Carl Rollyson's Reviews > English Biography in the Seventeenth Century: A Critical Survey

English Biography in the Seventeenth Century by Allan Pritchard
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's review
Jul 16, 2012

it was amazing

This book should be required reading for all students of biography.  In lucid, engaging prose, Pritchard provides a compelling assessment of the literature in the century before Boswell and Johnson came to dominate the discussion of biography in English literature.  The author demonstrates that biography was already an established genre in the 17th century, although it often came disguised in the form of sermons and prefaces to the collected works of authors.  Readers will be startled to discover that biographies dealt not merely with the lives of saints, political figures, and others prominent in the upper classes but also with the middle class and with women, some of whom were quite learned and had an impact on their communities.  Moreover, biography as a genre not only preceded the novel but also influenced the structure of the first 18th-century novels, which were life narratives.  Pritchard includes chapters on the 17th century's greatest biographers: Izaak Walton, Thomas Fuller, Anthony Wood, John Aubrey, and Roger North.  An impeccable and accessible work of scholarship, this study makes a fundamental contribution to the literature on the development of biography as a genre.

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