ESL class, their ultimate goals are learn how to successfully use and communicate in the target language that they are learning. Although it is important for student to learn grammar and target language, but if students are not able to communicate and interact with other by what they have learned that will be a big problem too. Therefore, as a teacher, we need to teach student how to be confident while we are communicating with other in their target language. I think the only way to help ESL students to be confident in their communication in class is by doing more specking activity or an activity that needs student to communicator with others a lot, such as share their own culture with the classes by doing a poster project in a group.
Overall, I have tried to explore my own language acquisition process, and also give my own view on my belief of how second language should be learn and teach from my personal experiences: to achieve a second language successfully I think that reading and communicate with native speaker in target language are the most effective way to learn second language, as well as second language teacher should provide having a motivating learning environment and help students to achieve communicative competence by giving them confident are very important too.
Belcher, Diane Dewhurst Connor. (2011). Reflections On Multiliterate Lives. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com.eres.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/lib/uhmanoa/docDetail.action?docID=10016707