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Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity

By Jonathan Goldman

Publication Year: 2011

The phenomenon of celebrity burst upon the world scene about a century ago, as movies and modern media brought exceptional, larger-than-life personalities before the masses. During the same era, modernist authors were creating works that defined high culture in our society and set aesthetics apart from the middle- and low-brow culture in which celebrity supposedly resides. To challenge this ingrained dichotomy between modernism and celebrity, Jonathan Goldman offers a provocative new reading of early twentieth-century culture and the formal experiments that constitute modernist literature’s unmistakable legacy. He argues that the literary innovations of the modernists are indeed best understood as a participant in the popular phenomenon of celebrity. Presenting a persuasive argument as well as a chronicle of modernism’s and celebrity’s shared history, Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity begins by unraveling the uncanny syncretism between Oscar Wilde’s writings and his public life. Goldman explains that Wilde, in shaping his instantly identifiable public image, provided a model for both literary and celebrity cultures in the decades that followed. In subsequent chapters, Goldman traces this lineage through two luminaries of the modernist canon, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, before turning to the cinema of mega-star Charlie Chaplin. He investigates how celebrity and modernism intertwine in the work of two less obvious modernist subjects, Jean Rhys and John Dos Passos. Turning previous criticism on its head, Goldman demonstrates that the authorial self-fashioning particular to modernism and generated by modernist technique helps create celebrity as we now know it.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Literary Modernism Series


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Primary acknowledgment is due to Rita Barnard and Tamar Katz, and especially Nancy Armstrong, all of whom encouraged and shaped this book from its beginning. Digging deeper, John Bishop and Robert Scholes fostered my interest in modernist literature and culture. More recent but no less emphatic gratitude ...

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Introduction: Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity

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pp. 1-18

Like modernism, celebrity is not all fun and games. My epigraphs above, respectively comic and tragic, illustrate two persistent aspects of twentieth-century celebrity discourse, both of which find a correspondence in modernist literature. The exchange between Simpson p

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Chapter 1. Oscar Wilde, Fashioning Fame

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pp. 19-54

Celebrities are more than brand names; they are irreproducible characters, imprimaturs, trademarked styles. The world’s first legal trademarked image, trademark number one of Britain’s Trade Mark Registration Act of 1875, is the red triangle logo that is found, still, on bottles of Bass Ale. This triangle ...

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Chapter 2. James Joyce and Modernist Exceptionalism

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pp. 55-80

This chapter arrives at the heart of the matter of this book, exploring celebrity’s mutually enabling relationship with high modernism via the works of James Joyce. Joyce, I will show, picked up where Wilde left off, in the sense that he followed Wilde’s model of self-fashioning in ways that appropriate, ...

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Chapter 3. Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Celebrity

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pp. 81-110

Wilde and Joyce help produce the modernist exception, a version of the discrete celebrity as we know it, but celebrity is no longer a discrete phenomenon. Over the last half-century, our media has inundated us with stories and images of celebrity meetings: pairs of practical strangers from different sectors ...

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Chapter 4. Charlie Chaplin, Author of Modernist Celebrity

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pp. 111-131

Charlie Chaplin is thought to have been the most famous person in the world during the 1920s,1 and his films show him to be very much a modernist, fashioning himself as an exceptional figure, a high-culture author embodied in an object. His high modernism displays itself most clearly in Modern Times (1936), ...

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Chapter 5. Rhys, the Obscure: The Literature of Celebrity at the Margins

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pp. 132-159

In 1956, Francis Wyndham, having not yet become one of Jean Rhys’s most ardent professional supporters and friends, published an essay referring to its subject as “the late Jean Rhys.” Ten years later Rhys completed work on and published Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys’s obscurity, that which prompted Wyndham’s ...

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Epilogue. “Everybody who was anybody was there”: After Modernism, After Celebrity, John Dos Passos

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pp. 160-174

By using pivotal aspects of this book’s argument to re-read Rhys, whose works have a less overt engagement with celebrity discourse than do the works of Wilde, Joyce, Stein, and Chaplin, I have hoped to suggest a productive way of reassessing all modernist writing. Once we understand celebrity discourse ...


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pp. 175-186

Works Cited

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pp. 187-196


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pp. 197-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780292734883
E-ISBN-10: 0292734883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292723399
Print-ISBN-10: 0292723393

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Literary Modernism Series
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OCLC Number: 864844352
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • English literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Fame -- History -- 20th century.
  • Popular culture -- History -- 20th century.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Great Britain.
  • Celebrities -- History -- 20th century.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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