Exploring the celebrity culture and lion-hunting associated with Alfred Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this article argues that while both poets experienced enormous literary fame during their lifetimes, the celebrity culture surrounding them might have been a motivating factor in their subsequent decline in popularity, and the Modernist depreciation of nineteenth-century poetry. Exploring the ways in which Longfellow courted celebrity culture, the article turns to the lion-hunting exploits of Edward Bok, a Dutch-American magazine editor, to demonstrate the desire of Longfellow's readers to physically encounter him. Examining the intense media coverage attending Longfellow's travels to Britain in 1868–69, the article underlines his status as the ultimate American literary celebrity of the period, but also positions Longfellow as a 'lion-hunter' by focusing on his meeting with Tennyson on the Isle of Wight in 1868, and on the way in which their encounters in person and in print reveal contrasting attitudes to celebrity.
Fame and Notability in Henry James's Roderick Hudson and The American
This article examines Henry James's deployment of imagery of statuary, performance, and display to foreground conflicts between emergent forms of notability and older ideas of aristocratic renown, and his use of the figure of the American in Europe to draw attention to the complex intersections of nationality and gender in constructions of public recognition. Roderick Hudson (1875) positions the eponymous American sculptor as a lion in Europe, but reveals his fatal attempts to transcend the objectification and commodification accompanying fame. In The American (1877) Christopher Newman is briefly lionized by a French aristocratic family, but afterwards publicly spurned. Both novels contrast the fate of American men with the successful use of mechanisms of fame by women. Roderick Hudson's Christina Light successfully markets her beauty, becoming through marriage a figure of aristocratic renown, while The American's Noémie Nioche negotiates her rise in the world through self-promotion, finally passing as a noblewoman.
This article examines Robert Browning's and Henry James's writings to consider their responses to, and implication in, the production, circulation, and consumption of late nineteenth-century celebrity. For James, there were two Brownings – the private, unknowable genius and the social personality. From the time he first met Browning until 1912, James held to this theory in letters, essays, biography, and fiction; the Browning 'problem' became integral to James's fascinated engagement with other problems at the heart of celebrity culture. Both writers attacked celebrity discourses and practices (biography, interviews, literary tourism) that constructed the life as a vital source of meaning, thus threatening to displace the writer's work as privileged object of literary interpretation. Browning preceded James in insisting that the separation of public and private life was foundational to an impersonal aesthetics, and in exploring the fatal confusion between art and life that has been identified by theorists as central to celebrity culture.
William Harrison Riley, Transatlantic Celebrity, and the Perils of Working-Class Fandom
This article focuses on attempts by working-class intellectual, William Harrison Riley, to act as a transatlantic bridge connecting John Ruskin and Walt Whitman, and on what this reveals about nineteenth-century celebrity culture. Despite contrasting attitudes to fame, Ruskin and Whitman both constructed public profiles as generational prophets with broad appeal to the working classes, at the same time pursuing rhetorical strategies stressing their own exceptionalism. Because their lofty elevation depended upon the existence of disciples, their public outreach only seemed to offer disciples opportunities to transcend the hierarchical structures underpinning celebrity culture. Riley is of particular interest as a marginalized working-class writer who sought equality with Ruskin and Whitman by joining Ruskin's Utopian Guild of St George, and by attempting to negotiate Ruskin's support in raising Whitman's profile. The costly failure of these enterprises suggests that celebrity culture often reflects, reinforces, and polices prevailing social divisions of late nineteenth-century capitalism.
Redrawing the Borders of English Literature in the Late Nineteenth Century
This article examines a map of the English coast surrounding Romney Marsh in 1895, hand-drawn by Ford Madox Ford for his memoir, Return to Yesterday (1931). The map is read as a cultural reconstruction of the shifting terrain of fin-de-siècle literary reputation, representing late-Victorian English letters as a distinctly transatlantic realm. Ford's illustration is analysed as an early incarnation of the celebrity 'star map': it positions authors in specific locations, while also tracing constellations of developing alliances, dividing the aesthetically minded foreigners from a defensive grouping of British institutional icons. Ford redraws the centre and the boundaries of English literature through his act of map-making, positioning his 'alien' literary celebrities – including transatlantic icons of the late nineteenth century, like Henry James, Stephen Crane, and W.H. Hudson – along the Romney coast, a site associated with invasion, fluid boundaries, and shifting coastlines.
Sulayman Al-Bassam's Richard III and Political Theatre
Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s best-known characters, a familiarity independent of the history plays, Henry VI and Richard III, in which he appears. This celebrity has less to do with Richard’s historical reputation, and more with the way in which great actors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gave the role status and popular visibility, particularly perhaps via Laurence Olivier’s 1955 film version. Just as Hamlet is automatically identifi able by black suit and prop skull, Richard is immediately recognisable by his legendary deformity (mandatory hump, optional limp), and by the famous opening line of his initial soliloquy: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’.
Longfellow and the Campaign for Poets' Corner
David Haven Blake
In 1884, a bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was unveiled in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, positioning the American between memorials to Geoffrey Chaucer and John Dryden. Longfellow was the first foreign author thus honoured, and his selection created transatlantic controversy. Through newspapers and correspondence, this article explores how Longfellow's bust came to be in Poets' Corner, tracing the role of its organizer, Dr William Cox Bennett, his benefactors in government and the Palace, and a host of distinguished contributors to the campaign. While nineteenth-century celebrity is often described as a public phenomenon accompanied by crowds of cheering admirers, the memorialization campaign centred on transatlantic elites who praised Longfellow's virtue, humility, and internationalism. The article examines how the campaign shaped the meaning of both Poets' Corner and late nineteenth-century transatlantic fraternity and argues that it also became the setting for conflicting ideas about literature, cosmopolitanism, national memory, and Victorian racial theories.
Nimrod, Surtees, and the New Sporting Magazine
In the early Victorian period, sporting literature found a new audience among the young century's industrialists and prosperous merchants who, enabled by the growth of the railroads and increased access to the countryside, chose to use their increased leisure time to experience English rural life and to hobnob on equal terms, at least superficially, with the rural ancien régime. The New Sporting Magazine, established in 1831, positioned itself to speak both to the existing devotees of sport and to the middle-class audience which was about to make its presence felt in the field. The parallel refinement of English sport and its print discourse is described by and exemplified in the two best-known sport writers of the early Victorian era: Robert Smith Surtees and Charles Apperley ('Nimrod'). Surtees and Nimrod, though highly professional and well remunerated, habitually put forward their own work as 'correspondence', contributing to the illusion that the magazine was a playground for gentlemen of leisure. The careful blend of the conservative and modern in the New Sporting Magazine thus extends to its contributors as well: in this magazine's pages the eighteenth-century culture of the gentleman correspondent was beginning to merge with the culture of the paid celebrity author that would become such a force in the mass literary environment of the nineteenth century.
The World of Irish Women's Best-sellers
This is the opening of Patricia Scanlan’s first best-seller, City Girl, and it also marks the beginning of a compelling chapter in Irish publishing. In 1990, City Girl made the publishers, Poolbeg, a household name in Ireland, finally establishing them in the commercial market they had been chasing since Meave Binchy defected to English publishers with her break through novel Light a Penny Candle (1982). Within twelve months of City Girl’s first run, Scanlan and her editor were media celebrities and other publishers were finding suitable candidates for the packaging process – resulting in best-sellers Deirdre Purcell and Liz Ryan. By best-selling fiction I am referring to high-selling, widely read, popular fiction. The genre is identifiable by packaging, location and theme: fat books about love and relationships, four hundred pages at the least; two or three word titles often eclipsed in size and prominence by the author’s name. These books are widely available outside conventional bookshops, on sale in airports, train stations, supermarkets, large newsagents and corner shops. This thriving best-seller genre has gone largely unremarked in Irish cultural criticism. Yet there has been a remarkable coincidence between its appearance and an upsurge of feminist writing questioning the literary, historical and political heritage of ‘mother Ireland’ for Irish women.
Celebrity and Politics in Gordon Burn's Born Yesterday
Attempting to convey the experience of the present in all its seeming confusion and disorderliness is a challenge that pushes realist fiction to its limits. Gordon Burn's Born Yesterday (2008) is an ambitious attempt to concertina the space/time between event and representation by portraying the news items of the summer of 2007 with an immediacy rare in narrative fiction. Melding the structure of rapid, associative shifts common to 24-hour news presentation with the docu-realism of the non-fiction novel, Burn articulates the complex symbolic interactions that inform an aesthetic and cultural snapshot of the early twenty-first century. This essay explores the novel's portrayal of the mass mediatisation of contemporary British society and its blurring of the lines between fact and fiction. By comparing the quasi-celebrity attributed to the parents of the abducted child, Madeleine McCann, with the manipulation of the media employed during the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown exchange of power, the essay argues that the dominant logic of specular commoditisation goes hand in hand with the novel's focus on narratives of loss, abandonment, and emptiness.