With some exaggeration, one could claim that these three biographies, despite their disparate subjects—a seventeenth-century aristocratic lady of the Mughal court, an eighteenth-century French adventurer, and a twentieth-century Muslim intellectual and political figure—all tell the same story. In each case, a figure is born (as it happens, outside the Indian subcontinent) in relatively humble circumstances and emerges as a singular figure in some combination of the political, economic, intellectual life of the day. Each account proceeds chronologically, with the life presented as an unfolding, linear story, the fruit of “developments” and “influences,” in which the protagonist independently takes action. These accounts fit, in short, the genre of biography or autobiography known to us Americans from Benjamin Franklin to Malcolm X, of rags to riches—and, typically, lessons to impart (Ohmann 1970). Each is an example of the canonical form of male biography and autobiography that emerged in Europe from the eighteenth century.

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