Original Research

Achieving form in autobiography

Nicholas (Nick) Meihuizen
Literator | Vol 35, No 2 | a1143 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v35i2.1143 | © 2014 Nicholas (Nick) Meihuizen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 July 2014 | Published: 15 December 2014

About the author(s)

Nicholas (Nick) Meihuizen, Department of English, School of Languages, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


This article argues that, unlike biographies which tend to follow patterns based on conventional expectations, salient autobiographies achieve forms unique to themselves. The article draws on ideas from contemporary formalists such as Peter McDonald and Angela Leighton but also considers ideas on significant form stemming from earlier writers and critics such as P.N. Furbank and Willa Cather. In extracting from these writers the elements of what they consider comprise achieved form, the article does not seek to provide a rigid means of objectively testing the formal attributes of a piece of writing. It rather offers qualitative reminders of the need to be alert to the importance of form, even if the precise nature of this importance is not possible to define. Form is involved in meaning, and this continuously opens up possibilities regarding the reader’s relationship with the work in question. French genetic critic Debray Genette distinguishes between ‘semantic effect’ (the direct telling involved in writing) and ‘semiological effect’ (the indirect signification involved). It is the latter, the article argues in summation, which gives a work its singular nature, producing a form that is not predictable but suggestive, imaginative.


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