Benjamin Disraeli – Literary Celebrity and Celebrity Politician: Authorship, Fame, and Politics in Victorian England
Project J 2576-G23: Supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) as part of the Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship Abroad programme
start date: 12 May 2014
Positioned at the crossroads of two of the currently most vibrant and innovative areas of interdisciplinary research – celebrity studies and authorship studies – this project attempts a re-evaluation of the symbiotically interwoven public personae of literary celebrity and celebrity politician in the career of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), one of the most eminent Victorian novelists and statesmen, from the perspective of a literary and cultural historian.
A comparative critical reading of Disraeli’s fictional and non-fictional writings and an analysis of their reception against the background of biographical, literary, historical, as well as socio-cultural contexts aims at highlighting 1) the strategies employed by Disraeli in the construction and performance of his public personae throughout his life; 2) the ways in which Disraeli’s twin roles of literary celebrity and celebrity politician influenced each other in the creation and perception of his public image. The project strives to make a contribution to the study of literary celebrity as a historical phenomenon and will put to the test various theoretical concepts and approaches developed to assess twentieth- and twenty-first-century phenomena of celebrity with regard to their usefulness for the examination of literary fame in the Victorian period. It will create the basis for a more comprehensive study that is concerned with literary celebrity culture and its interconnections with the sphere of politics in nineteenth-century Britain and will result in a post-doctoral thesis and subsequent monograph publication.
The project proposed relies on the scrutiny of a broad range of primary material, in particular the comprehensive archival collections of Disraeli’s personal papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. During the 14-month period as a visiting scholar at Oxford University I have been affiliated to the Faculty of English Language and Literature and Wolfson College and its Centre for Life-Writing. My project is jointly mentored by Dr Stefano Evangelista (Fellow and Tutor in English, Trinity College) and Dr Tom Mole (Director of the Centre for the History of the Book, University of Edinburgh). A return phase at the University of Vienna’s English Department will be crucial not only for the completion of my project and the dissemination of its results through publications, presentations, and teaching, but also for developing a follow-up project that will incorporate the insights gained through the current study and expand its historical scope.
A report on my time in Oxford can be found in issue 90.1 (2015) of the FWF-Infomagazin (pages 28-29).
On 24 March 2015, I organised an interdisciplinary one-day symposium on the theme of "The Many Lives of Benjamin Disraeli: Fame, Legacy, Representations" at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. The event, supported by the TORCH Celebrity Research Network and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, brought together scholars from English Literature, History, Theology, and Art History to discuss new currents in both the scholarship and the editorial and curatorial work on Disraeli. Podcasts of some of the papers are available for download on the Oxford University podcast channel.
Programme and Abstracts
I have recently reviewed National Trust Hughenden Manor's exhibition dedicated to "Disraeli the Celebrity" for the Royal Oak Foundation.
My article "Portraits of the Artist as Politician, the Politician as Artist: Commemorating the Disraeli Phenomenon" in Journal of Victorian Culture 21.3 (2016) is available here.