Late Seventeenth-Century Women Writers and the Penny Post: Early Social Media Forms and Access to Celebrity
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In the eighteenth century, Susanna Centlivre (c. 1669–1723) was the most performed English playwright after Shakespeare. In the late 1690s, however, she was an obscure young woman with a chequered past trying to make her way in London’s commercial literary world. She made her London literary debut in 1700 by having a selection of her ‘private’ letters published in a miscellaneous collection of prose and verse collected by Tom Brown, Familiar and Courtly Letters, Written by Monsieur Voiture … to which is added a Collection of Letters of Friendship, and other Occasional Letters, Written by Mr. Dryden, Mr. Wycherley etc. This chapter will explore two features of this event: the strategic use of Centlivre’s letters as autobiographical documents in an initial step towards the creation of a commercial persona, one modelled on the posthumous marketing of Aphra Behn’s works, and how Centlivre and other women embraced new technologies for conveying their material texts to London printers and booksellers at the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning decades of the eighteenth century to enter the public literary market place, for celebrity, profit or both.
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