- Marketing the Author: Authorial Personae, Narrative Selves and Self-Fashioning, 1880-1930
Marketing the Author brings together a collection of essays that explore the role of the author as agent in creating his or her own literary personae. Through the lens of biography the ten contributors attempt to historicize Michel Foucault's provocative question: "What is an Author?" The answer, according to Marysa Demoor's "Introduction," can be found in the late nineteenth century, when the status of the author began to shift to accommodate changes in the literary marketplace.
The collection makes two significant contributions to the study of intellectual biography. First, it problematizes gender in the creation of both public and private identities. Second, it seeks to redefine the modernist moment by comparing the lived experience of canonical and non-canonical writers. Stephen Greenblatt's highly influential Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago, 1980) inspires the new historicist approach of this collection. His concept of "self-fashioning" directly informs many of the authors in this collection, who essentially apply his Renaissance formulation to the modern period. Within this framework the book attempts, in part, to locate the roots of modernism in late Victorian society.
The essays in this collection put the author front and center. Improved literacy and cheaper printing technologies resulted in an increased appetite for print during the late nineteenth century. As a result, authors developed a newfound ability to fashion their own professional and personal identities. This was particularly true it seems for female authors. Elizabeth Mansfield, Talia Shaffer, and Linda K. Hughes all examine women writers who crafted an authorial identity out of the patriarchal world around them. In her study of Emilia Dilke in chapter one, Mansfield concludes that "regardless of their biological sex, Victorian women could modify their intellectual or rhetorical gender" (32). Shaffer's study of Lucas Malet in chapter four attempts "to show how difficult it was to achieve an independent identity" for the late Victorian woman writer (73). At the same time, she demonstrates how Malet attempted "to invent a different model of female authorship" (74) by among other things, adopting a masculinist personae and "refus(ing) to be a sequel" to the career of her more famous father, Charles Kingsley (88). In chapter seven, Hughes explores the career of Rosamund Marriott Watson, and argues that women writers, in this case a poet, could be resourceful within the bounds of a pervasive and highly restrictive Victorian gender ideology. [End Page 688]
Men, too, used well-defined gender boundaries to create their authorial personae. As John H. Pearson points out in chapter two, this process of identity formation was less complicated for male authors like Henry James, who successfully invented himself as a "master" in his New York Edition prefaces. Like women writers of the period, however, the male author also carefully crafted and reinforced this identity himself. The need of an author like James to self-consciously fashion himself as an authority in his works raises the question of how much control authors really had over audience perception of themselves and their work. This was particularly important in the case of obscure women writers like Watson and Malet, whose work today remains on the margins of literary studies. The desire of contributors to this collection to assign agency to authors through "self-fashioning" at times obscures the very real and unequal power relationships that prevented Victorian women, even the exceptional ones, from achieving lasting influence.
Some subjects of this study simultaneously transformed their own self-representation and their professional fields. Laurel Brake in chapter three offers a study of W. T. Stead as a self-fashioner who created a public personae in line with New Journalism principles. In the process he created a new world of journalism that changed the way Britons read and received their news. For Robert Squillace in chapter eight, Arnold Bennett fashioned his own identity through publishing self-help literature while creating a uniquely Edwardian notion of "self as something that is not formed...