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Authors Exposed: Victorian Literary Celebrity and the Graphic Revolution

Collins, Joanna (2016) Authors Exposed: Victorian Literary Celebrity and the Graphic Revolution. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In an effort to historicize celebrity as a phenomenon that pre-dates film, celebrity studies scholarship has, over the last three decades, taken a turn toward the literary in general and Victorian authors in particular. Most scholars point to the Graphic Revolution of the nineteenth century as celebrity’s inaugural moment, proposing that the industrialization of print, rise of the pictorial press, and advancements in photographic technologies kindled a new mode of celebration—one based less on personal achievement or service to God or state, and more on a perceived desire for proximity to the public individual. Scholars generally agree that this “public intimacy” is one of the defining paradoxes of celebrity culture.
Authors Exposed complicates the relationship between public intimacy and the printed image in Victorian literary celebrity by examining portraits of three authors—Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Oscar Wilde—and by tracing how those images were produced, circulated and appropriated during each author’s lifetime. I argue that Victorian literary celebrity was characterized as much by a turn away from celebrity authors and their images as it was by audiences’ desire to know more about and get closer to their favorite authors. In exploring these other attitudes towards public intimacy during the period, I challenge two key assumptions in the scholarship: first, that printed images gave audiences more intimate access to celebrities and second, that audiences always wanted more intimate knowledge about authors and their lives in the first place. In Dickens’ case, his celebrity image endangered the relationship his audiences had with the characters in his early fictions, most notably Mr. Pickwick of The Pickwick Papers. For Tennyson, portraits designed to subvert celebrity and promote classical fame resulted in a kind of premature commemoration that made the Poet Laureate the object of ridicule in popular periodical series such as “Celebrities (Very Much) at Home.” Finally, the celebrity images Wilde cultivated for his American lecture tour functioned as an artistic forgery that not only informed his later works like The Portrait of Mr. W.H., but also served as evidence of the “gross indecency” that resulted in his incarceration.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Collins, Joannajkayco@gmail.comJKC210000-0003-0192-5470
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairSmith, Philip E.psmith@pitt.eduPSMITH
Committee CoChairMaccabe, Colinmaccabe@pitt.eduMACCABE
Committee MemberJonathan, Aracjarac@pitt.eduJARAC
Committee MemberZboray, Ronaldzboray@pitt.eduZBORAY
Date: 1 June 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 January 2015
Approval Date: 1 June 2016
Submission Date: 28 March 2016
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 282
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: celebrity, history of fame, Victorian literature and culture, illustrated periodicals, print culture, portraits of authors
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2016 15:08
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2021 05:15


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