Writing a Punchy Author Bio or Blurb for Yourself to Pitch Your Work as a Writer

“Sadly for books in the current times there are more writers than readers, so it seems.”
― B.S. Murthy

“I’m not so arrogant to think I’m the only guide someone needs … but I might be the guide that someone needs.”
― Laura Anne Gilman

In this piece I will gather some good advice from a few web resources on Writing A Compelling Author Bio or Short Blurb to help you Pitch Your Work, to include with cover letters and such. Many publications ask for a brief bio, or a paragraph or two, and often with specific info they want included. We’ll go over what you should generally include to get the point across about what you’re all about as a writer, and include a couple of templates of varying lengths.

THE BINDERY has good advice on writing author bios.

WRITING A COMPELLING AUTHOR BIO

ALEXANDER FIELD – BOOK PROPOSALSPUBLISHINGQUERY LETTERWRITING TIPS

If you, my friend, are ready to present yourself to the world as an author, one of the first things you will have to do is write an Author Biography or author bio. Oftentimes, this is the first part of your proposal or pitch that an editor reads, so it must be gripping and cover the most important aspects of your credentials, writing experience, and platform.

It can be vulnerable and weird, and even kind of agonizing, to write about yourself and talk up your achievements or abilities. Authors have told me that it feels like they’re bragging. But you must do it. Your bio is an important part of your publishing career that you need to consider carefully.

When you start to think about your writing as a business as well as a craft, your author biography (in short and long forms) will help you establish your brand, your focus, and your voice as an author. Your bio will tell the world who you are, and more importantly, reveal the why behind your work.

In simple terms, your author bio is a paragraph or two of text that will eventually appear along with your book’s description and your photo on online product pages, the back cover of your book, or the inside back flap of the dust jacket.

However, long before you get to that point, you will have to create an author biography for your book proposal and/or pitch letter. If you or your agent are sharing it with editors and publishers, the bio in your proposal can be short, perhaps around 250 words or a bit longer if there is relevant experience or platform data to include. For query letters to literary agents, however, your bio should probably only be a couple sentences, at most.

As I mentioned above, these days the author bio is often one of the first pieces of information a book editor will review, especially for nonfiction projects. Why?

Due to the increased competition for attention and the sheer number of books published each year, editors need to make a strong case to their publishing teams for each book they acquire. Therefore, they will want to know what other writing you’ve done in the past, and also what experience or education gives you the credibility to write this particular book. Also, editors want to know how you’re already reaching people with your writing. This is often referred to as your author platform and can include social media followers, a podcast or blog, appearances or hosting duties on a popular radio or TV show, speaking at live events, a large email list, publishing articles through major outlets, leading an organization, and a number of other things.

Knowing how critical your author bio can be, here are 10 elements you should consider adding to your biography:

  1. Your Name and Current Job – List your name at the top and write about what you do for work, especially if it’s relevant to your writing career or the book you’re currently pitching.
  2. Education – If you have a degree or certification that is relevant to the book you’re writing, make sure and include it. If you’re writing a crime thriller, and you have a degree in criminology, add that information! Alternatively, if you’re writing a crafting book about basket weaving and you have a degree in history, it’s not as important to list.
  3. Experience and Credibility – Include any professional experiences or work history that may apply to either your ability to reach readers, or your credibility as the author of this particular book.
  4. Previous Writing – If you’ve published books before, include a list of them in your bio. Or if you’ve written published articles, columns, or essays, consider including them in your bio as well along with the magazine or publication where they appeared. The most recent books or articles are going to be much more relevant, so if your published works are more than ten years old, they may not warrant a mention.
  5. Awards or Honors – Feel free to include any relevant awards or honors you’ve received in your writing career thus far.
  6. Author Website and Platform Details – These days, it’s critical to have a home base online where potential readers can connect with you. Unlike social media profiles, you are the sole owner of your author website and therefore, it can evolve as your writing career develops. In addition, it indicates to publishers that you are serious about becoming a published author. Publishers and editors will also want to know how you’re reaching potential readers now, so include followers counts and engagement metrics from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other relevant social media platforms. If you have a dedicated email list, be sure and include those numbers as well.
  7. Personal Information – While it’s not absolutely necessary, many authors include a few details about their family, personal hobbies, and hometown in their author bios. For example: “John Smith lives on a farm in rural Iowa with his wife Jane, and sons Mike and Ike.” Don’t go overboard and don’t share details you’d be uncomfortable making public.
  8. Endorsers and Associations – Do you know any influential friends who might help you promote your book? This could include other authors, professors, journalists, colleagues, actors, podcast hosts, leaders, or others who’ve built large audiences. If so, consider including a brief list of these people who will help support your book launch. Also, think about including any associations, networks, groups, or organizations you’re a part of that are relevant to your book or will lend credibility for future promotional efforts.
  9. Social Media Links – If you’ve grown your followers on a particular social media channel to more than 20,000 or so, you should consider including your handle or profile name in your bio.
  10. Interesting Details – If you were attacked by a shark and lived to tell about it, and the book you’re writing is a memoir of that experience—then yes, you should mention it in your bio. But try to keep it focused and relevant.

READ MORE AT THE BINDERY

DEEP RIVER BOOKS Makes Some Great Arguments About the Finer Points of Writing an Author Blurb or Bio

Tone Matters

Before you even write the first word (and after you’ve decided on perspective), take a moment to consider tone. If you’ve written an academic appraisal of a current issue, you’ll want your bio to reflect that. If you’ve written a humorous short story collection, let that shine through. This is especially true for fiction authors, whose books may not have a specific “message” per say. Find a small tidbit that speaks to your personality or hobbies, but don’t run wild. A quick phrase is enough, often mixed together with professional accomplishments, as we see in this biography by Kevan Lee.

It’s Not Actually “About You”

Oddly enough, your “about you” blurb is not about “you” at all. It is entirely about your reader. What is important to your target audience? What might they connect with? This is your chance to tell them about your qualifications, why they should trust you, or pick up your work. Establish your credibility. If you’ve written a book about children, don’t hide the fact that you’re a child psychologist. If you’ve written a fiction novel about a character going through rough circumstances, mention what first-hand experience you bring.

Accentuate the Positive

Yes, we know that writers are a humble bunch. But your own bio is no time to be demure! If you published before, include the titles. If you received a pertinent award or recognized by a group that would appeal to your readers, let the world know. Obviously, don’t go over overboard. People probably don’t care that you got first place in a clarinet competition in college (unless, of course, your book concerns clarinets), but they probably would care if the Wounded Warrior Project endorsed your book concerning veterans issues.

Call to Action!

The last sentence in your biography, especially for social media platforms, should include a “call to action” or “CTA.” Try  something like “Follow me on Twitter @yourhandle.” Or relate your CTA to your view of life like “spread God’s love.” This is a wonderful moment to connect with you reader on a “mission” level, or to get them engaged with you. Depending on the venue, this may be a good time to mention that your book is on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, especially if whatever article you’ve written doesn’t directly mention that you are an author beforehand.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON DEEP RIVER BOOKS

TEMPLATES

  • REPLACE EACH CONTENT PROMPT WITH A SENTENCE UNTIL YOU HAVE A PARAGRAPH THAT DESCRIBES YOU AND YOUR WRITING CURRENTLY, WHICH YOU CAN PRESENT AS AN ENCAPSULATION
  • Name and Current Job___________________________________________________________
    Education__________________________________________________________________
    Experience and Credibility________________________________________________________
    Previous Writing_________________________________________________________________
    Awards or Honors________________________________________________________________
    Author Website and Platform Details_____________________________________________
    Personal Information____________________________________________________________
    Endorsers and Associations______________________________________________________
    Social Media Links_______________________________________________________________
    Interesting Details________________________________________________________________

TRY TO CREATE A COUPLE VERSIONS OF THIS FORMULA OF DIFFERING LENGTHS

MOST BIOS ARE UNDER 300 WORDS

  • OFTEN WHEN YOU GET PUBLISHED, EDITORS WILL ASK FOR A PARAGRAPH TO ACCOMPANY YOUR PIECE THAT TELLS READERS WHAT YOU ARE ALL ABOUT. THIS USUALLY INCLUDES
  • Name ____________________________________________________________________________
  • Previous Writing_________________________________________________________________
    Awards or Honors________________________________________________________________
    Author Website and Platform Details_____________________________________________
  • Social Media Links_______________________________________________________________
    And may be heavy on the  – 
  • Interesting Details________________________________________________________________

Looking Into Dan Harmon’s Storytelling Methodology: The STORY CIRCLE – from StudioBinder

How the Dan Harmon Story Circle Can Make Your Story Better

BY STUDIOBINDER ON 

The act of storytelling has always been with us. Anthropologist Joseph Campbell took stories from around the world and found they all shared the same basic structure. Campbell’s Hero’s Journey laid out each of the fundamental steps in this story structure. A few decades later, Dan Harmon took this same idea and created the Story Circle. In Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, there are 8 essential steps that can guide almost any story from Fade In to Fade Out. Let’s walk through each step with examples so you can apply this foolproof structure to your next great idea.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL STORY STRUCTURE

The universal language of storytelling

There are two universal languages. One is math…the other is story. Storytelling is built into the human experience. It’s how we pass on our history, where we can learn how to live, and answer questions about “right” and “wrong.” 

It doesn’t take a PhD in English Lit to understand what makes a story good or bad. We all know what a story should do, even if we can’t articulate it. Perhaps the most common storytelling element that “makes or breaks” a story is structure.

Our goal for today is to lay out one such narrative formula: the Dan Harmon Story Circle. Let’s start with a quick definition.

READ THE FULL INTRODUCTION ON STUDIOBINDER.com

CLICK THE LINK for More Video On The Story Circle as Well As Useful Worksheet Packets – All Free – Just Reblogging This Content with Source Rather Than Stealing It

Using “He said.” in your dialogue? – from Thepassivevoice.com

February 8, 2021 by PG

From Dave Farland:

I don’t often give actual tips on how to compose stories. I tend to focus my lessons on storytelling to things that you can’t learn elsewhere.  Yet from time to time, it might be worthwhile to actually give a few technical tips. Today we will go over one on how to improve your dialogue. 

A few years ago, I listened to a bestselling writer give perhaps the worst advice on dialog tags that I’ve ever heard.  He told new writers, “Never use the word said.  It’s boring and repetitious.  Worst of all, it doesn’t really tell us much about the feeling behind what has been spoken.”

His advice was that you should “mix it up, and never repeat verbs that deal with speaking on the same page.  If you are forced to use the word said, he suggested that you add an adverb to it in order to define the quality of the words spoken.  

Given his advice, you might have a teen “mumble” one sentence:

“I don’t want to go to church,” she mumbled.

While the reply would use a different verb:

“Well you’re going to go, Missy,” Dad retorted.

The problem that arises is that we find ourselves using a lot of verbs that seem rather silly when put into a string of tags.  Thus, you might have people mumbling, shouting, profaning, teasing, snarling, squealing, averring, blaming, and so on in rapid succession.   

READ THE FULL ARTICLE at THE PASSIVE VOICE

A Few Places To Submit Work Going Into the Early Months of 2021

https://www.fiyahlitmag.com/

FIYAH is a quarterly speculative fiction magazine that features stories by and about Black people of the African Diaspora. This definition is globally inclusive (Black anywhere in the world) and also applies to mixed/biracial and Afro-appended people regardless of gender identity or orientation.

https://apparitionlit.com/

We publish poems and stories between 1k-5k words in January, April, July, and October. We also hold monthly flash fiction contests between the 1st and 15th of each month. Flash stories must be under a 1000 words and be inspired or based on the chosen theme. Full details for submission guidelines at https://apparitionlit.com/submissions/.

GHOST ORCHID PRESS

EYE-CATCHING HORROR, GOTHIC & DARK FICTION

https://www.bcubedpress.com/opencalls

Protest Diaries

Alternative War

Alternative Deathiness

https://speculativelyqueer.com/

Submissions for It Gets Even Better are open now!

UNCANNY –
A MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

GETTING PUBLISHED! Going Into the New Year 2021 // Join the Monarch Writers DISCORD CHAT GROUP

As writers, we have to consider not just the work we do on our projects -creating worlds, characters, and plots- but also must take consideration of marketing our stories to the world. So let’s talk a little bit about trying to get our work published going into this new year 2021, and make a resolution to not let our stories sit on the shelf, but to put in a reasonable amount of effort into sending them on their way into the world. Whether submitting to publishers and calls for specific deadlines which our work may fit, or making connections with agents, and putting together queries and packets to send off to our dream publishing house, or keeping a blog and self-publishing some items to keep in contact with a readership, PUT IN SOME WORK on GETTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE!

Some people may have a reticence to share their work, out of fear of rejection or a related fear that their voice isn’t strong enough yet. This is totally natural, but the best way to overcome this, AND make your voice more confident, is to just keep going AND send your work out. PLOW AHEAD and keep trying! If you get rejection slips, don’t worry! You can’t win if you don’t play!

Try to find a balance between working on your vision and reacting to criticism when it comes in. If you get rejection slips that are impersonal, known as “form rejections” which have no content telling you how your work might improve, it most likely does not mean your work is so horrible it doesn’t deserve response. Far more likely is the reality that that particular publisher had so many submissions that they couldn’t respond personally to them all. So take it in stride, and don’t hyperfocus on that setback. Don’t use it as an excuse to slow down and get discouraged about your work.

The best way to gain confidence in your work is to find a group of people who will read your work and give you CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. If you are interested in joining a group that aims for this, you can JOIN THE MONARCH WRITERS DISCORD CHAT GROUP

JANUARY 2019 – IMAGINATION WRITING PROMPTS

  1. Imagination is usually seen as a Creative force, but many of the writers and philosophers in Romanticism talk about using IMAGINATION to make sense of contradicting visions in the real world. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre says when we imagine, we must first destroy the image of what exists in our mind before we create something anew, that consciousness necessarily involves a power of negation. Write about IMAGINATION in your work as either a CONSTRUCTIVE or DESTRUCTIVE force.
  2. If IMAGINATION is the power to turn chaos into meaning, to cohere the random events of our day into a type of story, (if we take it as one of the essential powers of our minds), how can we strengthen and flex our imagination during the day to help us not just as artists, but as human beings?
  3. Think about children at play. Using imagination, playing games, creating games in their own minds that may have rules that wouldn’t even make sense to an adult, perhaps working on a kind of dream logic. Working on developing relationships and making connections. What kind of narrative techniques might hide in these games? What kind of breakdowns in normal storytelling might get at an intimacy with ourselves that could bring us back to a childlike state? Freud observed his grandson playing with a block on a string, a type of yo-yo. He would throw the object away from him and say  out loud “fort!” (“gone away!”) and then reel it back to him and yell “da” (“there it is!” or “back again!”). Freud speculated the child was playing this game, as a way of testing and teasing his mental control over his power of the absence and fulfillment of needs. Because we cannot control at that age exactly when our needs are met, he was making a game of the experience of possibly being able to control that.
  4. Think about what you get from fiction and imaginary worlds in your life, and what you’d like to give other people, on whatever scale and dimension imaginable, in creating a world for them. Do you want to create a Universe to explore like a Star Wars saga? Or true moments, true breaths, in poetry?

NOVEMBER 2018 – Self-Help For Writers and Other Imaginary Peoples

monarch signature

Hello Monarch Writers!

We’ve been talking about the philosopher Hegel, a very complex and influential figure in philosophy, and we’ve got a good overview in the Literary Theory text we’re working through.

The study guide I prepared earlier in the month for the study of Hegel and how he relates in particular to the practice of writing is up now on the Monarch Writers site here, in case you want to refer back to that ever.

One of the main focuses of our study of Hegel is his motion ‘from substance to subject’, that is, seeing how individual parts of a system, when looked at in situ —as part of a WHOLE— jump, start, and stir, to become living things, as the system itself is a living thing! And this is a wonderful way of looking at stories, where flat characters, upon striving to write an organic-whole piece, become lively creatures who climb the walls and leap off the page.

In continuing this focus, I’d like to attempt a strange exercise for Monday’s meeting, and look at a list I got from a self-improvement web site – a list of 23 ways to make yourself better everyday, and I’d like to look at these in the meeting and see if we can morph them creatively into ways we can make our characters, and our stories, and our characters -in-our-stories- become something more alive.

So, the list is below, take a look before hand, see if anything springs to mind, jot down a few ideas, feel free to stretch around corners to let good ideas come forth, it’s just a prompt after all. And come to the meeting on Monday ready to discuss!

https://www.developgoodhabits.com/self-improvement/

Practices That Make You Better Every Day

1. Keep a reading habit.

Don’t isolate your characters from the real world
While you don’t have to constantly be breaking the
FOURTH WALL
Your characters should be aware of the real world
And that tension between them and their story
Is what makes the reader want to read
And bring them to life by continuing reading
BUT

2. Have a growth mindset.

You want to not break the ‘vivid and continuous dream’

Things will come up that interrupt your ‘plan’, for your life, for your story, for your characters.

You are not so much dictator putting on a parade in tribute of your skills as leader, as an alchemist creating a Frankenstein monster out of parts of your favorite pieces of art, and the world, and your experience, and dreams. With a dash of wild destiny, and rebellious pursuit of some dream of purpose your great work holds in its heart for itself. Whether it has the heart of an athlete, the brain of a madman, hands of a great thief, or the toes of a magician… the wondrous thing is when the lightning strikes the disparate flesh of words and bits, and congeals the parts, and it comes ALIVE!

3. Meditate regularly.

The Idea of
ROMANTIC IRONY* (*SEE THE END OF THIS PACKET. I’ve quoted a section on Romantic Irony from the next chapter in the Literary Criticism Text we’re using: Chapter 16: Romanticism (I): Germany and France – Which discusses the phenomenon of ‘ROMANTIC IRONY’ more in depth and which we’ll be talking about more in December

4. Align your priorities with your goals and values.

Writing is about
MAKING CHOICES
And making choices is about
EXPRESSING VALUES

How Do your characters’ struggles affect them?
Do they break them? Make them?
Or Take them… some other place altogether?

5. Visualize your success.

In my opinion, in order to chase that united vision and holistic artwork, one should

Write the Whole Piece at Every
Juncture, as Much as that is Possible
But also, Give Focus To Each Scene As
It Is The Most Import In The Moment

Your CHARACTERS have motivations, or they should.
Goals, desires, things they are chasing.
Give them scenes of pining, scenes where they glimpse the thing they strive for. Scenes that further motivate them, perhaps only the throw them down again, back into the chase.
But, which make them stronger? More themselves?

6. Measure your improvement.

Keep in Mind What You’ve Written
And Revisit It Often
ReRead and Don’t Be So Critical
That You’re Constantly ReWriting,
RATHER,

7. Make good use of your time.

There is always
SOMETHING
to Write
TODAY

8. Learn new skills.

Take time away from the literal writing from those things that should be left unsaid or the bits too dark for TV.
Paint a piece of used furniture,
Make a Collage,
Take a walk to someplace new and take some pictures

Practices for the Body

9. Exercise on the regular.

TAKE WALKS!
Best exercise in the world, especially for writers,
because it’s a great pace for thinking.

10. Respect your body.

Or abuse it, for the sake of a story.
How much coffee can you drink before you die?
That’s a story in itself.
As long as you survive to tell it, or, like Hamlet, have
someone to tell with your dying breath, some witness,
“If thou didst ever hold me in my heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To
TELL
MY
STORY”

But respect the fact that if you don’t take care of your body, it will kill you.

11. Practice self-care.

For real, tho.

12. Eat mindfully.

Vegetables. Potatoes and whutnot.

13. Schedule regular breaks and down time.

“Sometimes it’s the fight that keeps you out of the ring.”

14. Mind your daily water intake.

Drink a bunch of H2O.
Keeps you awake and fresh.

Practices for the Soul

15. Practice daily mindfulness.

Directed thinking.
Think about your writing, on purpose.

Is your character the type to make great realizations?
Are they the victim of circumstance, or are they, -or are they BECOMING- a person who rises above the waves to be a mover and shaker, someone who other people watch to see what’s going down? Have they got their sails out and tuned into their own winds? Pumping loud their own drum beats?

16. Practice mindful listening.

Does your character have a favorite song?
Or twenty favorite songs they’ve been listening two exclusively the past year and they feel like they’re living in a biodome against the rest of the world, some kind of experiment, some kind of lost civilization, and what’s wrong with the rest of you?

17. Practice gratitude.

If your character did catch that break,
how would they respond?

Do you look on the bright side?

Strike a healthy balance between remembering tough times and hoping and enjoying the good times, because if you let go of the pain too easily, you’ll fall back into those habits that lead to trouble. It’s best to remember some parts of what causes your woes, if only to avoid those pitfalls. And be thankful things aren’t worse when they’re just going okay.

18. Recite positive affirmations.

READ.
Put quotes up on your wall.
Treat language how you want them to treat your words.
Graffiti the truth on sidewalks and tape posters of your most frequent incantations inside the walls of the skulls of the apathetic.

19. Develop a mindful journaling habit.

Is your character an artist?
These days, everyone has their fifteen minutes, spread out over social media, looking for that one viral post.
Everyone’s an artist nowadays.
Mindful, of course, is another sort of animal.

20. Surround yourself with positive people.
Does your character have that person they can confide in?
Are they their own person? More than just some supporting actor in the main character’s mythos?

21. Heal your negative self-talk.
&
22. Learn to forgive yourself and others.

There are many formulas you can borrow and lean on, or at least study to give your character an arc. From Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’ even to Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 Steps, many things can be graphed onto your tale to provide a skeleton for you to ply some flesh onto.
Take the time to Bake up some ginger bread protagonists (it makes the whole house smell delicious), or plant some plot seeds and water them a bit with details from the Possibilities-Can each morning, and watch how you lose the negative attitude that you can’t paint like the masters, because you realize there is a reason you were drawn to writing. Because you have your own style and enjoy words, language, making phrases and meaning, into stories, and moving pictures. Imagining things and creating the meaning of a happening that only you can convey.

23. Be giving and kind.

Be a generous writer. Be ambitious, take risks, aim for big effects.
Give your plots and characters a wildness, a recklessness. Tell those bone truths that are dangerous to explore but more dangerous to ignore.
Lay it all on the table, and know when it’s necessary to call the dealer out, the game rigged, the exchange blasphemous, and flip the table over with a joyous yell! Stand up to the silence that suffocates the spirit, run into the burning building to save those photographs that prove the past the dream destroyers would have the world forget, protect with clenched fists (and nimble, typing digits) the delicate things, the mysteries that will be forgotten from neglect, that you can save with the strength of your own hands, alone.

 

 

*THE CONCEPT OF ROMANTIC IRONY

 

The Romantic self was a profounder, more authentic ego lying beneath the layers of social convention, a self which attempted through principles such as irony to integrate the increasingly fragmented elements of the bourgeois world into a vision of unity. And it was primarily the poet who could achieve such a vision. In general, the Romantics exalted the status of the poet, as a genius whose originality was based on his ability to discern connections among apparently discrepant phenomena and to elevate human perception toward a comprehensive, unifying vision.

The most crucial human faculty for such integration was the imagination, which most Romantics saw as a unifying power, one which could harmonize the other strata of human perception such as sensation and reason. It should be noted that Romanticism is often wrongly characterized as displacing Enlightenment “reason” with emotion, instinct, spontaneity, and imagination. To understand what is at issue here, it is necessary to recall that much Romantic thought took Kant’s philosophy (which itself
was not at all Romantic) as its starting point, notably his distinction between phenomena and noumena, his treatment of imagination, and his establishing of a relative autonomy for the category of the aesthetic. Kant’s relation to Enlightenment thought was indeed ambivalent inasmuch as he attempted to establish the limitations of reason. However, Kant declared that the categories of the understanding applied throughout the phenomenal world; his notion of the noumenon is merely a limiting concept and its actual existence is nothing more than a presupposition of morality and free will. He had, moreover, viewed imagination as a mediating principle which reconciled the deliverances of sensation with the categories of the understanding. The Romantics, like Hegel (who himself was certainly not a Romantic), placed the noumenal realm within the reach of human apprehension, and often exalted the function of imagination, viewing it as a vehicle for the attainment of truths beyond the phenomenal world and beyond the reach of reason alone. But they did not attempt to dismiss or discard the findings of logic and reason, merely to place these within a more embracing scheme of perception. Hence Coleridge saw the secondary imagination, peculiar to the poet, as a unifying power which could reconcile general and concrete, universal and particular. Shelley even saw imagination as having a moral function, as a power enabling the self to situate itself within a larger empathetic scheme, as opposed to reason, which expressed the selfish constraints of the liberal atomistic self. Hence the relation between Romanticism and the mainstreams of bourgeois thought, which had risen to hegemony on the waves of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, was deeply ambivalent. Our own era is profoundly pervaded by this ambivalent heritage.

This ambivalent connection of Romanticism to bourgeois thought operated through both the notion of imagination and the equally archetypal notion of Romantic irony. The ancient Roman authors Cicero and Quintilian had followed the Greeks in defining irony as a form of dissemblance whereby a speaker’s intention differed from his statements. This broad definition of irony remained in currency through late antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the neoclassical era. Both the French Encyclopédie of 1765 and Johnson’s Dictionary reiterated the definition of irony as a figure of speech in which the meaning undermines or opposes the actual words used to express it.

It was only at the end of the eighteenth century that irony rose in status from a mere rhetorical device to an entire way of looking at the world, becoming, in the guise of Romantic irony, an index of a broad philosophic vision. The emergence of this change is usually dated to Schlegel’s Fragments of 1797, which accords irony an epistemological  and ontological function, seeing it as a mode of confronting and transcending the contradictions of the finite world. The theorizing of irony in this direction was furthered by numerous writers including Heine, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. At the core of irony as formulated by most nineteenth-century thinkers was a Romantic propensity to confront, rather than overlook, the obstinate disorder, contingency, flux, and mystery of the world. In this sense, an ironic vision accepts that the world can be viewed from numerous irreconcilable perspectives, and rejects any providential, rational, or logical foreclosure of the world’s absurdity and contradictions into a spurious unity. Yet such Romantic irony is not entirely negative: while it rejects the “objective” order imposed upon experience or the world by religious or rational means, it seeks a higher transcendent unity and purpose, grounded ultimately in subjectivity. Modernist irony is seen by most theorists as a development of Romantic irony and as entailing a dual posture: a negation of prevailing values and institutions, and a helpless complicity with them. However, it diverges from Romantic irony in being more nihilistic, despairing over the possibility of transcending or changing the current state of affairs. Irony effectively entails a failed search for meaning and unity.

The “Romantic” metamorphosis of irony in the eighteenth century from a classical and medieval rhetorical device to an index of a metaphysical perspective was integrally tied to the broader social and political changes earlier invoked. The emergence and rapid theorizing of irony as a metaphysical perspective coincided with the era in which the hegemony of bourgeois interests and values was establishing itself not only in political life and economic practice but also in philosophy, literature, and science. Irony was essentially an idealistic reaction against the mainstream tendencies of bourgeois thought which attempted to define the world in terms of its own clear-cut categories, founded on rationalism, pragmatic efficiency, and an atomistic and utilitarian commodification of all the elements of the world, including the human subject. Underlying these tendencies lay the conviction that, in principle, knowledge, reason, and science could extend their control over all aspects of human life.

The Romantic thinkers who embraced an ironic vision reacted against the reductively mechanistic, utilitarian, and commercial impetus of bourgeois thought. Irony was a means of reinvesting the world with mystery, of limiting the arrogant claims of reason, of denying the ideals of absolute clarity and definition, of reaffirming the profound interconnection of things, and of seeking for the human spirit higher and more spiritual forms of fulfillment than those available through material and commercial efficiency. Yet irony as a very mode of reaction bore the imprint of defeat: it could merely voice subjective protests against colossal historical movements which were already in process of realization, protests which often floated free of any viable basis of institutional change. The Romantics were struggling against a world whose materialistic, pragmatic, utilitarian, and scientistic foundations had already been laid since the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Like the French symbolists after them, their only recourse was to an ironic vision which insisted that reality is not confined to the here and now but embraces the past or is located in a Platonic ideal realm. The connections between Romanticism and subsequent eras have been influentially examined by M. H. Abrams, Frank Kermode, and others; as Marshall Brown notes, crucial elements of both elitist modernism and populist postmodernism can be traced back to Romantic criticism; the rhetorical, textual, and skeptical dimensions of Romanticism have been explored extensively by critics such as Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Harold Bloom, and Stanley Cavell. Feminist approaches to Romanticism – advanced by scholars such as Margaret Homans, Susan Levin, Anne Mellor, and Mary Jacobus – have attempted to rescue neglected female authors, examined the ways in which some of the Romantics exploited women, questioned the Romantic masculine obsession with self, and challenged what they have seen as the essentialist doctrines of  Romanticism.

Good Hunting, Writers,

 

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