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

By Sos Eltis

From seduced maidens to adulterous better halves, bigamists, courtesans, stored ladies and streetwalkers, the so-called 'fallen girl' was once a ubiquitous and enduring determine at the Victorian and Edwardian level. Acts of Desire strains the theatrical illustration of illicit lady 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 wishes grew to become a theatrical concentration for anxieties and debates surrounding gender roles, women's rights, sexual morality, type clash, economics, eugenics, and feminine employment. The theatre performed a critical function in either constructing and demanding sexual norms, and plenty of playwrights exploited the ambiguities and implications of functionality to degree disruptive spectacles of lady hope, supplier, power, and resourcefulness, utilizing ingenuity and talent to avert the regulate of that ever watchful country censor, the Lord Chamberlain.

Covering an miraculous variety of theatrical, social, literary, and political texts, this learn demanding situations the forex and validity of the normal severe time period 'the fallen woman', and establishes the centrality of the theatre to cultural and sexual debates during the interval. Acts of Desire encompasses released and unpublished performs, archival fabric, censorship files, and modern reports to bare the wonderful continuities, advanced debates, covert meanings, and exuberant spectacles which marked the background of theatrical representations of girl sexuality. attractive with well known and 'high artwork' performances, this learn additionally unearths the very important connections among theatre and its sister arts, tracing the alternate of impacts among Victorian drama, narrative portray and the radical, and displaying theatre to be a very important yet missed aspect within the cultural heritage of women's sexuality.

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72 Love’s Frailties, Henriette the Forsaken, and Lost in London all offset the heroine’s superior dress sense, refined speech and romantic sensibilities with rustic sidekicks, whose awkwardness and comically coarse manners mark them as suited to remain in their humble station. The dangers of social aspiration are emphasized: a village dame comments of Susan in Love’s Frailties, ‘Take my word for it, that young girl will come to no good. This comes of edication. They no sooner learn to read and write, but they must fall in love with the richest man they meet’ (I, i, 4).

84 The bill’s appeal, he implies, is to prurient and possibly vitiated tastes, drawn by the titillating spectacle of illicit sexuality. ’86 Such details confirm Peter Thomson’s suspicions about the lubricious attractions of the genre: Melodrama was at once family entertainment and soft pornography. It was not the pious protestations of the heroine that interested the audience, but the threat to her virtue. 87 The prospect of frail female flesh under threat was an inviting one. Haines’s realization of Hogarth’s prints thus served as a potentially salacious draw for audiences, while his relocation and re-inscribing of the pictures within an alternative story arc produced a complex relation between the melodrama’s action and the import and implication of the original prints.

First performed Surrey Theatre, 20 April 1840. Dicks’ No. 468, III, ii, 17. 27 Watts Phillips, Lost in London. First performed Theatre Royal Adelphi, 1867. LCP, BL Add MS 53057G, II, i, 22. For further discussion of melodramatic depictions of the city see Katherine Newey, ‘Attic Windows and Street Scenes: Victorian Images of the City on the Stage’, Victorian Literature and Culture (1997), 253–62. 18 Acts of Desire the title is stated so often that ‘lost’ and ‘London’ begin to sound like synonyms.

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