17 February 2011

The Ethics of Writing Biographies

One of the most popular topics of literature, whether non-fiction or fiction, is human life.  The lives of famous individuals are frequently of most interest, as the contents of many bestseller lists may indicate. But how truthful and authentic are those biographical works?

Can we really understand the life of another person?  Can we even understand our own lives?

All biographers worthy of the name should also make an attempt at the art of writing an autobiography.  In my view, anyone whose work involves the assessment of other people's lives should at least keep a personal journal of their own daily reflections, observations and experiences.  This especially applies to social scientists, journalists and politicians.  Do you write a personal journal?

I have often preferred to read biographies rather than novels.  Now, though, I am also a writer of biographies myself.  Most of those biographies are quite personal ones as they are about several of my own ancestors, and those of my husband.

As a family historian without any famous forebears, this is quite a challenging task.  Have you written anything about your own family history?  Have you written any sort of biography or autobiography?  What have been the main challenges you have tried to overcome?  And what have been the rewards?

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