Landmark anthropological works on fame have shown that gift-giving is often the vehicle for producing relations of 'positive value' and recognition. When viewing fame against the related notion of fortune, however, the focal point of study shifts to how people produce reputations that are 'beyond value' or 'priceless'. This article proposes that the Nuosu of Southwest China enter into an ongoing 'economy of ordeals' in order to accumulate priceless 'tokens of value' that increase their 'fate-fortune' and fame. It shows that ambitious Nuosu accept new ordeals to achieve fame, while comfortably viewing their accomplishments as akin to those of a predatory spider. Tellingly, though, these efforts are vulnerable to the counter-extractive maneuvers of other people and ghosts, which present the Nuosu with new ordeals that could deplete their resources.
Contemporary social history is premised on the idea of writing histories of ordinary people. This article reflects critically on the concept of “ordinariness“ as facilitated by the author's brief moment of personal fame and her professional experiences of learning and writing about women's and gender history in and of southern Africa. These perspectives then informed her attempts to write and publish a story of the brief encounter in the late 1930s between a member of her family and the brilliant African-American writer, Richard Wright. The article explores the parameters and definitions of “ordinariness“ in African and American history.
Lissa Weinstein and Banu Seckin
When Craig, an oft-humiliated and unsuccessful street puppeteer, discovers a portal into the body of John Malkovich, he finds that fusion with a live “celebrity puppet” offers a solution to the dilemmas of being human— imperfection, vulnerability, and death. In this fantastical context, the filmmakers raise questions about intention, identity, authorship, and the wisdom of elevating narcissism over Eros. Although a desire to transcend the limitations of the mortal body may be ubiquitous, the unique solution offered in Being John Malkovich is the apparent triumph of this narcissistic fantasy, rather than an acceptance of reality. This article first explores the film's use of the universal imagery of narcissism and then examines how technology, which allows widespread access to a visually oriented media culture, and changes in the meaning of fame have altered the expression of narcissistic fantasies, as well as the anxieties that accompany their fulfillment.
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.
Harriet Martineau, 'L.E.L', Fame and Fraser's Magazine
‘How ought women to be treated in controversy?’ asked John Robertson in the London and Westminster Review of April 1839.2 It was a good moment to be asking. The 1830s – in many ways a peculiar decade of the nineteenth century, marking the decline of Romanticism and only a gradual emergence of something not yet definable as ‘Victorianism’ (if such a complex cultural phenomenon can be defined) – saw the intensification of an interest in personalities, not unlike that which we see in today’s gossip columns and Sunday supplements. This was the decade of what came to be known as ‘Crokerism’, after John Wilson Croker (1780- 1857) who boasted of ‘tomahawking Miss Martineau in the Quarterly’.
Christina Rossetti and The Germ
The chronology of events leading to the publication of The Germ in 1850 is familiar to most scholars of nineteenth-century literature. In 1849, soon after the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), Dante Gabriel Rossetti persuaded the group to found a journal that would promote their aesthetic principles and establish their literary reputation. After much discussion, the brethren decided to title their periodical The Germ and appointed William Michael Rossetti its editor. In addition to involving members of the PRB, other like-minded writers were invited to contribute, including Coventry Patmore, William Bell Scott and Christina Rossetti.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton Paying the Price of Greatness
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, one of the greatest innovators in literature and an important political figure of the nineteenth century, was the apotheosis of the great man.3 In view of this, it is surprising that he is all but forgotten today. When he is remembered, it is most likely to be as an object of buffoonery perpetuated by the competition at San Jose State University in California for the worst opening of a novel, inspired by the beginning of Paul Clifford (1830): ‘It was a dark and stormy night’.4 Unfairly, he is not commemorated for its humanitarian ending, which declares: ‘THE VERY WORST USE TO WHICH YOU CAN PUT A MAN IS TO HANG HIM’.
Contesting Wordsworth's fame in the life writings of Harriet Martineau and Thomas Carlyle.
In her justly influential work on nineteenth-century strategies of self representation, Subjectivities (1990), Reginia Gagnier describes the dominant characteristics of the ‘high’ literary tradition of nineteenth-century auto/biography as consisting of a meditative and self-reflective sensibility; faith in writing as a tool of self-exploration; an attempt to make sense of life as a narrative progressing in time, with a narrative typically structured upon parent/child relationships and familial development; and a belief in personal creativity, autonomy and freedom for the future.
Rethinking the Reception of The Book of the Duchess
is it easy to reconcile the intensely self-aware poetic practices of a writer so conscious of the unpredictable challenges of posterity that he felt obliged to write the retracciouns to the Canterbury Tales, The House of Fame and the Prologue to