dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
Add MemoryShare This Entry
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 09:19pm on 23/10/2012
I just finished Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë (published 1857) and am wondering -- is this the first major biography of a woman in English?

I can't think of any earlier ones. Memoirs and autobiographies, yes (especially by religious women), but no biographies. Although surely there were hagiographies, and Elizabeth I must have been the subject of a biography before the mid-1900s...

Maybe it's the first biography of a woman by a woman -- although certainly not the first biography by a woman, since I think it was fairly common, at least by the 19th century, for a surviving wife to write up her husband's life and edit his letters for publication.

Am I missing something obvious?
There are 29 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
paceisthetrick: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] paceisthetrick at 01:30am on 24/10/2012
Didn't Gaskell write North and South?
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 02:42am on 24/10/2012
Yes! Also Cranford and Wives and Daughters and a lot of others. I definitely want to read her novels now that I've enjoyed The Life of Charlotte Brontë so much.
paceisthetrick: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] paceisthetrick at 02:47am on 24/10/2012
I didn't realize she wrote other things. I definitely want to read more by her.
linaelyn: (horizon by hope)
posted by [personal profile] linaelyn at 02:20am on 24/10/2012
Surely there are previous biographies written about female monarchs? Elizabeth I? Also, would biographies of saints of the female variety be more extant in early medieval writings? Just thinking out loud here.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 02:49am on 24/10/2012
That makes sense to me -- I just can't think of any particular ones.

I also thought of another major category -- slave narratives. Of course those were all framed as autobiography, but many were actually written by another person (often a white abolitionist woman) when the former slave didn't have sufficient literacy to write her own story. In many of those cases the writer is thought to have altered the exact words for one reason or another. But I still wouldn't class that as 'biography' -- more like 'filtered autobiography.'
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 12:00pm on 24/10/2012
I might be wrong but the first slave narrative about/by a woman that I can recall was of Mary Prince, so the "captivity narratives" of white captives of indigenous people in the Americas and before that captives of Barbary pirates would have been earlier.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 12:06pm on 24/10/2012
Hm, Mary Prince's was 1831. My edition says it's the first woman's slave narrative published in Britain, so yeah, there must definitely be captivity narratives that predate it. OTOH those are all still first-person narratives.
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 12:19pm on 24/10/2012
They're almost all (?all?) presented as autobiography, yes, although I suspect neatly separated categories autobiography/biography/roman-a-clef/fiction don't rly exist before the 19th century.

I also have a nagging feeling that there is ONE publication, framed as what we would now call a biography, in English, of a woman who was enslaved by Barbary pirates and became powerful at one of the Muslim courts (17th/18th century?). I might be wrong though. It's been a while since I looked at that subject in general.

dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 03:37pm on 24/10/2012
I suspect neatly separated categories autobiography/biography/roman-a-clef/fiction don't rly exist before the 19th century

Yeah, that's part of the problem -- strictly defining the category seems to be important even for answering my casually-asked question! Now I want to read a History of the Biography somewhere.

a woman who was enslaved by Barbary pirates and became powerful at one of the Muslim courts (17th/18th century?)

That is reminding me of ... a bodice-ripper by Bertrice Small. Hmm.
legionseagle: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] legionseagle at 03:53pm on 24/10/2012
This happened to the Empress Josephine's cousin, who reputedly ended up as the Dowager Sultana.
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 06:20pm on 24/10/2012
Aimée du Buc de Rivéry? I know the story but I'm not sure there's any/much historical evidence after she went missing at sea as a child?
legionseagle: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] legionseagle at 06:22pm on 24/10/2012
The evidence of a Western - specifically French - influence on Mehmet II is pretty strong on the evidence of the Dolmabahce palace (can't do diacritics, sorry) but where it came from, who knows?

But she was returning from boarding school, so hardly a child.
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 06:10pm on 24/10/2012
Hee, I don't read bodice rippers but there are too many historical women for me to remember which one might have had a biography in English. In the last week I've discussed these three for starters:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roxelana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kösem_Sultan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliana_Dias_da_Costa

It does sound as if you need a history of biography, yes.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 06:42pm on 24/10/2012
I don't really recommend that bodice ripper, to be frank. However, I clearly need to be reading your journal. *adds*
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 06:50pm on 24/10/2012
In fairness I should point out that two of the three weren't on my journal (or online at all, heh) and I'm just shamelessly using Black History Month to clear out my bookmarks. My journal is more usually a dull mix of nature photos, urban walks, and occasional leftie political ranting. Defriend at will, obviously. :-D
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 11:46am on 24/10/2012
Yes, hundreds, possibly thousands, of "lives" of women Christian saints exist. One of the first books Caxton printed in English was a translation of the Golden Legend. Although whether the OP would consider those to be "major biographies" is another matter.

omphale: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] omphale at 02:52am on 24/10/2012
Godwin's Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft, maybe? That's 1798, and it's really a biography proper.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 12:13pm on 24/10/2012
Aha! Thank you. That's exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of. I see Godwin was her husband -- that sounds typical, from what I've read (the surviving spouse or another close relative would be the one to write the biography).
domtheknight: espresso machine brewing into little white mugs (Default)
posted by [personal profile] domtheknight at 02:57am on 24/10/2012
I'm not up on official classifications of biographies as opposed to other types of history books, but would Alison Weir's works qualify? She's written a bunch about Elizabeth I and related people.
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
posted by [personal profile] oursin at 07:39am on 24/10/2012
This is by the C21st a well-established genre, within which Weir is writing.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 12:15pm on 24/10/2012
Not exactly -- I was asking whether there was anything before Gaskell's life of Brontë, which was published in 1857. It was really a question about the history of biography!
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
posted by [personal profile] oursin at 07:37am on 24/10/2012
This would be more or less contemporaneous with Agnes Strickland's multivolume lives of the queens and princesses of England and Scotland, from documentary sources, which were coming out during the 1850s.

Have a feeling that there were various narratives of e.g. Hannah Snell, the female soldier of the C18th, and similar, but that's probably more at the tabloid sensational end of things.
spiralsheep: Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society (Sewing Circle Terrorist Society)
posted by [personal profile] spiralsheep at 11:41am on 24/10/2012
On a similarly sensationalist theme, I presume there were broadsheet biographies of women criminals (especially to be sold when they were executed) exactly like the men, although many of those were framed as autobiographies or "last words" (printed the day before, clearly...).
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 12:17pm on 24/10/2012
Oh, thank you! Agnes Strickland definitely beats Mrs. Gaskell to being the first female biographer of a female subject, then.
oursin: Painting of Clio Muse of History by Artemisia Gentileschi (Clio)
posted by [personal profile] oursin at 01:07pm on 24/10/2012
I'm also going to myself, 'surely the Bluestockings must have written about each other?' but maybe that was more along the lines of 'My reminiscences of Mrs Montagu', though I have a vague recollection that at least some of them had posthumous publications of their letters (probably expurgated of malicious gossip and heavy on the big thinkery). Don't have my Bluestocking sources to hand at the moment.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 03:39pm on 24/10/2012
posthumous publications of their letters (probably expurgated of malicious gossip and heavy on the big thinkery)

That makes sense. And surely some of the collected letters had biographical commentary.
legionseagle: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] legionseagle at 12:33pm on 24/10/2012
Mary Lacy, the female shipwright but that's autobiography so doesn't count for these purposes.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dorothean at 03:38pm on 24/10/2012
Thank you for mentioning her, anyway -- that sounds very interesting!
legionseagle: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] legionseagle at 03:52pm on 24/10/2012
And, in the same vein, you may enjoy A Lady's Captivity Among Chinese Pirates (the lady in question was French, and I rather got the impression that she felt that while naturally being captured by Chinese pirates was somewhat alarming, thank God they could cook! Unlike the people on the British liners she'd been travelling by.

Translated from the French by Amelia B. Edwards, a near-contemporary.

May

SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
11
 
12
 
13
 
14
 
15
 
16
 
17
 
18
 
19
 
20
 
21
22
 
23
 
24
 
25
 
26
 
27
 
28
 
29
 
30
 
31