Zachary Leader, respected biographer of Kingsley Amis and Saul Bellow, and editor of this volume of commissioned essays, defines life writing as 'a range of writings about lives or parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives or parts of lives are composed'. This formulation reflects the book's method, which is to provide a 'sampling' of various periods, genres, issues in and approaches to life writing (though it makes no mention of Margaretta Jolly's vastly more inclusive 'sampling', the 2001 Encyclopedia of Life Writing).
James Shapiro's scholarly 'Unravelling Shakespeare's Life' argues that the Bildungsroman 'coming of age' narrative has ill served lives of the Bard by inclining biographers to information-starved speculations about how he was shaped. Michael Dobson's 'A Boy from Stratford, 1769–1916: Shakespearean Biography and Romantic Nationalism', which tracks representations of the young Shakespeare through centuries of popular culture, links helpfully with Shapiro's discussion. In addition to written narrative, Dobson considers visual representations and cultural events and is ever alert to larger ideological implications of his subject. William St Clair's 'Romantic Biography: Conveying Personality, Intimacy, and Authenticity in an Age of Ink on Paper' extends the volume's consideration of the visual arts and also its interpretative range. St Clair's fine-grained discussion of the ways in which literary and visual devices were used to maximise the sense of intimacy in Romantic representations, especially of Byron, is Marxist-semiotic in orientation.