Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James Olney


This dissertation, "Questioning Authorship in Twentieth-Century Literary Autobiography," provides readings of narrative autobiographies by some of this century's most prominent and rebellious professional writers. Individual chapters interpret the autobiographies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Richard Wright, Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, and Zora Neale Hurston. The autobiographies that I read variously represent the transformation of a writer into an author and collectively problematize the personal and literary authorizations effecting this transformation. I examine how these narratives put into question both processes of authorization and the cultural contexts in which they occur, contexts which, diverse though they are, all valorize and regulate the circulation of literary texts. In contrast to contemporary studies in autobiography and in authorship, my project does not assume the neutrality of the term "author"; instead, I extend research into the differences among writing selves to help account for differences among authors' experiences and perceptions of authorship. Specifically, I illuminate the ways in which authors' race, sexuality, gender, and class positions shape their narrative inquiries into the life-plots of literary authorization. While twentieth-century authorship comes to appear as a broad field of difference through these readings, all four interpretive chapters concern themselves with the differences that gender makes in the authorization process. In addition, I attend to differences among the ambivalent responses that the women autobiographers make to masculine ideologies of authorship.