Glamour: A History

 Hannah Greig looks at a shadowy characteristic

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Reviewed by: Hannah Greig
Author: Stephen Gundle
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price (RRP): £12.99

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Glamour rarely attaches itself to academic work, but in a wide-ranging cultural history, Stephen Gundle grapples with its simultaneously shadowy and scintillating characteristics. 

Ranging from the 1780s to the present, across Europe and America, Gundle identifies glamour as a modern creation, fashioned by late 18th-century parvenus who elbowed past the established elite and into the limelight. Thereon, from Bonaparte to Bernhardt, courtesans to stewardesses, silver screen sirens to New York’s ‘Four Hundred’ (the number Nancy Astor could squeeze into her Fifth Avenue ballroom), glamour was a commodity selling people, products and, occasionally, politics. 

Although all the big names get mentioned (Byron, Garbo, Princess Di), Gundle is more concerned with historical cultural processes than with individual celebrities. The real stars in glamour’s intriguing constellation are revealed to be the currents of urban life; the burgeoning tabloid press; the creations of artists, writers and designers; and Hollywood’s outpourings. Covering over two centuries in an inevitably fast-paced 400 pages, Stephen Gundle is persuasive. 

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Dr Hannah Greig is a lecturer in history at the University of York