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Fashioning Celebrity

Eighteenth-Century British Actresses and Strategies for Image Making

Laura Engel

Publication Year: 2011

This volume takes a new approach to the study of late eighteenth-century British actresses by examining the significance of leading actresses’ autobiographical memoirs, portraits, and theatrical roles together as significant strategies for shaping their careers. In an era when acting was considered a suspicious profession for women, eighteenth-century actresses were “celebrities” in a society obsessed with fashion, gossip, and intrigue. Fashioning Celebrity: Eighteenth-Century British Actresses and Strategies for Image Making, by Laura Engel, considers the lives and careers of four actresses: Sarah Siddons, Mary Robinson, Mary Wells, and Fanny Kemble. Using conventions of the era’s portraiture, fashion, literature, and the theater in order to create their personas on and off stage, these actresses provided a series of techniques for fashioning celebrity that still survive today. By emphasizing the importance of reading narratives through visual and theatrical frameworks and visual and theatrical representations through narrative models, Engel demonstrates the ways in which actresses’ identities were imagined through a variety of discourses that worked dialectically to construct their complex self-representations.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-3


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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Fashioning Celebrity originally began as my dissertation at Columbia University. I want to thank my advisors Julie Stone Peters, Jean Howard, and Michael Seidel who encouraged me to go forth with what must have seemed then to be a slightly eccentric undertaking. In the years that followed I gained a tremendous amount of guidance ...

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pp. 1-25

In the middle of Fanny Burney’s debut novel Evelina, the heroine gets separated from her party at an outdoor concert and is accosted by a group of gentlemen. Hearing her protestations one of the men exclaims, “Heaven on earth! What voice is that?” Another replies, “The voice of the prettiest little actress I have seen this age!”1 ...

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One: Sarah Siddons’s Diva Celebrity

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pp. 26-58

In 1957, at the thirty-fifth annual Pageant of the Masters in Irvine, California, the actress Bette Davis posed as Sarah Siddons in a recreation of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Siddons as “The Tragic Muse.” In a photograph of the event, Davis appears in full, eighteenth-century garb, seated on a mock throne, ...

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Two: Mary Robinson’s Gothic Celebrity

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pp. 59-97

While Sarah Siddons was able to cast herself as a respectable theatrical heroine, the actress, novelist, and poetess Mary Robinson (1758–1800) would always be best known for her brief and disastrous affair with the Prince of Wales. Robinson’s attempts to portray herself as a desirable and sympathetic figure were ultimately overshadowed ...

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Three: Mary Wells’s Notorious Celebrity

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pp. 98-134

In 1791, John Russell exhibited a painting at The Royal Academy titled, Portrait of a Lady and Three Children.1 The lady, who was later revealed by The Morning Chronicle to be the actress Mary Wells, sits gazing down at her three lovely daughters. The children are captured in a moment of carefree innocence. ...

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Epilogue: Fanny Kemble’s Inherited Celebrity

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pp. 135-148

In 1830, the year before her death, Sarah Siddons posed for a portrait with her niece, the actress Fanny Kemble (figure 18). In this painting by Henry Perronet Briggs, Siddons is seated on a large throne-like chair with Kemble perched lovingly by her side, her hand resting comfortingly on her aunt’s wrist. ...


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pp. 149-170


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pp. 171-177


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pp. 178-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270752
E-ISBN-10: 0814270751
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211489
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211488

Page Count: 213
Illustrations: 22 halftones
Publication Year: 2011