Life Writing “from Below” in Europe: Authors, Archives, Avenues, Arenas
Keywords:life writing from below, workers’ writing, peasant writing, labouringclass poetry, auto/biographical practices, autobiographical injunction, patronage, archives
Drawing on a large body of scholarship from the last forty years, this article offers an overview of the diverse forms of life writing “from below” (by authors from low down in a class or status hierarchy) in Europe since the early modern period (including autobiographies, diaries, letters, as well as transcripts of oral testimonies); and the varied and developing national traditions of collecting and archiving which have developed since the mid-twentieth century. It locates such writing within a field of force between an exteriority pole constituted by the state (or by organisations of civil society, or informal community pressures) which compel or otherwise elicit life writings from below, and an interiority pole of the impulse of someone hitherto excluded to narrate their life in some public sphere; and examines diverse ways (state compulsion or solicitation; citizen engagement, challenge or resistance) in which these pressures give rise to the production of texts. It identifies the roles of intermediaries within civil society (patrons, sponsors, commercial publishers, collaborators) as links between individual (potential) authors and the public sphere.
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