Acts of desire: women and sex on stage 1800-1930 by Sos Eltis

By Sos Eltis

From seduced maidens to adulterous other halves, bigamists, courtesans, saved ladies and streetwalkers, the so-called 'fallen girl' 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 research finds and analyses enduring plot strains and tropes that proceed to steer modern theatre and movie. 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 significant position in either setting up and hard sexual norms, and lots of playwrights exploited the ambiguities and implications of functionality to level disruptive spectacles of lady hope, business enterprise, strength, and resourcefulness, utilizing ingenuity and ability to dodge the regulate of that ever watchful nation censor, the Lord Chamberlain.

Covering an remarkable diversity of theatrical, social, literary, and political texts, this examine demanding situations the foreign money and validity of the fashioned 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 Acts of Desire encompasses released and unpublished performs, archival fabric, censorship files, and modern stories to bare the incredible continuities, complicated debates, covert meanings, and exuberant spectacles which marked the heritage of theatrical representations of woman sexuality. attractive with well known and 'high paintings' performances, this learn additionally finds the very important connections among theatre and its sister arts, tracing the trade of impacts among Victorian drama, narrative portray and the unconventional, and displaying theatre to be an important yet missed point within the cultural background of women's sexuality.

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Nelly’s physical helplessness and the repeated failure of a last-minute rescue combine not only to blur the lines between abduction and seduction, but also imply that the responsibility for safeguarding a tempted woman lies outside her own inadequate hands. Agnes learns this lesson explicitly in The Lear of Private Life. Crushing her doubts about attending a moonlit assignation with her lover, 28 Lost in London, III, 45. The 1851 census was the first in which urban population outnumbered rural. Increasing migration from country to city increased rapidly, with the proportion of urban to rural population reaching 5 to 4 by 1861, and by 1881 more than two-thirds of Great Britain’s inhabitants were living in towns and cities.

First performed Theatre Royal, Adelphi, 5 November 1831. Dicks’ No. 821, III, iii, 18. 72 Lost in London, III, i, 32. 73 Introduction, Victorian Melodramas, xiii. 74 Dorcas and Giddy’s ingenuity and determination interact with the central narrative of the heroine’s fall, with its attendant implications of female vulnerability and the need for seclusion and male authority and protection; their combination of ambition and resourcefulness suggests, however, that, with the necessary pragmatism and worldly wisdom, women are well able to fend for themselves.

Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (University of Texas Press: Austin, TX, 1981), 47. 75 Bratton,‘Contending Discourses of Melodrama’, 44. 76 Playbill, quoted in Martin Meisel, Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 1983), 119. Seduced Maidens and Resourceful Maids 31 Fig. 1. William Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress (1732), Plate I, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 77 Yet Haines’s play was far from being a faithful dramatization of Hogarth’s work.

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