George Lippard's "Theatre of Hell": Apocalyptic Melodrama and Working-Class Spectatorship in the Quaker City
- J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 5, Number 2, Fall 2017
- pp. 205-237
- Additional Information
This essay, "George Lippard's 'Theatre of Hell': Apocalyptic Melodrama and Working-Class Spectatorship in the Quaker City," centers on the best-selling sensation novel The Quaker City; or the Monks of Monk Hall (1844-45) and antebellum Philadelphia theatergoing. I claim that by reproducing climactic scenes from cheap-admission spectacle melodramas, Lippard activates the communion and the politics of working-class spectatorship within the reading experience itself. Several Quaker City scenes restage images of ruling-class collapse originating within Philadelphia's working-class playhouses. Especially important is a dream sequence that follows the novel's web-fingered, dwarfed doorman Devil-Bug and his fantasy about a crumbling Philadelphia monarchy. In this extended scene, Lippard imports and re-dramatizes earthquakes, revolutionary parades, storms, floods, and fires from several melodramas including The Last Days of Pompeii (1835), El Hyder, The Chief of the Ghaut Mountains (1839), and Undine, Spirit of the Waters (1841). In constructing Quaker City's climactic motifs, Lippard attempts to galvanize a working-class, theatergoing readership already programmed to recognize the apocalyptic symbols of class conflict. More precisely, he seeks to channel this familiarity into an analogous overthrow of the ruling class in real life.