From Fact to Fiction: The Question of Genre in Autobiography and Early First-Person Novels


Today, genre categories and genre thinking are regarded skeptically and suspiciously. Genre criticism is viewed as pigeonholing and border policing, opposed to creative transgression and intermixing. We hear that genres cannot be defined; that genre concepts give only a broad and vague perspective on the text; that texts have no pure genre, or undermine their generic forms; that genre is unimportant or even illusory—just formal features coincidentally shared by texts more fully defined by content, representational strategies, or ideological forces. But categories of literary works are no less real than categories of other things. We do not claim, because there are specific dogs, no one of which reduces to its category, that therefore there are no dogs. In fact, even studies premised on some idea of genre focus more on individual texts, writers, and historical contexts (e.g. Othello as tragedy, as Shakespearean tragedy, as Elizabethan tragedy, as illustrating the politics of Elizabethan tragedy); their skepticism of generic categories and their operations springs from the fact that genres are so good at eluding analysis.

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