Those Who Write for Immortality


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Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame

H. J. Jackson

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A provocative inquiry into lasting literary fame, the gifted writers who have achieved it, and the gifted writers who have not

Great writers of the past whose works we still read and love will be read forever. They will survive the test of time. We remember authors of true genius because their writings are simply the best. Or . . . might there be other reasons that account for an author’s literary fate?
This original book takes a fresh look at our beliefs about literary fame by examining how it actually comes about. H. J. Jackson wrestles with entrenched notions about recognizing genius and the test of time by comparing the reputations of a dozen writers of the Romantic period—some famous, some forgotten. Why are we still reading Jane Austen but not Mary Brunton, when readers in their own day sometimes couldn’t tell their works apart? Why Keats and not Barry Cornwall, who came from the same circle of writers and had the same mentor? Why not that mentor, Leigh Hunt, himself?
Jackson offers new and unorthodox accounts of the coming-to-fame of some of Britain’s most revered authors and compares their reputations and afterlives with those of their contemporary rivals. What she discovers about trends, champions, institutional power, and writers’ conscious efforts to position themselves for posterity casts fresh light on the actual processes that lead to literary fame.

H. J. Jackson is professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, where she was one of the founders of the graduate program in book history and print culture. She has explored every major research library in the U.S. and spent many happy summer months in the British Library and other collections in the U.K. She lives in Toronto.

"Those Who Write for Immortality weaves a series of complex, sobering reflections on Romantic posterity, and compels its readers to confront the lessons of Romanticism and immortality that continue to saturate our contemporary cultural and theoretical knowledge. Jackson beautifully demystifies immortality as a concept while at the same time preserves it as a promise of fantasy that brings with it a host of concerns that shape the way in which we absorb the entanglements of literary durability."—Jacques Khalip, Brown University

“This is an outstandingly lucid, clear and informative book, written throughout in Jackson’s characteristically relaxed but erudite style. Those Who Write for Immortality is not only about fame and cultural memory, but also about how authors and their works are forgotten. Ranging widely across both canonical and less familiar authors, it offers a fascinating new account of Romanticism’s complex afterlife.”—Tom Mole, University of Edinburgh

“This excellent book concisely surveys the reputations of a dozen writers of the Romantic era, both those who rose to fame from obscurity and those who sank from glory to oblivion, and deftly combines their stories with their own ideas about fame and posterity.  It is lucid, thorough, continually interesting, and filled with radiant common sense.” —Michael Ferber, author of The Cambridge Introduction to British Romantic Poetry

“Why Wordsworth and not Southey? Why Austen and not Brunton? Why Keats and not Cornwall?  Heather Jackson’s bold new study challenges us to examine our assumptions about literary merit and to imagine a reading world in which the prizes are redistributed.  With wit, subtlety, and great politeness she dismantles the critical ground beneath our feet.   This is a quietly subversive and important book.”—Kathryn Sutherland, University of Oxford

"Why read Austen and Keats, not Brunton or Hunt? Heather Jackson’s book is packed with brilliant, original insights into the dark and fickle achievement of literary fame."—Nicholas Roe, author of John Keats: A New Life

“[A] revelatory and delightful study . . . Jackson’s study should renew interest in the Romantic period and its writers—the famous and forgotten alike.”?Publishers Weekly

“Jackson commands a lifetime of reading in a fluid, ceaselessly compelling history of the literary afterlife, of how over the centuries, our concepts of a writer’s immortality have morphed, mutated, double-backed.”—William Giraldi, The New Republic

Those Who Write for Immortality is therefore a special book, a delightfully readable and reliable witness for a subject that sometimes seems out of fashion, as ideas of posterity appear either pointless or impossible, in literature or elsewhere.”—The American Scholar

“A thoughtful, elegant, and subtly humorous exploration of the specific circumstances that enable literary reputations to flourish over the long term.”—Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker

“[A] fascinating new study of literary reputation . . . [a] meticulously researched, elegantly written and wonderfully subtle account of the reputational fortunes, over time, of a select group of Romantic period writers.”—The Literary Review of Canada

“[A] spirited and always enlightening meditation on literary fame.”—Carlin Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“[A] lively and immensely knowledgeable book.”—Richard Holmes, The New York Review of Books

“Jackson focuses welcome attention on the social, collaborative processes that go into the making of authors’ public identities. . . . [A] useful resource for students and scholars alike and absorbing reading for the general public.”—Eric Eisner, European Romantic Review

“Samuel Daniel, a poet attuned to literary immortality, dreamed of “one good reader”. Jackson is just such a reader. Her book is full of good criticism.”—Hal Jensen, TLS
ISBN: 9780300174793
Publication Date: March 31, 2015
312 pages, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
20 b/w illus.
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