Why Girls Leave Home: Victorian and Edwardian "Bad-Girl" Melodrama Parodied in Early Film
Abstract

Purporting to depict an entire four-act stage play, Why Girls Leave Home, a six-minute Edison film made in America for the British market, dates either from 1909 or 1912. This film parodies the clichés of the Melville brothers' "bad-girl" melodrama, thus inviting study of Melvillian melodrama as a pervasive, if lurid, English theatrical genre, and similarly inviting investigation of the tactics of theatrical parody. The action of Why Girls Leave Home is described. The terms "girl" and "home" are analyzed in the contexts of turn-of-the-century Britain, where these words attained significance in relating to recently emancipated women, to work, to marital choices, and, adversely, to the inevitable consternation and social backlash that female independence brought. Melvillian melodrama is seen as a significant part of this widespread backlash. "Bad-girl melodrama" is also contrasted with "girl" musical comedy, especially girl-musicals presented at London's Gaiety Theatre that toured widely throughout Britain, the Empire, and North America. The Melvilles, theatrically successful, placed some of their stage dramas on early film. Parody, explicit in Why Girls Leave Home, creates a simulacrum of Melvillian drama in order to ridicule melodramatic plotting, inept and heartless gesticulatory stage acting, excessive reliance on stage machinery for sensational effects, and the propensity of such machinery to malfunction at critical moments of performance.


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