Spectacles of Reform
Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with LeAnn Fields as well as Alexa Ducsay, Scott Ham, and everyone else at the University of Michigan Press. I have deeply appreciated LeAnn’s advice and expertise, and this is a better book because of her. Insightful comments and provocative suggestions offered by the anonymous readers...
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For many Americans, the word melodrama usually brings a specific image to mind. In it, a black-clad mustachioed villain is tying a woman to the railroad tracks, cackling as he secures his prey. Checking his work with a firm tug, he hisses something about the brilliance of his devilish plan (or, perhaps, the devilishness of his...
Chapter 1. The Body as/in/at the Spectacle
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In his landmark study of nineteenth-century Victorian and European theater, Martin Meisel argues that the most innovative trait of melodrama was the close relationship between picture and story: “its dramaturgy was pictorial, not just its mise en scène.” He further asserts that “such pictorialism was strongest in what were regarded...
Chapter 2. The Delirium Tremens: Spectacular Insanity in The Drunkard
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As intersections of activism and performance, moral reform melodramas—featuring implicit or explicit references to temperance, abolition, suffrage, and other issues—make up an intriguing subgenre. In them, sensationalism meets ideology; entertainment and politics collide. Crucially, at the heart of many such dramas...
Chapter 3. The Fugitive Slave: Eliza’s Flight in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
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Despite William Wells Brown’s declaration that “Slavery never can be represented,” antebellum writers, artists, and performers sought to expose the spectacles of slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1852), figures prominently within the community of reformers who, through literary...
Chapter 4. The Railroad Rescue: Suffrage and Citizenship in Under the Gaslight
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When Augustin Daly’s sensation drama Under the Gaslight premiered at the Worrell Sisters’ New York Theatre on August 12, 1867, it was an instant success, playing first for six weeks then another eight when it was remounted a month later. Since this was a time when, in the words of Marvin Felheim, “a month’s run meant a...
Afterword: Our Sensations, Our Heroes, Our Freaks
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This study explores how US citizens saw themselves and their world at pivotal moments during the nineteenth century, and how acts of seeing facilitated the circulation of ideas. A unique mode of communication employed by a wide range of producers, spectacle served as a conduit through which Americans engaged texts and...
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Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2012