The public representation of the lives of individuals forms part of a long literary tradition and biography has often had a didactic purpose. Frequently the purpose was to use life stories as national metaphors, to instil ideas of how nations should behave. In this way, individuals acted as mirrors of the nation. This article examines two case studies in Wales: R. J. Derfel, nineteenth-century socialist, and Huw T. Edwards, twentieth-century trade unionist and Labour politician turned nationalist. It does so in order to explore how their life stories were constructed, by them and others, as representative of Welsh national experience. It considers responses to such acts of contrivance, by the press and the people, in order to investigate the cultural mentalities of Welsh society in which the biographies were read and consumed.