Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romantic Fandom


Before the holiday, I heard from Professor Eric Eisner of George Mason University, who shared that he had edited a volume of the Romantic Circles Praxis Series, on "Romantic Fandom," in April 2011. I am not very well-acquainted with literary studies these days (and especially not British Lit.), so I was delighted to check it out. Clearly there are exciting things happening in the study of Romanticism--between this and Judith Pascoe's book on Sarah Siddons, I now see the Romantic Era as a key moment in the history of audiences. Much as the "market revolution" in the United States during the 1830s and 1840s changed the very nature of cultural consumption and participation, Eisner writes that, in England, the Romantic period of the late 18th century
...saw the popularization of recognizable "fan practices," spurred by the growth of consumer culture and the development of a mass audience for culture generally. Admirers collected autographs, souvenirs, portraits and relics of celebrity writers, artists, performers, military heroes, and athletes; snapped up mementos associated with beloved plays or books or music; visited the homes and haunts of celebrities; pored over gossip-filled periodicals and newspaper notices; imitated celebrities’ fashion statements; fantasized about becoming friends or lovers with celebrities; wrote fan mail and formed communities of like-minded aficionados.
And while I’ve emphasized the connections between modern and historical fans in this blog, these essays advocate caution. As Eisner explains in his introduction, “If these essays contest literary criticism’s abjection of the fan as ‘na├»ve, obsessive, desirous, and dangerously predatory’ (Watson), they also resist simply celebrating the fan or identifying Romantic-era readerly desire with our own…Fandom is always historically situated, always tied to specific and shifting cultural as well as individual situations.”

The essays are consistently excellent, examining everything from the literary tourism of Lady Frances Shelley to the surprising mania in the 1820s for Pierce Egan’s Life in London; or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, Accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, with other contributions by Nicola J. Watson, Clara Tuite, Mark Schoenfield, and David A. Brewer. I have taken note!

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