Public Intimacy: The Prior History of ‘It’

  • Joseph Roach


There is a certain quality, easy to perceive but hard to define, possessed by abnormally interesting people. Call it ‘it’. For the sake of clarity, let ‘it’, as a pronoun aspiring to the condition of a noun, be capitalised hereafter, except where it appears in its ordinary pronominal role. Most of us immediately assume that ‘It’ has to do with sex, and we’re right, but mainly because everything has to do with sex. Most of us also think that ‘It’ necessarily entails glamour, and so it does, but not for long. Most of us think that ‘It’ is rare, and it is quite, even to the point of seeming magical, but ‘It’ is also everywhere to be seen. In fact, however elusive this quality may be in the flesh, some version of it will, at any given moment, fall within our direct view or easy reach as a mass-circulation image; and if not, a worthy substitute will quickly come to mind, even to the minds of those who, commendably, want to resist generalisations like these, along with the pervasive imposition of the icons they describe.


Prior History Religious Life Comical Part English Constitution Motion Picture Industry 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    David Aberbach, Charisma in Politics, Religion and the Media: Private Trauma, Public Ideals (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. x.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For the more recent history of ‘It’, see Joseph Roach, ‘It’, Theatre Journal, 56:4 (2004), 555–68.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Elinor Glyn, It (New York: The Macaulay Company, 1927), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Eugenia Peretz, ‘The “It” Parade’, Vanity Fair (September 2000), pp. 313–82.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Max Weber, On Charisma and Institution Building, ed. S. N. Eisenstadt (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution, ed. R. H. S. Crossman (1867; repr. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 86.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Elinor Glyn, Romantic Adventure (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1937), p. 11. For additional details and perspective, see Anthony Glyn, Elinor Glyn: A Biography (London: Hutchinson, 1955), Meredith Etherington-Smith and Jeremy Pilcher, TheItGirls: Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, the CouturiereLucile’, and Elinor Glyn, Romantic Novelist (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1986); and Joan Hardwick, Addicted to Romance: The Life and Adventures of Elinor Glyn (London: Andre Deutsch, 1994). In The Cats Meow (Lions Gate, 2002), Joanna Lumley plays Elinor Glyn to Kirsten Dunst’s Marion Davies.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Elizabeth Howe, The First English Actresses: Women and Drama 1660–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 34.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews, 13 vols (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1970–83), VIII, p. 91.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, ed. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume (1706; repr. London: Society for Theatre Research, 1987), p. 41.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Charles Gildon, The Life of Mr. Thomas Betterton, the Late Eminent Tragedian (London: Printed for Robert Gosling, 1710), p. 10.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Theatre in Europe: A Documentary History; Restoration and Georgian England, 1660–1788, ed. David Thomas and Arnold Hare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 12, 17.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    See Joseph Roach, ‘Celebrity Erotics: Pepys, Performance, and Painted Ladies’, Yale Journal of Criticisrn, 16:1 (2003), 211–30.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Karen E. Fields (1912; repr. New York: The Free Press, 1995), p. 208. See also Jeffrey Alexander and Phil Smith, ‘Introduction’, The Cambridge Companion to Durkheim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (1957; repr. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), pp. 56–7.Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    Anthony Aston, A Brief Supplement to Colley Cibber, in An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber (1740), ed. Robert W. Lowe. 2 vols (London: John C. Nimmo, 1889), II, pp. 299–300.Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    Richard Steele, The Tatler, ed. Donald F. Bond, 3 vols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1987), II, p. 424.Google Scholar
  18. 27.
    Hazlitt on Theatre, ed. William Archer and Robert Lowe (1895; repr. New York: Hill and Wang, n.d.), p. 94.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (1790; repr. London: Penguin, 1968), p. 176.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Joseph Roach 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Roach

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations