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Biography moves on

Literary biography has expanded to take up the space vacated by fiction. But Kathryn Hughes, currently working on a life of George Eliot, fears that the genre's ability to unite academic specialists and educated generalists is threatened

By Kathryn Hughes   March 1997

The boom in biography, especially literary biography, shows no sign of abating. There are currently five Jane Austens in the pipeline. Another life of Byron will appear next month, despite the 200 already in existence. I am myself working on a biography of George Eliot, even though a perfectly fine one came out three months ago. In most cases there is nothing new to discover in the way that biographers-as archaeologists of their subject’s secrets-are supposed to. Most major literary figures have been scrutinised so many times that any coded diary or muffled asylum inmate has long since been worked…

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