Biographical Fictions and the Writing of the World

Boldrini, Lucia. 2024. Biographical Fictions and the Writing of the World. Recherche littéraire / Literary Research, 39, pp. 33-53. ISSN 0849–0570 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This essay reflects on questions that arise when we consider fictional representations of historical lives (biofiction) as world literature. In what ways does writing about an individual life concern the world? How do the modes of biographical and autobiographical fiction explore or challenge the grounds and boundaries of nation, place, culture, language, tradition, lineage that constrain or sustain identities? How do they negotiate the continuities and fractures – psychological and emotional as much as historical and ideological – between person, home and world? How do they inform our thinking about “world literature” as literature aware of its responsibility in the world and to the world that it receives, describes, shapes, creates, passes on as legacy?
I first consider Steven Price’s novel Lampedusa, which narrates the last two years of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s life as he was writing Il gattopardo (The Leopard), a novel centred, in turn, on the real-life figure of Tomasi’s great-grandfather at the time of the unification of Italy. Anna Banti’s Noi credevamo (“We believed”), narrated in the first person of Banti’s grandfather, further helps examine how the biofictional form is used to critique the concept of the nation from its periphery and to investigate the relationship between place, nation and world. John Banville’s Doctor Copernicus, revolving on the astronomer who theorized heliocentrism, enquires into our historical, scientific, philosophical and literary constructions of the world as physical planet, as place in which we live, and as the object of our representations. Finally, Dar (The Gift), the last novel written in Russian by Vladimir Nabokov, through the failures of its protagonist’s biographical and biofictional experiments, raises the question for the émigré writer of how to rebuild a relationship with the world.

Item Type:



Biofiction, World literature, Steven Price, Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il gattopardo, Anna Banti, Noi credevamo, John Banville, Doctor Copernicus, Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


10 March 2023Submitted
17 April 2023Accepted
14 February 2024Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

12 Apr 2023 12:30

Last Modified:

14 Feb 2024 19:29

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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