Rachel Brownstein

Rachel M. Brownstein is an English professor at the City University of New York's Graduate Center Ph.D. English Program.

Recent Articles

What Becomes a Legend

D eveloping side by side in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, biography and the novel made private lives public. Abiding interest in the unsolved mystery of personality has kept both these long-winded genres popular--and especially so since the culture of celebrity began to blur the distinctions between them. Today, the life stories of prominent people, played out in the media, are followed with suspense, as serialized fictions used to be. Presidents turn up as characters in novels (Joyce Carol Oates's Blonde , for example); one biographer turned himself--chronologically altered--into a character in a presidential life story. To both novelists and biographers, the facts about well-known people can seem less telling than the well-known fictions. The real people whose lives interest us most are the ones we describe as legendary. And the most compelling legends, as publishers have known since Richardson's Pamela in 1740, are those that bare the inner lives of beautiful women. Two...