Sunday, 28 October 2012

James Hogg: A Brief Note on Celebrity 

It has been argued that Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott were the first ‘celebrities’ in the modern sense of the word. In Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture, Ghislaine McDayter contends that “Byromania marks the emergence of celebrity as a cultural industry” (8). In The Routledge Concise History of Nineteenth-Century Literature, Josephine Guy and Ian Small identify Byron and Scott as two of the first authors to take advantage of the new “cultural apparatus” that  developed after the timely  “conjunction of a “Romantic cult of selfhood” and “the growing industrialization of print culture” (30). As Penny Fielding notes in her entry on Hogg in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, “Hogg was very conscious of literary celebrity” and felt diminished when he did not receive the same recognition as Scott and other members of the Edinburgh literati (67). But as Peter Garside reminds us in his chapter in James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace, after Scott’s death, Hogg “found himself lionized as a literary celebrity” after “a highly successful visit to London” in 1832 (36). Even before then, Hogg was viewed as a celebrity of sorts, serving the role, for example, of “celebrity speaker” at a Burns Supper in Edinburgh in January 1815, as Clark McGinn recalls in his recent essay on Burns celebrations in Robert Burns and Global Culture (193). In Hogg’s case, celebrity was more of a double-edged sword than it was for Scott, given that his fame was sometimes rooted in an understanding of him as a strange curiosity: a peasant prodigy who made for an interesting spectacle at the dinner parties of the elite. However, despite such condescension and some negative publicity that figured him as an object of ridicule, Hogg established himself as an important literary figure in Britain during his lifetime and relished his fame in the Americas, writing in 1833 to an anonymous American fan: “I am most proud of being valued so highly by my transatlantic brethren.”   

Three rather interesting aspects of Hogg’s celebrity that might resonate with the experience of modern celebrities are (a) the appearance of fans at his home—whom in Hogg’s case, his family couldn’t afford to feed; (b) the flow of fan mail that appeared on his doorstep, which his wife Margaret had to read through, evaluate, and cull; and (c) the reporting of his activities through gossip, which he was concerned might negatively affect his family life. To learn more about the celebrity of Hogg in the last few years of his life, read the third volume of his letters: The Collected Letters of James Hogg: Volume 3, 1832-1835, ed. Gillian Hughes with associate editors Douglas S. Mack, Robin MacLachlan, and Elaine Petrie (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).

Holly Faith Nelson

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