Guides to Scholarship and Criticism


ABELL (G340): [English] Literature/General through the volume for 1967; Literature, General/Literary History/Prose, and Literature, General/Literary Criticism/Prose in the volumes for 1968–72; Literary History and Criticism/Prose in the volume for 1973; and English Literature/General/Prose in later volumes.

MLAIB (G335): General VII: Literature, General and Comparative in the volumes for 1953–55; General II: Literature, General and Comparative in the volume for 1956; General IV/Prose in the volumes for 1957–80; and the Literary Forms division and Genres/Prose section in pt. 4 of the later volumes. Researchers must also check the headings beginning “Prose” in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

Biography and Autobiography

Research Methods


Edel, Leon. Writing Lives: Principia Biographica. New York: Norton, 1984. 270 pp. CT21.E33 808′.06692.

An exploration of the theory and problems of writing a biography of a literary author. Successive chapters examine the basic principles of biography since c. 1920, the relationship between biographer and subject, the search for materials, the role of criticism in biography, the application of psychoanalytic concepts to biography, and types of biographies. An appendix reprints some papers on Edel’s research for his biography of James. Indexed by persons, titles, and subjects. An expansion of Literary Biography, rpt. of rev. ed., with new foreword (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1973; 170 pp.), Writing Lives is one of the best introductions to the art of literary biography by one of its masters.

An important complement is Paula R. Backscheider, Reflections on Biography (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999; 289 pp.), which examines some of the decisions that biographers must make (including choosing a subject, establishing a voice, using evidence, and employing a theory of personality).


Runyan, William McKinley. Life Histories and Psychobiography: Explorations in Theory and Method. New York: Oxford UP, 1982. 288 pp. BF38.5.R86 155.

An examination of the methodological and conceptual problems of psychobiography, with particular attention to descriptive, conceptual, and interpretive issues. The chapters are organized in three parts: problems of description and explanation (with discussions of alternative explanations in biographies, social influences, and the structure of biographical narrative), models for conceptualization of the life course, and theory and method in the study of individual lives (with examinations of the case-study, idiographic, and psychobiographic methods). Indexed by persons and subjects. Although addressed to psychologists and social scientists, Runyan is important preliminary reading for the literary biographer who would employ psychobiography or the reader evaluating a product of the approach.

Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias


Encyclopedia of Life Writing: Autobiographical and Biographical Forms. Ed. Margaretta Jolly. 2 vols. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001. CT21.E53 920′.003. Online through Credo Reference (

An encyclopedia of life writing, including its genres, forms, themes, significant practitioners, important exemplars (such as major national biographies), history, geographic practice, and major “social, political, religious, and academic contexts” from the classical era to the present. The signed entries—a refreshing number of which are by authors who have published on their topics—employ a variety of disciplinary approaches in combining description and criticism; each entry concludes with a decent-size bibliography and a biography (in entries on individuals). Indexed by authors, titles, and subjects of life writings, along with key concepts. The quality of the entries and the breadth of coverage—geographic, chronological, and topical—make Encyclopedia of Life Writing an essential guide to the field.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism

There is no adequate bibliography of scholarship on the theory and practice of biography and autobiography. Given the interest in life writing, such a bibliography is a major desideratum.


““Annual Bibliography of Works about Life Writing, [1977– ]”.” Biography 1 (1978)– . Title varies. CT100.B54 920′.005.

A selective list of studies, mostly in English, about biography, autobiography, and related topics. Works are currently organized in four author lists: books; collections of essays and issues of journals devoted to biography (with contents listed under both); articles; dissertations. In most installments, entries are accompanied by brief descriptive annotations. The lack of a subject index means that users must scan every entry; however, researchers with access to the electronic version of the journal can use their Web browser to search each annual compilation. Although far from comprehensive—with several entries based on advertisements or sources other than the works themselves—and hardly accessible, this bibliography does isolate studies that are sometimes difficult to identify in the standard serial bibliographies and indexes in section G.

See also

ABELL (G340): Biography [and Autobiography] division through the volume for 1974; and English Literature/General/Biography and Autobiography in later volumes.

MLAIB (G335): General IV/Biography [and Autobiography] in the volumes for 1957–80; and Genres/Autobiography and Biography sections in pt. 4 of the later volumes. Researchers must also check the headings beginning “Autobiography,” “Biography,” or “Life Writing” in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

Travel Writing

Guides to Primary Works


Cox, Edward Godfrey. A Reference Guide to the Literature of Travel: Including Voyages, Geographical Descriptions, Adventures, Shipwrecks, and Expeditions. 3 vols. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1935–49. U of Washington Pubs. in Lang. and Lit. 9–10, 12. Z6011.C87 016.91.

  • Vol. 1: The Old World. 1935. 404 pp.

  • Vol. 2: The New World. 1938. 591 pp.

  • Vol. 3: Great Britain. 1949. 732 pp.

A bibliography of travel literature printed before 1800 in Great Britain. Cox includes English-language translations, some European-language versions of English works, and accounts written before 1800 but first published later. Vol. 3 goes beyond separately published works to cite a host of letters, diaries, and miscellaneous documents printed in larger works or collections. Each volume is organized by topical or geographic divisions; within each division, works are listed chronologically by publication date. Many entries are accompanied by a note that variously refers to translations or other editions, offers biographical information, or comments on contents. Many notes quote from other sources, some of them of dubious authority. Indexed by persons (vols. 1–2 in vol. 2, vol. 3 in vol. 3). The projected volume on Ireland was never published. Organization by date of publication combined with a lack of subject indexing makes the work less accessible than it should be. Despite the numerous errors and heavy reliance on other sources, Cox remains the best guide to travel literature in English before 1800.