Home » American Actress: Perspective on the Nineteenth Century by Claudia Durst Johnson
American Actress: Perspective on the Nineteenth Century Claudia Durst Johnson

American Actress: Perspective on the Nineteenth Century

Claudia Durst Johnson

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Kindle Edition
235 pages
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By examining the lives of seven nineteenth-century American actresses, this study reveals nineteenth-century attitudes toward art and the theater—which were considered tainted by unleashed imagination and emotion—and towards women.Johnson shows howMoreBy examining the lives of seven nineteenth-century American actresses, this study reveals nineteenth-century attitudes toward art and the theater—which were considered tainted by unleashed imagination and emotion—and towards women.Johnson shows how these attitudes reinforced the theater’s reputation as a catch-all for free-thinkers and a threat to decent values. Consequently, women who entered the professional theater found themselves in a distinctly paradoxical situation. In contrast to their idealized and enviable positions in society today, actresses were considered by Victorian society to be harlots. Their involvement with the theater ruined their reputation and social standing. At the same time, the theater provided one of the few careers open to women and certainly the only one in which they could compete equally with men for fame, wages, and financial and managerial control of theater companies.Johnson’s study of seven stage stars—Mary Ann Duff, Fanny Kemble, Charlotte Cushman, Anna Cora Mowatt, Laura Keene, Adah Isaacs Menken, and Lotta Crabtree—presents them in the context of the social and moral environment in which they lives and worked. Consideration is given to the conflicts women faced in a period when the economic conditions lured or forced women out of the home, yet middle-class society stigmatized working women for not fulfilling the Victorian ideal of angelic, passive, domestic womanhood and motherhood. The stormy and difficult lives of theses seven actresses demonstrate many of the conflicts, struggles, and triumphs women experienced in nineteenth-century America and provide insight into some of the difficulties women face today.