The Fame Machine: Book Reviewing and Eighteenth-Century Literary Careers

Synopsis

The Fame Machine explores how the concept of the literary career was reshaped by the commodification of writing in the eighteenth century, a period between an age of substantial sponsorship by the nobility and the fully developed literary market of the nineteenth century. It argues that, as the conditions of literary production shifted from a patronage system to an open market, the traditional means by which authors measured their success and acquired their credentials changed as well. The book shows that in the open market critical periodicals stepped in and assumed the role of official arbiters of literary merit, to the extent that Byron would call the reviewers of his day the "monarch-makers in poetry and prose". In tracing this process, the author focuses on two successful mid-century journals, the Monthly Review (founded in 1749) and the Critical Review (founded in 1756), which dedicated themselves exclusively to reviewing new publications. Examining the professional lives of Laurence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, Tobias Smollett, and several women authors, the book makes the case that the Reviews in effect constructed the narratives that we would now call literary careers.