Author Archives: tlepro

Fall 2019

Dickens’s Tableaux
Melodrama and Sexual Opacity in David Copperfield and Bleak House
by Victoria Wiet
Abstract:
This essay examines the features and function of tableaux in two novels by Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850) and Bleak House (1853), in order to rethink the influence of melodramatic conventions on the form of narrative fiction, particularly the understanding of female sexuality that melodrama afforded novelists. Taking Dickens as an important example, literary critics have typically associated melodrama with ostentatious legibility, but recent scholarship on the theatrical tableau has illuminated the complex ways the melodramatic stage both produced and occluded revelation. Drawing on this work, I demonstrate that the adaptation of the tableau into the novel form increases the possibility of illegibility because readers necessarily rely on the narrator’s description and interpretation of the material world. In David Copperfield and Bleak House, this remediation has particularly significant consequences for the representation of sexually compromised women. By inadequately revealing the sexual histories of suspected “fallen women,” densely visual but opaque scenes featuring Annie Strong, Martha Endell, and Honoria Dedlock defer judgment on their characters, with Lady Dedlock’s protracted illegibility preventing her plot from culminating in a decisive narrative or moral conclusion. Because the narrators of both novels depict these female characters as deliberately making themselves illegible, the novel tableau becomes an important way for Dickens to dramatize the fallibility of the omniscient and quasi-omniscient narrators of realist fiction.

Recycling melodrama: HBO’s “quality television” discourse and the place of women’s testimony

by Michael Reinhard

Blurb:
Over the past decade, HBO has turned towards domestic melodramas like OliveKitteridge(2014), Sharp Objects(2018), and Big Little Lies(2017) to cultivate its aesthetic brand of“quality television”for women (Imre2009; McCabe& Akass2007) . These series frequently position their themes in dialogue with popular feminisms through melodrama’s documented capacity to seize upon the social problems that mark everyday public life (Linda Williams2001; Christine Gledhill1987). The identification of a“quality television”discourse in the development of HBO’s television slate for women has seized on this melodramatic tradition during a period in which social media networks have provided communities of feminists and allies space to reconsider the value, authenticity,and place of women’s testimony in the public sphere. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings,The New York Times captured the“#WhyIDidn’tReport”phenomena where survivors of sexual assault testified to their silenced experiences on social media. That many recent“quality”domestic melodramas on HBO feature Academy Award-winning or nominated film actresses, such as Frances McDormand and Reese Witherspoon, who advocate feminist storytelling as well as the Time’s Up legal defense fund is a relationship worth examining. While careers of film-turned-TV actresses have previously been thought through heuristics like recycling (Mary R. Desjardins2015), the present circumstances of these actresses reflect not only the renewed cultural place of television but also clear tensions between the re-emergence of middle-class feminist political discourse on television today and its relationship to the racial underpinnings of the film industry’s cultures of prestige. It is precisely this tension that now marks the function of HBO’s recycling of domestic melodrama in its development of television branded as“quality.”

Not Your Mother’s Melodrama: Three Twenty-First-Century Women’s Films

by E.L. McCallum

This essay argues that twenty-first-century melodrama films by female directors rework the core components of classic melodrama form—not only its timing, but also narrative form, agnition, and the underlying fantasy of union. While they retain a focus on objects and setting as bearers of emotion, and on a crisis in intimate relations, the three films by Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, and Ann Hui considered here reconsider melodrama’s possibilities. They all broach ways of rethinking Oedipal fantasy, moving beyond a story of the fraught emergence of the individual to one focused on a collective problem of how we negotiate a proper proximity to cherished others. All three films turn from what could have been to what the past makes possible now and thus change melodrama from a melancholic genre to a generative one.

Vamps and Virgins: The Women of 1920s Hollywood War Romances

by Liz Clarke

Liz Clarke suggests moving beyond surveying the canonical combat films in order to take a closer look at the representations of women and war in early Hollywood. She points out that in the 1920s, Hollywood studios considered females to be their target audience and so geared their narratives and complex female protagonists accordingly. Exploring films from that time era, Clarke connects melodrama and war and observes the broader relationship between heroism, gender, war, and nation that arises in these films. She argues that when we define war films beyond military training and combat narratives alone, more possibilities exist to look at the multifaceted ways women and war are on screen.

An Octoroon at Kean Stage

There will be a production of The Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at Kean University from October 11th – October 19th. Tickets are available here: Kean Stage
From the website:

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY, if it was a film it would be rated R.

“Strange as it seems, a work based on a terminally dated play from more than 150 years ago may turn out to be this decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.”– Ben Brantley, New York Times

Broadly adapted from Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, a wildly popular 19th century melodrama, Jacobs-Jenkins’ transgressive comedy/tragedy is a subversive mash-up of the antebellum south and 21st century cultural politics. The playwright dares the audience to examine racism and..

Becoming Modern: British and American Melodrama

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, October 25, 2019

We are pleased to announce a one-day conference on early film and Victorian stage melodrama in Britain and the United States, to be held at Rutgers University, New Brunswick on October 25.  The conference will include talks by Jim Davis, Christine Gledhill, Taryn Hakala, Dan Novak, Michael Pisani, and Sharon Weltman, and a keynote address by David Mayer. This is an unusual opportunity to gather with some of the finest scholars working in the field, and MRC members are encouraged to attend.  For more information, contact Carolyn Williams (williams@english.rutgers.edu) and Matthew Buckley (buckley@english.rutgers.edu).   

May 2019

978-3-030-14872-0

The Pedagogy of Queer TV
by Ava Laure Paresemain

This book examines queer characters in popular American television, demonstrating how entertainment can educate audiences about LGBT identities and social issues like homophobia and transphobia. Through case studies of musical soap operas (Glee and Empire), reality shows (RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Prancing Elites Project and I Am Cait) and “quality” dramas (Looking, Transparent and Sense8), it argues that entertainment elements such as music, humour, storytelling and melodrama function as pedagogical tools, inviting viewers to empathise with and understand queer characters. Each chapter focuses on a particular programme, looking at what it teaches—its representation of queerness—and how it teaches this—its pedagogy. Situating the programmes in their broader historical context, this study also shows how these televisual texts exemplify a specific moment in American television.

Summer 2019

Indiscretions of an Italian Lover: Montgomery Clift, Masculinity, and Melodrama

in The Italianist
by Sam Gaglio

Abstract: This article utilizes production documents found in the David O. Selznick
Collection to explore the role of masculinity as it is constructed in Stazione Termini (1953). More specifically, it seeks to reframe Montgomery Clift, the film’s lead actor, as an inetto: an inept masculine character who repeatedly submits to the commands of both Mary, his lover, and her adolescent nephew, Paul. Traditionally an archetype found in Italian comedy, Clift’s performance exemplifies the role of the inetto in the context of melodrama. While the comedic inetto demands centre stage in its film, the melodramatic inetto is instead pushed into the periphery, queering the heteronormative representation of the male leading character and undermining traditional notions of masculinity. The production files reinforce this reading.

Courtroom Melodrama: Dramatizing Characters and Audiences in A Tale of Two Cities

in Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature
by Brittany Reid

Abstract:In the preface to A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens recalls that he conceived of the idea for the novel while staging a scene from Collins’ play The Frozen Deep with his children. Building on this account of the story’s theatrical inspiration, public displays or acts of performance are prominently featured throughout the novel and punctuate moments of collective unrest, false behavior, or political corruption. From the showcasing of the guillotine executions to the characterization of crowds as active audiences, dramatic tropes, forms, and terms are frequently employed throughout the text. This article explores the theatrical imagery of A Tale of Two Cities as it communicates a political statement, contributes to the narrative as a whole, and engages with established dramatic traditions from the period, such as melodrama. To that end, it specifically considers the use of melodramatic conventions in the court scenes to demonstrate Dickens’s “politics of performance” in the novel.

Darkness in the spotlight: Binaries and brutality in Zhang Yimou’s ‘Shadow’

in Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine
by Debbie Zhou

Abstract: While Zhang Yimou’s latest Wuxia offering bears the hallmark action and melodrama elements of his earlier work, it stands apart in terms of visuals, featuring a subdued, largely monochromatic palette and unfurling, brushstroke-like compositions. With this calculated stylistic move, the Chinese director allows the violence, corruption and conflict at the core of his historical tale to starkly taint each frame

“Melodrama, Purimspiel, and Jewish Emancipation”

in Victorian Literature and Culture

by Sharon Aronofsky Weltman

Abstract

Long forgotten, Elizabeth Polack (fl. 1835–43) is the earliest known Jewish woman playwright in England. This essay argues that her first play, Esther, the Royal Jewess, or the Death of Haman! (1835), performed at a public playhouse in the Jewish working-class neighborhood of London’s East End, radically realigns diverse genres and populations in advocating both Jewish emancipation and a voice for women. By way of a very brief introduction, I first point out the applicability here of Judith Butler’s Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Butler explores how group protest, such as Tahir Square or Occupy Wall Street, serves as a kind of communal bodily signification. Of course, her point is not to address how people come together in a public theater, where the cast arrives daily for salaried jobs and the audience plunks down cold cash for a fun night out. Yet something else meaningful can occur in assembly within the theater. Theatrical performances can take on the discursive power of political assembly that Butler defines, signifying “in excess of what is said,” bringing actors and audience together with potentially political valence. Butler helps us understand the stakes of theatrical performance and public assembly and why it is important to examine Esther, the Royal Jewess beyond recovering a neglected author, though that too is part of my object.