This article assesses the work of best-selling French historian Ivan Jablonka by setting his work in the context of biographies of ordinary people and by evaluating the success of his stated goal of reconciling lifewriting with social sciences. The article attempts to explicate his methodology of “searching for what is already found,” and considers the relevance of the critique of historicism in general articulated by some branches of the social sciences. It concludes that there is more to restorative biography than merely an explanation of causality.
Melanie Hawthorne is Professor of French at Texas A&M University with an interest in lifewriting. She is best known for her work on Rachilde, in particular the critical biography Rachilde and French Women’s Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism (2001). In 2013 she published The Woman Who Didn’t Exist: The Curious Life of Gisèle d’Estoc, a biographical project that attempts to demystify and defend humanities research in addition to recovering a lost figure of the decadent period. Hawthorne’s current writing focuses on the fin-de-siècle writer Renée Vivien. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org