The Invention of Celebrity
The Invention of Celebrity
Translated by Lynn Jeffress

Frequently perceived as a characteristic of modern culture, the phenomenon of celebrity has much older roots. In this illuminating new book cultural historian Antoine Lilti shows that the mechanisms of celebrity were developed in Europe during the Enlightenment, well before films, yellow journalism and television, and then flourished during the Romantic period on both sides of the Atlantic. Figures from across the arts like Voltaire, Garrick and Liszt were all veritable celebrities in their time, arousing curiosity and passionate loyalty from their "fans." In Paris as in London, in Berlin as in New York, the rise of the press, new advertising techniques and the marketing of leisure brought a profound transformation in the visibility of celebrities: private lives were now very much on public show. Nor was politics spared this cultural upheaval: Marie-Antoinette, George Washington and Napoleon all experienced a political world transformed by the new demands of celebrity. And when the people suddenly appeared on the revolutionary scene, it was no longer enough to be legitimate, it was crucial to be popular too.

Lilti retraces the profound social upheaval precipitated by the rise of celebrity and explores the ambivalence felt towards this new phenomenon. Jean Jacques Rousseau's career is an exemplary case. A celebrated and adulated writer, Rousseau ended up cursing the effects of his "disastrous celebrity" marred by the feeling that he had become a public figure whom people everywhere could fashion as they wished. Both sought after and denounced, celebrity evolved as the modern form of personal prestige, assuming the role that glory played in the aristocratic world in a new age of democracy and evolving forms of media. To this day, it is of course a type of glory whose value is still disputed.

Lilti's perceptive history uncovers the birth of celebrity in the 18th century, while at the same time shining valuable light on the continuing importance of celebrity in today’s world.

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  • May 2017
  • 320 pages
  • 229 x 152 mm / 9 x 6 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $74.95
  • 9781509508730
  • Paperback $28.95
  • 9781509508747
  • Open eBook $28.95
  • 9781509508778
Table of Contents


Introduction - Celebrity and Modernity

Chapter 1 - Voltaire in Paris

“The Most Famous Man in Europe"

Voltaire and Janot

Chapter 2 - Society of the Spectacle

The Birth of Stars: The Economics of Celebrity

Scandal at the Opera

“Something Idolatrous”

A European Celebrity

The Invention of the Fan(atic)

Chapter 3 - A First Media Revolution

The Visual Culture of Celebrity

Public Figurines

Idols and Marionettes

“Heroes of the Hour”

Private Lives, Public Figures

Chapter 4 - From Glory to Celebrity

Trumpeting Fame

Conceptualizing Celebrity


“Chastisement for Merit”

Chapter 5 - Loneliness of the Celebrity

“The Celebrity of Misfortune”

Friend Jean-Jacques

Eccentricity, Exemplarity, Celebrity

The Burden of Celebrity

Rousseau Judges Jean-Jacques

The Disfiguration

Chapter 6 - The Power of Celebrity

A Fashion Victim?

Revolutionary Popularity

The President is a Great Man

Sunset Island

Chapter 7 - Romanticism and Celebrity


Prestige and obligations

Women Seduced and Public Women


Celebrity in America

Democratic Popularity and Popular Sovereignty

“Celebrities of the Hour”

Towards a New Age of Celebrity


Postface to the English edition


Illustration credits


About the Author
Antoine Lilti is Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris and former editor-in-chief of the journal Annales. His first book, The World of the Salons, was published in English in 2015.
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“Lilti’s achievement is highly impressive. He provides a new perspective on the transformations of Western culture in the age of revolutions, and on the genesis of modern notions of selfhood and personal authenticity. And he reminds us that even as we laugh at contemporary celebrity culture, we need to take it seriously, and not merely as an excrescence or a pathology, but as a constituent element of political and cultural modernity.”
David A. Bell, Princeton University

“With The Invention of Celebrity, Antoine Lilti has established himself as one of the most significant and talented historians of eighteenth-century France…It is an imaginative study, at once audacious and theoretically grounded, that establishes celebrity as an object of historical analysis and lays the groundwork for further studies of the phenomenon.”
Colin Jones, Queen Mary University of London

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