By LAURA ROSENTHAL [The Long Eighteenth] – In its contemporary meaning, “It,” Joseph Roach explains, was “coined in 1927 by a British expatriate, romance-author, and Hollywood tastemaker Elinor Glyn (1864-1943)” to describe the unusual allure of certain people. Glyn herself had “a quirky interest in animal magnetism.” For Roach, though, Glyn was not the inventor of “It” but a pivotal figure who reveals “It’s” transatlantic migration. In Roach’s study, Glyn also serves as a synecdoche for a larger phenomenon of cultural transmission, providing a bridge between eighteenth-century theatricality and early twentieth-century Hollywood. A “Tory radical” with a fascination for the Stuarts, Glyn helped shape early Hollywood sensibilities. She fashioned Clara Bow as the “It Girl”—both a new phenomenon and an echo of a particular charisma/ stigmata born in London, 1660. Roach’s study is not, however, a history of “It”; instead, the book explores the ways in which the Restoration ushered in this charisma/stigmata mode as part of the theater’s new claims to some of the traditional power of religion and royalty. As I read it, Roach’s argument suggests that with the waning of the traditional powers of divine right from the monarchy unleashed the possibility of another related of force—“It.” Thus, as the cover of the book suggests, the figures of Charles II and Clara Bow parallel each other in their combination of residual aristocratic magic, theatricality, erotic allure, earthiness, and vulnerability.
This argument seems to me to both draw on and differ from classic new historicism.