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By examining a constellation of writings originating in the years 1822 to 1824, this chapter brings together various forms of mobility and speculation. Galt’s Sir Andrew Wylie, of that Ilk depicts an enterprising protagonist’s move from rural Scotland to London and back again, once he has undergone a performative process of identity construction in a series of socio–economic fields. Published first in periodicals and then collected into volumes entitled Our Village, Mitford’s prose sketches about life in rural Berkshire document changes caused by speculation on property and new modes of transportation that increase both voluntary and involuntary mobility. Saint Ronan’s Well, Scott’s only novel set in the nineteenth century, presents the related but contrasting scenario of a Scottish village disrupted by the speculative development of a fashionable spa; it interweaves themes of gambling and identity theft with a critique of contemporary print culture and reading habits. Recurring motifs in these works show how authors and characters respond to changes in socio-economic relations as increased mobility affects their capacity to control literary, personal, and real property.
A concluding discussion of personal and textual identities, doubling, and fraud centres on a constellation of Scottish novels. Galt’s Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore (1820) is a pseudo–autobiography wrapped in a pseudo–translation that leads readers on into a multilayered, improvised hoax. Republished together with his novel Rothelan in 1824, Galt’s tale joins several novels about imitation and imposture published almost simultaneously in that year: Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Scott’s Redgauntlet, Susan Ferrier’s Inheritance, Sarah Green’s Scotch Novel Reading, and versions of Walladmor by Willibald Alexis and Thomas De Quincey. Together, these works show how not only personal identity but also historical events and books themselves can be fraudulently duplicated. From the psychologically fragmented identities and demonic doubling illustrated in Hogg’s Private Memoirs to the fraudulent pseudo–translation Walladmor, these novels interweave the practices of speculation and identity construction typical of late-Romantic print and performance culture.
Throughout the 1820s, actor Charles Mathews performed popular evenings of character impersonations that he called “At Homes.” Exemplifying the fascination with personal identity, Mathews’s performances show how the identity of individuals and character-types could be made both recognizable and reproducible through the iteration of markers such as facial expression, accessories, voice, accent, and tag lines. His identity-bending performances are typical of their age in the way they reproduce philosophical ideas about personal identity derived from the Enlightenment in an embodied and experiential form that highlights the performative and commodified nature of identity. Mathews structured his performances around his own stabilizing personality as host and narrator and, in later years, modelled them on the print genre of the literary annual. Nevertheless, he also practised impersonations beyond the stage in private life. The proliferating identities he created on and off the stage were so credible as to make eyewitnesses believe he actually became the people he personified and thus to raise disturbing questions about the stability of identity.
Journalist, playwright, novelist, and English improvvisatore, Theodore Hook tapped into readers’ interest in representations of fashionable life with his Sayings and Doings (1824–8). Hook’s stories – influenced by his political journalism and theatrical experience and sometimes adapted for the stage – engage fundamental questions about speech, action, and personal identity. They constitute a hybrid genre of sociological documentary and imaginative fiction by an observer who stands both inside and outside the world he depicts. While William Hazlitt popularized the term “silver–fork fiction” in his reviews of Hook, the tendency to assimilate Sayings and Doings to later, longer silver–fork novels has obscured what is innovative about Hook’s fictional debut and how it embodies the distinctive climate of the 1820s. Sayings and Doings is an experimental hybrid of fiction, social critique, and metafiction that combines techniques of representation from theatre, improvisational performance, and newspaper journalism.
During the 1820s, British society saw transformations in technology, mobility, and consumerism that accelerated the spread of information. This timely study reveals how bestselling literature, popular theatre, and periodical journalism self-consciously experimented with new media. It presents an age preoccupied with improvisation and speculation – a mode of behaviour that dominated financial and literary markets, generating reflections on risk, agency, and the importance of public opinion. Print and Performance in the 1820s interprets a rich constellation of fictional texts and theatrical productions that gained popularity among middle-class metropolitan audiences through experiments with intersecting fantasy worlds and acutely described real worlds. Providing new contexts for figures such as Byron and Scott, and recovering the work of lesser-known contemporaries including Charles Mathews' character impersonations and the performances of celebrity improvvisatore Tommaso Sgricci, Angela Esterhammer explores the era's influential representations of the way identity is constructed, performed, and perceived.
This chapter explores the relationship between improvisational performance and periodical journalism by way of the international reception of celebrity improvvisatore Tommaso Sgricci’s performances in Paris and London in 1824 and 1826. Accounts of Sgricci’s improvised tragedies proliferated in French, German, and English newspapers and literary magazines; when transcripts of his improvisations appeared in book form, they generated further reviews over the next several years. This constellation of live performances and written texts, along with the process of remediation that occurs between them, provokes reflections on the reciprocal relationship between a spontaneous and evanescent form of theatre and the differently time-bound genres of print culture. The international reception of Sgricci’s performances reveals transnational networks between late-Romantic periodicals as well as cultural differences that appear when journalists adapt their reviews to different local readerships.
This chapter examines the rhetoric, temporality, and interactivity of relationships between writers, readers, editors, and publishers of literary magazines and miscellanies, genres that were among the most important print media of the 1820s. Forms and styles of magazine writing became increasingly performative and improvisational as authors adapted to the demands of a periodical rhythm. Especially in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, this performative quality involves the construction of pseudonymous personae and theatricalized scenes that dramatize the process of producing the magazine and parody the notion of personal identity. Two lesser-known publications extend the impact and implications of this style of journalism: Knight’s Quarterly Magazine (1823–4), a Blackwood’s imitator edited by influential publisher Charles Knight, and John Galt’s The Bachelor’s Wife (1824), a miscellany that stages the processes of editing and reading within a gendered domestic setting.
The introductory chapter examines recurring themes in the literary-cultural field of the 1820s: improvisation, speculation, and personal identity. A multivalent notion of performance functioned as a kind of “media concept” during the late-Romantic period, an era characterized by the interwoven evolution of print media and theatrical genres. In order to define the sphere of metropolitan, bourgeois, market–facing culture that was a driving force of the late-Romantic literary field, this chapter focuses on the exemplary year 1824 – a high point for performances of theatrical improvisation and for financial speculation, and a year that saw an extraordinary conjunction of trend-setting productions by William Hazlitt, Tommaso Sgricci, Charles Mathews, Theodore Hook, Mary Russell Mitford, John Galt, Walter Scott, and Lord Byron. An emphasis on the improvisational and speculative nature of writing, acting, and publishing generates a new paradigm for understanding the 1820s as an “age of information” as well as a self-reflective “age-in-formation.”
Coleridge thought, talked and wrote about poetics and criticism throughout his life. Until 1820, these were often primary concerns; at other times, and later in his life, his ideas about literature were ancillary to his work on philosophy, religion, psychology, history or language. Yet the task of summarising Coleridge's philosophy and practice of literary criticism is a challenging one, because he prepared almost none of his criticism for publication and his notes were left in a chaotic form. Most of what we know about his critical opinions derives from the 'Shakespearean criticism' - not a coherent text, but surviving notes and reports concerning public lectures that Coleridge presented between 1808 and 1819. There is also a multitude of passages on literary criticism in Coleridge's Notebooks and in his copious marginal annotations to editions of Shakespeare and other books. Both the Notebooks and the marginalia overlap extensively with the public lectures, for Coleridge tended to lecture extempore based on scraps of paper and annotated volumes that he brought with him into the lecture hall. Some of his major ideas about criticism did take published form in Biographia Literaria (1817), but examining the notes and fragments that testify to his practice as a critic before and after the publication of Biographia allows us to see how those principles developed, and how Coleridge applied them to the study of Shakespeare, Milton and major European writers.
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