From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
An autobiographical novel is a novel based on the life of the author. The literary technique is distinguished from an autobiography or memoir by the stipulation of being fiction. 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.
While the events of the author's life are recounted, there is no pretense of neutrality or even exact truth. Events may be reported the way the author wishes they had been with enemies more clearly loathsome and triumphs more complete than perhaps they actually were.
Because writers somewhat draw on their own experiences in most of their work, the term autobiographical novel is difficult to define. 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 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.
Some works openly refer to themselves as 'nonfiction 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. A central focus of the non-fiction novel is the development of plot through the means of fictional narrative styles. 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.'
Also known as a thinly veiled memoir, a semi-autobiographical novel draws heavily on the experiences of the author's own life for its plot. Authors may opt to write a semi-autobiographical novel rather than a true memoir for a variety of reasons: to protect the privacy of their family, friends, and loved ones; to achieve emotional distance from the subject; or for artistic reasons, such as simplification of plot lines, themes, and other details.
Notable autobiographical novels
- See also: Category:Autobiographical novels
- Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)
- Leo Tolstoy, Childhood (1852)
- Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853)
- Leo Tolstoy, Boyhood (1854)
- Leo Tolstoy, Youth (1856)
- Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days (1857)
- Fitz Hugh Ludlow, The Hasheesh Eater (1857)
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1860), which has many autobiographical elements but to a lesser extent
- Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1868)
- Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh (1903)
- D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (1913)
- Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913)
- Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage (1915)
- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920)
- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1927), aka A Remembrance of Things Past
- Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)
- Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel (1929)
- Louis Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night (1932), subsequent books as well.
- Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), a mock autobiography of Stein's secretary and companion purported to be Toklas's views of Stein.
- Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (1934)
- Ayn Rand, We, the Living (1936)
- Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn (1939)
- James A. Michener, The Fires of Spring (1949), semi-autobiographical
- Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
- James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
- Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
- William S. Burroughs, Junkie (1953)
- James Agee, A Death in the Family (1957)
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (1958)
- Elie Wiesel, Night (1958), sometimes considered an autobiographical novel although classified as a memoir by the author.
- Ian Fleming, (1960's) Some of the James Bond experiences are based in his own World War II spy missions.
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco (1961)
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)
- Kenzaburo Oe, A Personal Matter (1964)
- Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)
- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1973)
- Pat Conroy, The Great Santini (1976)
- Samuel R. Delany, Heavenly Breakfast (1979)
- Philip K. Dick, VALIS (1981), perhaps the only book that could be considered both an autobiographical novel and a work of science fiction
- Isabel Allende, The House of Spirits (1982), includes many elements from her family history (the notions of family and personal identity are closely linked in Latin American culture)
- Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye (1982)
- J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun (1984)
- Marguerite Duras, The Lover (1984)
- Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
- Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water (1988)
- Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried (1990)
- Davis Miller, The Tao of Muhammad Ali (1996), described as a 'non-fiction novel'.
- James Frey, A Million Little Pieces (2003), marketed as a memoir before a media controversy questioned its accuracy.
- Tobias Wolff, Old School (2003), loosely based on Wolff's life although more novel than biography.
- James Frey, My Friend Leonard (2005)