Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Jill Durey


This thesis is an examination of Possession by A.S. Byatt and Dickens by Peter Ackroyd, and aims to contribute to the Poetics of biography. Although there has been a paucity of literature about biography until the latter part of the twentieth century, a growing number of writings, by biographers and scholars, reflects the interest in developing a body of theory of the biography genre. My thesis is a part of this initiative. The two works which I have chosen for this project are critiques of biography, albeit from different perspectives. Possession is a novel which narrativises issues of biography, while Dickens takes the form of a fictionalised biography. Since there is a metabiographical element in both works, they provide scope for a radical approach to an examination of biography. I am unaware of any criticism which addresses theoretical issues of biography using two different genres. The issues under examination in this thesis begin with an attempt to define biography. By means of Possession and Dickens, I explore the nature and parameters of biography. I then examine the issue of truth in biography, and the possibility of distilling the essential nature of a subject from diverse, and probably unreliable sources. Associated with this issue is the question of the authoritative stance of the biographer, both with regard to transmitting the truth about his or her subject, and concerning issues of representation of women in biography. Finally, I examine textual design in biography, and the problematics of fusing factual with aesthetic elements in what purports to be a non-fictional form. My aim is to synthesise the theories expressed by Peter Ackroyd and A.S. Byatt, and a range of other biographers and critics, and thereby generate my own. By contributing to the Poetics of biography, I hope to enhance readers' appreciation of this literary form.