“How can the modern individual maintain control over his or her self-representation when the whole world seems to be watching?” This is the question...

“How can the modern individual maintain control over his or her self-representation when the whole world seems to be watching?” This is the question that prompts Julia Fawcett‘s new book, Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696-1801 (University of Michigan Press, 2016). Drawing on a diverse range of material to analyze some of England’s earliest modern celebrities, Fawcett offers a fascinating glimpse into the paradoxes of their eighteenth-century autobiographical performances. More than just the rise of celebrity culture she argues, these performances can help deepen our understanding of the making – and unmaking – of the modern self. Using creative, playful and transgressive techniques, the celebrities in Fawcett’s study experimented with presenting themselves as legible to curious publics even as they obscured their identities through ‘overexpressive’ acts that helped enable their spectacular disappearance. The result is a tantalizing narrative that continues to fascinate, three centuries later.

Julia Fawcett is Assistant Professor in the Theatre Dance and Performance Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include Restoration and eighteenth-century theatre and performance, performance historiography, the intersections between literature and performance, autobiographical performance, urban space, celebrity, gender, and disability studies. She received her PhD in English Literature from Yale University, and has published essays in PMLA, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, and Modern Drama. Fawcett is currently working on her next book, Unmapping London: Performance and Urbanization after the Great Fire.


Sitara Thobani is Assistant Professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, Michigan State University. Her research focuses on the performance arts in colonial and postcolonial South Asia and its diasporas, especially as these relate to formations of nation, gender, sexuality and religion. She received her DPhil in Social and Cultural Anthropology form Oxford University, and is the author of Indian Classical Dance and the Making of Postcolonial National Identities: Dancing on Empire’s Stage (Routledge 2017).

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