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Joseph Roach

Publication Year: 2007

A consumer’s guide to iconic celebrity and ageless glamour “Strikingly original, wickedly witty, and thoroughly learned, Roach’s anatomy of abnormally interesting people and the vicarious pleasure we take in our modern equivalents to gods and royals will captivate its readers from the first page. I dare you to read just one chapter!” —Felicity Nussbaum, University of California, Los Angeles “It considers the effect that arises when spectacularly compelling performers and cultural fantasy converge, as in the outpouring of public grief over the death of Princess Diana. . . . An important work of cultural history, full of metaphysical wit . . . It gives us a fresh vocabulary for interpreting how after-images endure in cultural memory.” —Andrew Sofer, Boston College “Joseph Roach’s enormous erudition, sharp wit, engaging style, and gift for finding the most telling historical detail or literary quote are here delightfully applied to the intriguing subject of why certain historical and theatrical figures have possessed a special power to fascinate their public.” —Marvin Carlson, Graduate Center, City University of New York That mysterious characteristic “It”—“the easily perceived but hard-to-define quality possessed by abnormally interesting people”—is the subject of Joseph Roach’s engrossing new book, which crisscrosses centuries and continents with a deep playfulness that entertains while it enlightens. Roach traces the origins of “It” back to the period following the Restoration, persuasively linking the sex appeal of today’s celebrity figures with the attraction of those who lived centuries before. The book includes guest appearances by King Charles II, Samuel Pepys, Flo Ziegfeld, Johnny Depp, Elinor Glyn, Clara Bow, the Second Duke of Buckingham, John Dryden, Michael Jackson, and Lady Diana, among others.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. xiii-

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pp. 1-44

There is a certain quality, easy to perceive but hard to define, possessed by abnormally interesting people. Call it "it." For the sake of clarity, let it, as a pronoun aspiring to the condition of a noun, be capitalized hereafter, except where it appears in its ordinary pronominal role....

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1. Accessories

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pp. 45-81

Can only the dead astonish us by seeming "lifelike"? Perhaps even the living can induce this uncanny effect from time to time. Of the eighteen royal funeral effigies in the Norman Undercroft at Westminster Abbey, the one to which the Prince of Wales's description most obviously refers belongs to his predecessor and namesake Charles II, the "Dear Good King" of Elinor Glyn's Tory childhood...

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2. Clothes

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pp. 82-116

Posterity interprets the lives of notables in the long eighteenth century in many different and sometimes contentious ways, but everyone can agree that they wore fabulous clothes. Men shared fully in the glamorous bounty, for most of the period falls before the full imposition of what one influential fashion historian has called "the Great Masculine Renunciation.'"1...

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3. Hair

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pp. 117-145

In the experience of the It-Effect, which "gives us back the Image of our Mind," hair can exert a magical power even greater than that of accessories and clothes, in part because it functions as both simultaneously. Since hair belongs (or at least appears to belong) to the body of the person who wears it, an anomaly such as an obvious wig or implausible bouffant provides a locally crowning self-assertion...

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4. Skin

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pp. 146-173

Sarah Siddons cared for her skin. According to her own account of her final sitting for Sir Joshua Reynolds, she intervened when he started to put the finishing touches on her portrait as The Tragic Muse and prevented him from applying a wash of color to her face and neck. Her purpose, like her complexion, was clear. As he daubed his brush ...

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5. Flesh

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pp. 174-204

Wax looks and even feels like flesh; but more creepily still, not exactly like flesh. Such an unnerving category crisis ("it's just like chicken") makes every wax museum fascinating and repulsive by degrees. So it was with the effigies in the Abbey. Once known facetiously in their decaying oaken versions as the "Ragged Regiment"...

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6. Bone

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pp. 205-231

On the afternoon of Shrove Tuesday, February 23,1669, Samuel Pepys violated the corpse of Katherine of France, Henry V's queen. He records in his Diary entry for that day, his birthday, how he came to be touring Westminster Abbey with members of his family. He and Mrs. Pepys were entertaining out-of-town cousins,..


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pp. 233-250


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pp. 251-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026340
E-ISBN-10: 0472026348
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472069361
Print-ISBN-10: 0472069365

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2007