Clinton Machann challenges recent popular approaches to the Victorian autobiography that treat the genre ahistorically or as a subgenre of fiction. Machann argues instead for considering these autobiographies intertextually and as a historically defined genre that can profitably be studied as nonfiction and as a referential art.

The plots of Victorian autobiographies are highly variable in terms of developing motifs and tropes. Autobiographers undergo spiritual and mental crises, live out Romantic and biblical myths, follow historical and scientific paradigms and the dynamic patterns of their own ideas. Nevertheless, underlying this diversity are profound structural similarities in plots of self-development and the implied relationships between self and public works and ideas. In the course of discussing eleven Victorian autobiographies in chronological order, Machann suggests many formal and conventional continuities among them.

The eleven autobiographies include those of John Stuart Mill, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, and Charles Darwin, among other luminaries of the Victorian era. Juxtaposing well-known works with less familiar ones, Machann helps the reader to explore the boundaries of the genre, appreciate stylistic variations, and identify profound structural similarities, all of which result from the larger Victorian culture.

The book will be of interest to students of the Victorian era as well as scholars of life-writing and historical constructions of the self.