Fall 2020 Books

Starring Women: Celebrity, Patriarchy, and American Theater, 1790-1850
by Sara E. Lampert
Summary:
Lampert examines the lives, careers, and fame of overlooked figures from Europe and the United States whose work in melodrama, ballet, and other stage shows shocked and excited early U.S. audiences. These women lived and performed the tensions and contradictions of nineteenth-century gender roles, sparking debates about women’s place in public life. Yet even their unprecedented wealth and prominence failed to break the patriarchal family structures that governed their lives and conditioned their careers. Inevitable contradictions arose. The burgeoning celebrity culture of the time forced women stage stars to don the costumes of domestic femininity even as the unsettled nature of life in the theater defied these ideals.

A revealing foray into a lost time, Starring Women returns a generation of performers to their central place in the early history of American theater.

A Tale of Two Faces: Melodramatizing Jekyll and Hyde

by Susanne Scholz
in And Thereby Hangs a Tale: A Critical Anatomy of (Popular) Tales

Almost immediately after its publication in 1886, the story of the re-spectable Dr Jekyll and his sinister alter ego Mr Hyde, and its proclama-tion of the fundamental duality of the human being became common knowledge. Detached from its original literary form, the notion of the double self seemed to give a local habitation and a name to a perceived (maybe universal) feature of mankind, and some years before Freud published his first treatises on unconscious forces within the human frame, Stevenson’s story provided an imaginative pattern for this piece of anthropological wisdom. It thus has all the characteristics of a tale, a somewhat timeless but at the sametime infinitely actualisable cultural narrative which articulates a cultural truth, in this case “that man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson,48). The double-faced doctor be-came a cultural icon, to be conjured up to the present day to give voiceto concerns about forces in man uncontrollable by reason or morality. The ‘message’ of the tale, however, shifted according to cultural de-mand. In this chapter, I want to argue that it was the clothing into the melodramatic formula which transformed Stevenson’s story into a cul-tural narrative, and that by this transformation, the moral message of the tale was (somewhat reductively) conceived to be the fight of good versus evil in man. Thomas Elsaesser speaks of the myth-making func-tion of melodrama and generally calls it a “tale of sound and fury”, thus attributing a specific cultural agenda to the genre (Elsaesser 1987,44).

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