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Fashioning Faces
The Portraitive Mode in British Romanticism
Elizabeth A. Fay

Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

New Hampshire
2010 • 340 pp. 29 b & w illus. 6 1/8 x 9 1/4"
Literary Criticism / Cultural Studies

$45.00 Hardcover, 978-1-58465-778-1

Fay’s book, in which solid scholarship is very well organized and elegantly presented, is incontestably successful in analyzing the notion of congruence in eighteenth-century... [continued in Reviews below]”—The Journal of British Studies

A fresh look at how literary and visual portraiture in the Romantic era embodied a newly commercial culture

In this ambitious cross-disciplinary study, Elizabeth A. Fay examines the Romantic era in Britain as a transitional period leading to the modernist focus on identity formation and legibility. Inventing the term “portraitive mode” to describe a diversity of cultural and material expressions of identity, such as visual and verbal portraits, miniatures, poetry, caricatures, and biographical dictionaries, she examines a widespread cultural shift toward a world of faces and figures that foreshadows today’s increasingly common self-reflections and depictions.
Fay places portraiture within broader cultural currents, such as fashion and consumption, the rise of celebrity culture, personal collections and house museums, and travel literature. Synthesizing a vast array of material and tying together diverse artistic, literary, and cultural modes, she sheds new light on the historical significance of portraits and the centrality of Romantic portraiture as a vehicle for expression and subjective exploration.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“Fay’s book, in which solid scholarship is very well organized and elegantly presented, is incontestably successful in analyzing the notion of congruence in eighteenth-century material culture. Her research is splendidly documented, and her grasp of the complexities of contexts firm. Perhaps the most commendable aspects of Fay’s ambitious and sophisticated study is her original synthesis (she uses an impressive variety of sources and is fluent in several discourses), the extraordinary diversity of portraitive practices she considers, and her ability to remain focused on the concept of congruence (in the same way she remained focused on the ‘collaborative model’ developed in her study on Wordsworth) in order to complicate, indeed reconfigure, our understanding of identity construction in the eighteenth-century commodified culture. Fay’s powerful and scrupulous analysis also places her name in the company of influential scholars devoted to complicating the gendered divisions of private and public, such as Paula McDowell, Amanda Vickery, Lawrence Klein, Judith Pascoe, and others. Written with an admirable sensitivity to complicated cultural nuances, Fay’s book undoubtedly represents a timely and valuable contribution to the always intriguing field of eighteenth-century studies.”The Journal of British Studies

“Elizabeth Fay brilliantly illuminates that fertile intersection among the arts that is marked by what she calls portraitive practices, that intensely earnest variety of representational play that explores the uneasy connections and the insubstantial boundaries between the Romantic-era subject and object, as mediated both by visual portraiture and by verbal self-depiction. Theoretically subtle and culturally sophisticated, this is interdisciplinary scholarship at its best; it opens up remarkable new vistas on how we “see” the Romantics—and on how they “saw” themselves.”—Stephen C. Behrendt, George Holmes Distinguished University Professor of English, University of Nebraska

“Richly exploring the “culture of looking” in the Romantic period, Elizabeth Fay’s new book alerts us to the ways that modern subjectivity came into being through a strange dependence on external reflections of itself. Fashioning Faces brings together a wide array of innovative cultural practices and “scenes” of display to argue that a fascination with reflexivity increasingly entered into the everyday in the early nineteenth century through a congruence of art, commerce, and technology. Mingling historical case studies with theoretical speculation, Fay’s cultural history is at once deeply informative and highly suggestive, moving easily from the popular appetite for “heads” and the implications of the pier glass to the aesthetics of Kant and the poetry of Keats. This is an important book, one that not only draws attention to overlooked dimensions of Romantic culture but also intersects in intriguing ways with key questions in our own time.”—Ina Ferris, Professor of English, University of Ottawa

ELIZABETH FAY is professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston. She has published several books, including Romantic Medievalism: History and the Romantic Literary Ideal and A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism.

Thu, 6 Oct 2016 14:03:18 -0500