Writers on literary criticism and autobiography

Aug 13, 2012 | Writing Convolutes

What does literary criticism say about the critic?

This is the story of my life—that is what must always be heard when someone speaks of someone else, cites or praises him or her.

—  Jacques Derrida, Aporias p. 2


Dickens was no hero; he was a powerful, clever, humorous, and, in many respects, wise man; — very ignorant, and thick-skinned, who had taught himself to be his own God, and to believe himself to be a sufficient God for all who came near him; — not a hero at all.

— Anthony Trollope, letter to George Eliot and G. H. Lewes, dated 27 Feb, 1872.


The general surprise at Trollope’s revelation of his unhappy adolescence was perhaps compounded by the resemblance—which nearly all the original reviewers noted—to the revelations in John Forster’s recent Life of Dickens (1872-4).

— P.D. Edwards’s “Introduction” to An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope (see Oxford UP ed. 2008)


I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liar’s Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality—she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years.


Mary Karr presents her childhood in an almost unbroken panorama. Mine is a fogged out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees … the kind that look as if they might like to grab and eat you.


This is not an autobiography. It is, rather, a kind of curriculum vitae—my attempt to show how one was writer was formed.

— Stephen King in On Writing (2000)