Focusing on representations of women's literary celebrity in nineteenth-century biographies, autobiographical accounts, periodicals, and fiction, Brenda R. Weber examines the transatlantic cultural politics of visibility in relation to gender, sex, and the body. Looking both at discursive patterns and specific Anglo-American texts that foreground the figure of the successful woman writer, Weber argues that authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Fanny Fern, Mary Cholmondeley, Margaret Oliphant, Elizabeth Robins, Eliza Potter, and Elizabeth Keckley helped create an intelligible category of the famous writer that used celebrity as a leveraging tool for altering perceptions about femininity and female identity. Doing so, Weber demonstrates, involved an intricate gender/sex negotiation that had ramifications for what it meant to be public, professional, intelligent, and extraordinary. Weber's persuasive account elucidates how Gaskell's biography of Charlotte BrontÃ« served simultaneously to support claims for BrontÃ«'s genius and to diminish BrontÃ«'s body in compensation for the magnitude of those claims, thus serving as a touchstone for later representations of women's literary genius and celebrity. Fanny Fern, for example, adapts Gaskell's maneuvers on behalf of Charlotte BrontÃ« to portray the weak woman's body becoming strong as it is made visible through and celebrated within the literary marketplace. Throughout her study, Weber analyzes the complex codes connected to transatlantic formations of gender/sex, the body, and literary celebrity as women authors proactively resisted an intense backlash against their own success.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction: a right to call herself famous; Reconstructing Charlotte: the making of a celebrated 'female genius'; 'A sort of monster': Fanny Fern, fame's appetite and the construction of the multivalent famous female author; 'Great genius breaks all bonds': Margaret Oliphant and the female literary greats; Correcting the record, creating a new one: Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes and Eliza Potter's A Hair-dresser's Experience in High Life; The text as child: gender/sex and metaphors of maternity at the fin de siècle; Conclusion: doing her level best to play the man's game: literary hermaphrodites and the exceptional woman; Afterword: in search of the cult of Charlotte; Works cited; Index.
Brenda R. Weber is Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Adjunct Associate Professor of English, Cultural Studies, Communication and Culture, and American Studies at Indiana University, USA.
'Nuanced, insightful, and richly detailed, Brenda Weber's study of women's literary celebrity in the nineteenth century offers provocative readings of texts by Elizabeth Gaskell, Fanny Fern, Margaret Oliphant and Elizabeth Keckley, among others. Deftly revealing how Victorian women writers on both sides of the Atlantic navigated the treacherous waters of public life, Weber's writing is both witty and erudite, and her book sheds new light on the uneasy intersection of fame and Victorian femininity.' Suzanne Raitt, College of William & Mary '... provide[s] valuable insight into overlooked influences on nineteenth-century women’s writing, and the literary manoeuvres that these influences produce.' Times Literary Supplement ’The more secure BrontÃ« and Austen and Alcott (among others) appear restored to their original contexts by this team of scholars. The timely and the timeless converge. Future harvesters of a swath of Anglophone women writers, some of them dazzling celebrities, will be able to glean from these books.’ Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies ’Weber’s is an outstanding study. It is very well researched, with a wealth of new information and detail and also highly readable.’ Archiv fÃ¼r das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 'Weber’s expansive list of authors and texts contributes to a growing body of knowledge in nineteenth century studies which collapses the dichotomies of white/black, public/private, British/American and recreates a culture in which the circulation of famous women writers, their books, and their characters was much more dynamic than the gendered codes of fame allowed.' Wilkie Collins Journal 'Insightful and cogent ... Weber persuasively demonstrates how these Victorian writers' transatlantic cultural work transformed "the representation of famous women as 'unsexed'" into "the counter-representation of famous women [writers] as the epitome of womanhood".' Wordsworth Circle