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Tudor Autobiography

Listening for Inwardness

Histories of autobiography in England often assume the genre hardly existed before 1600. But Tudor Autobiography investigates eleven sixteenth-century English writers who used sermons, a saint’s biography, courtly and popular verse, a traveler’s report, a history book, a husbandry book, and a supposedly fictional adventure novel to share the secrets of the heart and tell their life stories.
            In the past such texts have not been called autobiographies because they do not reveal much of the inwardness of their subject, a requisite of most modern autobiographies.  But, according to Meredith Anne Skura, writers reveal themselves not only by what they say but by how they say it. Borrowing methods from affective linguistics, narratology, and psychoanalysis, Skura shows that a writer’s thoughts and feelings can be traced in his or her language. Rejecting the search for “the early modern self” in life writing, Tudor Autobiography instead asks what authors said about themselves, who wrote about themselves, how, and why. The result is a fascinating glimpse into a range of lived and imagined experience that challenges assumptions about life and autobiography in the early modern period.

272 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


"In a nuanced, thoughtful manner, Skura provides new insight into a period of literature that is seldom considered by those interested in early modern autobiography. Indeed, readers may not consider some of the texts Skura singles out as "autobiography" at all (they are more often treated as "literary"), but Skura’s penetrating eye and persuasive voice cast these works in a new light. In addition, she grounds her discussion in an astonishing amount of scholarship. For these reasons, and because it is so clearly and elegantly written, this book will be invaluable to a broad audience."


"Skura aims to demonstrate not only the existence of autonomous and integral selves but their capacity, their enthusiasm even, to speak about and with themselves....What is both original and courageous about Tudor Autobiography, though, is its insistence that not only did such a self exist, but that it was determined to announce its own existence and even debate the difficulties of making such an announcement."

Peter Smith | Times Higher Education

"Skura’s engaging study should be lauded not only for illuminating a series of autobiographical acts that predate the supposed invention of modern subjectivity in late sixteenth-century England, but also for demonstrating the literary value of a group of texts more often consulted for their cultural implications than for their individual merits."

Studies in English Literature

"What Skura has accomplished is significant and notable. In the process of expanding the definition of what might be considered autobiography, she has explored nine unique autobiographical selves in ways that open out their texts. . . . This book is important not only for those working in autobiography but for those interested in early modern culture generally."

Mary Ellen Lamb | Clio

"Skura challenges assumptions about life and autobiography in the early modern period."

Cahiers Elisabethains

Table of Contents

List of Figures  


1    Autobiography—What Is It?

      Issues and Debates

2    Lyric Autobiography: Intentional or Conventional Fallacy?

      The Poetry of John Skelton (1460–1529) and Thomas Wyatt (1503–42)

3    Identity in Autobiography and Protestant Identification with Saints

      John Bale and St. Paul in The Vocacyon of John Bale (1553)

4    Autobiography: History or Fiction?

William Baldwin Writing History “under the Shadow of Dream and Vision” in A Mirror for Magistrates (1559)


5    Sharing Secrets “Entombed in Your Heart”

      Thomas Whythorne’s “Good Friend” and the Story of His Life (ca. 1569–76)

6    Adding an “Author’s Life”

      Thomas Tusser’s Revisions of A Hundreth Good Points of Husbandry (1557–


7    A Garden of One’s Own

Isabella Whitney’s Revision of Hugh Plat’s Floures of Philosophie in Her Sweet Nosegay (1573)

8    Erasing an Author’s Life

      George Gascoigne’s Revision of One Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) in His

       Poesies (1575)

9    Autobiography in the Third Person

      Robert Greene’s Fiction and His Autobiography by Henry Chettle (1590–92)

10 Autobiographers: Who Were They? Why Did They Write?





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