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The Author as Spectacle and Commodity Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Thomas Hardy
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The Author as Spectacle and Commodity
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Thomas Hardy

Linda M. Shires

The century that elapsed between the late 1820s, when Elizabeth Barrett published her first volume of poems, and the late 1920s, when Thomas Hardy published his last volume of poems, saw highly dramatic shifts affecting the construction of nineteenth-century literary authority in British culture. Artists who had formerly thought of themselves as following a vocation increasingly saw themselves as leading a life that was potentially as commodified or commercial as that led by professionals in other fields.

To be sure, the process of gaining literary authority during this period was affected by many material changes in the literary sphere, as well as by individual investments of energy.[1] These changes included the new construction of various readerships, the shifting status of a genre such as poetry (from center to margins), different types of book production and distribution, and the sharp increase in published women authors. But material facts about the changing literary sphere cannot fully explain why the author as a public figure became a spectacle or why authors themselves so frequently explored the issue of visibility in their texts. Nor is it usually possible to trace in an author's life one particular moment when an assumption of literary vocation turned into a need, conscious or half-conscious, to control self-presentation and representation by others.

But at least three intertwined social phenomena did alter the shaping and living of public identities. Commencing in the eighteenth century, these phenomena intensified in the nineteenth: the waning importance of a host of authorities, both secular and religious; changes in the meaning and value of public space, and, a wedding of the two prior changes:


public figures whose fame rested on their exploitation of themselves as spectacles.

In describing the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution, Leo Brandy speaks of a "gap of public gaze."[2] And indeed, even after monarchy reasserted itself in the early nineteenth century, the waning influence of established civil authorities and a persistence of class struggle led to the rise of a new host of public figures—military men, scientists, authors—who gained fame differently than they might have in the past. Early-nineteenth-century men such as Napoleon and that Napoleon of poets Lord Byron illustrate how authority now had to be visibly worked for and how visibility itself had to be courted. A successful career no longer depended just on merit, or inheritance, or connections. It depended on being seen—seen at certain places, with certain people, and in particular outfits or poses. As we know; the Victorians worshiped celebrities from Wellington to Nightingale, even unwinding the shrouds of corpses in their Carlylean quest for some authority to gaze upon.

In addition to the weakened influence of secular and religious authorities, the meaning and value of the public sphere itself changed dramatically from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. Demographics, economic alteration, geographic migration, and changes in printing techniques all worked to form new audiences and new relations between author, supporters, and text. The patron or patroness was replaced by the literary mediator: publisher, editor, man of letters. Nor was the audience composed of members of the same class or profession. Rather the public splintered into audiences: a large and diverse public, rural and urban, marked by divisions of status, class, and gender and specific readerships. In this increasingly divided yet anonymous public sphere, writers had to work harder to get attention and keep it. The public arena, ever more confusing in its vast multitudinousness, was transformed into a stage where one could display oneself, but also protect oneself, by acting roles.

To many Victorians, self-display through acting implied deceit or an inability to be what they thought of as "truly" sincere. Indeed, Matthew Arnold seems to speak for many Victorians when he laments the chance of really ever communing with another or with himself deeply at all—in public places on in private. In poems such as the Marguerite poems, "A Summer Night," "The Buried Life," "Lines Written in Kensington Gardens," Arnold yearns for a calm and wise passivity, which he, like Thomas Carlyle, locates only with divinity or those he considers heroic geniuses, such as Shakespeare. Average men and women "trick'd in dis-


guises" ("The Buried Life") might "play" at life, but would remain "alien" to themselves and to each other.[3] Acting multiple roles, then, could be a curse as well as a blessing, for it deadened what Arnold saw as the deep feelings of the heart. Acting could even point to a radical instability of the self.[4] As James Eli Adams points out in his contribution to this volume, the cultural opposition of theatricality, visibility, and surfaces to inwardness, withdrawal, silence, and depth is a complicated phenomenon that can appear in many guises. Yet the opposing sides are always in some way connected to each other.

Victorian literary authority was constructed interactively, then, among authors and audiences as part of a larger cultural paradigm centering on commodities. Indeed, in the nineteenth century the commodity became the "coordinating frame within which different forms of social life—economic, political, psychological, literary—were grouped."[5] Public fame increasingly depended on personal attributes and the reproduction of images. By the end of Hardy's career, when the boundaries between private and public selves had dissolved almost completely, the authorial self—his pets, his house, his marriages, his opinions on contemporary poets—became as important a commodity as his texts.

It is just this commodification of the writer that William Powell Frith's The Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 (Fig. 69) satirizes. On the one hand, Frith clearly wishes to document the plethora of celebrities assembling at the Royal Academy private viewing during a typical show of the 1880s. Among the notables in this painting are Gladstone, Browning, Langtry, Terry, Irving, Trollope, Wilde, and Millais. Yet Frith uses this institution—the Academy itself and the yearly event there—to focus on spectacle and self-display. If the dignity of the event and the crowd flatten out contrasts, still the painting brilliantly questions the borders between the public and the private. It insists on the importance of status by representing a private view of the new exhibition to invited guests. It also questions, however, the nature of such "collective privacy" by showing what the viewers have come to view and by asking what they have ended up viewing. Paintings? Each other? Each other viewing paintings? Oscar Wilde?

Frith sets up a contrast between two kinds of authors in his deliberate placement and depiction of Trollope and Wilde. Anthony Trollope, at the left with top hat, surrounded by people looking at paintings and at their catalogues, is involved in the same activity, but catches a look at Oscar Wilde. The aesthetic master, with a flower in his lapel, also uses his book, but those around him stare at or worship him as he gazes dreamily at paintings. Here we have two types of literary authority set


up in a deliberate generational, gendered, and stylistic contrast. Trollope is represented as the hardworking, older, manly man of letters, whereas Wilde is the feminized, feted dandy, gazed at and fawned upon by a circle of mostly female and young admirers.[6] He is as much an object for viewing as the pictures on the wall.

The painting encapsulates for us how Victorian literary authority was constructed in the public arena as an occasionally active and an occasionally more passive spectacle of authorial power. If we arrange Victorian writers according to what we might call a "spectacle spectrum," figures as different as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Oscar Wilde would, paradoxically enough, appear close to each other. Whether in his prose, in his editorial work, or in his readings, Dickens took pleasure in performance, fully trusting to the vitality of his imagination and his dramatic skills. Carlyle created himself as a heroic man of letters even as he searched for heroes in whom to believe. And whereas he too sold his imaginative productions and himself as a unit, Wilde went one step further by selling himself to the public as an imaginative production, and a compellingly charismatic one at that.

At the other end of this "spectrum" we might also find writers seldom associated with each other. Not only Trollope, or the Brontë sisters, say, but also some of the major Victorian poets resist being drawn into active spectacle. Neither Christina Rossetti nor Alfred Lord Tennyson, for instance, sell their first imaginative productions with the gusto of Dickens, or parade themselves so vigorously before crowds as Carlyle and Wilde do. To be sure, Rossetti performed as an artist's model and Tennyson enjoyed declaiming his poems to small groups of admirers. But both couched self-dramatization in a rhetoric and stance of withdrawal. Their poems, too, repeatedly take up what they view as the highly problematic relationship of authority, self-display, and identity. The power of the speaking "I" emerges most often in their texts through masks, through some relationship with static or dead bodies, or through outright refusals of participation.

Perhaps the most powerful refusal of active spectacle on the part of a speaker occurs in Christina Rossetti's poem "Winter: My Secret." There, the speaker is erotically stimulated by shutting out her listeners from a putative secret, the author upholds the decorum of privacy, and the poem ironically deploys the act of withholding, as it demonstrates that withholding contributes to the mystification of commodities. Secrecy and advertised uniqueness stimulate desire. As Braudy points out: the middle-class Victorian audience is among the first to become excited by the refusal of its gaze, as well as by the reflection of its gaze (398, 402).


The Victorian author, then, can succeed with an audience either by actively engaging in spectacles of theatrical self-display or by withholding.

More interesting than the cultural opposition itself or any groupings of authors, however, is the dialectical or embattled engagement of such seemingly ambivalent impulses in a single author. With individuals, of course, negotiations differ in type and intensity at differing moments in a career. It is precisely this conundrum of the need to shape the self through display but also to remain somehow sincere that Elizabeth Barrett and Thomas Hardy confront repeatedly in their careers as authors.

To find favor with an audience, artists such as Barrett and Hardy had to create public literary personae while they were also being created as memorable identities through critical and literary discourse. If they did not help to create themselves in the public eye, passive spectators could easily become bored or intensely voyeuristic. Fame might elude the artist or spiral out of his or her control, as Barrett feared it would, for example, when Mary Russell Mitford published her recollections, including Elizabeth's reaction to her brother Edward's death by drowning, the single most traumatic event of her life. Barrett felt her audiences would misunderstand her art if Mitford's recollections encouraged them to dwell on one life event. Barren and Hardy were instrumental, I am arguing, in helping to select the very discourses by which they were defined in a public rhetoric of the literary sphere. Literary and life choices they made helped to mold their self-representations within available cultural codes about lives, careers, and art, but they also had to shape their work and careers as somehow distinctive.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Thomas Hardy consciously monitored the performative nature of their careers. A Victorian author's relationship to spectacle—whether textually or interpersonally—would have been determined by many variables, including temperament, gender, genre choice, and specific or multiple audiences. Both Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Thomas Hardy experienced alternating moments of attraction to spectacle and withdrawal from it, an oscillation of which they seemed acutely aware and which they resolved differently with regard to what each considered a deeper spiritual or political truth.

Although both Barrett Browning and Hardy invested in a rhetoric of self-deprecation in their early careers and both attempted to follow a Vergilian, step-by-step literary vocation, they were profoundly attracted to men and women engaged in self-display, both those who made spectacles of themselves and those who had become spectacles by virtue of their public roles. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's long-standing attraction to George Sand illustrates her pull toward the self-dramatic. "I would


give anything to have a letter from her, though it smelt of cigars," confides Barrett in a letter to her intimate Mary Russell Mitford.[7] The date is 1844, the occasion, Moxon's publication of Barrett's volume Poems, in which she offers her two sonnets to George Sand. As the confidence to Mitford suggests, Barrett's concern with spectacle and authority has everything to do with sex, gender, and the model of non-English literature. Indeed, she wrote to Mitford that she was enthralled, visually and emotionally, by contemporary French novels: "My whole being aches with the sight of it [the "conflagration" of French literature],—and when I turn away home, there seems nothing to be seen, it is all so neutral tinted and dull and cold by comparison."[8] She is conscious of keeping her readings a "secret" (Miller, 144) in her father's house.

It is therefore all the more significant that Barrett's male friends, notably her literary advisor, John Kenyon, and the literary critic of the Athenaeum Henry Chorley, advised her against publishing the sonnets to Sand because her public approval of such an unconventional woman writer might seriously harm her rising reputation. But for Barrett, as for many other women of her day, Miss Mitford not among them, Sand was a "magnificent creature" (Raymond and Sullivan, 222) about whom she loved to read and gossip and with whom she desperately wanted to connect, both publicly and privately (Raymond and Sullivan, 150–51). "I wont die if I can help it," she proclaimed, "without seeing George Sand" (Raymond, 245).

The two sonnets to Sand are most interesting, however, not for their unabashed heroine worship, but for their utter ambivalence about Sand's Byronic self-display. The sonnet "To George Sand: A Desire" represents her as a figure of excess: she is both a "large-brained woman and large-hearted man," a roaring lion and an arena slave (lines 2–4), an angel and a whore (lines 7–11).[9] But this woman dressed like a man, this doubly gendered creature, proves deeply troubling to Barrett. In spite of her fascination with a woman who seems to occupy both sides of every binary, Barrett remains troubled by charges of immorality leveled against Sand. Instead of considering self-display and sexual transgression as aspects of what she calls Sand's "genius" (line 12), however, Barrett anxiously tries to separate genius from public spectacle by locating it elsewhere. If Sand is a woman of oppositions on earth, her genius resides in heaven, above all divisions and all gossip. Truth and worth transcend spectacle and earthly fame in this highly characteristic Victorian rhetorical gesture.

In the second sonnet, "A Recognition," Barrett Browning goes further in rejecting self-display. She considers Sand's cross-dressing a vain


denial of her "woman's nature" (line 2). Just as in the first sonnet Barrett wishes Sand's genius to earn her angel wings, here she maintains that God will oversee the most crucial unsexing: through death and entry into heaven, Sand will be unsexed. Although Barrett is lured to spectacle, and drawn to the erotics of both gender transgression and same-sex love, she refuses to look at what is before her. She banishes her anxiety that Sand's genius may, in fact, be androgynous or bisexual or, what seems even worse, nothing more than spectacle by invoking higher truths.

Barrett eventually found a use for female self-display, though, in "Lord Walter's Wife," a poem William Thackeray rejected for publication in the Cornhill magazine shortly before her death. The female speaker of this poem, a mother and wife, refuses to sit passively by when one of her husband's friends flirts with her in front of her little daughter. Offended by his shallow praise of her as "far too fair" (line 6) for a woman, which disguises only thinly the cruelty he displaces onto her—"able to strangle my soul in a mesh of / your gold-colored hair" (lines 7–8), she shocks him by entering into a pushy flirtation of her own. When he then intimates that she is nothing but a "harlot" (line 49), she exposes his hypocritical practice of a sexual double standard.

By having Lord Walter's wife re-engender spectacle as a male game, Barrett Browning could defend the official ideologies of heterosexual love and motherhood but also attack the male's treatment of woman. While in the sonnets on Sand, Barrett rejected female spectacle as an affront to a female purity, she now could enlist a female speaker to support that purity. But at the same time, she features a woman who must adopt a role and act like a whore to preserve a sexual purity that the male double standard is trying to corrupt. In a brilliant double move, then, Mrs. Browning asserts domestic virtue and contentment, while Elizabeth Barrett exposes the patriarchal system's defilement of the very domesticity it professes to endorse. Domestic happiness itself seems a show in which male self-displays remain a grotesque featured act.

In rejecting "Lord Walter's Wife" as unsuitable for "my squeamish public," William Thackeray likens the poem to an "Aching tooth" that has to be pulled.[10] He pays courtly tribute to "dear, kind, Mrs. Browning," whom he knows personally and even admires. But he also indulges himself in excessively violent imagery. Ironically enough, by refusing to publish the poem, or, as he puts it, by "cutting the victim's head off," Thackeray produces in the publishing arena an analogue for the double standard Barrett Browning points to in the domestic arena.

With "Lord Walter's Wife," then, Barrett Browning dramatizes her


anxiety about spectacle. In her response to Thackeray, she states that her viewpoint may not be wrong even if his "paterfamilias" standpoint may have to be voiced. "I am not a fast woman—I don't like coarse subjects, or the coarse treatment of any subject," responds Barrett Browning, "but I am deeply convinced that the corruption of our society requires, not shut doors and windows, but light and air." She proceeds to argue that "it is exactly because pure and prosperous women choose to ignore vice, that miserable women suffer wrong by it everywhere."[11]

In one sense, through her poem "Lord Walter's Wife" Barrett Browning becomes a George Sand, playing male and female parts and using spectacle to attack what she perceives to be a male-driven system of performance. Defining spectacle in narrowly in terms of sexuality, she agrees that female self-display, often prompted by male egotism, can be degrading. But she can also find a use for a female-initiated female self-display. As a "pure" woman and as a writer, she can confront her audience with the politics of spectacle, instead of merely indicating her ambivalence about it. For she makes spectacle accountable to what she perceives as an objective truth: the double standard.

Thomas Hardy, born three decades after Elizabeth Barrett, displays a similar attraction and aversion to spectacle. But for him spectacle is connected with class as much as with issues of gender. And even more important, he is far less able to believe in any truth other than that which is subjective . He moves closer, then, to a public culture in which truth, objective or subjective, is a relative: a culture where spectacles has become all

In his early days as a writer, when slowly earning the respect of the chief editors and publishers' readers in London, Hardy's anonymously serialized Far from the Madding Crowd was received as the work of another female George—George Eliot.[12] In January 1874 the reviewer for the Spectator, responding only to the novel's first published part, concluded: in every page of these introductory chapters there are a dozen sentences which have the ring of the wit and wisdom of the only truly great English novelist now living."[13] To be taken for George Eliot, which might appeal to another young novelist, proved intolerable to Hardy. He was not imitating her, he insists. Yet it is difficult not to read more Hardy's denial, for he continued to grumble about the mistaken attribution for the rest of his life. Inasmuch as Hardy indicates a wish to preserve his own identity, he also stages this confusion about authorship because, at this moment in his career, he is still deeply unsure how to market his talent.[14] He has no notion what his authorial identity might be or how to construct one.


To some degree, Hardy's rural background, his self-education, and his early dependence on experienced men in the literary sphere position him like a woman in the marketplace. Indeed, these characteristics might equally describe George Eliot herself. It is clear that Hardy regards his class as a great disadvantage; it remains unclear whether he feels that it feminizes him (see Gittings and Millgate). But his anonymous publication of Far from the Madding Crowd almost guarantees that his audience will mistake the name, sex, and status of the author. Indeed, the favorable reviews of the novel repeatedly stress the rural dialogue and incident, comparing Hardy to Eliot. Then, confronted with his own desire to be George Eliot, woman of letters, Hardy acts like Barrett when she confronts her attraction to the highly visible George Sand, woman of letters. He defends against a public revelation of his desire for her fame.

Driven to assert his independence from the premier woman novelist whose authority he cannot evade, Hardy immediately switches to another type of novel, thereby losing the audience willing to assess him in terms of established greatness. He turns desperately from Far from the Madding Crowd, a pastoral with an educated narrator, to an urban comedy of the upper classes, The Hand of Ethelberta . He casts aside his budding persona as the creator of Wessex because he thinks it might doom him to inferiority as a regionalist writer. With Ethelberta, argues Penny Boumelha, Hardy "takes on in a self-conscious fashion what was unquestionably, throughout the nineteenth century, the predominant mode of social mobility of the heroine: the marriage plot."[15]

Yet with Ethelberta, the tale of a poetess-novelist-storyteller who attains wealth and status by hiding her class background from her suitor and his family and who then achieves literary fame by hiding her identity from her readership, Hardy faces head-on his ambivalence about his class origins, his identity, and fame. In presenting the story of a woman writer, Hardy also recasts George Eliot's negotiations with literary authority. But more important, the novel allegorizes Hardy's own desires for fame while confronting the relationship between "truth" and authorial spectacle.

In this reading, the "hand" of Ethelberta assumes a variety of meanings, not just "hand in marriage" or "playing one's hand" in a social game, but also "hand of the past"; Hand as the maiden name of Hardy's mother, Jemima, who was concerned with the education and rise in status of her children; or "the writing hand" of an author.[16] Finally, "hand" is a part of the body—in this context, a metonymy for the female body, or even a dismemberment, as if Ethelberta's hand could at once


represent the whole and function separately from the rest of her. The title may also encode Hardy's recent marriage to Emma, since he gives his heroine the initials of his first wife, whom he credited with emotional support (he also pilfered from her diaries in his early writing career). Any way we choose to read the title, it seems clear that with The Hand of Ethelberta Hardy explores the reciprocal relationship between his life, illusions, and self-constructions, and the authority and identity of a storyteller.

In an intelligent and tempting argument about Ethelberta that responds to Robert Gittings's negative assessment of the novel, Peter Widdowson has suggested that we should regard this work as "a self-reflexive novel of a highly complex order" that "exposes the lies" of the systems of class and gender. He argues that it can enable us to see the same kinds of exposures in Hardy's other fiction (157). Yet Widdowson appears to equate the exposure of systems—Hardy's of deceptive cultural categories and his own of the rigidities of humanist criticism—with a locating of truth.

The Hand of Ethelberta is self-conscious, to be sure, but Hardy is not the driving truth teller Barrett Browning. Although he associates truth and honesty with origins, as if he were an even wiser, sadder version of William Wordsworth, his intense fascination with lies, misunderstandings, ironic twists, and deceptions, related in his mind to arbitrary failure and success, is also connected frequently to self-misunderstandings. Perhaps, then, the truth does not exist at all. Hardy seems both more skeptical and more playful than Widdowson seems to allow.

Hardy's own explanation of his purpose in The Hand of Ethelberta, in the much later ghostwritten Life, cannot be entirely discredited. There he explains that he "took the unfortunate course" of rushing into another novel after Far From the Madding Crowd, "before he was aware of what there had been of value in his previous one: before learning, that is, not only what had attracted the public, but what was of true and genuine substance on which to build a career as a writer with a real literary message."[17] Surely Hardy's phrase "true and genuine substance" refers, not to ethics or metaphysics or even geology or genealogy, but to a fact, namely that in his early life he lived among rustics and had not yet, when he wrote Ethelberta, concluded that he might as well exploit that fact for the rest of his novel-writing career. Rather, he had just retreated from such an intuition by switching from pastoral to drawing room comedy. To speak of a "real literary message," or "true and genuine substance" in explaining how Ethelberta came to be written is merely


to tell the reader lies she or he wishes to hear. Hardy realizes early and keeps relearning that in the commodity marketplace one conceptualizes and shapes oneself largely in response to one's audiences. Hardy's remarks in the Life on the publication of Ethelberta fit perfectly with his many false denials of active social climbing. It is part of Hardy's self-promotion to insist that there is some truth or genuine substance in his writing and beliefs. But that "substance" is shifting and shifty. Like Ethelberta herself, who lies and acts, "wishing her fiction to appear real," Hardy "discovered the full power of that self-command" (132) which allowed him to rise in the literary world and sold him to eager buyers.

When at last Hardy the novelist recognizes the full value of his mythic construction of Wessex, he takes on the power of the spectacle he has staged. In becoming his landscape, Hardy blends man and mask beyond retrievable identities. He manages this blending, I would argue, until the final trio of novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Well-Beloved, when his disgust with his audience becomes so deep and the encroachment of modernity so marked that he destroys the ritual community of narrator and character, author and reader established by realist fiction. He thus challenges the present commodity market.[18] To put it differently, he pushes fiction as far toward lyric poetry as it can go at this time without its narrative structure collapsing entirely.

It is important to follow Hardy into his later years, however, since he was preoccupied for more than half his career with poetry. Hardy's elegy for Queen Victoria opened his volume Poems of the Past and Present in 1901. In this poem, "V. R. 1819–1901: A Reverie," as much about fame and time as about Victoria, Hardy stages a new spectacle and gains a new identity, his identity as a twentieth-century poet, a nineteenth-century relic. He notes Victoria's "purposed Life . . . / serene, sagacious, free" (lines 8–9) and predicts that her best deeds, now "hid from our eyes" (line 13), will yet be known.[19] But the truth is that Hardy has no particular interest in enumerating Victoria's deeds or her virtues.

Hardy, a now famous and wealthy novelist, reputed in 1881 by the British Quarterly Review to have taken up "the falling mantle" of "the greatest living novelist" (Widdowson, 20) after the death of George Eliot, has reentered the field of poetry. Having come to terms with literary authority as spectacle, by half-creating Wessex and creating himself as Wessex, Hardy feels free to turn back to his first love, poetry of subjective impressions. And when he moves into that field again, there is no premier poet to stand in his way. Tennyson is dead, Browning is dead, Arnold is dead, and Rossetti, Greenwell, and Ingelow have died


without ever filling the evacuated throne of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Hardy has outlived the Victorians' laureate and their would-be laureate as well as their very long-lived Queen.

Ostensibly deferring to Victoria in the poem as the object of the funereal pomp and circumstance she has rightly earned, Hardy actually uses her, even replaces her, if you will, as the central Victorian spectacle. For with the death of this monarch, the passing of her authority, and the end of her historical era, the gap of public gaze enlarges substantially. Hardy seems to recognize what he certainly exploits for the next twenty some years, namely that he can become something even more than Wessex. He does not have to rely on just a half-real, half-created geographical region. Hardy inherits from Victoria what George Eliot, living or dead, could never bequeath: a black dress. For in becoming the plangent widow/widower of the nineteenth century, the man who never expected much, Thomas Hardy, the elegist of a time gone by and a place despoiled, can also become the object elegized, a living relic of a "purposed" past. Lionized, much visited, the great man of Dorset survives as the ruler of a Victorian England. In fact, Hardy becomes such a spectacle that tourist picnic packages are organized to visit him at Max Gate, his novels are performed onstage, and the rights to Tess, that voyeur's paradise, are bought for two silent films.

Hardy spends much time in his final years honing his image, ghostwriting the narrative of his life, the one book he had said he would never write. Hardy's ostensible refusals of spectacle, coupled with his self-aggrandizements, have ensured his fame as one of the greatest of English literary commodities.

But Elizabeth Barrett Browning made spectacle accountable to what she believed in as objective truth. To strip "the veils" from the "paterfamilias" as she put it, proved a risky business indeed.[20] This earnestness, coupled with the contemporary public drama of her private life, means that, in spite of the recent feminist resuscitation of her poetry, her audience, for the most part, persists in attending to the romance of Mrs. Browning, the rescued maiden of Wimpole Street, and not to her complex political poems of self-effacement and self-assertion.[21] Attempting to be honest and direct, Barrett Browning earned less lasting literary fame than Hardy, who fairly early in his career grasped both the arbitrariness of fame and the value of controlling all aspects of his performance.


Fig. 69.
William Powell Frith,  The Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 . Oil on Canvas, 40 1/2 × 77 in. Last known owner 
Major A. Rolphe Pope. Photograph by Donald D. Breza from William Gaunt,  The Restless Century  (New York: Praeger, 1972), plate 144.


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