This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Charlotte Mason. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Life writing: example of short autobiography 

“Why has this woman writ her own life?” asked Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, in her autobiography of 1656, which is generally taken to be the first secular autobiography in English by a woman. Why would anyone tell the story of his or her own life? Perhaps in an attempt to avoid oblivion by setting down their person and leaving it to the world. The idea of being an account of a life for posterity is shared by biography and autobiography alike. A good biographer will attempt to answer questions about the subject’s nature, about what the lasting importance of a life may be. There is some objectivity here: a biographer will look at a life as a whole and from an outside standpoint in an attempt to glean what truths they are to be had from the vagaries and vicissitudesof a life. But for the author of an autobiography no objective point of view is available. While both biographer and autobiographer may both suppress elements of a their subject’s life for whatever reasons perhaps for not fitting with an consistent picture or literary plan traits of a character may remain hidden to an autobiographical subject. Of course, there are things of a person’s life no biographer may ever know, but these are generally things that could be known in principle. Biography concerns itself with the limning of another person, its subject matter is the observable life of an individual, or at least that which is in principle observable, that which should yield to intensive and intrusive scholarship. Autobiography, however, faces the notorious problem of self-knowledge. We expect from an autobiography not only accurate recollections of the events of a life, but an honest insight into a mind: the thoughts and sensations the consciousness that accompany these events. We also often find in autobiography a search by the subject for whatmade them what they find themselves to be. But even where an author’s goal appears to be that of truthfulness, how much faith can we have in their ability to achieve it? Perhaps the process of life writing of writing one’s own life is flawed. Let us briefly consider some general characteristics of the genre. Biography has been around as long as there have been people to tell about. One might even speculate that accounts of the actions of real people necessarily predate fiction. But we should note that accounts of great actions are especially prone to exaggeration, and so the line here between fiction and fact is not clear. Indeed, some of the earliest surviving stories those of the Old Testament, the epic of Gilgamesh, or Beowulf for example purport to some extent to be accounts of actual people, with consideration given to the genealogy of the hero. Autobiography, on the other hand, in the sense we take it today, can effectively be traced back to the fifth century and Augustine. Herodotus gives us some autobiographical sketches in his Histories, but Augustine’s Confessions is the first proper work where the subject is its author, a story of a life. However, what we really find in the Confessions is the presentation of a model servant of God, rather than Augustine “himself” (ignoring for the moment what “himself” might mean). There are accounts of events apparently from the author’s life but these are so deliberately crafted for the purpose of expounding issues of Christian theology that it is likely that much of what we are told is not actually an account of the life of any real person. Therefore, perhaps the defining point in the history of autobiography is the work of Michel de Montaigne. In his Essays of 1595, we find for the first time a focus on the “individual”. Part of Montaigne’s purpose in his essays on so many aspects of the mundane was to approach the world in which he found himself through himself: he felt that “nothing certain can be established about one thing by another, both the judging and the judged being in continual change and motion”. Montaigne’s project was to examine himself as an individual in order to better understand the world. Augustine’s examination of the self was universal: his work was to prescribe the model Christian. The didactic impetus of the Confessions is common to much autobiography andwhere there is such a plan to a work of autobiography it makes less sense to talk of the truthfulness of the life’s account since the agenda of the author is to instruct, and truthfulness is subordinate to this intention. But what we must note is that the central rhetorical conceit of any non-truthful autobiography of this form is exactly that it is an autobiography, that it is the story of a real life.The mode of autobiography has a psychological or philosophical dimension that requires an author to balance the deeds of an active public self with the thoughts of a contemplative private one. It also demands that the author have an awareness of an audience. This point importantly distinguishes autobiography from diary or journal writing, and we should remind ourselves that we have been talking of life “stories”. Autobiography is anaccount of a life that is framed for an audience, whether or not this is an audience the author is clear about at the time of writing. The fact alone that an author is custom essay term paper writing for an audience forces us to recognise an agency behind the writing: with autobiography we can legitimately talk of anauthor’s purpose in a way that would not make sense if we were reading a private journal. (This may be an oversimplification. We may imagine a private journal in which a writer wrote for an imaginary audience although the journal was never intended to be read by anybody other than its author. The imagined audience here would make questions of agency relevant.) It is with an audience in mind that the idea of an instructiveautobiography must be taken. The audience is encouraged to learn from the author’s life, perhaps to take up a new moral cause, or be pushed towards a spiritual development. Montaigne’s work might also be seen to be instructive, but not in the sense that it could be read as a sermon. The instruction here is the example of a subject examining himself for the sake of understanding the world. In this case it is important that thesubject be seen to be an individual, in contrast to the universal “self” of the Confessions. Reflecting much of this, the critic William Spengemann has argued that autobiography has shown a unique capacity for registering changing cultural conceptions of the self. He suggests that we view the history of autobiography in three sections, each period exhibiting a different form ofthe genre: the historical, the philosophical, and the poetic. So called historical autobiography is typified by accounts of the development of theauthor, the autobiography is essentially the telling of the process of a life’s events. Again, these events may not be strictly factual, but they are presented as if they were. We are invited to accompany the author on a journey as they develop spiritually or in some way towards “wholeness”. Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” is a classic example of this. The second form, the philosophical, places emphasis for the first time on the mental processes of the individual, and is concerned with the epistemological issue of how we know our “self”, indeed, of what the “self” could meaningfully be taken to be. Wordsworth, for instance, structured his “Preludes” according to periods of selfhood different periods in time occupied by the same individual drawing attention to the continual identity of the self through time. Thirdly, the poetic stage is characterised by the recourse of autobiographical authors to poetic self-expression. The tendency is to subordinate truth in favour of poetic self-invention. Consider works such as James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”. Both are strongly autobiographical but pretend to be fictional narratives. The typical form of the early period has been inverted: rather than a fiction that is claimed to be autobiographical, we have what is in effect an autobiography that is written as a novel. Indeed, in the modern period in general, the line between novel and autobiography is no longer always clear.

Youth Ki Awaaz is an open platform where anybody can publish. This post does not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions.

You must be to comment.

More from Charlotte Mason

Similar Posts

By Masai School

By shakeel ahmad

By shakeel ahmad

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below