Writing celebrity: modernism, authorial personas, and self-promotion in the early twentieth century United States Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Galow, Timothy W.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • "Writing Celebrity" argues that the rise of a national celebrity culture at the turn of the twentieth century transformed cultural production in the United States. While most literary studies of this period focus on the relationship between elite authors and the mass market, I assert that the influence of personality marketing transcended traditional aesthetic categories and reshaped the profession of authorship for both "highbrow" and "lowbrow" writers. Against this backdrop, my work traces the impact that an emergent celebrity culture had on the careers of Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Drawing on archival documents, literary texts, and various extant publicity materials, I examine how both of these authors attempted to market distinctive personas and the various ways in which readers and critics responded to their public identities. Gertrude Stein, immediately following the runaway success of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, theorized an authorial identity that exists only in the very instant of creation and instills texts with permanent value. Contrary to contemporary readings of Stein as a proto-postmodern theorist of the "open" text, readings largely based on interpretations of her early poetry, I argue that, in response to the pressures of public exposure, Stein cultivated a theory very similar to that of contemporary New Critics. This identity formation also allowed Stein to align herself with masculine idealizations of "high" art by complicating overt signs of difference, including femininity, lesbianism, and Jewishness, from her textual persona. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who positioned himself as a young genius in early publicity materials, attempted to refashion himself as a reflective and dedicated professional in the 1930's. Yet, Fitzgerald's narrative persona does not simply mimic the stereotypical high masculine author. Instead, he attempts to challenge these traditional conceptions by promoting a new, more nuanced, version of the male writer. Thus, by extending previous work on authorial self-fashioning and taking seriously these authors' engagements with celebrity culture, my work argues for the larger importance of celebrity as an interpretive paradigm, both from a historical perspective and as a unifying concept for textual analysis.
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  • In Copyright
  • Wagner-Martin, Linda
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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