What is an autobiography?

We explain what autobiography is and how it is possible to make one. In addition, how it differs from biography and notable examples.

  1. What is an autobiography?

Autobiography is a narrative genre that undertakes the retelling of the main episodes of a life , emphasizing relevant and defining vital situations. It is considered a form of writing that exists between literature and history, very close to memories, the intimate diary and biography.

The term autobiography comes from English and arose during the 19th century in England , used for the first time in an article by the poet Robert Southey in 1809. However, there are references that point to its use by the German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel a few years earlier.

The distinctive feature of the autobiography is that the narrator of the anecdotes is the character who lives them , and in this case, he is the same author of the book. Narrator, protagonist and author thus converge in a single figure, which is no guarantee of the truthfulness of what has been told, since everything is subjectively addressed from the author’s memories. It would become the literary equivalent of the pictorial self-portrait.

Some famous autobiography writers were Teresa de Jesus (Saint Teresa), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Giacomo Casanova, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Francois René de Chauteaubriand, José Zorrilla, Stendhal, León Tolstoy, André Gidé, Thomas de Quincey and a long etcetera of ancient and contemporary authors.

  1. How to make an autobiography?

To elaborate an autobiography there is no single method , but it is likely that certain general steps exist, such as:

  • Develop a vital chronology . A scheme of life, in broad strokes, that allows to visualize the important periods, the vital inflection points, the great decisions taken that would merit counting.
  • Extract anecdotes . It is not enough to have a general sense of life, it is necessary to find unique anecdotes of each vital period, in order to choose which ones to count and which not, which were decisive, which are fun or funny, etc. Here you can also determine the tone of the set once finished, and selecting the main actors of the story.
  • Choose a starting point . Once you have a set of anecdotes and a more or less complete order of the vital story, you must choose where to start telling it. An autobiography does not need to start at the beginning, especially since early childhood impressions are not long-lasting and vague, and we usually know it only from the ears of our parents and family members.
  • Build the first person . All autobiographies are written in the first person (“I”), so that they have a direct subjective and emotional content. For this we must also choose how that first person will be: will he narrate an alter ego from the past? Will we narrate from the present moment? Who and how will you tell our story?
  • Take into account the context . The times in which we grew up were decisive for our vital process and our decisions, so we should not leave them out. We must make an effort to remember the social, political and historical conditions that we live, because they are part of the content that will make our autobiography interesting.
  • Write honestly . The writing of an autobiography should only meet the needs we feel of telling our lives. Third-party objections, fear of hurting your feelings and other vital elements may be tackled later, in a first review of the writing, if strictly necessary. But the writing should be as honest as possible.
  • Structure the story . It is useful to divide the autobiography into chapters or sections, which correspond to the scheme outlined at the beginning. That way we can proceed gradually and we can also carry out relevant investigations, such as consultations with our family members, review of family albums, etc.
  1. Autobiography and biography

While both autobiography and biography address the reconstruction of a person’s life , the biography usually aspires to greater scientific or research rigor, which is based on the search for documents, the review of sources of the time, the interview with well-known people of the biography, etc.

While the autobiography has a greater subjective tenor : the biographer recalls his most significant vital episodes and gradually recomposes them, emphasizing some and forgetting others, at his convenience .

  1. Autobiography Examples

Some notable examples of autobiography are the following:

  • The fish in the water of Mario Vargas Llosa.
  • Memories of the Afterlife of Francois-René de Chateaubriand.
  • Speak, Memory: A revised autobiography of Vladimir Nabokov
  • Memories of Tennessee Williams.
  • Orwell in Spain by George Orwell.
  • A love and dark story by Amos Oz.
  • Autobiography of Charles Darwin.
  • My autobiography of Charles Chaplin.

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