A Community of One

Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain

By Martin A. Danahay

Subjects: Gender Studies
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791415122, 232 pages, August 1993
Hardcover : 9780791415115, 232 pages, August 1993

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Table of contents



A Room of His Own: The Masculine Subject of British Autobiography

Autonomy and Community in Nineteenth-Century British Autobiography

From Community to Society: Ferdinand Tönnies and Victorian Subjectivity

Inner and Outer in Autobiography

Chapter One

Autobiography and the Loss of Community: From Augustine's Confessions to Wordsworth's The Prelude

Chapter Two

The Liminal Subject of Romantic Autobiography

Chapter Three

Romantic Anti-Autobiography and Repression

Chapter Four

From Romantic to Victorian Autobiography

Ruskin, Tennyson, and the Loss of Nature

"A Profound Duplicity of Life": Repression and the Split Subject of Victorian Autobiography

Chapter Five

Subjected Autonomy in Victorian Autobiography: John Stuart Mill and Edmund Gosse

Chapter Six

"Dialogue of the Mind with Itself": Matthew Arnold and Monologism


Virginia Woolf and the Prison of Consciousness

Works Cited



Complementing recent feminist studies of female self-representation, this book examines the dynamics of masculine self-representation in nineteenth-century British literature. Arguing that the category "autobiography" was a product of nineteenth-century individualism, the author analyzes the dependence of the nineteenth-century masculine subject on autonomy or self-naming as the prerequisite for the composition of a life history. The masculine autobiographer achieves this autonomy by using a feminized other as a metaphorical mirror for the self.

The feminized other in these texts represents the social cost of masculine autobiography. Authors from Wordsworth to Arnold, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, John Ruskin, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Stuart Mill, and Edmund Gosse, use female lovers and family members as symbols for the community with which they feel they have lost contact. In the theoretical introduction, the author argues that these texts actually privilege the autonomous self over the images of community they ostensibly value, creating in the process a self-enclosed and self-referential "community of one."


"Danahay explains links among Romantic and Victorian autobiographers that have up to now gone unnoticed. He covers a wide range of works and mounts a sophisticated theoretical critique of the autobiographies' concern with self vs. other. Also, he makes good use of ideas outside the field of autobiography studies, which show how his concerns and those of the writers he treats fit in with general intellectual history." — Thomas R. Smith, Pennsylvania State University