Benjamin Disraeli – Literary Celebrity and Celebrity Politician: Authorship, Fame, and Politics in Victorian England (2014-2016)
Project J 2576-G23: Supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) as part of the Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship Abroad programme
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 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 was affiliated to the Faculty of English Language and Literature and Wolfson College and its Centre for Life-Writing. My project was 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).
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
- "Portraits of the Artist as Politician, the Politician as Artist: Commemorating the Disraeli Phenomenon." Journal of Victorian Culture 21.3 (2016): 281-300.
- "The Prime Minister as Celebrity Novelist: Benjamin Disraeli's 'Double Consciousness'." Forum for Modern Language Studies 54.3 (2018): 354-368.
- "'The Most Brilliant of Paradoxes': Benjamin Disraeli, Oscar Wilde and Cross-Field Performances of Celebrity." Third Celebrity Studies Journal Conference, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 28-30 June 2016.
- "Disraeli's 'Spectre of Unsatisfied Ambition': Literary Celebrity in/and Political Office." Symposium "Art and Action: The Intersections of Literary Celebrity and Politics," The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, University of Oxford, 5 March 2016.
- "Autobiographisierungsstrategien im Nachlass Benjamin Disraelis." Workshop "Autobiographisches Leben - Autobiographical Lives." Vienna Biography Research Network, University of Vienna, 6 November 2015.
- "A Romantic Legacy: Benjamin Disraeli and Early-Victorian Celebrity Culture." BAVS 2015 Conference "Victorian Age(s)," Leeds Trinity University, 27-29 August 2015.
- "'Continental Reputation Equalling Posthumous Fame'? Disraeli's Literary and Political Celebrity in an International Context." Workshop "World Authors and Translators in the Circulation of Global Capital," Authors and the World Project, Lancaster University, 2-3 July 2015.
- "Pegasus and Carthorse: The Many Shades of Disraeli's Celebrity." Symposium "The Many Lives of Benjamin Disraeli: Fame, Legacy, Representations," The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, University of Oxford, 24 March 2015.
- "A 'Strange Mingling': Disraeli as a Literary Celebrity and Celebrity Politician." Life-Writers of London Postgraduate and Early-Career Researcher Colloquium in conjunction with the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King's College London, 9 March 2015.
- "The Prime Minister as Celebrity Novelist: 'Lothairmania' and Disraeli's 'Double Consciousness'." Victorian Research Seminar, English Faculty, University of Oxford, 23 February 2015.
- "Following the Primrose Path: Intersections of Literary and Political Fame in Commemorations of Benjamin Disraeli." OCLW Seminar "The Author in the Popular Imagination: Authorship, Fame and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain," The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW), Wolfson College, 14 November 2014.
- "‘What is He?’ – Victorian Images of Benjamin Disraeli as Literary Celebrity and Celebrity Politician." Conference "Victorian and Edwardian Lives and Letters," University of Hertfordshire, 10-11 July 2014.
- "Victorian Images of Benjamin Disraeli as Literary Celebrity and Celebrity Politician." Second Celebrity Studies Journal Conference, Royal Holloway University of London, 19-21 June 2014. See my conference report.
- "Stadt der träumenden Türme." FWF-Infomagazin 90.1 (2015): 28-29.
- "Rubbing Shoulders with Disraeli the Celebrity at Hughenden." Blog post AngloFiles, The Royal Oak Foundation, 2016.
- "Star-Autor und Staatsmann: Celebrity Benjamin Disraeli." FWF Scilog Magazine, 8 May 2017.
- "Die uralte Lust am Promi-Wahn." Der Kurier, 15 May 2017.
- University of Oxford Podcast series "The Many Lives of Benjamin Disraeli" and "Art and Action"
- Talk "A 'Nineteenth-Century Richard Burton'? Disraeli as a Victorian Celebrity." Wednesday Winter Lecture, National Trust Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, 21 January 2015.