By Sos Eltis
From seduced maidens to adulterous other halves, bigamists, courtesans, saved girls and streetwalkers, the so-called 'fallen lady' used to be a ubiquitous and enduring determine at the Victorian and Edwardian degree. Acts of Desire strains the theatrical illustration of illicit woman sexuality from early nineteenth-century melodramas, via sensation dramas, Ibsenite sex-problem performs and suffrage dramas, to early social realism and the well-made performs of Pinero, Jones, Maugham, and Coward. This examine finds and analyses enduring plot traces and tropes that proceed to steer modern theatre and picture. Women's illicit wants turned a theatrical concentration for anxieties and debates surrounding gender roles, women's rights, sexual morality, classification clash, economics, eugenics, and feminine employment. The theatre performed a imperative position in either setting up and not easy sexual norms, and lots of playwrights exploited the ambiguities and implications of functionality to level disruptive spectacles of woman wish, enterprise, power, and resourcefulness, utilizing ingenuity and talent to dodge the keep watch over of that ever watchful country censor, the Lord Chamberlain.
Covering an mind-blowing variety of theatrical, social, literary, and political texts, this research demanding situations the forex and validity of the customary serious time period 'the fallen woman', and establishes the centrality of the theatre to cultural and sexual debates through the interval. Acts of Desire encompasses released and unpublished performs, archival fabric, censorship documents, and modern stories to bare the dazzling continuities, advanced debates, covert meanings, and exuberant spectacles which marked the heritage of theatrical representations of girl sexuality. enticing with well known and 'high artwork' performances, this examine additionally finds the important connections among theatre and its sister arts, tracing the trade of affects among Victorian drama, narrative portray and the radical, and displaying theatre to be a very important yet overlooked aspect within the cultural historical past of women's sexuality.
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Extra resources for Acts of desire: women and sex on stage 1800-1930
Adelphi Theatre’, Times (19 October 1831), 4. 87 Peter Thomson, Introduction to Plays by Dion Boucicault (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1984), 6. 88 Melodramatic Imagination, 48. 85 86 40 Acts of Desire reinforced the power of these plots, making them so familiar as to be accepted as self-evident truths—such that social commentators and campaigners could assert their existence without producing evidence or statistics to support them. The familiarity of the plot trajectory made it possible for one frozen moment to convey a whole tale.
Haines’s The Life of a Woman; or, The Curate’s Daughter oﬀers a particularly intriguing example of such multifaceted operation. When the newly re-furbished Surrey Theatre reopened on 20 April 1840, it competed with the rival attractions of Greenwich Fair by announcing Haines’s The Life of a Woman, described on the playbill as ‘an entirely New Original Pictorial Drama of Interest, forming a VILLAGE TRAGEDY! . ’76 Following the Victo74 Jacky Bratton, ‘The Contending Discourses of Melodrama’, in Jacky Bratton, Jim Cook, and Christine Gledhill (eds), Melodrama: Stage, Picture, Screen (BFI Publishing: London, 1994), 39.
William Tait catalogued prostitutes—from kept women in luxuriously appointed ﬂats in St John’s Wood to the lowest streetwalkers who ‘what with ﬁlth, vermin, scabs, and whisky . . 46 Nothing ultimately separates these women; they are merely steps on the same ladder, and no matter how highly placed at ﬁrst, each must inevitably arrive at the bottom rung. 47 Though clearly underpinned by a belief in God’s justice and the wages of sin, both Logan and Tait naturalize this process, describing the prostitute squandering her earnings in idleness, proﬂigacy and self-indulgence, her health ruined by the depredations of alcohol—taken to drown out the pangs of conscience—and the cold night air.