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Interpreting the Self

Two Hundred Years of American Autobiography

In this ambitious study, Diane Bjorklund explores the historical nature of self-narrative. Examining over 100 American autobiographers published in the last two centuries, she discusses not only well-known autobiographies such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie but also many obscure ones such as a traveling book peddler, a minstrel, a hotel proprietress, an itinerant preacher, a West Point cadet, and a hoopskirt wire manufacturer. Bjorklund draws on the colorful stories of these autobiographers to show how their historical epoch shapes their understandings of self.

"A refreshingly welcome approach to this intriguing topic. . . . [Bjorklund’s] extensive and systematic approach to her source material is impressive and enriches our understanding of this essential subject."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Bjorklund studies both famous and obscure writers, and her clear prose style and copious quotations provide insight into the many aspects of the changing American self." —Library Journal


278 pages | 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1998

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Psychology: Social Psychology

Sociology: General Sociology, History of Sociology

Table of Contents

Prologue
Acknowledgments
Chapter One: Introduction
Autobiographies as a Source of Data
Organization of this Study
Chapter Two: Autobiography as a Social Situation
Interaction with an Audience
The Presentation of Self
Telling a Story
Chapter Three: The Self as Morality Play
Historical Background
Theory of the Self
Telling the Story
Conclusion
Chapter Four: Masters of Fate
Historical Background
Theory of the Self
Telling the Story
Conclusion
Chapter Five: The Uncertain Self
Historical Background
Theory of the Self
Telling the Story
Conclusion
Chapter Six: The Beleaguered Self
Historical Background
Theory of the Self
Telling the Story
Some Contemporary Variations
Chapter Seven: Conclusion: The Autobiography as Moral Performance
Appendix A: Method
Appendix B: American Autobiographies: An Overview
Notes
Primary Sources
Bibliography
Index

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