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In its modern form, may be taken as writing that purposefully and self‐consciously provides an account of the author's life and incorporates feeling and introspection as well as empirical detail. In this sense, autobiographies are infrequent in English much before 1800. Although there are examples of autobiography in a quasi‐modern sense earlier than this (e.g. Bunyan's conversion narrative, Grace Abounding, 1666, and Margaret Cavendish', duchess of Newcastle's ‘A True Relation’, 1655–6) it is not until the early 19th cent. that the genre becomes established in English writing: Gibbon's Memoirs (1796) are a notable exception.

From 1800 onwards the introspective Protestantism of an earlier period and the Romantic Movement's displeasure with the fact/feeling distinction of the Enlightenment provided for personal narratives of a largely new kind. They were characterized by a self‐scrutiny and vivid sentiment that produced what is now referred to, following Robert Southey (1809), as autobiography . Early in the 19th cent. Wordsworth gives in The Prelude (1805) a sustained reflection upon the circumstances of he himself being the subject of his own work; and in the second half of the century Newman in his Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864) publicly and originally reveals a personal spiritual journey. This latter, with its public disclosure of the private domain, had a dramatic and far‐reaching influence upon the intelligentsia of late Victorian society.

In the 20th cent. autobiography became increasingly valued not so much as an empirical record of historical events but as providing an epitome of personal sensibility among the intricate vicissitudes of cultural change. Vera Brittain achieved a seriousness of observation and affect to provide in Testament of Youth (1933) a major work on the conduct of the First World War. In the area of more domestic but no less social concerns J. R. Ackerley in his My Father and Myself (1968) constructed an autobiography of painful frankness in a disquisition upon his unusual family relations, his affection for his dog, and the tribulations of his homosexuality. More recently Tim Lott in The Scent of Dead Roses (1996) discussed the suicide of his mother and amalgamated autobiography, family history, and social analysis in a virtuoso performance of control and pathos. The truthfulness or not of autobiography is essentially a matter that must be left to biographers and philosophers. The plausibility of an autobiography, however, must find its authentication by the degree to which it can correspond to some approximation of its context.

From:   autobiography   in  The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature »

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  • Introduction

The emergence of autobiography

Types of autobiography.

Hear about “Autobiography of Mark Twain” and the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley

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Hear about “Autobiography of Mark Twain” and the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley

autobiography , the biography of oneself narrated by oneself. Autobiographical works can take many forms, from the intimate writings made during life that were not necessarily intended for publication (including letters, diaries , journals , memoirs , and reminiscences) to a formal book-length autobiography.

Formal autobiographies offer a special kind of biographical truth: a life, reshaped by recollection, with all of recollection’s conscious and unconscious omissions and distortions. The novelist Graham Greene said that, for this reason, an autobiography is only “a sort of life” and used the phrase as the title for his own autobiography (1971).

Giorgio Vasari

There are but few and scattered examples of autobiographical literature in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In the 2nd century bce the Chinese classical historian Sima Qian included a brief account of himself in the Shiji (“Historical Records”). It may be stretching a point to include, from the 1st century bce , the letters of Cicero (or, in the early Christian era, the letters of Saint Paul ), and Julius Caesar ’s Commentaries tell little about Caesar, though they present a masterly picture of the conquest of Gaul and the operations of the Roman military machine at its most efficient. But Saint Augustine ’s Confessions , written about 400 ce , stands out as unique: though Augustine put Christianity at the centre of his narrative and considered his description of his own life to be merely incidental, he produced a powerful personal account, stretching from youth to adulthood, of his religious conversion.

Confessions has much in common with what came to be known as autobiography in its modern, Western sense, which can be considered to have emerged in Europe during the Renaissance , in the 15th century. One of the first examples was produced in England by Margery Kempe , a religious mystic of Norfolk. In her old age Kempe dictated an account of her bustling, far-faring life, which, however concerned with religious experience, reveals her personality. One of the first full-scale formal autobiographies was written a generation later by a celebrated humanist publicist of the age, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, after he was elevated to the papacy, in 1458, as Pius II . In the first book of his autobiography—misleadingly named Commentarii , in evident imitation of Caesar—Pius II traces his career up to becoming pope; the succeeding 11 books (and a fragment of a 12th, which breaks off a few months before his death in 1464) present a panorama of the age.

The autobiography of the Italian physician and astrologer Gironimo Cardano and the adventures of the goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini in Italy of the 16th century; the uninhibited autobiography of the English historian and diplomat Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in the early 17th; and Colley Cibber ’s Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, Comedian in the early 18th—these are representative examples of biographical literature from the Renaissance to the Age of Enlightenment. The latter period itself produced three works that are especially notable for their very different reflections of the spirit of the times as well as of the personalities of their authors: the urbane autobiography of Edward Gibbon , the great historian; the plainspoken, vigorous success story of an American who possessed all talents, Benjamin Franklin ; and the introspection of a revolutionary Swiss-born political and social theorist, the Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau —the latter leading to two autobiographical explorations in poetry during the Romantic period in England, William Wordsworth ’s Prelude and Lord Byron ’s Childe Harold , cantos III and IV.

An autobiography may be placed into one of four very broad types: thematic, religious, intellectual , and fictionalized. The first grouping includes books with such diverse purposes as The Americanization of Edward Bok (1920) and Adolf Hitler ’s Mein Kampf (1925, 1927). Religious autobiography claims a number of great works, ranging from Augustine and Kempe to the autobiographical chapters of Thomas Carlyle ’s Sartor Resartus and John Henry Cardinal Newman ’s Apologia in the 19th century. That century and the early 20th saw the creation of several intellectual autobiographies, including the severely analytical Autobiography of the philosopher John Stuart Mill and The Education of Henry Adams . Finally, somewhat analogous to the novel as biography is the autobiography thinly disguised as, or transformed into, the novel. This group includes such works as Samuel Butler ’s The Way of All Flesh (1903), James Joyce ’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), George Santayana ’s The Last Puritan (1935), and the novels of Thomas Wolfe . Yet in all of these works can be detected elements of all four types; the most outstanding autobiographies often ride roughshod over these distinctions.

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autobiography

Definition of autobiography

Examples of autobiography in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'autobiography.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

auto- + biography , perhaps after German Autobiographie

1797, in the meaning defined above

Phrases Containing autobiography

  • semi - autobiography

Dictionary Entries Near autobiography

autobiographist

Cite this Entry

“Autobiography.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/autobiography. Accessed 4 Jul. 2024.

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  • multi-volume
  • young adult

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autobiographic adjective

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What does the adjective autobiographic mean?

There is one meaning in OED's entry for the adjective autobiographic . See ‘Meaning & use’ for definition, usage, and quotation evidence.

How common is the adjective autobiographic ?

How is the adjective autobiographic pronounced?

British english, u.s. english, where does the adjective autobiographic come from.

Earliest known use

The earliest known use of the adjective autobiographic is in the 1810s.

OED's earliest evidence for autobiographic is from 1818, in Monthly Magazine .

autobiographic is formed within English, by compounding.

Etymons: auto- comb. form 1 , biographic adj.

Nearby entries

  • auto-answer, n. 1961–
  • autoantibody, n. 1905–
  • autoantigen, n. 1913–
  • autobahn, n. 1934–
  • autobasidiomycete, n. 1895–
  • autobasidium, n. 1895–
  • autobio, n. 1856–
  • autobiog, n. 1829–
  • autobiographal, adj. 1845–
  • autobiographer, n. 1807–
  • autobiographic, adj. 1818–
  • autobiographical, adj. 1807–
  • autobiographically, adv. 1822–
  • autobiographical novel, n. 1832–
  • autobiographist, n. 1820–
  • autobiography, n. 1797–
  • autobiopic, n. 1977–
  • auto body, n. 1904–
  • auto-boot, n. 1981–
  • auto-boot, v. 1984–
  • auto-booting, adj. 1983–

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Meaning & use

Pronunciation, entry history for autobiographic, adj..

autobiographic, adj. was revised in June 2011.

autobiographic, adj. was last modified in July 2023.

oed.com is a living text, updated every three months. Modifications may include:

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Revisions and additions of this kind were last incorporated into autobiographic, adj. in July 2023.

Earlier versions of this entry were published in:

OED First Edition (1885)

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autobiography

[ aw-t uh -bahy- og -r uh -fee , -bee- , aw-toh- ]

  • a history of a person's life written or told by that person.

/ ˌɔːtəʊbaɪˈɒɡrəfɪ; ˌɔːtəbaɪ- /

  • an account of a person's life written or otherwise recorded by that person
  • A literary work about the writer's own life. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa are autobiographical.

Discover More

Derived forms.

  • ˌautobiˈographer , noun

Other Words From

  • auto·bi·ogra·pher noun

Word History and Origins

Origin of autobiography 1

Example Sentences

In so doing, she gave us an autobiography that has held up for more than a century.

His handwritten autobiography reawakens in Lee a longing to know her motherland.

His elocution, perfected on stage and evident in television and film, make X’s autobiography an easy yet informative listen.

The book is not so much an autobiography of Hastings — or even Netflix’s origin story.

By contrast, Shing-Tung Yau says in his autobiography that the Calabi-Yau manifold was given its name by other people eight years after he proved its existence, which Eugenio Calabi had conjectured some 20 years before that.

Glow: The Autobiography of Rick JamesRick James David Ritz (Atria Books) Where to begin?

Hulanicki was the subject of a 2009 documentary, Beyond Biba, based on her 2007 autobiography From A to Biba.

And it was also during the phase of the higher autobiography.

“Nighttime was the worst,” Bennett wrote in his autobiography.

Then I picked up a book that shredded my facile preconceptions—Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young.

No; her parents had but small place in that dramatic autobiography that Daphne was now constructing for herself.

His collected works, with autobiography, were published in 1865 under the editorship of Charles Hawkins.

But there is one point about the book that deserves some considering, its credibility as autobiography.

I thought you were anxious for leisure to complete your autobiography.

The smallest fragment of a genuine autobiography seems to me valuable for the student of past epochs.

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Autobiography

Autobiography: definition and features.

  • An autobiography is a self-written account of the life of oneself. It presents personal experiences and observations from the perspective of the person who lived them.
  • It is generally written in the first person as it is the person’s own experiences they are recounting. The use of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ is common.
  • It covers notable elements of the writer’s life, such as childhood , career , relationships , and achievements .

Structure of an Autobiography

  • Autobiographies often follow a chronological order, starting from early life and progressing to later points of interest. However, some may also choose to arrange it thematically or start ‘in medias res’ - in the middle of action.
  • The structure revolves around personally significant events , with each major phase or event getting its dedicated section.
  • Autobiographies make use of flashbacks , reflections , and foreshadowing to maintain a compelling narrative.

Style in an Autobiography

  • The language and tone in an autobiography are unique to the author, mirroring their personality and personal voice. This allows readers to get a feel of their character and identity.
  • The writer may use vivid descriptions and personal anecdotes to engage readers, making them feel like they are experiencing events along with the author.
  • The detail and style of writing can provide insight into the author’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives at different stages of their life.

Purpose and Impact of Autobiography

  • Autobiographies aim to provide a personal account of the writer’s life, with the purpose to inform , entertain , or inspire readers.
  • They offer a unique look into the personal experiences of the author, encouraging empathy and understanding amongst readers.
  • Reflecting on one’s life in an autobiography can offer insights into societal, historical or cultural contexts, contributing to a broader understanding of the times the author lived through.

Evaluating Autobiographies

  • When reading and analysing an autobiography, it’s important to consider the writer’s subjective perspective - it is, after all, their own interpretation of their life.
  • Consider the selection of events discussed. What the author decides to include, emphasise or omit can reveal their perspective, values or intentions.
  • Language analysis remains vital: consider how the author’s use of language techniques, tone, and style contribute to the portrayal of their life and the impact on the reader.
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Definition of autobiographical adjective from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

autobiographical

  • an autobiographical novel
  • The movie is largely autobiographical.

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COMMENTS

  1. autobiography, n. meanings, etymology and more

    autobiography in OED Second Edition (1989) 1797-. An account of a person's life given by himself or herself, esp. one published in book form. Also: the process of writing such an account; these considered as a literary genre. Also in extended use.

  2. autobiography noun

    Definition of autobiography noun in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more.

  3. AUTOBIOGRAPHY

    AUTOBIOGRAPHY definition: 1. a book about a person's life, written by that person: 2. the area of literature relating to…. Learn more.

  4. Autobiography

    Search for: 'autobiography' in Oxford Reference ». In its modern form, may be taken as writing that purposefully and self‐consciously provides an account of the author's life and incorporates feeling and introspection as well as empirical detail. In this sense, autobiographies are infrequent in English much before 1800.

  5. Autobiography: A Very Short Introduction

    The Introduction describes what autobiography means and compares it to other forms of 'life-writing'. Autobiographical writing is seen to act as a window on to concepts of self, identity, and subjectivity, and into the ways in which these are themselves determined by time and circumstance. Keywords: autofiction, Charles Darwin, Paul de Man ...

  6. Autobiography

    autobiography, the biography of oneself narrated by oneself. Autobiographical works can take many forms, from the intimate writings made during life that were not necessarily intended for publication (including letters, diaries, journals, memoirs, and reminiscences) to a formal book-length autobiography. Formal autobiographies offer a special ...

  7. biography, n. meanings, etymology and more

    Where does the noun biography come from? Earliest known use. mid 1600s. The earliest known use of the noun biography is in the mid 1600s. OED's earliest evidence for biography is from 1661, in the writing of John Fell, bishop of Oxford. biography is a borrowing from Latin. Etymons: Latin biographia.

  8. biography noun

    Definition of biography noun in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more. ... Find out which words work together and produce more natural-sounding English with the Oxford Collocations Dictionary app. Try it for free as part of the Oxford Advanced Learner ...

  9. AUTOBIOGRAPHY

    AUTOBIOGRAPHY definition: a book written by someone about their own life. Learn more.

  10. 8 Autobiography and Biography

    This article looks at the relevance of biography and autobiography to philosophy. It suggests that the key to understanding the philosophical nature of biography and autobiography is to acknowledge the distinctive way in which the human subject's presence takes the form of a certain kind of absence. It explains that in order to understand the ...

  11. Autobiography Definition & Meaning

    autobiography: [noun] the biography of a person narrated by himself or herself.

  12. Autobiography

    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.

  13. AUTOBIOGRAPHY definition

    AUTOBIOGRAPHY meaning: 1. a book about a person's life, written by that person: 2. the area of literature relating to…. Learn more.

  14. autobiographic, adj. meanings, etymology and more

    autobiographic, adj. meanings, etymology, pronunciation and more in the Oxford English Dictionary

  15. biography noun

    Definition of biography noun in Oxford Advanced American Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more. ... Take your English to the next level. The Oxford Learner's Thesaurus explains the difference between groups of similar words.

  16. AUTOBIOGRAPHY Definition & Meaning

    Autobiography definition: a history of a person's life written or told by that person.. See examples of AUTOBIOGRAPHY used in a sentence.

  17. autobiography noun

    Definition of autobiography noun in Oxford Advanced American Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more. ... Find the answers with Practical English Usage online, your indispensable guide to problems in English.

  18. AUTOBIOGRAPHY definition and meaning

    An account of a person's life written or otherwise recorded by that person.... Click for English pronunciations, examples sentences, video.

  19. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

    Welcome to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Over 65,000 biographies, 75 million words, 12,000 portraits of significant, influential or notorious figures who shaped British history - perform advanced search. Life of the day now available by email or RSS feed. Learn about our editors and read the Letter from the General Editor Professor ...

  20. Autobiography

    Autobiography: Definition and Features. An autobiography is a self-written account of the life of oneself. It presents personal experiences and observations from the perspective of the person who lived them. It is generally written in the first person as it is the person's own experiences they are recounting. The use of 'I', 'me ...

  21. autobiographical adjective

    Definition of autobiographical adjective in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more.

  22. Autobiography definition, meaning for SAT

    Plural: autobiographies