biographical methodthe use of personal documents (such as letters or diaries) to construct sociological accounts. See LIFE HISTORY, ZNANIECKI.
in literary scholarship, a method of studying literature according to which the life and personality of the writer are regarded as the determining factor in his work.
The biographical method is frequently associated with a negation of literary schools and the cultivation of an impressionistic portrait of a writer as the principal genre of criticism. It was first used by the French critic C. A. Sainte-Beuve (Literary Critical Portraits, vols. 1–5, 1836–39). The biographical method found a unique application in the methodology of H. Taine and G. Brandes.
By the beginning of the 20th century the advocates of the biographical method (R. de Gourmont in France, Iu. I. Aikhenval’d in Russia, and others) had purified it of extraneous elements. (Considered as such were the social and artistic ideas of the age in Sainte-Beuve’s works; in Taine, the influence of race, environment, and the moment; and in Brandes, the characteristics of social movements.) Advocates of the biographical method turned to the disclosure of the artist’s “intimate I” in a spirit of extreme impressionism. Marxist literary scholarship acknowledges the biographical method as an auxiliary device of research and studies biographical elements as one of the sources of the artistic image, the importance and meaning of which are broader than the material used in the work itself.