English literary afterlives

Greene, Sidney, Donne and the evolution of posthumous fame

English literary afterlives covers the Renaissance treatment of the posthumous literary life. It argues for the emergence of biographical reading practices during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as early readers attempted to link the literary output of dead authors to their personal lives. Early modern authors’ complex attitudes to print, and their attempts to ‘fashion’ their own careers through their writings, have been well documented. This study, by contrast, explores how authors and their literary reputations after their deaths were fashioned (and sometimes appropriated) by early modern readers, publishers and printers. It examines the use of biographical prefaces in early modern editions, the fictional presentation of historical poets, pseudo-biography, as well as more conventional modes such as elegy and the exemplary life. By analysing responses to a series of major literary figures after their deaths – Geoffrey Chaucer, Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Edmund Spenser, John Donne and George Herbert – English literary afterlives charts the pre-history of literary biography in the period and presents a counternarrative to established ideas of authorial emergence through self-fashioning. The book is aimed at scholars and students of the individual authors covered (Sidney, Spenser, Greene, Donne and Herbert), as well as readers interested in book history, reception history, authorship and life-writing.

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