What is an Autobiography?

Autobiography is the life story of a person written in first person by the same individual, presumably. You may then enquire why I have made the use of the word ‘presumably’ in this context. Because quite often you would come across the autobiography of an inanimate objects and non-living species, in the first person, which is actually a narrative or an account, written by another writer.

However, for all practical purpose, an autobiography brings on the table the life story, views, opinions, issues faced by an individual in his lifetime and is an open and honest account of the person’s entire life journey from birth till date. It is derived from the Greek word ‘auto’ (self) + “bio” (life). It was used for the first time by William Taylor in his English periodical “The Monthly Review” in the year 1797. It was brought in popular usage by Robert Southey in 1809.

The uniqueness of this form of writing lies in the fact that while all other writings make use of references, memoirs, evidences and documents to record a person’s life story, this is the only form of literature where the entire writing hinges on the memory of the writer and how much he is able to glean from his memory bank.

An autobiography stands apart from a memoir or a dairy entry or personal letters or reminiscences. What then makes it special that it recounts a life viewed through the prism of memories and is thus liable to be coloured, on account of omissions and distortions. The novelist, Graham Greens had termed an autobiography as ‘a sort of life’.

The earliest account of an autobiography can be traced to the Chinese classical historian, SimaOIan and in classical European literature to the writings of Cicero and Julius Caesar.

An autobiography can be placed into several categories, out of which the notable ones are:

  1. Thematic (Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is the most popular book in this category, written in the year 1925.)
  2. Religious (The writings of Thomas Carlyle and John Henry Cardinal Newman’s ‘Apologia’ falls in this category)
  3. Intellectual (Autobiography ofJohn Stuart Mill and ‘The Education of Henry James’ are the most notable books in this category)
  4. Fictionalized (Samuel Butler’s: ‘The Way of all Flesh’, James Joyce’s ‘The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man’ and the novels of Thomas Wolfe falls in this category.)

Here, it is important to note that some of the Indian writers have delivered world class autobiographies which are not only of high literary value but are also exceptionally inspiring ‘My experiments with Truth’ and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by ParamhansaYogananda, ‘Wings of Fire’by A.P.J Abdul Kalam,‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’ by Nirad C. Chaudhuri” are some of the most eminent works in this genre.

Autobiographies offer a rare insight into the minds of a person and in turn gives a telling account of the history of those times. They also inspire other people to face the odds and adversities of life with greater fortitude and determination and thus form an integral part of human history.

The Autobiography of a Fly

The Autobiography of a Dog

The Autobiography of a Horse

The Autobiography of a River

The Imaginary Adventures of an Umbrella

The Autobiography of a Railway Engine

The Autobiography of a Clock

The Autobiography of a Butterfly

The Autobiography of a Motor-Car

A Letter from the Moment it is Posted till it Reaches its Destination

The autobiography of an old shoe

The autobiography of an old coat

The autobiography of a bicycle

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