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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.
What about the historicity of other biographies?
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 find Parallel Lives by Plutarch, criticized for its lack of judicious discrimination in use of authorities and the consequent errors and inaccuracies.
I find Lives of the Saints and I’m reminded of Veronica’s veil and Stephens poking fun at relics in The Apology of Herodotus.
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.
Somewhat of a surprise was waiting when I finally held all 700+ pages of Marie Bonaparte‘s The Life and Works of E. A. Poe: a Psychoanalytic Interpretation in my hands and skipped to the psychoanalytical interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Loss of Breath.”
There, on page 373, Marie Bonaparte utters what any man dreads to hear: that he is impotent. Ouch. Poe must have turned in his grave when he heard of his post-mortem psychobiography and Bonaparte’s concern with his vita sexualis.
In “Loss of Breath”, my favourite Poe story, Marie Bonaparte finds the ultimate proof of Poe’s impotence. She equates the breath of Mr. Lackobreath, the sorry protagonist of the tale, with “pneuma,” “life force,” hence “sexual potency.”
To strengthen her argument, she cites Baudelaire who once said “There is not in all of Poe’s work a single passage that tends to lubricity or even to sensual pleasure“.
Not only was Poe impotent, according to Marie Bonaparte, he was a “repressed sado-masochist and necrophilist” (299) and his body of writing was the product of neurosis.
Illustration: photo of a silicone packer by Canadaworker from Wikimedia Commons.
See also my two previous two odes to the flaccid phallus, the limp male member: Un priape marchant sur des pattes de coq and votive phallus.