Autobiographical novel

Last updated

An autobiographical novel is a form of novel using autofiction techniques, or the merging of autobiographical and fictive elements. The literary technique is distinguished from an autobiography or memoir by the stipulation of being fiction. Because an autobiographical novel is partially fiction, the author does not ask the reader to expect the text to fulfill the "autobiographical pact". [1] Names and locations are often changed and events are recreated to make them more dramatic but the story still bears a close resemblance to that of the author's life. While the events of the author's life are recounted, there is no pretense of exact truth. Events may be exaggerated or altered for artistic or thematic purposes.


Novels that portray settings and/or situations with which the author is familiar are not necessarily autobiographical. Neither are novels that include aspects drawn from the author's life as minor plot details. To be considered an autobiographical novel by most standards, there must be a protagonist modeled after the author and a central plotline that mirrors events in his or her life.

Novels that do not fully meet these requirements or are further distanced from true events are sometimes called semi-autobiographical novels.

Many novels about intense, private experiences such as war, family conflict or sex, are written as autobiographical novels.

Some works openly refer to themselves as "non-fiction novels". The definition of such works remains vague. The term was first widely used in reference to the non-autobiographical In Cold Blood by Truman Capote but has since become associated with a range of works drawing openly from autobiography. The emphasis is on the creation of a work that is essentially true, often in the context of an investigation into values or some other aspect of reality. The books Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig and The Tao of Muhammad Ali by Davis Miller open with statements admitting to some fictionalising of events but state they are true "in essence".

Notable autobiographical novels

James Agee A Death in the Family 1957
Louisa May Alcott Little Women 1868
Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 2007
Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 1969
James Baldwin Go Tell It on the Mountain 1953
J. G. Ballard Empire of the Sun 1984
John Barth Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera 1994
Saul Bellow The Adventures of Augie March 1953
George Borrow Lavengro: The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest 1851
Charlotte Brontë Villette 1853
Rita Mae Brown Rubyfruit Jungle 1973
Charles Bukowski Post Office 1971
William S. Burroughs Junkie 1953
Samuel Butler The Way of All Flesh 1903
Louis Ferdinand Céline Journey to the End of the Night 1932
J. M. Coetzee Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life 1997
J. M. Coetzee Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II 2002
J. M. Coetzee Summertime 2009
Charles Dickens David Copperfield 1850
Charles Dickens Great Expectations 1861
Nodar Dumbadze Granny, Iliko, Illarion, and I 1960
Nodar Dumbadze The Sunny Night 1967
Marguerite Duras The Lover 1984
George Eliot The Mill on the Floss 1860
Ralph Ellison Invisible Man 1952
Frederick Exley A Fan's Notes 1967
F. Scott Fitzgerald This Side of Paradise 1920
James Frey A Million Little Pieces [lower-alpha 1] 2003
James Frey My Friend Leonard [lower-alpha 2] 2005
Jean Genet The Thief's Journal 1949
Jean Genet Our Lady of the Flowers 1943
John Green Looking for Alaska 2005
Graham Greene The End of the Affair 1951
Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms 1929
Homer Hickam October Sky 1998
Thomas Hughes Tom Brown's School Days 1857
James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 1916
Jack Kerouac On the Road 1957
Jack Kerouac The Dharma Bums 1958
Imre Kertész Fatelessness 1975
Karl Ove Knausgård My Struggle series2009–2011
D. H. Lawrence Sons and Lovers 1913
Tao Lin Richard Yates 2010
Jack London John Barleycorn 1913
Fitz Hugh Ludlow The Hasheesh Eater 1857
Norman Maclean A River Runs Through It and Other Stories 1976
W. Somerset Maugham Of Human Bondage 1915
Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer 1934
Henry Miller Tropic of Capricorn 1939
Davis Miller The Tao of Muhammad Ali 1996
Sandy Mitchell Ciaphas Cain 2003
Tim O'Brien The Things They Carried 1990
Kenzaburō Ōe A Personal Matter 1964
Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 1973
Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar 1963
Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time [lower-alpha 3] 1927
Gregory David Roberts Shantaram 2003
Mona Simpson Anywhere but Here 1986
Gertrude Stein The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas 1933
Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 1971
Leo Tolstoy Childhood 1852
Leo Tolstoy Boyhood 1854
Leo Tolstoy Youth 1856
Denton Welch A Voice Through a Cloud 1950
Denton Welch Maiden Voyage 1943
Elie Wiesel Night [lower-alpha 4] 1958
Jeanette Winterson Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit 1985
Thomas Wolfe Of Time and the River 1935
Thomas Wolfe Look Homeward, Angel 1929
Annie Ernaux Happening 2000
Tobias Wolff Old School [lower-alpha 5] 2003
Annie Ernaux The Years 2008


  1. A Million Little Pieces was marketed as a memoir before a media controversy questioned its accuracy
  2. My Friend Leonard was marketed as a memoir before a media controversy questioned its accuracy
  3. Also known as Remembrance of Things Past
  4. Night is sometimes considered an autobiographical novel, although it is classified as a memoir by the author
  5. Old School is loosely based on Wolff's life although it is more novel than biography

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Autobiography</span> Self-written biography

An autobiography, sometimes informally called an autobio, is a self-written account of one's own life.

A false document is a technique by which an author aims to increase verisimilitude in a work of fiction by inventing and inserting or mentioning documents that appear to be factual. The goal of a false document is to convince an audience that what is being presented is factual.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nonfiction</span> Type of genre, true works

Nonfiction is any document or media content that attempts, in good faith, to provide accurate information regarding a real-world topic. It is written to communicate facts or opinions about reality. Nonfictional content may be presented either objectively or subjectively. Nonfiction is one of the fundamental divisions of narrative writing — in contrast to fiction, largely populated by imaginary characters and events, though sometimes ambiguous regarding its basis in reality.

<i>Roman à clef</i> Literary genre

Roman à clef, French for novel with a key, is a novel about real-life events that is overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the "key" is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction. This metaphorical key may be produced separately—typically as an explicit guide to the text by the author—or implied, through the use of epigraphs or other literary techniques.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ghostwriter</span> Writer who writes for the credited author

A ghostwriter is hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are officially credited to another person as the author. Celebrities, executives, participants in timely news stories, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, memoirs, magazine articles, or other written material. Memoir ghostwriters often pride themselves in "disappearing" when impersonating others since such disappearance signals the quality of their craftsmanship. In music, ghostwriters are often used to write songs, lyrics, and instrumental pieces. Screenplay authors can also use ghostwriters to either edit or rewrite their scripts to improve them. Usually, there is a confidentiality clause in the contract between the ghostwriter and the credited author that obligates the former to remain anonymous. Sometimes the ghostwriter is acknowledged by the author or publisher for their writing services, euphemistically called a "researcher" or "research assistant", but often the ghostwriter is not credited.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Creative nonfiction</span> Genre of writing

Creative nonfiction is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which are also rooted in accurate fact though not written to entertain based on prose style. Many writers view creative nonfiction as overlapping with the essay.

An autobiographical comic is an autobiography in the form of comic books or comic strips. The form first became popular in the underground comix movement and has since become more widespread. It is currently most popular in Canadian, American and French comics; all artists listed below are from the U.S. unless otherwise specified.

<i>Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit</i> 1985 novel by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a novel by Jeanette Winterson published in 1985 by Pandora Press. It is a coming-of-age story about a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community. Key themes of the book include transition from youth to adulthood, complex family relationships, same-sex relationships, organised religion and the concept of faith.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fannie Hurst</span> American novelist

Fannie Hurst was an American novelist and short-story writer whose works were highly popular during the post-World War I era. Her work combined sentimental, romantic themes with social issues of the day, such as women's rights and race relations. She was one of the most widely read female authors of the 20th century, and for a time in the 1920s she was one of the highest-paid American writers. Hurst also actively supported a number of social causes, including feminism, African American equality, and New Deal programs.

Fiction writing is the composition of non-factual prose texts. Fictional writing often is produced as a story meant to entertain or convey an author's point of view. The result of this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all types of fictional writing styles. Different types of authors practice fictional writing, including novelists, playwrights, short story writers, radio dramatists and screenwriters.

Inspirational fiction is a sub-category within the broader categories of "inspirational literature" or "inspirational writing." It has become more common for booksellers and libraries to consider inspirational fiction to be a separate genre, classifying and shelving books accordingly. Reasons for this include the increased popularity of inspirational fiction in recent years, and the appeal of inspirational fiction beyond readers of the genre that these books would otherwise be classified in.

The non-fiction novel is a literary genre which, broadly speaking, depicts real historical figures and actual events woven together with fictitious conversations and uses the storytelling techniques of fiction. The non-fiction novel is an otherwise loosely defined and flexible genre. The genre is sometimes referred to using the slang term "faction", a portmanteau of the words fact and fiction.

In literary criticism, autofiction is a form of fictionalized autobiography.

<i>Miracles of Life</i>

Miracles of Life is an autobiography written by British writer J. G. Ballard and published in 2008.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fiction</span> Narrative with imaginary elements

Fiction is any creative work, chiefly any narrative work, portraying individuals, events, or places in ways that are imaginary or inconsistent with history, fact, or plausibility. In a narrow sense, "fiction" refers to written narratives in prose – often referring specifically to novels, novellas, and short stories. More broadly, however, fiction encompasses imaginary narratives expressed in any medium, including not just writings but also live theatrical performances, films, television programs, radio dramas, comics, role-playing games, and video games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Novel</span> Substantial work of narrative fiction

A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, typically written in prose and published as a book. The present English word for a long work of prose fiction derives from the Italian: novella for "new", "news", or "short story of something new", itself from the Latin: novella, a singular noun use of the neuter plural of novellus, diminutive of novus, meaning "new". Some novelists, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ann Radcliffe, John Cowper Powys, preferred the term "romance" to describe their novels.

The term Bible fiction refers to works of fiction which use characters, settings and events taken from the Bible. The degree of fictionalization in these works varies and, although they are often written by Christians or Jews, this is not always the case.

When studying literature, biography and its relationship to literature is often a subject of literary criticism, and is treated in several different forms. Two scholarly approaches use biography or biographical approaches to the past as a tool for interpreting literature: literary biography and biographical criticism. Conversely, two genres of fiction rely heavily on the incorporation of biographical elements into their content: biographical fiction and autobiographical fiction.

Autobiografiction is a literary fiction genre that blends autobiography with fiction; it fictionalizes autobiographical experiences, often by altering them, attributing them to fictional characters or reinventing them into other experiences. The concept of autobiografiction was invented by Stephen Reynolds in 1906, and then researched and described in depth by Max Saunders in 2010.


  1. Philippe Lejeune"Autobiographical Pact," pg. 19