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Spectacular Disappearances

Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696-1801 OPEN ACCESS

Julia H. Fawcett
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Spectacular Disappearances
    Book Description:

    How can people in the spotlight control their self-representations when the whole world seems to be watching? The question is familiar, but not new. Julia Fawcett examines the stages, pages, and streets of eighteenth-century London as England's first modern celebrities performed their own strange and spectacular self-representations. They include the enormous wig that actor Colley Cibber donned in his comic role as Lord Foppington--and that later reappeared on the head of Cibber's cross-dressing daughter, Charlotte Charke. They include the black page of Tristram Shandy, a memorial to the parson Yorick (and author Laurence Sterne), a page so full of ink that it cannot be read. And they include the puffs and prologues that David Garrick used to heighten his publicity while protecting his privacy; the epistolary autobiography, modeled on the sentimental novel, of Garrick's protégée George Anne Bellamy; and the elliptical poems and portraits of the poet, actress, and royal courtesan Mary Robinson, a.k.a. Perdita. Linking all of these representations is a quality that Fawcett terms "over-expression," the unique quality that allows celebrities to meet their spectators' demands for disclosure without giving themselves away. Like a spotlight so brilliant it is blinding, these exaggerated but illegible self-representations suggest a new way of understanding some of the key aspects of celebrity culture, both in the eighteenth century and today. They also challenge divides between theatrical character and novelistic character in eighteenth-century studies, or between performance studies and literary studies today. The book provides an indispensable history for scholars and students in celebrity studies, performance studies, and autobiography—and for anyone curious about the origins of the eighteenth-century self.

    eISBN: 978-0-472-90061-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Language & Literature, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-22)

    How can the modern individual maintain control over his or her selfrepresentation when the whole world seems to be watching?

    This question is a familiar one amid the early twenty-first century’s elaborate architecture of twenty-four-hour newsrooms, chat rooms, and interrogation rooms. But in the pages that follow I argue that the question first emerged in the streets and on the stages of Restoration and eighteenthcentury London, a city with its own elaborate architecture of playhouses, coffeehouses, clubs, pubs, and print shops—and its own anxieties about privacy and the modern subject. It was, after all, in the years following the...

  2. In the dead of winter, 1699, as the people of England struggled to forget the bloody images of the last half-century—a regicide, a civil war, a succession of violent rebellions—Colley Cibber shuffled across the well-worn boards of Drury Lane stage in the gleaming crown of a king.¹ It was a costume he had long tried to claim. By the late seventeenth century England’s burgeoning celebrity culture had elevated actors and actresses like Cibber to a status once thought unattainable for people of such humble origins. The tragedian Thomas Betterton, born the son of an undercook to Charles I,...

  3. Like the early modern kings whose images he evoked (and deformed), Colley Cibber passed on to his heirs not only his elaborate headdresses and his celebrity status, but also his strategy of overexpression. His youngest daughter, Charlotte Charke, describes her inherited celebrity as a curse when, in a curious scene from her own autobiography of 1755 (a narrative heavily indebted to her father’s), her recognizable figure prevents her escape from some angry creditors. Charke’s proclivity for male attire doesn’t seem to help matters, and her pursuer easily picks her out of a crowd, she writes, “by Dint of a very...

  4. “I wrote not [to] befed, but to be famous.”¹ With these words, Laurence Sterne announced to a critic his ambitions forThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, shortly after its first two volumes appeared in print in 1759. Formerly a subparson in the relative backwater of York, Sterne became an overnight sensation when his bawdy, blustery, and partially bowdlerized book arrived in London, soon to be followed by its attention-seeking author. As the book’s fame grew, Sterne crafted a public identity around his fictional personae: he signed his letters as Tristram, published his sermons as Yorick, and...

  5. On or about October 19, 1741, theatrical character changed. Or so the critics claimed. It was on that evening that David Garrick debuted on the Drury Lane stage, usurping Cibber’s old role of Richard III (and using Cibber’s—not Shakespeare’s—script). Audiences declared they’d never seen anything like it. Where Cibber stood still to declaim the speeches of the villain-king, Garrick strutted and fretted across the stage. Where Cibber seems to have held his hands just so—as in the engraving of his Lord Foppington by John Simon (figure 4)—Garrick trembled, stumbled, and looked wildly about him—if the...

  6. In the opening pages of this book, I described the black page ofTristram Shandyas the emblem of overexpression. Since then the page clouded by too many words has come to stand in for the elaborate costumes, overwrought gestures, and purple prose of the eighteenth-century celebrities who deflected invasions of their privacy by presenting what Colley Cibber described as “thisChiaro Oscuroof my mind”: autobiographical performances so clear they were obscure.¹ But thisChiaro Oscurois incomplete without the white page that follows and counters the black in Sterne’s narrative. While the black page marks a death, the...

  7. Once upon a time, the celebrity was a freak. Whether she was born “abnormally interesting” or had abnormal interest thrust upon her, she tended to stand out in a crowd—and thus to suffer the whispered rumors, the printed gossip, the pokings and proddings and losses of privacy that society reserves for its most visible scapegoats.¹

    Once upon a time the celebrity was a freak but then, instead of shrinking from his freakishness, he learned to embrace and even to exaggerate it until it became the key to his liberation. He wore it in the curls of his wig and...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
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