Lord Byron and the end of fame

T. Mole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article sketches a theory of celebrity culture that relies on taking a longer view of its history than has been customary in Cultural Studies. While a number of cultural theorists have analysed contemporary celebrity, and a number of film historians have connected the cultural history of celebrity to the rise of modern cinema, this essay suggests that modern celebrity culture has its roots in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century industrialization of print. It argues that a celebrity's branded identity circulates so extensively in part because it can be appropriated so easily. In order to trace in greater detail the processes of appropriation that drive celebrity culture, the essay takes the reception of Lord Byron (1788-1824) as a case study. The article surveys a number of nineteenth-century commentators who predicted that Byron's work would be unread after his death. It examines in detail the posthumous reprinting of one stanza from Byron's poem Childe Harold in travel guides, school anthologies and elocution manuals, showing how some fragments of Byron's writing were given renewed currency, in part, by becoming embedded in new contexts and refitted for new ideological purposes. It suggests that by understanding the infrastructure of citation, appropriation and redeployment that can turn celebrities from earlier ages into canonical figures for later ones, we can grasp how their original celebrity becomes obscured, and with it the long history of celebrity culture, which seems perpetually to be a recent innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-361
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2008


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