A Literary and Cultural History
Distributed for Liverpool University Press
In an era obsessed with celebrity and glamour, sophistication ranks among the most desirable of human qualities, but it was not always so. The word “sophistication” was once a negative term, meaning falsification, speciousness, perversion, or adulteration. Now, it positively glitters, carrying meanings of worldliness and refinement. Through a series of close readings of some of the essential texts of sophistication, Faye Hammill explores the developments in taste and ideology that account for this striking change. At the same time, Sophistication demonstrates that traces of older meanings linger—that hints of “sophistry” persist in even our most modern conceptions of the sophisticated.
Spanning more than two centuries of “sophistication,” this lively account features rereadings of canonical writers from the eighteenth century to the present, including Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Fanny Burney, Austen, James, Wharton, Fitzgerald, Nabokov, and Clyde Lampedusa. A complementary examination of lesser-known writers reveals that the development of modern sophistication is intimately connected with the evolution of middlebrow culture. From there, Hammill moves on to consider sophistication as expressed in contemporary magazines, films, and Web sites. Drawing on words and images from such diverse sources as Noël Coward, Vanity Fair, Sofia Coppola, and the New Yorker, Sophistication ultimately demonstrates that a preoccupation with—or a performance of—sophistication links unexpected works, disrupting the boundary between seriousness and frivolity.
“Hammill’s highly original work has impressive breadth and covers a remarkable number of the essential literary texts on the topic, from Sheridan and Jane Austen to Sofia Coppola”
“Looking at the period between 1860 and 1960, Hammill studies the cultural meaning of ‘sophistication’. . . . By way of illustration, she reads Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, Stella Gibson’s Cold Comfort Farm, and Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Sophistication turned melancholic and nostalgic in postwar fiction, as the author demonstrates in readings of Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard. A book for those interested in how cultural values and therefore human behavior change over time.”
"Each chapter is rich with fresh observations that make this book a pleasure to read. At every moment, the reader feels in the hands of a trusted guide whose well-written prose offers a helpful template for sorting through a mass of diverse literature."
Introduction: Reading sophistication
1 Scandal, sentiment and shepherdesses: the emergence of modern sophistication
2 Childhood, consumption and decadence: Victorian and Edwardian sophistication
3 Melancholy, modernity and the middlebrow: the twenties and thirties
4 Nostalgia, glamour and excess: the postwar decades
Conclusion: 'The problem of leisure': millennial sophistication