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

“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.

Spring 2019

Melodrama: The Role of Imitation, Melody, Speech, and Gesture in a Post-Enlightenment “Mixed Form”

by Monique Rooney

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature

Abstract:

Melodrama is a mixed or transmedial artform that, having migrated from stage to film, television and digital screens, typically combines plastic arts (tableau, mise en scène, filmic close-up, sculptural poses) with performative arts (stage and screen acting, declamation, singing, orchestral or other music). It emerged first in the 18th century when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote and composed his “scène lyrique” Pygmalion, a formally innovative and experimental adaptation of the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the context of the speculative and neoAristotelian ideas that Rousseau contributed to public debate about the significance of imitation or mimesis in the development of language, Rousseau’s foundational melodrama represented the coming-to-life of Pygmalion’s beloved statue, Galatea, as a mimetic scene in which metamorphosis takes place through the statue’s responsiveness to the artist and vice versa. More than simply a theme, imitation is intrinsic to the musical-dramatic and, thus, transmedial structure of the ur-melodrama, through which the alternation of spoken lyric with musical phrasing was intended to draw attention to the mimetic role of vocal accent within the arrangement. This aesthetic structure opened the possibility of representing a diversity of voices on the metropolitan stage and beyond. Since its Enlightenment-era beginnings, the mixed form of melodrama has persisted even as it has been transformed in its itinerary from the 18th century to the early 21st century, transmedially adapting to new modalities and formats as it has moved from stage to print formats and then to film, television, and digital platforms. The transmedial form and reach of melodrama is discernible in latter-day performance and film, in which the mixed form—particularly vocal accent, melody, and gesture—continue to disrupt normative identities and hegemonic systems.

“Cartography of Representation: Western Melodrama and Indian Cinema”

in International Journal of Management & Social Science

by Bannerjee Baishakhi

Understanding the melodramatic intervention in Indian cinema would require us to reformulate the insights of Western melodramatic studies. But it is essential to remember that any attempt to sum up the theoretical formulation of the Western melodramatic studies is a mammoth task and might end up in formulating certain simplistic and generalized observations. The situation becomes all the more complicated when we try to comprehend the nature of melodramatic interventions in Indian cinemas because melodramatic situations differ from county to country. It is essentially a historically and socially conditioned mode of experience. So what may constitute a melodramatic mode of expression in the West may not be the same in India. This paper seeks to narrate the conflict and confrontation between the sacred and the secular and how differently they are perceived by the two countries. In the final analysis, the paper deals with the interface between the Western concept of melodrama and its influence on Indian cinema and how the great Indian directors incorporate indigenous forms of melodrama to overcome that influence.

“Bernard Shaw’s Unproduced Melodrama: The Gadfly, or The Son of the Cardinal”

in English Literature in Translation: 1880-1920

by Stanley Weintraub

Abstract

On 23 March 1898, Bernard Shaw arranged a “copyright performance” of a new play advertised as at the Victoria Hall in Bayswater. Typical for uncommercial exposure, the script was stapled between brown endpapers. Unlike another of his plays also “performed” then to protect the copyright, the delicious farce You Never Can Tell, the melodramatic The Gadfly then vanished from the English stage. He had been asked by Ethel Voynich to adapt her novel for a single, minimally advertised performance to secure it from exploitation by hack dramatists always on the prowl for such prey. This article offers a discussion of all that surrounds the writing of the play, with a close exegesis of the The Gadfly, or The Son of the Cardinal.

“Melodrama, Sex, Beaches, and Other Interests”

in Michael Winterbottom

by Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

Abstract

A film such as Go Now, made for television but shown in cinemas in some countries, is a case in point: it exhibits some of the informing traits of melodrama but its treatment is in certain essentials realistic, avoiding the gratifications of melodrama, at least as the mode is practised in Hollywood cinema. With or Without You raises expectations of romantic comedy but deflects – or dissipates – these with a surprising acridity of tone; and the noir-influenced I Want You hovers between thriller and erotic drama. Realist sex and concert scenes, to the point where there is almost a whiff of documentary in the film’s short footage, but it also has a vestigial narrative continuity. As in so many of Winter-bottom’s films, there are insistent stress on movement, an almost mandatory beach scene as a somewhat simplistic signifier of release and ‘naturalness’, and stress on music.

“The Spectacle of Affect: Postwar South Korean Melodrama Films”

in East Asian Transwar Popular Culture

by Kelly Y. Jeong

This chapter explores the melodramas of Korea’s cinematic golden age, particularly focusing on those from the 1950s. They abound with narratives fissures, ruptures, and heterodoxy from gender and cultural norms, and their narratives unfold through a hybridity of genres, to create more nuanced works that seem to self-reflect or even subversively play off the genre rules and conventions of melodrama. In looking at this group of films, I argue that they comprise a spectacle of affect. I first focus on the empty mise-en-scène, a feature often exhibited by the decade’s films that brings their generic hybridity and experimental filmmaking into relief, then trace the meaning and place of sinp’a (new wave) in postwar cinema, which will lead to the conclusion that, for postwar South Korean filmmakers—and for the audiences that loved their films—the West, represented by America, was a source of cinematic imagination and an awe-inspiring sublimity.

“Feminine spaces of memory: Mourning and melodrama in Para que no me olvides (2005)”

in Hispanic and Lusophone Women Filmmakers

by Patricia Ferreira

Coinciding with the excavations of the Spanish Civil War’s mass graves, media is playing a crucial role in the construction and dissemination of ‘spaces of memory’ of the war. This chapter discusses the contribution of Patricia Ferreira, who in her Para que no me olvides, relocates in the present the collective response to loss and pain caused by the war, as well as the subsequent oblivion and remembrance, all from an individual perspective that attempts to connect personal trauma to socio-political awareness, while bridging the differences of three generations of Spaniards. Ferreira’s melodramatic mode provides a means through which individual memory can become official history, as well as a potential therapeutic model for dealing with the trauma. The film articulates the unfulfilled needs of individual Republican victims and exposes the still incomplete collective and institutional work of mourning implicit in the shortcomings of Law of Historical Memory project.

Melodrama”

in Journal of Singing

by Leslie De’Ath

The lines of demarcation between the subdisciplines of voice pedagogy are porous. The siloed nature of the standing columns in the Journal of Singing on occasion call for an intradisciplinary flexibility of approach, just as any college music program must be on guard against an array of courses that give the impression that they have little to do with one another…Studies of specific repertoire usually appear as feature articles in the Journal of Singing, but on occasion, those with a particular focus on text have been issued under the “Language and Diction” rubric. The present article is a case in point. It focuses on melodrama–an often overlooked genre, in which the text and its style of delivery are crucial to a persuasive performance.

“Mediating Melodrama, Staging Sergeant Cuff”

in Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film

by Isabel Stowell-Kaplan

When Sergeant Cuff stepped off the page and onto the stage of the Olympic Theatre in Wilkie Collins’s 1877 adaptation of his own wildly successful novel, The Moonstone, he both joined the earliest ranks of the British stage detective and entered the world of melodrama. Though we might expect the rational figure of a detective such as Sergeant Cuff to be incompatible with the emotional excess of melodrama, in this article I show that such an assumption oversimplifies his relationship to melodramatic emotion and overlooks the surprising compatibility of the detective with melodrama’s epistemological and moral investments. I argue that in distinct contrast to the ambiguity and multiplicity instilled by the novel, Cuff allows for the clear resolution expected on the melodramatic stage, proving himself an agent of and for melodramatic style and substance.

NAVSA 2019

Subject: CFP – “Melodrama’s Challenge” (NAVSA, October 2019)
Dear Colleagues,
My apologies for this late notice.  I’m seeking colleagues to participate in a melodrama roundtable to be proposed for NAVSA’s upcoming annual conference (to be held in Columbus, Ohio, October 17-19).   The conference theme is “Media. Genre. The Generic,” and proposals are invited “on any aspect of media, mediation, medium-ness, genus, or genre,’ including, for example, “literary and artistic form; word, image, and sound production; the general and the specific; the average and the exceptional; and historical, social, and scientific taxonomies.”  As recent melodrama scholarship has called into question so many of these concepts and their critical histories, the conference seems an ideal occasion to consider and assess that impact as a whole.

Although the roundtable will concern itself with these questions as they pertain to the Victorian era and its media, my hope is to include melodrama scholars whose work addresses other periods, mediums, and modes—and so I invite all of you to consider applying.   As many of you know, NAVSA conferences have become an excellent venue in which to present work on melodrama, and the format of their roundtables (5-8 minute short papers followed by extended discussion) is collegial, fairly undemanding, and suits the presentation of developing work very well.

The CFP for the roundtable is below.  If you are interested, please submit a 250-word abstract for a short (5-8 minute) paper and a 1-2 page cv to me at buckley@english.eutgers.edu by January 23rd..  I will be happy to answer queries as well. Again, my apologies for such short notice.

With warm regards,

Matt Buckley

CFP – Proposed Roundtable, NAVSA 2019
Melodrama’s Challenges

Over the last few decades, growing scholarly attention to Victorian melodrama has begun to suggest the need for a significant reappraisal of the history of modern art and literary form.  It has made evident the perils of treating different mediums and modes as distinctive traditions and separate areas of inquiry, called into question the validity and the legacy of traditional critical attention to the exceptional rather than the average work of art, and undermined long-accepted accounts of the history of genre—and of dramatic genre particularly—in the Victorian era and the modern era at large.

This roundtable will explore these each of these challenges and try to assess their implications and limits. How does recent recognition of melodrama’s fundamentally multi- and inter-medial character alter conceptions of media, mediation, and medium-ness?  How does growing awareness of its popularity and ubiquity change critical understanding of the historical relations between innovation and convention, between the exceptional and the average? In what ways, and to what extent, does emergent understanding of melodrama’s viral transformation of other forms, genres, and representational modes revise our sense of Victorian—and modern—art and aesthetics?

November 2018

The Victorian Actress in the Novel and on the Stage

by Renata Kobetts Miller

millerThis book analyses how Victorian novels and plays used the actress, a significant figure for the relationship between women and the public sphere, to define their own place within and among genres and in relation to audiences. Providing new understandings of how the novel and theatre developed, Miller explores how their representations shaped the position of the actress in Victorian culture with regard to her authenticity, her ability to foster sympathetic bonds, and her relationships to social class and the domestic sphere. The book traces how this cultural history led actresses to appropriate the pen themselves by becoming suffragette playwrights, thereby writing new social roles for women.