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Magical Muse

Millennial Essays on Tennessee Williams

Edited by Ralph F. Voss, with contributions from George Crandell, Philip C. Koli

Publication Year: 2002

In this unique and engaging collection, 12 essays celebrate the legacy of one of America's most important playwrights and investigate Williams's enduring effect on America's cultural, theatrical, and literary heritage. Like Faulkner before him, Tennessee Williams gave universal appeal to southern characters and settings. His major plays, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie to A Streetcar Named Desire and Night of the Iguana, continue to capture America's popular imagination, a significant legacy. Though he died in 1983, only recently have Williams's papers become available to the public, bringing to light a number of intriguing discoveries--letters, drafts, and several unpublished and unproduced plays. These recent developments make a reassessment of Williams's life and work both timely and needed. The essays in this collection originated as presentations at the 27th annual Alabama Symposium on English and American Literature at The University of Alabama in 1999. The book addresses a wide range of topics, among them the influence of popular culture on Williams's plays, and, in turn, his influence on popular culture; his relationship to Hollywood and his struggles with censorship, Hollywood standards, and the competing vision of directors such as Elia Kazan; his depictions of gender and sexuality; and issues raised by recently discovered plays. Anyone interested in American literature and drama will find this collection of fresh, accessible essays a rewarding perspective on the life, work, and legacy of one of the bright stars of American theatre. Ralph F. Voss is Professor of English at The University of Alabama and the author of A Life of William Inge: The Strains of Triumph.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii

A project of this size and scope could not be taken on without assistance of commensurate size and scope. Fortunately, I had help equal to that challenge, and I am grateful for it. Foremost among those I want to thank is my colleague Donald Noble, who first broached the idea of codirecting an Alabama Symposium in honor of Tennessee Williams and who then brought his experience, patience...

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pp. 1-7

As the bloodiest century in the history of the planet wound down, few things seemed magical and even fewer seemed certain; death and taxes held their usual reliable places, but almost everything else was up in the postmodern air. Scholars of American drama, however, could largely agree on two points: (1) Emerson’s call for an...

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1. Tennessee Williams Scholarship at the Turn of the Century

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pp. 8-34

Part 1 of Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize–winning drama, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, lends itself to this consideration of Tennessee Williams scholarship at the turn of the century, because as we enter the millennium, we can see that years ago the apocalyptic vision of Tennessee Williams inspired and first prepared the way for the epic extravaganza that Kushner subtitles “A Gay Fantasia...

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2. The Year 1939: Becoming Tennessee Williams

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pp. 35-49

The instinct and taste of Tom Williams for higher education were found wanting at three institutions before he graduated from the University of Iowa in 1938. Free at last from academe, he went to Chicago, where he failed to find work on the Federal Theatre or Writers Project; then briefly to “the City of St. Pollution” (Conversations...

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3. “Tiger—Tiger!”: Blanche’s Rape on Screen

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pp. 50-69

“Tiger—tiger!” These are Stanley’s words of recognition when Blanche challenges him to a brawl by breaking a bottle and threatening to twist the broken end in his face. Her practiced gesture validates his judgment of her as a temptress with round heels all too happy to be brought down off those legendary columns at Belle...

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4. The Escape That Failed: Tennessee and Rose Williams

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pp. 70-90

If one reads The Glass Menagerie, an encyclopedia entry about Tennessee Williams, or any of the biographies or memoirs of him prior to Lyle Leverich’s landmark Tom, one is likely to come away with a particular impression of his sister Rose and of Williams’s feelings for her. The reader will have learned that Williams loved his...

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5. Four Characters in Search of a Company: Williams, Pirandello, and the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Manuscripts

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pp. 91-110

While discussing Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, Michael Hinden wrote: “Tragedy incarnates pain, annihilates structure, threatens hope, and yet . . . also has the power to sweep us up in the tow of powerful personalities whose grand passions and embellished language draw us into solidarity with—what?—dream images, really: towering characters who...

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6. The Metaphysics of Tennessee Williams

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pp. 111-130

From Parmenides’ insistence that language instead of empiricism could lead us to immutable truths, to Plato’s form of a cat as the ideal rather than any living cat, to Descartes’s distrust of an evil genie who deceives his senses, and to Kant’s sense of isolation, the human being trapped in his body without ever knowing what another body thinks and feels, Western rationality has regarded the...

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7. The Family of Mitch: (Un)suitable Suitors in Tennessee Williams

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pp. 131-146

Perhaps more frequently than any other American playwright, Tennessee Williams knew the promise and the pain of (un)suitable suitors. His Memoirs, letters, essays, and even paintings record his mismatched liaisons; the roll call of suitors rejected by Williams or rejecting him is long and includes Pablo Rodriguez-Gonzales, Kip...

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8. In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel: Breaking the Code

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pp. 147-162

Even before The Night of the Iguana, in 1961 Tennessee Williams had said: “Nobody writes my kind of play any more.” He was then America’s most celebrated playwright, having won two Pulitzer Prizes and four awards from the New York Critics’ Circle; he had had seventeen New York openings in sixteen years and had written...

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9. “Entitled to Write About Her Life”: Tennessee Williams and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

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pp. 163-177

Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980) was Tennessee Williams’s last Broadway production during his lifetime. This “dream play” about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald was a critical and commercial failure that devastated Williams. In many ways he never recovered from this failure. Its effect is perhaps best captured in the oft-quoted recollection...

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10. “It’s Another Elvis Sighting, and . . . My God . . . He’s with Tennessee Williams!”

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pp. 178-192

Toward the end of his life, Tennessee Williams sensed that, despite the enormous extent of his published and produced dramatic work and his numerous professional prizes, he remained outside the general American culture, his very name confused with that of a country and western singer.1 To some writers familiar with his work, even...

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11. Tennessee Williams in New Orleans

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pp. 193-205

In January 1979 Tennessee Williams was in New Orleans for his only public appearance in the city he had often called his “spiritual home.” He was staying at 1014 Dumaine St., an elegant nineteenth-century Creole townhouse, which had several years before been divided into six apartments. Tennessee had bought the residence in...

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12. Tennessee Williams: The Angel and the Crocodile

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pp. 206-214

As a former drama critic, I am saddened to think that Tennessee Williams saw us as people who went around raining on the theater’s parade. But I do acknowledge the critic’s temptation—and maybe the scholar’s—to leave out the blaze when we discuss art: to explain away a writer’s work according to some theory that we’ve devised. In my case...

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Afterwords: A Panel Discussion

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pp. 215-239

KULLMAN: This symposium on Tennessee Williams has offered an abundance of testimony to new approaches to Williams and his work. The symposium gave us realism and magic. New Williams and new plays. An apocalyptic reading to a renascence of Tennessee Williams study. The ten speakers who are happily on this panel ending the symposium have advanced Williams...


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pp. 241-243


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pp. 245-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780817313654
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817311278

Publication Year: 2002