Celebrity and Life-Writing
Both life-writing and celebrity – as practices, phenomena and fields of research – are concerned with the notions of authenticity and intimacy, public and private, accessibility and aloofness, myth-making and revelation. Both explore the tension between individual agency and the shaping and appropriation of public images by cultural and socio-political frameworks, media industries, ideologies, and a whole network of agents. In spite of their many shared concerns, the close interconnections of life-writing and celebrity have only recently begun to be specifically addressed. The research strand on celebrity and life-writing I am co-ordinating at The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing aims to contribute towards a more sustained dialogue between these two closely interwoven fields and to trigger a conversation about what we as scholars and ‘practitioners’ may gain from combining their theories and methodologies. How can we benefit from integrating a life-writing perspective into our work on celebrity, and how does thinking about the nature of celebrity, the conditions of producing and consuming celebrity, change the way in which we write, read and study life narratives?
Events organised include:
- Seminar "Life-Writing and Celebrity: Exploring Intersections," convened with Julia Lajta-Novak. 13th Conference of the European Society for the Study of English, NUI Galway, Ireland, 22-26 August 2016. See programme and list of abstracts
- One-day colloquium “Celebiography: Celebrity and Life-Writing in Dialogue”, The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Wolfson College, 16 November 2016; speakers included Emma Smith, Hermione Lee, Philip Bullock, Ruth Scobie, Tobias Heinrich, Ginette Vincendeau, Julia Lajta-Novak, Lindsay Shapero, and Will Brooker. Podcasts available here
- Discussion Panel "The Celebrity Interview: History, Aesthetics, Method" (Rebecca Roach, Anneleen Masschelein, Hermione Lee), The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Wolfson College, 17 January 2017. See event report; podcasts available here
- One-day colloquium "The Lives of Houses," organised with Oliver Cox, and hosted by the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing in collaboration with The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. Wolfson College, 27 May 2017. Speakers included Daisy Hay, Gillian Darley, Alexandra Harris, Lucy Walker, Nicola Watson, Nino Strachey, James Grasby. Podcasts available here
- Half-day colloquium "Life-Writing and Female Celebrity," The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing in collaboration with The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. Wolfson College, 4 November 2017. Speakers included Patricia Duncker, Stella Tillyard, Ruth Scobie, Oline Eaton, Mary Luckhurst, and Hannah Yelin. Event programme, poster, abstracts and speaker biographies can be accessed here; podcasts can be accessed through the University of Oxford podcast channel.
- Day symposium "Transnational Lives and Cosmopolitan Biographies," convened with Philip Ross Bullock, hosted by the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing in collaboration with the "Writing 1900" network. Wolfson College, 17 March 2018. Speakers included Clément Dessy, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Emily Eells, Sylvia Mieszkowski, Katie Collins, Laura Scuriatti.
- Workshop "Auto/Biographie, Gender und Celebrity," organised with Julia Lajta-Novak, Carola Bebermeier and Maren Bagge, hosted by the Department of European Ethnology, University of Vienna, 15-16 November 2019.
Journal Special Issue and Edited Collection
- A special issue on the theme of "Life-Writing and Celebrity" for Life Writing, guest-edited with Julia Lajta-Novak, was published in March 2019. The individual contributions explore the intersections of these two fields across media, genres, and disciplines, including film, painting, and biofiction, with case studies ranging from the 18th century to the present. In December 2019, the special issue was published as an edited collection by Routledge.
Cultural Transfer and Reception
In my PhD research, I explored the transfer, dissemination, and reception of Oscar Wilde’s works on twentieth-century Viennese stages. Examining the successive phases of literary image construction, which, in Wilde’s case, neatly follow a distinctive pattern of forging, consolidating, modifying and, eventually, remodelling the playwright’s reputation in the local literary field, the study reveals the crucial role played by artistic networks, government censorship offices, translators, adaptors, directors, actors, and critics in the course of popularising, establishing, and reinterpreting Oscar Wilde’s works on twentieth- and twenty-first-century Viennese stages and thus sheds light on the mutual interdependence of cultural production, structural framework, and socio-historical background.
Drawing on extensive archival material, my monograph Oscar Wilde in Vienna: Pleasing and Teasing the Audience has just been published with Brill Rodopi. Charting the history of Wilde's plays on Viennese stages between 1903 and 2013, it examines the international reputation of one of the most popular English-language writers while contributing to Austrian cultural history in the long twentieth century.
- On 8 February 2019, I discussed the book with theatre scholar Mary Luckhurst (Head of the School of Arts, University of Bristol), cultural historian Dominic Janes (Professor of Modern History, Keele University), and literary scholar Stefano Evangelista (Associate Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford) at an event jointly hosted by the TORCH Theatre and Performance Studies and Queer Studies Networks. A podcast is available here.
I continue to be interested in the transnational circulation of literary reputations through cosmopolitan artistic networks. In March 2018, Philip Bullock and I organised a day symposium on "Transnational Lives and Cosmopolitan Biographies", which aimed to explore the tangled relationship between life-writing, creativity, fame, and the transnational. A special issue on the theme, guest-edited with Clément Dessy for Comparative Critical Studies, will appear in 2020.