Header Image By Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
Not to brag but I’m being followed by John Polidori, you know the guy that made vampires into an aristocratic phenomenon in the English gothic canon with his novella The Vampyre. It’s a pretty amazing feat as he’s been dead for nearly 200 years. Yes, there is someone out there using the account @johnwpolidori on Twitter to Tweet and Retweet online content pertaining to John Polidori and his associates. Doctor Polidori is one of the most tragic figures of the Romantic movement; perpetually living in the shadow of Lord Byron, eternally striving to create something that would capture the public imagination and eventually cut his own life short after a steep downward spiral.
It makes me incredibly happy that there is at least someone out there ensuring that his name is unforgotten in this age of social media. But if an author like Polidori is still represented what about the original celebrity, Lord George Gordon Byron?
The representation of Lord Byron on Twitter is more complex. Some of those who got in early and grabbed Byronic usernames are using them to promote their own poetry, as unrelated personal accounts, abandoned literary accounts and one successful racehorse. It seems that Byron and his identity have outgrown it literary legacy in a way that Polidori has not. The active Lord George Gordon Byron centric accounts are run by Byron Societies and Newstead Abbey, his former home. There is also one account actively sharing Byron related content that does not seem to have any commercial, personal or academic affiliation, @lordbyron_1824, this would be the closest to the previously mentioned Polidori account.
But that’s Byron, what about the less celebrated in their time authors, those that are more appreciated now than in their day. Jane Austen for example. Female authors who were not identified by their portraits in their time like their male counterparts are now recognizable (Braun and Spiers, 2016). The female authors are now seen in this new age of social media that allows for the effortless reproduction of images. Jane Austen has numerous accounts that claim affiliation, or just post quotes daily. These accounts might I add, are more popular than those of Byron.
So why do people still care about these authors, and why are there social media accounts dedicated to continuing their memorialization into an age of social media? Braun and Spiers (2016) talk about posthumous literary celebrity as being about so much more than the body of the artists work, but also of the image that they represent. Byron was a rebel, the first real celebrity, people paid for telescopes to watch him on holiday on Lake Geneva, women sent him their pubic hair and scandal followed him everywhere he went. But as far as an enduring literary legacy goes… well not many people have read his work compared with other less scandalous authors of his time. This is what makes him a character to emulate on social media, not because people are still reading Childe Harold.
Boeuf and Darveau (2017) talk about the power of association with a deceased celebrity; not only are audiences more receptive to messages ‘from’ dead celebrities, but that receptiveness can be leveraged for commercial gain. This might mean that any message purporting to be affiliated with a deceased literary figure with a substantial and continuing social legacy is given greater weight and will inevitably garner more interest than posts from a poet named Geoff from somewhere in Washington. These literary identities give the account a weight that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Users continue to engage with bots that simply spew out quotes from the pages of the greatest literature in the world into the ether, hoping for a knowing interaction.
- Boeuf, B. and Darveau, J., 2017. Posting from beyond the grave: An autopsy of consumer attitudes toward promotional communication in a posthumous context. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 34(4), pp.892-900.
Braun, R. and Spiers, E., 2016. Introduction: re-viewing literary celebrity. Celebrity studies, 7(4), pp.449-456.