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This work is concerned with the `authority' of autobiography. Couser considers recent critiques of the notion of autobiography as issuing from, determined by, referring to a pre-existing self. He examines the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin, P. T. Barnum, and Mark Twain and appraises the authority of autobiography in the rather different circumstances of the minority writer: in slave narratives, the Civil War diaries of Mary Chesnut, and contemporary works by
Richard Rodriguez and Maxine Hong Kingston. The work treats autobiographical writing as a struggle for literary control over the life of the author, against the constraints of genre, language, and society.