Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The celebrity of Charlotte Smith was initiated by the publication of
Elegiac Sonnets in 1784. The large subscription lists that successive
editions garnered confirms her status as a popular writer. Smith's
celebrity is unique when compared to other late eighteenth-century
celebrities as she resided outside of London, and did not associate, in
public, with other famous writers, artists, and actors of her time. Her
solitary existence away from the public view created speculation and
gossip about the melancholic poet, which in turn led to an outpouring of
Her celebrity, instigated by the public display of her private sorrows,
is inextricably tied to two dominant cultural features: the cult of sensibility
and the neoclassic tradition. The culture of sensibility created an ideal
atmosphere in which to publish an emotive text, as the public sought out
works that would trigger an emotional response. She creates sympathy
within her reader, eliciting a strong emotional reaction and acts of charity.
Smith also uses a neoclassical poetic convention, quoting profusely from
other famous authors to create a connection between her poetry and
theirs. Smith foregrounds herself as an educated author, slightly
modifying each poetic quotation, and in doing so establishes her own
unique niche within the poetic tradition.
Smith's celebrity is heavily dependent upon her ability to arouse pity
and more importantly charity within the reader. Smith's goal, prior to
publication, was to be self-sufficient and garner enough money to provide
for her family. Her celebrity can therefore be viewed as a deliberate move
into the public sphere.
Tuininga, Jillaine, "The Celebrity of Charlotte Smith: Private Sorrows, Public Tears" (2005). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7091.
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