restricted access Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain ed. by Tracy C. Davis and Ellen Donkin (review)
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508 REVIEWS If my graduate students in Perfonnance Theory - all directors, playwrights, dancers, and singers - are any indication, even those who approach this text prepared to resist it every step of the way emerge with a respect for the clarity of every argument Auslander makes. That he ignores the position of the partisans does not lessen the impact of the book; it makes those partisans think harder and argue more carefully. WORKS CIT E D Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics ojPerformance. London: Routledge, 1993. Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1985. TRACY C. DAVIS AND ELLEN nONKIN, eds. Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xvi + 295, illustrated. $59.95 (Hb); $21.95 (Hb). Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Louisiana State University Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain is significantly not entitled "Women Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century Britain." Editors Tracy Davis and Ellen Donkin have gathered a series of thoughtful essays that go beyond the recuperative function of early feminist historiography, in this case the cataloguing and recording of forgotten British women playwrights of the nineteenth century, and have taken on the larger challenge of T e-framing our understanding of what constitutes a "playwright." By shifting our focus from the single authorship of a dramatic work for the professional stage to the multi-layered and collaborative crafting of dramatic work in both private and public venues. Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain aims to bring the contributions of women's writing for the theatre into clearer historical focus. It is largely successful. Setting the theoretical framework for the volume, Davis engages the rhetoric of social theory and proposes "sociability" as a criterion for judging the noteworthiness of women's diverse and prolific contributions to dramatic writing. To understand women's very significant involvement in nineteenthcentury dramatic writing, Davis challenges historians to reject the binary of public writing (professionally produced/reviewed/published) and private writing (home theatricals, closet dramas, salon readings) that inevitably privileges the commercial theatre and the male professional experience. "The connecting thread is theatre," she writes, "not necessarily as a profession oreven as a primary source of identification, but as an activity" (6). While those women who achieved public recognition as playwrights certainly deserve greater historical Reviews 509 notice, Davis argues that the hundreds of women who wrote for an audience of family and friends had a powerful impact in shaping "opinion, a sense of the self, or a sense of community" (6) and deserve to be viewed by theatre and feminist historians as vital participants in the production of nineteenth-century culture. In light of Davis's compelling argument, it is somewhat surprising that no essays on home theatricals are included in the collection. Many theatre history texts leave the impression that there were no women playwrights in Britain in that lacuna between Elizabeth Inchbald's comedies in the late eighteenth century and Elizabeth Robins's feminist dramas in the early twentieth. Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain handily corrects that misconception, providing a much-needed chronology of over 100 woman-authored plays produced in nineteenth-century British theatres. Several of these self-identified women playwrights are profiled in separate essays, specifically Joanna Baillie, Catherine Grace Moody Gore, Elizabeth Polack, and Elizabeth Planche!. But, true to the editors' intent to challenge the historical conception of "playwriting," many of the essays explore the "authorial " voice of women who did not always claim the identity of a dramatic author. They argue that the work of women translators (Sarah Lane at the Britannia ), managers (Jane Scott at the Adelphi, Eliza Yestris at the Olympic, and Celine Celeste at the Adelphi), and actresses can be read as contributing to a collaborative authorial position. The book is divided into four sections. The first, "In Judgment," addresses how women writing for the theatre have been judged, both by their contemporaries and by historians. Gay Gibson Cima writes a compelling essay reminding us that those women who did manage to gain admittance to the circle of "professional playwrights" were almost never reviewed by women. The authority of printed judgment was the domain of men, usually other playwrights who turned to...


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