The first seminar in The Author in the Popular Imagination series

14 November 2014, 5.30 pm.

Haldane Room, Wolfson College. FREE and open to all. For more information, contact joanna.neilly@queens.ox.ac.uk


NPG 2655; Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield by Robert Glassby, cast by  John Theodore Tussaud

Dr Tom Mole (Edinburgh): ‘Celebrity and Anonymity in Romantic Britain’
This paper examines two approaches to constructing authorial personae in the Romantic period: celebrity and anonymity. It argues that, although they seem to be opposed, the two were in fact intertwined in unexpected ways. The discourses, understandings and practices surrounding the attribution of literary works changed significantly during the Romantic period. Drawing on a quantitative analysis of the bibliographical record, this paper shows how authors’ choices about anonymity, pseudonymity and celebrity identity changed during the period. These changes were bound up with the emergence of modern celebrity culture. The paper suggests that celebrity, anonymity and pseudonymity were not opposed to one another, but were complexly intertwined, so that anonymity could be a form of celebrity, and (paradoxically) celebrity could be a form of anonymity.

Dr Sandra Mayer (Vienna/Oxford): ‘Following the Primrose Path: Literary and Political Fame in Commemorations of Benjamin Disraeli’
In 1881, an anonymous biographical account of the recently deceased Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) paid tribute to ‘a life in which the characteristics of poet, satirist, emotional writer, political debater, and far-seeing statesman were strangely mingled’. Contemporary commentators regularly took note of the most distinctive feature of Disraeli’s extraordinary career: the unusual alliance between bestselling novelist and respectable elder statesman that attested to his deft migration between the literary and political fields as equally significant and interconnected arenas of self-fashioning and self-projection.
This paper argues that it was the life-long conflation of creative artist and pragmatic politician that helped shape Disraeli’s reputation as one of the most eminent Victorian public figures. It will specifically focus on obituaries, biographical sketches, and commemorative poems dedicated to Disraeli that provide striking insights into the complex interplay of literary authorship, politics, and fame within the cultural context of Victorian Britain. I aim to explore the function of these texts as influential vehicles of memorialisation whose representations of Disraeli’s twin roles have affected both his perception in cultural memory in general and the critical assessment of his literary work in particular.


Tom Mole is Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh, and an Adjunct Professor of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at McGill University. He is the author of Byron’s Romantic Celebrity (2007) and the editor of Romanticism and Celebrity Culture (2009) and (with Michelle Levy) the Broadview Reader in Book History (2014). He led the Interacting with Print research group from 2008-2013 and won the International Byron Society’s Elma Dangerfield Prize in 2009. He is currently researching the reception of Romantic writing in Victorian Britain.
Sandra Mayer is an Erwin Schrödinger Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s English Faculty and Wolfson College, where she is working on a project on the closely-aligned public personae of literary celebrity and celebrity politician in the career of Benjamin Disraeli. She was awarded her doctorate by the University of Vienna for a thesis on the reception of Oscar Wilde’s plays on twentieth-century Viennese stages, and is currently revising this work for publication. She has lectured and published extensively on the British and European reception of Oscar Wilde and is the co-editor of Ireland in Drama, Film, and Popular Culture (WVT, 2012) and Ireland in/and Europe: Cross-Currents and Exchanges (WVT, 2012).

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