By Sos Eltis
From seduced maidens to adulterous better halves, bigamists, courtesans, saved ladies and streetwalkers, the so-called 'fallen girl' used to be a ubiquitous and enduring determine at the Victorian and Edwardian level. Acts of Desire strains the theatrical illustration of illicit woman sexuality from early nineteenth-century melodramas, via sensation dramas, Ibsenite sex-problem performs and suffrage dramas, to early social realism and the well-made performs of Pinero, Jones, Maugham, and Coward. This learn unearths and analyses enduring plot traces and tropes that proceed to steer modern theatre and picture. Women's illicit wants grew to become a theatrical concentration for anxieties and debates surrounding gender roles, women's rights, sexual morality, category clash, economics, eugenics, and feminine employment. The theatre performed a principal function in either developing and tough sexual norms, and plenty of playwrights exploited the ambiguities and implications of functionality to degree disruptive spectacles of woman wish, employer, power, and resourcefulness, utilizing ingenuity and talent to circumvent the keep an eye on of that ever watchful country censor, the Lord Chamberlain.
Covering an outstanding variety of theatrical, social, literary, and political texts, this research demanding situations the foreign money and validity of the customary severe time period 'the fallen woman', and establishes the centrality of the theatre to cultural and sexual debates through the interval. Acts of Desire encompasses released and unpublished performs, archival fabric, censorship documents, and modern studies to bare the dazzling continuities, complicated debates, covert meanings, and exuberant spectacles which marked the historical past of theatrical representations of woman sexuality. enticing with well known and 'high paintings' performances, this examine additionally unearths the important connections among theatre and its sister arts, tracing the alternate of impacts among Victorian drama, narrative portray and the radical, and exhibiting theatre to be an important yet overlooked point within the cultural heritage of women's sexuality.
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Extra info for Acts of desire: women and sex on stage 1800-1930
58 This is the logic that connects the seduced maiden to the tearful courtesan and the suicidal streetwalker; having once taken that ﬁrst fatal step, the sinful woman lacks the moral agency and active force to recover herself, relying instead on the intervention and commanding force of man. The intimate relation between melodramatic treatments of the fallen woman and serious analyses of prostitution is graphically illustrated by a review of William Travers’s A Poor Girl’s Temptations in the Morning Chronicle.
The arresting magistrate in Plate III was Justice Gonson, renowned for his enthusiastic pursuit of prostitutes, whose arrest he seemed to regard as a competitive sport. The lower-class characters have equally speciﬁc referents: the prostitute Hackabout (the name is legible on her coﬃn in Plate VI) was arrested by Gonson in 1730 for disorderly conduct in the same year that her brother Francis Hackabout and James Dalton (the name on the hat-box over the harlot’s bed in Print III) were hanged as highwaymen.
See Norman McCord, British History, 1815–1906 (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1991), 315. 30 Lost in London, I, i, 9. ’32 Whereupon she faints into the wicked squire’s arms and is borne away to London. The fallen maiden plays out an exemplary progress to abject ruin, propelled by an ineluctable logic from ﬁrst fall to degradation and poverty on the hostile streets of the metropolis. Bereft of inner resources, she expends her remaining energy on repentance and self-hatred; the urge to self-destruction is the ultimate proof that the fallen heroine retains a sense of moral value and is therefore worthy of the audience’s sympathies.