I’m told that Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives, a collection of twenty-two semi-biographical short stories by Marcel Schwob is, — by virtue of its mixing of known and fantastical elements — the first example of fictional biography.
Is that true?
I decide to delve in.
I find the genre de viris illustribus, meaning “On Illustrious / Famous Men”, a trope of ancient Roman exemplary literature that was revived during the Italian Renaissance and inspired the assembly or commissioning of series of portraits of outstanding men— and sometimes, by the sixteenth century, of outstanding women as well— with a high didactic purpose. Historicity? Dubious.
I’m reminded of the historicity of Jesus.
Once again, the lines between fact and fiction appear more blurred than one would expect.
So maybe Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives can lay claim to being the first example of purposely fictional biographies?
PS. On the cover of the book shown is Saint George and the Dragon by Uccello, whose biography is also in the book.