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- Department of English and Comparative Literature
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New Books in the Arts & Sciences:
Celebrating Recent Work by Sharon Marcus
The Drama of Celebrity
By: Sharon Marcus
A bold new account of how celebrity works
Why do so many people care so much about celebrities? Who decides who gets to be a star? What are the privileges and pleasures of fandom? Do celebrities ever deserve the outsized attention they receive?
In this fascinating and deeply researched book, Sharon Marcus challenges everything you thought you knew about our obsession with fame. Icons are not merely famous for being famous; the media alone cannot make or break stars; fans are not simply passive dupes. Instead, journalists, the public, and celebrities themselves all compete, passionately and expertly, to shape the stories we tell about celebrities and fans. The result: a high-stakes drama as endless as it is unpredictable.
Drawing on scrapbooks, personal diaries, and vintage fan mail, Marcus traces celebrity culture back to its nineteenth-century roots, when people the world over found themselves captivated by celebrity chefs, bad-boy poets, and actors such as the “divine” Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), as famous in her day as the Beatles in theirs. Known in her youth for sleeping in a coffin, hailed in maturity as a woman of genius, Bernhardt became a global superstar thanks to savvy engagement with her era’s most innovative media and technologies: the popular press, commercial photography, and speedy new forms of travel.
Whether you love celebrity culture or hate it, The Drama of Celebrity will change how you think about one of the most important phenomena of modern times.
About the Author:
Sharon Marcus teaches at Columbia University, where she is the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature, specializing in nineteenth-century British and French culture. Her scholarship analyzes the cultural assignment of value in domains as diverse as architecture, social relationships, literary criticism, and performance culture. Marcus earned her B.A. from Brown University and her Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University, both in comparative literature. After teaching for many years at the University of California, Berkeley, she moved to Columbia University in 2003. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship, an ACLS Burkhardt fellowship, and a Guggenheim fellowship, Marcus is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (University of California Press, 1999); Between Women: Marriage, Desire, and Friendship in Victorian England (Princeton University Press, 2007); and The Drama of Celebrity (Princeton University Press, 2019). Her many articles include a landmark contribution to feminist theory, “Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: Towards a Theory and Practice of Rape Prevention” (1992), and the widely-cited “Surface Reading,” co-authored with Stephen Best (2009), which asked provocative questions about how critics interpret texts. In 2012, Sharon co-founded Public Books, an online magazine dedicated to bringing cutting-edge scholarly ideas to a curious public. With co-editor Caitlin Zaloom, she oversees a Public Book series at Columbia University Press. Her own public writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, Pacific Standard, The Boston Globe, Vox, and the Chronicle Review.
About the Speakers:
Alan Stewart, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Department Chair, joined Columbia in 2003, after teaching for ten years at Queen Mary, and Birkbeck, both University of London. His book publications include Close Readers: Humanism and Sodomy in Early Modern England (1997); Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1626 (with Lisa Jardine, 1998); Philip Sidney: A Double Life (2000); The Cradle King: A Life of James VI and I (2003); Letterwriting in Renaissance England (with Heather Wolfe, 2004) and Shakespeare's Letters (2008). He has published over thirty articles in collections and journals including Representations, Shakespeare Quarterly, Renaissance Drama, Shakespeare Studies, Spenser Studies, and Textual Practice. With Garrett Sullivan, he is co-general editor of the three-volume Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature (2012). His volume of The Oxford History of Life-Writing, Early Modern, will be published this summer. With Richard Serjeantson (Trinity College, Cambridge) he is co-Director of the Oxford Francis Bacon, a new 16 volume edition of Bacon's writings for Oxford University Press. He edited volume 96 I, Early Writings 1584-15, with Harriet Knight (2012), and is now working on volume 2, Late Elizabethan Writings 1596-1602. Alan Stewart has won awards from the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Board, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, and in 2011-2012 he was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. Since 2002, he has been the International Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters in London. He is co-chair with Cynthia Pyle of Columbia's University Seminar in the Renaissance, and a member of the University Seminars Advisory Board.
Alisa Solomon directs the Arts & Culture concentration in the M.A. program, teaching its core seminar as well as an array of M.S. courses; among them, Ethics, Reporting, Criticism workshop. She began her journalism career in the early 1980s as a theater critic at the Village Voice and, while continuing in that role in her 21 years on staff at the Voice, also covered such areas as U.S. immigration policy, LGTB issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, electoral politics, and women’s sports. Nowadays, she contributes regularly to The Nation, covering live performance and scripted TV. As a freelancer, she has contributed to magazines, newspapers, and radio stations ranging from Glamour and Poz to the Guardian, New York Times and WNYC. Trained academically in theater history and dramatic literature, Alisa stays connected to the field, contributing to journals like The Drama Review and America Theater. Her books include “Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays on Theater and Gender” (winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism) and “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’” (winner of the Kurt Weill Prize, the Jewish Journal Prize, and the Theatre Library Association’s George Freedley Memorial Award). Alisa also has an arts practice as a dramaturg. Most recently, she has been working with Anna Deavere Smith on her Pipeline to Prison Project. Alisa received her B.A. at the University of Michigan’s Residential College, and her MFA and doctorate in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama.
Arianne Chernock’s research focuses on modern British and European history, with an emphasis on gender, culture, politics, and the monarchy. Her first book, Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism (Stanford University Press, 2010), examined the forgotten but foundational contributions of men to the creation of the “rights of women” in Enlightenment Britain. The book won the 2011 John Ben Snow Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies. Articles based on this project have appeared in the Journal of British Studies, Enlightenment and Dissent, and the edited collection Women, Gender and Enlightenment (Palgrave, 2005). She is currently completing a book, provisionally titled The Right to Rule and the Rights of Women in Victorian Britain (under contract with Cambridge University Press), which explores women’s rights campaigners’ engagement with Queen Victoria – and the backlash that their engagement precipitated. Material from this project has been published in Victorian Studies, Romantic Circles Praxis Series, and in the edited collection Engendering Women’s History: A Global Project (NYU Press, 2013). In her capacity as a historian of monarchy, Chernock has published numerous opinion pieces and editorials, and provides frequent commentary to a range of print, radio and television outlets. She is a regular contributor to WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Chernock’s research has been supported by grants from the Fulbright Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Phi Beta Kappa, Huntington Library, the Humanities Foundation at Boston University, and the American Philosophical Society. She is a professor of Modern British History at Boston University.
Elisabeth Ladenson is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and General Editor of Romanic Review. She studied at Paris VII (DEUG, 1981) and the University of Pennsylvania (B.A., 1984) before going on to graduate work at Columbia (M.A. 1988, M.Phil., 1992, Ph.D., 1994). She taught at the University of Virginia from 1992 to 2005. At UVA, she directed the Comparative Literature program from 1998-2004. She has also held visiting appointments at Rice University and the University of California, Berkeley. Her main teaching and research interests are in 19th- and 20th-century French and comparative literature; gender studies; cultural history and historiography. Her book Proust's Lesbianism (Cornell UP, 1999) has been translated into French as Proust lesbien (Epel, trans. Guy le Gaufey, 2004) and into Spanish as Lesbianismo en Proust (Me Cayó el Veinte, trans. Martín Pérez, 2010). She has also edited a special issue of GLQ on "Men and Lesbianism" (2001), and published essays on a wide range of subjects in journals including Yale French Studies, The Yale Review, and The London Review of Books. Her book Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from Lolita to Madame Bovary was published by Cornell in 2007. She is currently writing a book about Colette.
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