Biographical Approach Example Essay

Literature is always said to be the echo of life. It reflects the time, the mind’s state, and author’s life. Whenever one looks into any literature piece, they do not only read what is on the text but also try to understand the context that matters. These contexts include the life of the author, the era it was written, the social condition during the time it was set, and others. There are many ways in which a literary piece can be read and interpreted. The act of interpreting a literary text is called literary criticism.

As said by Lamb (2003), literary criticism is an attempt to assess and comprehend the creative writing, the literature of an author. In this paper, the researcher uses a type of literary criticism to institute the meaning of the text. The researcher uses biographical approach to literary criticism. Eagleton (1996) describes this approach as a strategy of relating the author’s life and thoughts to his/her works. This allows the reader to understand elements employed in the work, plus to relate works to authorial meaning and readers.

MHS Composition Guide states that there are central biographical questions needed to reflect on in taking this approach. These questions are: • What biographical facts has the author used in the text? • What biographical facts has the author changed? • What insights do we acquire about the author’s life by reading the text? • How do these facts and insights increase (or diminish) our understanding of the text? These questions wil used in the development of the body of this paper. In this paper, the researcher also attempts to give assessment in life to her short story, and to the main character of the short story “The Story of an Hour”.

Horward (2005) states that Katherine O’Flaherty, also known as Kate Chopin, was one of the most renowned female writers of her time. Her universal themes are what made her extraordinary. She wrote several short stories including “The Story of an Hour”, “Euphrase”, “Mrs. Mobry’s Reason”, “A Shameful Affair” and many others. Kate Chopin was raised into a home of women in St. Louis. This had been a very big influence to her writings, mainly on her views about feminism – views about women. Chopin was later widowed at 32, and there she started writing for herself and for her six children.

Chopin was an extensive reader that is why she was able to write stories of herself into creative ones. In the early 1970’s, it was the resurrection of women’s rights movements, and Kate Chopin was one of those contributors to the occurrence. She contributed a lot with her writings about women, daytime dramas, the feminine mystique, women’s liberation, Mars vs. Venus, self-help and open marriages. Definitely, Kate Chopin’s early experiences had a great influence on her writings. One of her celebrated short stories is “The Story of an Hour” and it is entirely famous not only in American Literature – but also in the world.

While reading the short story, the reader finds connection between the life of the author and the life of the main character of the short story. These connections are the similarities that the reader had taken into consideration: Chopin and Her Father’s Loss One of the main events in the story is a loss of someone very important, more particularly, Mrs. Mallard’s husband’s loss. Josephine, Mrs. Mallard’s sister, had brought the sad message that there was a railroad disaster and of those listed as ‘killed’ was Brently Mallard, who was Mrs. Mallard’s husband.

In Kate’s life, she had lost someone too, in a railroad accident in 1855 to a train accident. A Widow Mrs. Mallard is sooner or later, assumed to be a widow, but readers will soon find out that Mr. Mallard is alive. In Kate’s life, his father had widowed her mother. Both experienced having lost someone very special and as well as being widowed but definitely, their responses to the loss may entirely be different. In the end, before she would have learned about Brently’s return from the accident, Louise died of heart disease – of joy that kills. This suggests that she had a monstrous joy, because it killed and consumed her to death.

Perhaps, Chopin would just let Louise die instead of seeing Brently again, wherein she will be living like a prison again. Freedom for Women In “The Story of An Hour”, Chopin has made no suggestion to the readers that Mrs. Mallard was sorry for her husband’s loss. Instead, she has uttered ‘over under her breath’: “free, free, and free! ”, which suggests how happy Mrs. Mallard is to have lost her husband, because she has now freedom of herself. The joy she senses in possessing her freedom is something which consumes her. In Kate’s life, she was used to write about resurgence of women’s rights.

She experience a period when there was this declined and confinement of women’s public needs like education, the vote, rights to her own property and her own children. Those events drove her to write this kind of feminist text instead of choosing other universal themes. Briefly, the title of this novel, “The Story of an Hour” is a image of the feelings provoked by the main character, Louise Mallard. In connection to this, it can be confirmed that this novel is a reference to Kate Chopin’s life since most of the events in Louise’s life are similar, or at least made a great influence to that of the story, “The Story of an Hour”.

The biographical approach made by the researcher accomplishes its purpose because an understanding able of the issues behind the book went through by tracing the history and life of Kate Chopin. Literature can bring us to the world of the author. Therefore, this research established that literature reflects the time, state of mind, and the life of the author through understanding the connection between Kate Chopin and Mrs. Mallard in the short story, “The Story of an Hour. ” References:

Original Text: References Chopin, K. (1976). The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. New York: Signet Classic. Eagleton, T. (1996). Biographical Approach. An introduction to Literary Theories (2 ed. ) University of Minnesota Press. Horward, A. ( 2005). A Woman Ahead of Her Time. Retrieved 28 April 2010 from: http://www. angelfire. com/nv/English243/Chopin. html Lamb, A. (2003). The topic: literary criticism. Retrieved 24 April 2010 from: <http://42explore. com/litcrit. htm>

Biographical criticism is a form of Literary criticism which analyzes a writer's biography to show the relationship between the author's life and their works of literature.[2][3] Biographical criticism is often associated with Historical-Biographical criticism,[4] a critical method that "sees a literary work chiefly, if not exclusively, as a reflection of its author's life and times".[5]

This longstanding critical method dates back at least to the Renaissance period,[6] and was employed extensively by Samuel Johnson in his Lives of the Poets (1779–81).[7]

Like any critical methodology, biographical criticism can be used with discretion and insight or employed as a superficial shortcut to understanding the literary work on its own terms through such strategies as Formalism. Hence 19th century biographical criticism came under disapproval by the so-called New Critics of the 1920s, who coined the term "biographical fallacy"[8][9] to describe criticism that neglected the imaginative genesis of literature.

Notwithstanding this critique, biographical criticism remained a significant mode of literary inquiry throughout the 20th century, particularly in studies of Charles Dickens and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. The method continues to be employed in the study of such authors as John Steinbeck,[10]Walt Whitman[11] and William Shakespeare.[12]

Peripatetic biographical criticism[edit]

In The Cambridge history of literary criticism: Classical criticism, in a chapter titled "Peripatetic Biographical Criticism", George Alexander Kennedy notes that in the Hellenistic age, "The works of authors were read as sources of information about their lives, personalities and interests. Some of this material was then used by other commentators and critics to explain passages in their works. The process became a circular one in that, though Peripatetic biographers utilized external evidence where available, they had little to go on and quarried the texts for hints".[13]

Recognition of otherness[edit]

Jackson J. Benson describes the form as a "'recognition of 'otherness'—that there is an author who is different in personality and background from the reader—appears to be a simple-minded proposition. Yet as a basic prerequisite to the understanding and evaluation of a literary text it is often ignored even by the most sophisticated literary critics. The exploration of otherness is what literary biography and biographical criticism can do best, discovering an author as a unique individual, a discovery that puts a burden on us to reach out to recognize that uniqueness before we can fully comprehend an author's writings.'"[14]

Connections to other modes of criticism[edit]

Biographical criticism shares in common with New Historicism an interest in the fact that all literary works are situated in specific historical and biographical contexts from which they are generated. Biographical Criticism, like New Historicism, rejects the concept that literary studies should be limited to the internal or formal characteristics of a literary work, and insists that it properly includes a knowledge of the contexts in which the work was created. Biographical criticism stands in ambiguous relationship to Romanticism. It has often been argued that it is a development from Romanticism, but it also stands in opposition to the Romantic tendency to view literature as manifesting a "universal" transcendence of the particular conditions of its genesis.

Assessments of biographical criticism and literary biography[edit]

In The Art of Literary Biography (1995), John Worthen writes:

'The fact that we want an emergent sense of the inevitable development suggests the enormously soothing quality which biographies have come to have in our age. Not only do biographies suggest that things as difficult as human lives can – for all their obvious complexity – be summed up, known, comprehended: they reassure us that, while we are reading, a world will be created in which there are few or no unclear motives, muddled decisions, or (indeed) loose ends.'[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^"Biographical Criticism", Writing essays about literature: a guide and style sheet (2004), Kelley Griffith, University of North Carolina at Greensborough, Wadsworth Publishing Company , pages 177-178, 400
  3. ^Benson, Jackson J. (1989) "Steinbeck: A Defense of Biographical Criticism" College Literature 16(29): pp. 107-116, page 108
  4. ^
  5. ^Wilfred L. Guerin, A handbook of critical approaches to literature, Edition 5, 2005, page 51, 57-61; Oxford University Press, University of Michigan
  6. ^Stuart, Duane Reed (1922) "Biographical Criticism of Vergil since the Renaissance" Studies in Philology 19(1): pp. 1-30, page 1 et seq.
  7. ^ "Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets (1779–81) was the first thorough-going exercise in biographical criticism, the attempt to relate a writer's background and life to his works."
  8. ^Lees, Francis Noel (1967) "The Keys Are at the Palace: A Note on Criticism and Biography" pp. 135-149 In Damon, Philip (editor) (1967) Literary Criticism and Historical Understanding: Selected Papers from the English Institute Columbia University Press, New York, OCLC 390148
  9. ^Discussed extensively in Frye, Herman Northrop (1947) Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, page 326 and following, OCLC 560970612
  10. ^Benson, Jackson J. (1989) "Steinbeck: A Defense of Biographical Criticism" College Literature 16(29): pp. 107-116, page 108
  11. ^Knoper, Randall (2003)"Walt Whitman and New Biographical Criticism"College Literature 30(1): pp. 161-168
  12. ^Schiffer, James (ed), Shakespeare's Sonnets: Critical Essays (1999),pp. 19-27, 40-43, 45, 47, 395
  13. ^George Alexander Kennedy, The Cambridge history of literary criticism: Classical criticism, page 205, Cambridge University Press, 1989
  14. ^Benson, Jackson J. (1989) "Steinbeck: A Defense of Biographical Criticism" College Literature 16(29): pp. 107-116, page 108
  15. ^John Worthen, 'The Necessary Ignorance of a Biographer,' in John Batchelor (ed.) The Art of Literary Biography, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1995 pp.227-244, p.231
Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets (1779–81) was possibly the first thorough-going exercise in biographical criticism.[1]


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