Max Saunders: Self Impression

Modernist times

Tim Dolin


Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature
by Max Saunders
Oxford University Press
$95 hb, 568 pp, 9780199579761


The argument of Self Impression, if it has just one, is that literary modernism, despite T.S. Eliot’s decree that it should strive after objectivity and impersonality, was more or less continuously involved in experiments with forms of life writing: autobiography, biography, memoir, journals, letters, and diaries. But Max Saunders is not interested in the obvious – Paul Morel as a version of young Lawrence, Stephen Daedalus of young Joyce, and so on. ‘Fiction can be autobiographical in many different ways,’ he argues, and modernist fiction (in both prose and verse) ‘colonised’ the autobiographic, experimenting with ‘imaginary autobiographies’, or fictional works in autobiographical form (the ugly ‘autobiografiction’ of the subtitle). His key modernist texts are accordingly the great Künstlerromaneof the period, Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu(1913–27),James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man(1916), Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)and (in verse) Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920). These generic hybrids, Saunders shows, are arch-modernist in nothing so much as their playwith the formaldynamics of auto/biography, which tells us a great deal about the relations between selfhood, art, and modernity.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in April 2011 no. 330
Tim Dolin

Tim Dolin

Tim Dolin works in the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University. He is the author of George Eliot (2005) and Thomas Hardy (2008), and co-editor of Thomas Hardy and Contemporary Literary Studies (2004). He is the author of essays and chapters on nineteenth-century fiction, and editor of novels by Hardy, Charlottë Bronte, and Elizabeth Gaskell. He is presently editing a digital edition of The Return of the Native and writing The Real Hardy Country, a study of the contested meanings and uses of Wessex since Hardy’s death.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.