Federico Sabatini

Archiving the Unarchivable: The Role of Archives in the Biographical Writing of Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Bacon; Derrida; Biography; Modernism; Foucault.

By drawing on theories on the archive and on (auto)biography (Bacon, Derrida, Foucault, Woolf's "The Art of Biography"), my paper addresses the biographers' engagement with both "real archives" (where to scrupulously detect and select the most relevant events of a life), and with "psychological archives", i.e. those concerning the person whose biography is being written, ranging from the books in their shelves to their most intimate thoughts "archived" in their diaries and letters. The selection of the archival material proves crucial for the nature of biography and shed further light on the very concept of the archive, conceived in its etymological meaning (as Derrida demonstrated). Both Woolf and Strachey argue they had to deal not only with the "real" but also with the mental archives of their subjects in order to credibly depict their psychologies. Their biographies are thus revealed as an attempt at un-archiving and rearchiving what is impossible to archive, namely a person's mind.

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