Difference between Memoir and Autobiography

Key Difference: The primary difference between a memoir and autobiography is the fact that an autobiography is an account of the person whole life in chronological order as written by them, whereas a memoir refers to a specific time or event in that person’s life and their own take on it.

AutobiographyThe terms Memoir and Autobiography are often used interchangeably, and incorrectly. While the two sound a lot similar, as they both refer to books or accounts written by a person who has lived it. However, there is a slight difference between the two.

An autobiography is a written account of a person’s life as written by them. The autobiography covers the entire duration of one’s life, right from the start up until when they write the book. There is no restriction on the tone of the autobiography, some autobiographies are comic in nature, with the writer trying to be funny or portraying their life as a collection of funny instances. Other may be anecdotal, with the author breaking down their lives in a series of anecdotes. However, one thing is common among all of them, the autobiographies follow a chronological pattern.

A memoir is similar to an autobiography in the sense that it is also about one’s own life as written by that person. However, as an autobiography narrates the whole life start to end, a memoir speaks of a particular time period or a particular instance, which the author chose to focus on.

MemoirThe primary difference between a memoir and autobiography is the fact that an autobiography is an account of the person whole life in chronological order as written by them, whereas a memoir refers to a specific time or event in that person’s life and their own take on it.

Additionally, an autobiography is more formal and strict, and has to adhere to strict quality control, including fact-checking and very specific dates and information. A memoir, on the other hand, is less formal, and relies less on the accuracy of facts and information, and more on the way the story is told. The idea behind a memoir is to express the emotions of the author and to invoke emotions in the reader. Hence, it can be said that the memoir is more like a person telling stories from their life, i.e. did I tell you about the time that something happened to me, whereas an autobiography is more like a narration of one’s life start to end, somewhat similar to a history book.

Comparison between Memoir and Autobiography:

 

Memoir

Autobiography

Definition (Oxford Dictionaries)

A historical account or biography written from personal knowledge.

An account written by a public figure of their life and experiences.

An essay on a learned subject.

 

An account of a person's life written by that person.

Description

A book compiling incidents and anecdotes from one’s life

A book narrating the entire story on one’s life from start to end in a chronological order.

Etymology

Late 15th century (denoting a memorandum or record): from French mémoire (masculine), a special use of mémoire (feminine) ‘memory’.

auto- from Ancient Greek αὐτo- (auto-), from αὐτός (autós, “self”) +‎ biography from modern Latin biographia, formed from Ancient Greek βίος (bíos, “life”) + γράφω (gráphō, “write”).

Topic

A specific time or event in one’s life

Typically, the whole life

Narration

Starts anywhere and can deftly move around in time and place

Starts at the beginning and progresses chronologically to the end

Facts

Feels more personal; less intense fact-checking

Feels more like a historical document; tons of fact-checking and very specific dates/information

Nature

Relies more on emotions and emotional truths

Relies more on factual, historical truths

Author

Can be written by anyone

Typically is written by famous people

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Memoir and Autobiography), Wiktionary,
Dummies, Writer’s Digest, Life Rich Publishing
Image Courtesy: amazon.com, bookcountry.com

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