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Literary Celebrity, Gender, and Victorian Authorship, 1850–1914

Alexis Easley

This study examines literary celebrity in Britain from 1850 to 1914. Through lively analysis of rare cultural materials, Easley demonstrates the crucial role of the celebrity author in the formation of British national identity. As Victorians toured the homes and haunts of famous writers, they developed a sense of shared national heritage. At the same time, by reading sensational accounts of writers' lives, they were able to reconsider conventional gender roles and domestic arrangements. As women were featured in interviews and profiles, they were increasingly associated with the ephemerality of the popular press and were often excluded from emerging narratives of British literary history, which defined great literature as having a timeless appeal. Nevertheless, women writers were able to capitalize on celebrity media as a way of furthering their own careers and retelling history on their own terms. Press attention had a more positive effect on men's literary careers since they were expected to assume public identities; however, in some cases, media exposure had the effect of sensationalizing their lives, bodies, and careers. With the development of proto-feminist criticism and historiography, the life stories of male writers were increasingly used to expose unhealthy domestic relationships and imagine ideal forms of British masculinity. The first section of Literary Celebrity explores the practice of literary tourism in Victorian Britain, focusing specifically on the homes and haunts of Charles Dickens, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Harriet Martineau. This investigation incorporates analysis of fascinating cultural texts, including maps, periodicals, and tourist guidebooks. Easley links the practice of literary tourism to a variety of cultural developments, including nationalism, urbanization, spiritualism, the women's movement, and the expansion of popular print culture. The second section provides fresh insight into the ways that celebrity culture informed the « less more »
University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 280Size: 6 3/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-016-9 • Hardback • April 2011 • $84.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-61149-477-8 • Paperback • July 2013 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
978-1-61149-017-6 • eBook • April 2011 • $38.99 • (£24.95)
Alexis Easley is associate professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
1 Acknowledgments
2 Introduction
Part 3 Part I: Celebrity and Literary Tourism
Chapter 4 1. The Virtual City: Literary Tourism and the Construction of "Dickens's London"
Chapter 5 2. The Haunting of Victorian London: Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and George Eliot
Chapter 6 3. The Women of Letters at Home: Harriet Martineau and the Lake District
Part 7 Part II: Celebrity and Historiography
Chapter 8 4. Harriet Martineau: Gender, National Identity, and the Contemporary Historian
Chapter 9 5. Rooms of the Past: Victorian Women Writers, History, and the Reconstruction of Domestic Space
Part 10 Part III: Celebrity and Fin de Siècle Print Culture
Chapter 11 6. Women Writers and Celebrity News at the Fin de Siècle
Chapter 12 7. Representations of the Authorial Body in the British Medical Journal
Chapter 13 8. The Celebrity Cause: Octavia Hill, Virtual Landscapes, and the Press
14 Coda: Literary Celebrity, Gender, and Canon Formation
15 Notes
16 Bibliography
17 Index
In this intriguing study, Easley (Univ. of St. Thomas, St. Paul) joins Tricia Lootens (Lost Saints, 1996) and Linda Peterson (Becoming a Woman of Letters, CH, Oct'09, 47-0730) in studying the intersections of gender, cultural authority, and new definitions of authorship. Arguing that Victorian celebrity culture spread in conjunction with popular tourism and mass-market periodicals, the author focuses on "literary tourism," in which readers journey (literally and figuratively) to their heroes' near-sanctified "homes and haunts." In section 1, she analyzes urban and rural literary tourism, showing how the construction of authorial domesticity in land- and cityscapes shifted abruptly from male authors (Dickens) to female (Barrett Browning, Eliot, Rossetti, Martineau). In section 2, Easley turns to celebrity and history writing, both by historians like Martineau constructing and manipulating their public image, and by those who studied past authors through architectural spaces (some of which became tourist destinations). And in section 3 she discusses how gendered notions of authorship and fame emerged in different print markets, from popular gossip rags to "serious" medical journals. Although the chapter on Octavia Hill's housing and landscape activism needed to be better integrated, the book as a whole convincingly historicizes the emergence of modern celebrities, especially female celebrities.

Alexis Easley’s Literary Celebrity, Gender, and Victorian Authorship, 1850–1914, engages well with how authors negotiated, and were shaped by, the increasing visibility of their profession and the place of the celebrity author within national identity formation. Easley deftly offers keen insights into how the Victorians began casting authors as cultural exemplars, turning their homes into sites of touristic visits, and links the expansion of mass periodical press and media at the latter end of the century with a rise in celebrity media and cultural framing of authors as media stars.
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