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A brief history of celebrity: Or, what does ‘Dickensian’ mean?

Dickensian

Thursday 9 November 2017, 6.30PM

Speaker: Emily Bell, Centre for Lifelong Learning

Centre for Lifelong Learning Open Lectures

What do Achilles, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens and Taylor Swift have in common? They are all celebrities, in one way or another.

The culture of celebrity is not always a bad thing. It can act as a kind of social adhesive that brings people under pressure from factors such as globalisation or the loss of small communities together. The history of celebrity can tell us a lot about societal values at different points in history. There is a sense that, today, a celebrity is a person simply well known for being well known, while in the past people were celebrated for their achievements. However, the history of celebrity is much more to do with self-fashioning than we might recognise. Even historical celebrities that we admire for their work had ‘brands’, and a public image to maintain.

This lecture will talk through the history of celebrity, hero worship and celebrity biography, from the lives of Greek and Roman heroes to the rise of celebrity culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It will introduce some of the key aspects of celebrity that have been formed, and transformed, over the centuries, highlighting the ways in which literary celebrities have tied their fiction to their life story and what that can tell us about changing attitudes to heroes and authorship. Focusing on Dickens as one of the first literary celebrities, it will discuss self-representation and ‘branding’, and question the things we take for granted when we look back at famous figures from history. 

Location: Room AEW/003, Alcuin East Wing, Alcuin College

Admission: is by free ticket only. Please book below.

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