Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century Periodicals discusses the English periodical and how it shapes and expresses early conceptions of authorship in the eighteenth century. Unique to the British eighteenth century, the periodical is of great value to scholars of English cultural studies because it offers a venue where authors hash out, often in extremely dramatic terms, what they think it should take to be a writer, what their relationship with their new mass-media audience ought to be, and what ...
Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century Periodicals discusses the English periodical and how it shapes and expresses early conceptions of authorship in the eighteenth century. Unique to the British eighteenth century, the periodical is of great value to scholars of English cultural studies because it offers a venue where authors hash out, often in extremely dramatic terms, what they think it should take to be a writer, what their relationship with their new mass-media audience ought to be, and what qualifications should act as gatekeepers to the profession. Exploring these questions in The Female Spectator, The Drury-Lane Journal, The Midwife, The World, The Covent-Garden Journal, and other periodicals of the early and mid-eighteenth century, Manushag Powell examines several “paper wars” waged between authors. At the height of their popularity, essay periodicals allowed professional writers to fashion and make saleable a new kind of narrative and performative literary personality, the eidolon, and arguably birthed a new cult of authorial personality. In Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century Periodicals, Powell argues that the coupling of persona and genre imposes a lifespan on the periodical text; the periodicals don’t only rise and fall, but are born, and in good time, they die.
Manushag N. Powell’s elegant work pushes further. . .arguments about the complexity of authorial personae in essay periodicals. ... Anyone interested in the wide range of periodicals that claimed to 'police the audience into behaving as an ideal English society,'. . . will find important angles by which to come at these texts. Casting a wider net, Powell also enlightens her reader about lesser-known periodicals. ... Powell’s excellent argument that 'the periodical represents authorship intensified' is well grounded. ... Powell draws a fascinating link between the eidolon and a paperbased economy. . . . Powell’s scholarship is meticulous and robust, and her writing is engaging. She deals with such essential aspects of the genre as anonymity, public-private transgression (the periodical moves beyond the coffee house as a space for reading and discussion), and instances when eidolons grew out of well-known eighteenth-century theatre. ... Even as she explicates the mixture of energy and enervation that informed the eidolon of eighteenth-century essay periodicals, Powell revitalizes our thinking about the genre.
For anyone interested in an up-to-the-moment overview of the broad range of eighteenth-century English periodical literature, written with the invigorating, almost manic energy of its subject matter, Manushag Powell’s Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century English Periodicals is a necessary book. As implied by the title, Powell’s study focuses on the eidolon as it 'performs' (as author, character, and citizen of the eidolon world) in the pages of eighteenth-century periodicals—and sometimes outside them. Powell brings to her task a battery of critical approaches, including performance theory, gender theory, feminist theory, and variations on the ‘public sphere,’ but what is most memorable about the book is her wide reading in the primary sources and an associational sprezzatura that generates sometimes brilliant and sometimes risky allusions and syntheses across not only decades but centuries.
Modern Language Review
[T]his new monograph contributes greatly to recent scholarship on the professionalization of authorship in the eighteenth century.
The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer
Manushag N. Powell begins with a strong case based on internet blogging for the relevance today of the personae created within eighteenth-century essay periodicals, literary periodicals made up largely by an essay and correspondence to the essayist. . . .[I]n the end I was won over by all I had learned and Powell’s critical insights and sound judgments. I was won over, too, by prose style and persona--qualities of a successful periodical.
Manushag N. Powell is assistant professor in the English Department at Purdue University. Her research interests are centered on the cultural history of literary forms and include early types of “genre” fiction writing, the periodical essay, and authors-as-characters.