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Davis, Dorinda Mari.
"a blaze of light and finery" :
h [electronic resource] /
b the victorian theater and the victorian theatrical novel
by Dorinda Mari Davis.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 78 pages.
(M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2011.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: The concept of the Victorian antitheatrical prejudice is both well-established and well-respected. This paper, however, examining the Victorian theatrical novel and the Victorian theater in terms of that prejudice, finds the ready assumption of the prejudice to be problematic at best. A close look at three novels that together span the early to mid-nineteenth century shows that, far from being ubiquitous and unilateral, antitheatricality was in many cases an anomaly; indeed, many of those novelistic elements that have long been assumed to be antitheatrical address different issues altogether. Employing close readings of the novels--Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Charles Dickens's Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury's The Half-Sisters--along with an examination of historical documents, and utilizing as well current scholarship in Victorian theater and theatrical novels, I demonstrate that the Victorians were instead keen appreciators of theater, and that the Victorian "antitheatrical novel" was in many cases far more interested in the authenticity of human interplay than in the inauthenticity of staged role-play.
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Gould, Marty .
The Antitheatrical Prejudice
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
A Blaze of Light and Finery The Victorian Theater and the Victorian Theatrical Novel by Dorinda Davis A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor Marty Gould, Ph.D. Regina Hewitt, Ph. D. David Frankel, MFA Date of Approval: March 15, 2011 Keywords: Nicholas Nickleby Mansfield Park The Half Sisters Geraldine Jewsbury, Crummles the antitheatrical prejudice Copyright 2011, Dorinda Davis
DEDICATION I dedicate this thesis to my mother, who gave me the encouragement to start my life anew and who has always offered moral support when the things of the world began to seem too much to bear. Your patience in the face of my self absorption over the past tw o years has been truly saintly and y our companionship has been a warm and constant light. I am particularly in debt ed rumental in calming the crazy floods that have threatened to wash me away. I would be remiss if I did not also thank Dr. Ray Wonder, who made me realize that my dreams were still and always, within reach. I must also give special mention to my friends at eternallee.com, who have shown endless indulgence and understanding, and at guitarandpen.com, whose fiery political opinions have kept me centered on my other passion allowing me to keep my foci in perspective. Final ly, I want to mention Lee Ingleby who se nuanced and Smike was what brought the novel Nicholas Nickleby to my attention in the first place. Special love to Cody, without whom: nothing. All of You have, and deserve, my sincere gratitude th ank you all so very much.
i TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................ ii INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 1 CHAPTER ONE: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: the basis for the ................................ ................................ ......................... 7 CHAPTER TWO: THEATER AND THE NOVEL ................................ .......................... 22 CHAPTER THREE: MANSFIELD PARK ................................ ................................ ....... 29 CHAPTER FOUR: THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NI CKLE BY ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 42 CHAPTER FIVE: THE HALF SISTERS ................................ ................................ ......... 56 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 66
ii ABSTRACT The concept of the Vict orian antitheatrical prejudice is both well established and well respected. This paper, however, examin ing the Victorian theatrical novel and the Victorian theater in terms of that prejudice finds the ready assumption of the prejudice to be problematic at best. A close look at three novels tha t together span the early to mid nineteenth century shows that, far from being ubiquitous and unilateral, antitheatricality was in many cases an anomaly; indeed, many of those novelistic elements that have long been assumed to be antitheatrical address dif ferent issues altogether. Employing close readings of the novels Mansfield Park Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby The Half Sisters along with an examination of historical documents, a nd utilizing as well current scholarship in Victorian theater and theatrical novels, I demonstrate that the Victorians were instead keen appreciators of theater, and that was in many cases far more interested in the aut henticity of human interplay than in the inaut henticity of staged role play.
1 INTRODUCTION Throughout the nineteenth century British actors and actresses negotiated the thin, unsteady bridge that separated the shores of respectability from the banks of ill repute. Clearly there were many reasons whether real or perceived, for the populace to distrust the theater, from the shadowy situation of the female performers, to the scarcity of proper training venues, which resulted in a lack of credentials, to the generally poor remuneration of the actors and their consequent lowered social status, own valuations of authenticity, sincerity, and honesty. In t he following chapter I briefly summarize the thinking behind the antitheatrical prejudice, and then redefine the concept, situating much of the prejudice as being, not antitheatrical per se, but anti deception. The ensuing chapters examine the emphasis on authenticity in terms of one early Victorian The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby ) and The Half Sisters ); meanwhile, through an exploration o Victorian Mansfield Park I fix the concern for human authenticity far in advance of the Victorian period. apparent concerns, would appear on surface a ll to adopt the antitheatrical prejudice to one degree or another. On closer examination, however, it can be shown that all three authors have very different purposes in mind.
2 Mid nineteenth century ambivalence about the value and use of acting and actors is reflected in much of the fiction and non fiction of the age. Victorian entertainers such as William Charles Macready and Fanny Kemble, in their journals and memoires, frequently admit to an intense revulsion of their crafts and social statuses, dissatis fied with the very visible nature of their lives and with their treatment at the hands of the public, especially when they contrasted their treatment with that of actors on the continent. 1 tings were set down with a future reader in mind, the possibility must also be conceded that the writers were perfectly sincere Even sincerity, however, is not always what we imagine it to be for, as Lionel Trilling points out, sincerity requires a certai n amount of self sincerity to some degree itself requires theatricality. Nineteenth century attitudes toward the theater as an entertainment institution were, we are t old, at best equivocal; attitudes toward the actors who appeared therein were often overridingly negative. While in 1846 Dickens claimed for the actor an almost universal popularity, 2 was a Although the Theatres Act of 1843 effectively abolished the patent theaters, it should be remembered that even prior to this act the lines that separated the legitimate theaters from the illegitimate were muddy at best. The Theatres Act of 1843 was much like the 21 st Amendment to the 1 2
3 United States Constitution, which repealed Prohibition: it simply took a step back from a law that had long since ceased working. Meanwhile, if some middle class Englishm en and women had been persuaded by the legitimacy and standing of individual theaters before the Theatres Act of 1843, we should not accept that a mere three years could have made such a difference in the popularity and social acceptability of actors. Clea rly tastes were changing, and had been changing for some time. Yet, although many people idolized actors from a distance, often going so far as to invite them to dinners and balls, their company was otherwise with the exception of generally eschewed in polite circles. 3 Meanwhile, even idolatry had its drawbacks; in his invitations to the social occasio ns of the great but also notes that he was usually While some actors no doubt enjoyed the acclaim, willing enough to engage in the sort of trade off that Mathews describes, there were those who resented th obvious example [of performers who] refused to go into the society that they felt only wanted them as playthings, inviting them into their houses but maintaining an invisible class barrier around t The Half Sisters includes a disturbing chapter concerning just such an event, during the course of which the widely acclaimed and presumably respected actress Bianca, attending a social function, is appalled to overhear a cruelly dismissive 3 W marriage to the nobility (86), the oppo site or upper class woman marrying an actor was much less common.
4 analysis of herself, including, even though she has lived a blameless life, callous estimations of her sexual activity. Tracy Davis expands on the idea of the anathematized actor in her discussion of the 1845 novel Pomfret wherein English characters reveal the ir stock of prejudices when an eminent opera singer, Helena Porzheim, comes within their sphere. Although Chorley exaggerates for a slightly comic effect, the assumptions and rumours that he details about Porzheim are a checklist of upper middle class Angl o These rumors include assault/murder of a lover, base birth, duels fought for her, forced Maje Readers embraced such characterizations whether or not they actually believed them and novelists, or those novelists with a good understanding of the market at least, were happy to oblige. Because of this, for generations the accepted wisdom has been that the Vict orians, especially in the early part of the century, were suspicious of the theater in all its aspects. Warnings against the theater show up in novels, journals, sermons, letters, memoires, and newspaper ads, and have been consistently, even persistently, chronicled in scholarly books and articles to such a degree that t he concept of the antitheatrical prejudice in the Victorian age has become a commonplace. But did it really exist and, if so, to what extent? If the theater, after all, what need would there have been for the impassioned warnings against it? Rather, such anxious, even paranoid, tracts would seem to suggest that theater was wildly popular, and
5 widely accepted, among the average citizens of early Vi ctorian England. 4 Meanwhile if these warnings against the theater were truly necessary, what hypocrisy drove the authenticity minded, yet antitheatrical Victorians to the theaters in such numbers? Emily Allen makes the very logical claim that the antitheatrical prej udice is a she stresses mplete and monolithic dominance of the prejudice protecting and sustaining themselves by convincing their predominantly middle true but, if so, it was not always necessarily the principle intent. The ensuing examination into the early nineteenth century theater going, and theatrical novel reading, public in which I explore several of t he biases said to drive the antitheatrical prejudice, is an attempt to unravel the perceived antitheatrical elements in select novels, using the constantly shifting ambivalence of the times as a guidepost. In the following chapters I reconsider th is antith eatrical prejudice, examining it in its historical and social context first half of the century. In Chapter One I provide an overview of the prejudice itself, looki ng at it briefly through the eyes of religious writers of the late eighteenth century before turning to the impressions of the performers and audiences of the early nineteenth century. Chapter Two considers the popularity of the novel itself within a ninet eenth century construct, before turning to a brief discussion of theatrical novels in general. In 4 Strong box office returns for the period support this reading.
6 Mansfield Park The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby The Half Sisters in terms of secrecy, honesty, and authorial intent, examining the ways in which all against the antitheatrical prejudice itself.
7 CHAPTER ONE HISTORI CAL BACKGROUND : the basis for the T h e dubious reputations of performers beg a n long before the Victorian Era : old. As early as the fourth century St. John entertainments as playgoing and horseracing, and of the repercussions faced by C hristians who participated in such abominations. In part, the assumed danger of the theater encouraged delight in the exercise of vain and worldly considerations; partly too, though, was the association, however minimal, with people who were generally understood, whether rightly or not, to be of distinctly low moral character. closure of a that this resulted in a violently determined swing of the pendulum. When those halls finally reopened for business in 1660, playwrights seemed fully resolved to deserve the appella tions of wicked bawdiness that the Cromwellians had placed on them. Plays were naughty, playwrights naughtier still, and those Englishmen and women who were paying attention were either scandalized or titillated, and sometimes both.
8 Mere attendance at a p lay was enough to invite censure although for many this was no deterrent In fact there seemed to be no stopping the spectators: as the century progressed, the mores of its people, in the estimation of many, continued to regress. Although Cromwell and his followers were long gone, the antitheatrical prejudice, as Jonas A. Barish terms it, lived on : i n the following century William Wilberforce, a philanthropist, politician, and abolitionist, was only one of many speaking out fiercely against the idle nature place which the debauchee, inflamed with wine, or bent on the gratification of other Wilberfo rce argue d that, if one truly loved God, the question of whether or not one should go to the theater would never be raised in the first place. 5 By the early nineteenth century as theaters proliferated, were to be believed. At the dawn of the Victorian Era the drama, writes Tracy C. Davis, was thought of as debased, with theatres and audiences correspondingly low in taste and Actresses 81). Me anwhile This is a bold statement and, like most generalizations, requires a somewhat cautious approach. The issue of prostitution in t he Victorian theaters is a critical one : Davis stresses that, in 1843, 5 While attitudes such as these might on surface appear to speak exclusively to the dangers of the theater it must be pointed out that, to some, all public amusements were equally suspect, particularly if they took place on Sundays; for working class Englishmen and women, this was often the only day of the week they had for entertainment. Paul Schlicke quotes from the writings of the Rev. Baptist Noel who, in
9 Economics 50). This was a sound well considered business decision, made by theater man agement in a deliberate attempt to entice patrons away from the neighboring saloons and public houses. Meanwhile, the female theatrical performer was, and always had been, suspected of being sexually obtainable for a price. In fact, the Yet i n many cases the concept of the actress as prostitute could not have been farther from the truth; while it may be true that some theater managers actively encouraged prostitutes, others, desirous of a more respectable audience, were just as active in discouraging them. Davis argues that many managers would instantly dismiss an actress discovered to be selling sexual favors ( Actresses 78), yet, once again, public perception was more powerful than simple facts, and salacious details more enticing than demure ones. Thus Jewsbury could include in The Half Sisters a theater manager who demanded of his actresses that they satisfy him sexually, and the publ ic would find these novelistic characters powerfully compelling suppl ying potent and lasting mental images Yet this again seemed to be no real deterrent to the general populace; more and more theaters continued to be built, accommodat ing increasingly larger audiences. Proximity to prostitutes was only one of the many proffered objections to the theater. Theaters were regarded by many as dangerous places, crawling with objectionable people of every sort: pickpockets and drunkards, and also whether it was admitted openly or not, simple working class Englishmen and women. Servants, factory workers, clerks these too could be considered objectionable to the more decorous middle classes. Meanwhile, the venue itself had its dangers, as F. J. Har vey Darton
10 explains in his discussion of strolling players such as the Vincent Crummles troupe in Nicholas Nickleby : It was an advantage to play on a moonlight night (frequently announced on the bills ), because of the dark alleys down which the house often lay. There might be wax candles for lighting, and three o r four circular luster chandeliers above the stage itself no tallow, because of its smell ; or there might even be oil lamps, but they also stank: lighting was a difficult probl em. ( Crummles lxvi ) B iases against the theater held firm well into the nineteenth century and beyond. ; this was due in large part to the perceived class status of actors themse lves. Nevertheless, equally flocked to theater managers in the hopes of entering the profession. t, with scorn only lightly mingled with distress, the talentless but financially desperate masses who came to audition for him with stars in their eyes seeing the theater as a step up in social and financial status rather than the step down that Macready himself perceived what he considered their severely limited t heatrical abilities (albeit he seldom praised any acting other than his own) blends with a dislike of the theater that often approaches shamed self Dickens biographer John] Forster cam e to dinner; he urged upon me giving permission to my family to see me act. I do not know; I have a feeling about their seeing me as a player.
11 players were accepted in England, as opposed to on the continent. In an 1837 journal entry he records falling into conversation with a Frenchman: [W]e talked on various subjects, and at last the theatre was mentioned by him, and shortly after my name. I told him I wa s the person he was speaking of his surprise and pleasure were extreme. His enthusiasm player, had not made me a French one. (102) hould entitle me to the lavish expression of public praise, and exclude me from distinctions which all my compeers This may have had as much to do with pecuniary c onsiderations as with social stigma: and file theater professionals often lived on the very brink of poverty, experiencing long periods of unemployment and, not infrequently, illnesses brought about b y hunger and exhaustion (Booth). While many actors were, like Macready, ambivalent about their profession, many non heatrical aspirations were mirrored throughout England, and not only by th e financial ly desperate such as those auditioning for Macready: in 1856, at the age of twenty five, Helen Taylor, daughter of Harriet Taylor Mill and step daughter of John Stuart Mill, felt herself called to the stage. d of the venture (Tracy Davis claims Actresses 73]) were sympathetic to the point of arranging acting lessons, paying her travel and
12 costume expenses, providing her with serv ants, engaging her brother as traveling companion and chaperone, and in all ways seeming to be supportive. Yet it must be noted anywhere but London, so that friends of th e Mills would not learn of her odd and embarrassing venture. Changing her name, so that the respected family names would not Actresses 73) to begin her training Unfortunately her class value s instilled in her a fear and loathing of contact with her colleagues (the under classes) and in treating them like untouchables she behaved like a counterspy in buskins. With all the comfort and privilege m typical, peppered with tedium and disappointment rather than excitement, and completely devoid of the artistic fulfillment she sought. With the secret intact, she returned home to assist Mill in a secretarial capacity. ( Actresses 73) class Victorians in particular approached the theater she was both drawn to it and suspicious of it. Indeed, class consciousness informed much of the Victorian attitude towards performers. Al though Davis . the prominent theatrical families had been prosperous long enough to be accepted as middle Actresses 77), a certain stigma still attached to the profession and while by 1895 the profession had advan ced to such a degree that Henry Irving could receive a knighthood, seemingly a stamp of approval for the profession, only a few years before, i n 1870 an aged and ailing
13 Charles Dickens, in his last week of life was advising his adult daughter Katie again st going on the stage: It should not be surprising to realize that the performers themselves often articulated an uneasy ambivalence about their own roles in the theatrical world, sometimes going s o far as to despis e not only their professions but, apparently, themselves as well. Indeed, many of the journals, letters, and memoirs of nineteenth century theater celebrities appear to be drenched in self loathing. William Charles Macready details throug hout his journals slight after slight received at the hands of aware of his profession in advance, she might not have let her flat to him (38); in an 1839 journal entry Kemble (1809 1893) was similarly discomfited by her vocation; her memoir Record of a Girlhood (Bratton 97). George Vandenhoff recollects the shame, both to himself and to his family, of his terrible lapse in abandoning a promising career to pursue acting. Even though by doing so he was following in the footsteps of his father, Vandenhoff claims tha t when his plans mad ; the gentlest sentence, that I was ruined ctors, in general, especially those who have attained eminence, have a dread, amounting almost to horror,
14 I recollect, as a boy with my father, meeting old BRAHAM in Covent Garden market, London; and propos of my future destination, the law, living en prince almost, if either of his boys would be on the stage; to In other words, not just actors but other performers as well, even highly respected stars of the opera such as Brah am, wanted to place their children in dignified, more seemly positions. The stage, according to Vandenhoff, was anything but seemly. 6 for his son, not, as with Vandenhoff and Braham, because he himself had suffered public condemnation as a performer, but because his religious views forbade it. Similarly, follow in his footsteps. His entry of Comus in the drawing room after dinner, interesting and amusing me very much; they recited the poetry very well indeed, and only gave me a fear lest they should imbibe a liking for the wretched art which I have been wasting my life upon my emphasis). 7 Charles Dickens, too, though he eagerly sought out acting opportunities for himself, was adamant that the female members of his family should not appear onstage except in strictly amateur productions; when he and Wilkie Collins elected to upgrade their play The Frozen Deep to more professional status, he removed his daughter 6 r by being the offspring of a famous tenor; indeed, his daughter and granddaughter both eventually married into the aristocracy. 7 His children were, however, permitted to attend his farewell performances in 1851.
15 and his sister in law from their roles, replacing them with seasoned actresses (including, of course, Ellen Ternan, h is consequent, and as yet unexplained, relationship with whom still prompts frustrated curiosity) Yet n ineteenth century theater had its morally and socially instructive aspect s as well, to the degree that Charles Dibdin could recount being asked by the local police to include in a play a scene of a burglary, so that the audience might be instructed in how to respond appropriately in the event that their own homes were burglarized (Davis and Emeljanow RTA 5). Meanwhile, recent scholarship suggests that th e Victorian theater was not nearly so dangerous, the audiences not nearly so unruly, perhaps even the performers not nearly so despised, as popular belief even now paints them. Davis and Emeljanow cite an 1857 article in The Examiner in which a primarily w orking class Twelfth Night s seminal treatment of toward theatricality circulated in a variety of rhetorical forms in Elizabethan England, and we have never used them to construct an entire edific e of antitheatricality for that era the theater is the fact that outbursts of antitheatrical sentiment tend to coincide with the (60). In all likelihood, then, there would be no valid reason for antitheatrical rhetoric if no one were going to the theater in the first place. While it seems clear that the theater was in some ways every bit as wicked as it was painted, it seems equall y clear that in other ways its evils were strongly exaggerated,
16 Drunkenness, for instance, w as rarely a major problem in the theatres: even when beer and spirits were available, the theatres did not turn into surrogate public houses. Offensive behavior was usually condemned by the audience itself and troublemakers ejected icers. theater experience, greatly in contrast with the prevailing notions of riot and sexual excess. In fact it is abundantly clear that theater in the nineteenth century was a vibrant and thriving mode of entertainment, attended by tens of thousands of avid, energetic patrons nightly. Playhouses were being rebuilt to seat more and more people: Covent Garden rebuilt after the fire of 1808, was a grandiose project much larger, both in terms of stage space and seating capacity, than it had been before. In 1812 the Drury Lane theater seated some 3000 paying guests (Cox ni neteenth century, theatre was despite the prevailing antitheatricalism of official high culture Clearly, the louder and more strident the warnings against theater, the more popular the Victorian theater must be imagined to have been. And strident the warnings were, as indicated above. Yet if we are to accept these antitheatrical writings as a reaction to a powerfully pro theatrical reality, we need to reexamine certain of the apparent antitheatri cal writings themselves: while some are clearly strongly prejudicial, in many
17 cases what appear to be warnings against the theater might prove, on closer examination, to have some other purpose altogether. Although recent examinations have begun to unsett le prevailing opinions, the scholarship on the Victorian audience is still relatively sparse. Many scholars construct their typical audiences in the same way that they construct Victorian attitudes to the theater: by basing them on newspaper articles, jour nals, and the observations of writers such as Dickens and Hazlitt. Yet as Lynne M. Voskuil demonstrates, these opinions are selectively plucked from a larger supply of often conflicting opinions ; with confirmations gathered in this way, it is little wonder that the preponderance of the evidence appear s to argue for the antitheatrical prejudice. The apparent hostility being accepted as widespread, m any reasons have been put forth to explain it and most of them are no doubt, at least to some degree correct. But the assumption of the unilateral nature of that prejudice must, I think, be challenged. As Davis and Emeljanow point out, the typical audience for the theater was large and varied, and immensely hungry for entertainment While George Rowell paints a portrait of an upper class audience when it patronized the theatre at all, favored the opera [or] shunned the theatre altogether and sought entertainment fr 8 th e theater in fact attracted all social classes. Michael B ooth, quoting theater manager George Davidge, records that the that the late dinner 8 Nicholas Nickleby briskly satirizes characterization by showing the jaded and debauched Sir Mulberry Hawk using a private box at the theater as a venue to make humiliating sexual advances upon the innocent Kate Nickleby.
18 although the opera may indeed have audience, Queen Victoria was herself in frequent attendance, both before and after her coronation, enjoy ing pantomime, farce, opera, melodrama, and other popular entertainments of the day. As the century wore on, theaters proliferated and their audiences become all the more enthusiastic. The plays were affordable too: as early as 1827 a fifteen year old Dic nd an was standard practice for audiences to interact with the performers to some extent, this dience notwithstanding. And while, again, patrons could buy oranges during the show and hurl peelings at sloppy performers, this was not necessarily the norm. Davis and Emeljanow offering the simple logic that theaters would have lost their licenses had they not cebridge Hemyng, writers who, in 1861 high time the west end prejudice that east EA 98). It can be seen that the concept of the antitheatrical prejudice extended to the audience as well as to the performers, the management, and the buildings themselves.
19 Meanwhile, although certainly the demographic makeup of an audience can change from year to year, and even from night to night, conflicting anecdotes suggest that a journalist 9 nce. Similarly, e ven though such newspapers and magazines as The London Chronicle, The Edinburgh Review, The Whitehall Evening Post and The Examiner reviewed theatrical performances on a regular basis, Voskuil notes r eliable evidence that documents how early [19 th (25). Voskuil nevertheless makes good use of reviews from The London Times and The Illustrated London News as well as the writings of Will iam Hazlitt, George Henry Lewes. Voskuil, though she advocates for a more nuanced understanding of nineteenth century theater, acknowledges that the negative perception was widespread; she discusses the fashion of tableaux vivants rooms of the respectable English throughout the nineteenth century [because they offered] a mode of domesticated theater that allowed its genteel participants and spectators to play at theater and to avoid sullying contact with the demimonde in the profes liation in The Half Sisters as well as the uneasy questioning of the private theatricals in Mansfield Park 9 Household Words account of Samuel Phelps 98).
20 Assumptions about the sexuality of actresses were predicated on Victorian notions of sincerity and authenticity. As actresses often performed scenes of passion, it was assumed that either they actually felt this passion (this was unsavory, and especially s o for married actresses) and were displaying it publicly a lack of decorum that was entirely unacceptable or that they were simply lying about it. Acting, in other words, required deception. We accept it today as a commonplace that the Victorians, in their quest to define themselves and their era, considered authenticity one of the most important of their traits it was popularly understood that a performer, in taking on a role and making it believable, was engaging in inauthenticity and deceit. Vi mobility. It connotes not only lies, but a fluidity of character that decomposes the uniform Private 2) 10 The worry according to the long acce pted theory, seemed to have something to do with the question of where, if an actor subjugated his or her real self beneath a role, that real self went. To some degree, it no doubt brought up the question of whether there was a real self at all, or whether at the very least, the real self was the one that was being projected to the audience. This was especially problematic with female performers, and Victorian writers regularly characterized some social groups as outside the pale of honesty. Women, non English races, and the working class were all obvious In the honesty/dishonesty binary, wo men were perceived as fundamentally deceitful. This perception is important 10 this paper as well.
21 to my discussion of select nineteenth century theatrical novels. At the same time, Kucich c onditions in which finessing the truth could be regarded as a sign of collective social skill and authority. In fact, from one point of view, fiction could be seen as a kind of conduct literature defining exactly how one might achieve an aura of shared sop in effect creating, through elegant manipulation, a falsity that excels reality also will be addressed in the following chapters.
22 CHAPTER T WO THEATER AND THE NOVEL If, in the e ighteenth century, theater was the dominant form of entertainment in England, by the middle of the nineteenth century the novel was king. Catherine . in the 1740s, (221). In addition, still quoting Hunter, she notes festivals, the proscription of the telling of traditional tales, the court terror of non conformist assemblies . and the political fears that produced the Licensing Act of novel as a safer form of entertainment, a means of policing the public by moving them towards a more sanctioned outlet. 11 As already discussed, however, the novel, in its own self interest, may have begun claiming supremacy long before supremacy was conferred. Novels are often perceived as the milieu of the middle classes: their expense precluded wider dispersal among the lower classes. While an 1849 Select Committee on everyone, regardless of their ability to pay ( Roberts 105) making books we re available to 11 Although i t has been argued that the shift from theater attendance to novel reading illustrates a binary shift from public to private activities, it must be noted that reading was still frequently a social activity, entailing one reader and an avidly attentive group of listeners.
23 the lower classes whether they could read them or not 12 widespread illiteracy remained an issue in the Victorian period. gland of 1840 (Stephens 555) : t his percentage at first glance seems high enough, but we must consider that more people could sign their names than could read and write with ease Kate McNally asserts five years on average . with While m any Victorians learned to pen a passable signature in order to marry, sign a baptismal record, or engage in other legal or church matters, they often wen t no further towards achieving true literacy. Thus while m any of the most ardent theatergoers, we may suppose, were wholly illiterate, the book culture was effectively geared towards a higher class. But even that part of the audience that left the phys ical theater did not leave the conceptual theater. Theatrical novels, and theatrical scenes within non theatrical novels, provided a taste of theater without the concomitant dangers so vociferously warned about in the actual playhouse environment. Readers, many of whom were regular theater goers themselves, were fascinated by tales of actors and their lives. We might then hypothesize the nineteenth century theatrical novel, in some respects, as a subversive literary form which brought theatrical entertainme nts to the people without the potential moral novel could unfold to the read er salacious details in the guise of principled advice, or comforting assurances that the theater was no different from any other milieu or vocation, 12 Darton makes the very reasonable suggest ion that the theater functioned as books for the illiterate masses (xxx).
24 or something in between. Reader fascination with theatrical themes and characters suggests that then, as n ow, the draw of the exotic acted as a sauce to the mundane, everyday world of the middle class reader. Too, as the theater was a constant in the lives of many Victorian readers, it stands to reason that it should have been treated as such in novels that ad dressed Victorian life. Meanwhile, the novels raised and wrestled with philosophical questions of import to the Victorian reader: questions of honesty, sincerity, and what it meant to self identify as a Victorian man or woman in the changing social environ ment of the nineteenth century. Many of the theatrically themed novels of the Victorian age, articulating certain commonly held social attitudes of the era, treat actors with the same uneasy disrespect and suspicion that their real life counterparts freque ntly faced. It will be remembered that when Great Expectations (1861) leaves the Church to become an actor, it is received by Joe as a move downward on the social scale a shameful loss lowered tones of embarrassment, referring to has Wopsle become an actor, he has turned to drink; further, as mentioned in Chapter One he has changed his name both to save his family from the disgrace of his profession and, no doubt, to assume a sort of mystery and status with a high sounding name that he hopes will fascinate people. 13 Far from being fascinated, however, his audience abuses 13 In Sketches by Boz Dickens explains as of guarding against the discovery of friends or employers, and enhancing the interest of an assumed character, by attaching a high 121 ).
25 him mightily, pelting him w ith orange peel and interrupting his scenes with exuberant catcalls. 14 surpassed his love of it is meeting with greater and greater approval; indeed, in the eyes of many current aggressive treatment of characters such as Wopsle and the Crummles troupe may well situate his own ambivalence about the theater. 15 Dickens, whether he realized it or not, was, like Macr eady, torn between his disapproval of the theater and an ardent, almost romantic, love for it. From a professional standpoint he could approach the theater from nearly any angle he wrote at least three pieces ( The Strange Gentleman a play; The Village Coq uettes an operetta; and Is She His Wife? a burletta) for the theater even before he began publishing his novels. Additionally, he published theater reviews in Household Words and he delighted in both amateur and, later, professional forays onstage, not only as actor and playwright but as stage manager as well. 16 His Hard Times cannot be questioned. Yet it will be recalled that, just before his own decisive audition at Covent Garden, he came down with a susp icious sore throat and canceled, never resetting the appointment (Kaplan 55): whether this cancelation was indicative of stage fright, a sudden reawakening of 14 Thomas Potter and Robert Smithers Sketches by Boz 15 AD 83). 16 The Lamplighter whi c h he read to me. The dialogue is very good, full of point, [although] I am not sure about the meagerness of the plot. He reads as well as an experienced actor would
26 class consciousness, or an actual ailment followed by quick success and steady work as a writer, we cannot know. Meanwhile, in Great Expectations, the overdramatic church clerk Mr. Wopsle provides a steady source of high levity for the narrator. Early in the novel Dickens shows Wopsle to have a histrionic bent: when he says grace at dinner it i theatrical declamation . something like a religious cross of the Ghost in Hamlet with Richard the avuncular. Yet when Wopsle leaves the Church to pursue a theatr ical career he is much abused by the rowdy revelers in his audience. They supply spurious lines, respond ankles upwards ) is matched only by his glee in describing the rough and tumble audience members. Glavin aside, and indeed we may even feel somewhat sympathetic toward him on that account. Great Expectations i s, furthermore, to a large degree a novel about role playing. Pip, of course, is the ultimate role player, uneasy pretender to a social station to which he finds himself unequal, but Estella, Magwich, and many other characters also assume roles throughout 17 17 This moral inability is a crucial point: the acting in Gre at Expectations is, for Dickens, only playing is false and hints of low character.
27 to pretend that makes the adult Pip so uncomfortable in his presence, ashamed both of Joe and of himself for being ashamed. onstage acting is contrasted with offstage acting The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby are contrasted with the non theatrical prejudice, it certainly display s ambivalence, an ambivalence which is more noticeable in the earlier Nickleby Here, when Nicholas and Smike first enter the house the Crummles troupe is performing in, they are immediately robbed of any sense of magic they might have struck by its grime and dullness. Brought up in misery and want at the wretched Dotheboys Hall (described by can only assume is leached of all imagination and playfu lness, Smike nevertheless has heard enough about theaters perhaps from the other boys at the school to have an expectation of something extraordinary, an expectation that is imploded by the dull and sparse backstage Thus, as he will do again in Great Expectations Dickens plays assumptions against reality, keeping both his characters and his readers at all times sl ightly off balance. In the following chapters, I examine Nicholas Nickleb y along with two more fairly representative episodes from popular theatrical novels of the early to middle nineteenth century Mansfield Park and Geraldine Endsor Je
28 The Half Sisters in an attempt to illuminate the deeper purposes for their apparent antitheatrical rhetoric.
29 CHAPTER THREE MANSFIELD PARK Mansfield Park predates the Victorian period, it can be viewed within the spectrum of this conversation as bridging the social values of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and serving as an early indicator of where those values were heading. Considered by many to be antitheatrical in nature and scope, it appears to me to have a mu ch different agenda. The 1814 novel discussed work; t his is not, however, necessarily because scholars consider it her best, or because readers find it the most easily accessible. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. It is far more often characterized in 18 19 20 21 and even, in the In fact, Amy J. Pawl reminds us 18 Potter 617. 19 Mansfield Park 20 Marilyn Butler, qtd. by Amy J. Pawl. 21 Fleishman.
30 predicated on the episode of the amateur theatricals in Chapters 13 surprising reaction to them. approval of the supposedly harmless playacting to be priggish and sanctimonious, the overreaction of a backwards, pietistic moralizer, and wonder why Austen has made such a creature the centerpiece of her novel. Although there are those who interpret Fanny theatrical as Fanny appears, see the character as herself a conduct book heroine. This latter view has brought great consternation to readers and scholars alike. it, [t]he point of the episode lies in the fact that all the right thinking characters in the story regard the project as self evidently immoral from son, Edmund, and above all to his n iece, Fanny Price, the heroine. On the other hand, it is the fatuous aristocrat Mr. Yates who proposes the theatricals in the first place, and the idler Henry Crawford who becomes their most enthusiastic promoter. (300) Although the fatuousness of the ari stocrat comes into play (this is very much a novel about class and social station), t There is all too often among critics, an underlying assumption that, as we are not told why the theatricals are
31 reason Barish suggests, is obvious the theatricals are simply wrong, in and of themselves. In his view, the to Barish be the one talented actor of the group, and also, at the climax of the story, the blackguard who runs off in an adulterous elopement with Maria Bertram, after having flirted with her behavior as a comment on acting in and of itself, as well as a suggestion that his skill in acting is part of what marks him as a scoundrel. Thus the easiest conclusion (albeit not necessarily the right one) would be that it is the acting scheme itself to which Austen, her narrator, and Fanny Price all object, rather than to the actual subject m atter of the chosen play. Alternatively, we can look beyond the playacting, focusing instead on the play itself David Monaghan tells us that the piece, adapted by Elizabeth Inchbald from a ssiveness (91), while William Reitzel notes t is possible to show that the choice of as a piece to be performed in the house of a country gentleman in the year 18 -, was meant to be singularly inept; in fact, to go far beyond any gen eral question of the doubtful taste of exceedingly poor choice, adding the argum coherent statement of its plot, gives no more than a brief reminder of its unsuitability, and
32 picks at random such of its detai By this we can take for granted that Austen assumed her own audience to be composed of theater goers, seemingly negating the argument that the episode is antitheatrical. Supplying only the pieces she absolute the rest. Thus when Edmund, who seems at first to object only vaguely to the thought of amateur theatrics, discovers that has been selected, his dismay will be shared by the read ers themselves without the author having to press the matter. Q 22 Reitzel tells happiness, notwithstanding her repentance, forms too much of an apology for error. Such things may be admitted in real life; but, on the stage, a seduced female should never be meant not as a com ment on the young amateurs of Mansfield Theater, but as a foreshadowing of the later elopements of Maria and Crawford, and Julia and Mr. Yates. In this way Austen explains in advance why Maria and Julia can never come home to Mansfield Park or be welcomed sanctified by the Bertrams. Even this, however, appears to me to fall short. I would suggest that the private theatricals episode in Mansfield Park has been examined out of context far oftener than in. Far from being a searing denunciation of acting, in fact, on closer view the novel can and I used to be very fond of a play ourselves must be 22 The Porcupine 7 September 1801
33 noted that the indolent Lady Bertram can hardly be considered a suitable role model, much less mentor, for the young people, we must also acknowledge that Sir Thomas, upon his return from Antigua, voices no real objections to the thought of his son s and daughters play Sir Thomas of all people has a right to be annoyed if not by the theatrics themselves, than by the upheaval i n his home. His private space (157) has been reordered as thoroughly as Compton, Sotherton Court, and Mansfield narrator has already held these architectural and landscaping updates to the mirror of the past and, in true romantic fashion, shown them to be wanting. 23 home, to make way for the theatrics, furniture has been removed, candles left burning, a We must therefore at least explore the idea of the theater as condone d rather than condemned. It seems likely that, at least in some respects, the theatrical episode in Mansfield Park is utilized to introduce a comparison prevalent throughout the novel, that of the old with the new, the settled and comfortable with the nove l and exotic, country life with city life. To Alistair M. Duckworth the theme of modernization the contrast of the old with the new 23 While Fanny often aligns herself with conservative vistas places her equally in the Romantic camp, and contrasts her with the London ethic espoused by the Crawfords and aspired to by her female cousins. For a more thorough discussion of Fanny as a Romantic heroi ne, see Fleishman
34 (24). Through this symbolism the Crawfords can be seen to inject into Mansfield Park all the ills of modern life, becoming accountable for the troubles that encompass the Bertram family. To them can be leveled the blame for family vocation, for encouraging sexual license, and f or all the ensuing dissatisfactions that rock the stability of the quiet estate. In general, yes, they bring the theater itself, but in particular they bring the specific play which not only represents the turbulent energy of city life, but w hich, through their own machinations, becomes what it did not need to be: an opportunity for the young people to slide into immoral temptations. Edmund disapproves of the undertaking from the first, even if his mother does not general he stresses to his brother, private theatricals are open to some objections, but as we are circumstanced, I must think it would be highly injudicious, and more than injudicious to attempt anything of the kind. It would shew great want of feeling on my fath constant danger; and it would be imprudent, I think, with regard to Maria, whose situation is a very delicate one, considering everything, extremely delicate. (110) theatrical is immoral, but that present circumstances argue against frivolity. Their father is abroad, attempting to salvage what remains of the family fortunes, their sister is newly engaged to be advantageously
35 married and consequently has her reputatio n to protect, their mother (though he does not mention this) is hardly an effective chaperone. Building a theater will require an expenditure they can ill afford, but, until the title of the play is agreed upon, the expenditure of performing in that theate r, albeit an expenditure of another sort, is not a real consideration for him. Still, we may wonder why Edmund objects at all. As already mentioned, Lady Bertram and, later, Sir Thomas, find nothing distasteful in the thought of their children acting. Austen herself is clearly no more against the theater than is Sir Thomas; her acting so strong, among young people, that [Yates can] hardly out talk the interest of h is Similarly, Edmund freely acknowledges his own love of theater while Fanny herself, though she doubts the propriety of this venture, finds herse lf longing to see a play. Thus we still must address the problem of why Austen specifically uses the convincing theological approach to the question of the play, finding in it In fact, he states, as Walter Allen points out in The English Novel the decision to stage the play sets in progress the series of events that culminate in Maria's disgrace and the narrow escape of Julia from a similar fate. Tom Bertram, one of the prime instigators of the theatricals later feels self reproach arising from the deplorable event in Wimpole Street [Maria's adulterous escapade
36 with Crawford], to which he felt himself accessory by all the dangerous intimacy of his unjustifiable theatre. despairing reaction to the play supports this reading: Agatha and Amelia appeared to her in their different ways so totally improper for home representation the situation of one, and the language of the other, so unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty, that she could hardly suppose her cousins could be aware of what they were engaging in; and longed to have them roused as soon as possible by the remonstrance which Edmund would certainly mak e. (120) characters to resist. Maria, Julia, Henry and Mary, already morally weak, are drawn into temptation through the roles that they enact and, once they enter into the action o f the play, they become essentially blameless, for at this point their fall is nearly unavoidable. tiplying the In effect, watching the performance of lust, wrath, indolence, and similar cardinal sins could to those same sins. This is believed to some extent even today: the concept that playing violent video games inspires children to violent thoughts that exposure to negative influences desensitizes us to them draws from the same theory. This ideology was be hind the to act in them would surely then have been that much more dangerous an invitation to sin. It also explains how the Bertram sisters are tempted into their s eparate falls.
37 Barish, in analyzing the characters of the Crawford siblings, makes the claim that onstrate that they have terpretation to its logical conclusion, Mary and Henry Crawford can be interpreted as representative of the Serpent in the Garden, taking on a pleasing shape in order to offer something charming, exotic, and forbidden, for the sole purpose of achieving the ruination of the souls of the Bertram family. 24 They succeed fully in their aims with Maria and Julia, and partially with Tom. The only reason they fail with Edmund is his dedication to his career path (I would say his faith, but overt conversations about religion are for the most part avoided in Mansfield Park ). Only Fanny, who wrestles daily and palpably with her soul in an effort to become a better person to improve her self rather than gardens, grounds, or hallways sees clearly enough to avoid the damag e the Crawfords bestow in pretty packages. Still, once more we must ask: why specifically a private theatrical? A simplistic answer is found in the phrase itself it an element of danger As public per formance intrudes into the private sphere, it taints the sanctity and the security of the home space Meanwhile, s ecrecy abets risk taking behaviors: Tom Bertram even uses the element of secrecy, somewhat cynically, to exculpate the play, protesting that t hey are not considering playing before an audience; 24 Henry Crawford in particular warrants this reading; the pleasure he takes in mischief and misfortune is powerfully illustrated when, at the sudden appearance of Sir Thomas, he urges Rushford to with delighted haste my emphasis).
38 his brother (110), yet, as Edmund understands, it is this very privacy that cements the (135). We might think Edmund an insufferable prig, but that Austen makes it clear he is her hero in the piece; while she may gently tease him from time to time, his opinions (save for his unfortu nate fascination with Mary Crawford) are preferenced. Meanwhile, the characters who argue in favor of the play are seen to be overwhelmingly foolish (Lady Bertram, Mr. Rushworth, Yates), self centered (the Misses Bertrams, Mrs. Norris), or utterly, perilou sly, careless of reputation (Tom, Mary, Henry). Their recognition of the very inappropriateness of their actions is underlined by their horror at the sudden, unexpected return of Sir Thomas, and their various reactions ee of self (151) point up all too clearly just how unsupportable they know their actions to be, and how necessary secrecy has been to all their behaviors. Thomas R. Edwards tells us they caught at some nasty, secret indulgence, and they know it and can only unite in their guilt. The horror is quite real and, from their Mary and Henry slip away in secret, the Bertrams attempt to isolate their father in ano ther room of the house; only Yates, oblivious, continues his solitary rehearsal. With this approach, we might contend that it is the privacy Austen objects to, rather than the theatrical, and that the episode is included as an exhortation to her readers to live their lives as if they were on stage, the suggestion being that a life lived in the public eye in the light is lived more carefully than one lived in secrecy and darkness.
39 I have already identified deception as one of the principle arguments against use the play to approach closer to their objects, and those objects, Maria consciously and Edmund unconsciously, understand this and accept it. They are not acting but disguising emoti onal reality in art; but in another sense the Crawfords are always acting life and art are for them not distinct, and to draw Maria and Edmund into their impersonations . is to threaten their living identities without exposing their own in return. (16) Daniel Deronda key to her own emotions, seizing every occasion as an opportunity to fully explore her personal moral code. Fanny, whose continual soul searching often results in a sel f knowledge that serves only to lower her already low self esteem, wonders if her refusal to act in the play is based in honorable decorum or in her own fear in other words, whether or not she can feel satisfied in her motivations. The real moral question in this scenario becomes not so consciousness rather than morality, she gains W hat might be so essential to a scheme on which some of those to whom she owed the greatest complaisance had set their hearts? Was it not ill
40 nature, whole, be enough to justify her in a determined denial in spite of all the rest? It would be so horrible to her to act, tha t she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of her own scruples (133 134) All of these readings convincingly supply a moral, if not a religious, approach to the novel. One final consideration, however, is to interpret the episode as one of several comic scenes in which Edmund is consistently shown to be nearly as oblivious as Yates. His horror of seeing his sisters play acting is expressed in the shocked claim that Sir nearly everything else. Kind hearted though he is, he nevertheless is utterly blind to health at the lack of exercise; to the romantic lness; and absorbing, self abnegating adoration edged about the play: 113). This, as Austen spends the next In no way, however, is the novel an indictment of the theater. In stead, throughout, we are
41 given the sense that secrecy and duplicity are the real evils in Mansfield Park, as well as in Mansfield Park.
42 CHAPTER FOUR THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY While the theatrical elements in Mansfield Park address domesticity and privacy The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby concern themselves primarily with class and social standing. Meanwhile, whereas Austen perceives the theater and its actors as fraught with com plexity, Dickens seems to characteriz e them as generally amusing and, at first glance, at least, more or less harmless. His 1838 39 Nickleby serial, a cheerful mlange of novelistic styles that borrow equally from the picaresque romp through comic misadven tures, the romance, and the melodrama, depicts the backstage world not as something strange and exotic, certainly not as something perilous, but as the comfortable home of an extended family whose various members, throughout all their bickering and sibling rivalry, nevertheless can do but just enough to lay you up for The Half Sisters Nor are they sexually threatening; indeed, women of th e theater while flirtatious and available are not injuriously predatory, although they are nevertheless quite bold enough to invite a man up
43 to their rooms, leaving tantalizing little parcels of stockings and similar personal items out in full view. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby has not received the same level of Indeed, it is one of the least written about. Perhaps this is because, as only the third of his published novels it was written before his writing style matured to the level of Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend ; frankly melodramatic, and in many ways simplistic, the plot may not suggest to scholars the many avenues of investigation of some of his later works. Consequentl y the story has been comparatively neglected. Yet if it has not weathered well into the critically minded twenty first century, it was immensely popular when it first appeared so much so that it spawned, at minimum, twenty five stage plays even before the final installment was published (Vlock 30) ; indeed, Phillip H. Bolton contends . at least eighty qtd. in Millard Anderson 15). That number seems excessive, and we must bear in mi nd that several productions of the same play may have been counted separately; nevertheless, enough unique scripts and mentions of unique titles survive to give credence to the claim 25 Dickens in fact alludes scathingly to this plagiarism in the second Cru mmles . who had dramatized in his time two hundred and forty seven novels as fast as they had come out some of them faster 25 Nickleby ] by a theatrical adapter named Stirling, who seized upon it with out leave while yet only a third of it was written; hacked, cut, and garbled its dialogue to the shape of one or two favourite actors; invented for it a plot and an ending of his own, and produced it at the Adelphi; where the outraged author, hard pressed as he was with an unfinished According to M ark Ford, however, Dickens a (813).
44 than they had come out and was 26 Nickleby spawned, in addition, at least one plagiarized novel, The Life and Adventures of Nickelas Nickelbery, written by penny dreadful author Thomas P. Prest of Sweeney Todd fame. o that of the original, and its ending such a departure, that it is questionable as to whether Prest waited for the final volume of Nickleby to appear before penning his own version (Millard Anderson 85). This in itself attests to the eagerness with which all things Nickleby in 1838 39. The Crummles episodes themselves have garnered significant attention, with characters. Glavin, Auerbach, and other s find his approach hostile, even poisonously antitheatrical while, on the other side, critics such as Darton and Rem discern genuine affection for the traveling performers. 27 Both points of view are defensible. A part from arism the episodes may seem on one level, nothing more than respite from his worldly trials. In Chapter 22, at the beginning of the middle third of the novel, young Nicholas, a victim of fortune, and his disabled friend Smike are forced to Crummles troupe contrasts ironically with his eager willingness of only an hour before to l in 26 Ford, in his notes to the Penguin edition, claims that Dickens bas ed his literary gentleman on rather than on Stirling (813). 27 Glavin suggests that Nicholas Nickleby professional theatre. At a pivotal moment in the novel Nicholas sternly den ounces the theater, fleeing CC 192).
45 may use this contrast to acknowledge the prevailing theatrical stigma of the era comparing it with his own more modern and very sensible viewpoint; he was, after all, given to didacticism, particularly in his earlier novels, and made no secret of the fact that he intended his books to affect social change 28 Crummles upon learning that Nicholas is intent upon becoming a sailor, helpfully informs him that a shipboard life will be arduous pudding a nd chaff but Nicholas shrugs the warning off. assuring him that no sea captain will hire two inexperienced youths, offers him a job performin g with the Crummles troupe, Nicholas is apparently horrified. one may do is suddenly before him; r t one fact that he knows equally little about seamanship. part in my life, except at school W e are left in no doubt that Nicholas finds the very thought of acting disturbing. Mansfield Park : body of Caesar, and and not 28 While Nickleby was written in 1838 39, it is generally perceived to be set in the generation immediately preceding the 18 t eens or twenties when the anti theatrical prejudice was perhaps stronger increasingly liberal sensibilities to comment on those of a prior generation, the prejudice was still strong enough to bear commenting on In either era, in other wor ds, might have suffered socially from his sojourn with the Crummles troupe.
46 ther wished us, as school boys, to speak well, but he would never wish resorts to flattery. Commenting on looks, his manner, his voice, he inally implying the social fall that a life in the theater will entail. While ot until he begins to offer Nicholas tasks instead of, or along with, roles designing handbills, writing scenes that Ni These are real jobs, jobs in which something tangible is produced, rather than regularly scheduled forays onto the stage. Nicholas himself can be seen to embody the antitheatrical sentiment here solid reason for the public to be uneasy regarding the acting profession as mentioned briefly above, was the problem of trainin g: there was no particular means by which to accredit an actor in order to give him or her professional standing. Anyone could be an work to the mentally incapacitat ed Smike purely on the basis of his starved and haggard walk and manner, juvenile tragedy in your eye, and touch and go (277). To Crummles, apparent ly, this is all that is required.
47 excel, behind the footlights. Apart from having e nough presence of mind to hold his tongue under trying conditions, he has been more remarkable for his forthrightness than 29 While this speaks to the Victorian sense of authenticity, Barish may be oversimplifying here unable to hide his indignation shows over and again that he is fully capable of acting gallantly towards females in whom he has no interest ( LaCreevy, Snevellicci), and equally capable of hiding his true feelings about Madeline Bray, both to her and to her benefactors. Similarly, he has no problems maintaining constant deference to his mother, even in the face of his weary annoyance with her in consider him a fine actor. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that they also embrace Smike, Folair, the Infant Phenom enon, and the rest of a troupe which must be understood to be of mixed capability at best. Dickens, in inviting us to laugh at these histrionic strolling players, might be suggesting that the appraisal of the audience s cannot be fully trusted (which may in dicate 29 received a cryptic message from Newman Noggs, arra nges a hasty departure. Bidding a heartfelt farewell
48 a veiled classism on his part an evaluation that a rural audience possesses lower tastes than a London audience). is in fact abundantly clear from the text that none of them are partic ular judges of acting ability: the London manager who comes to witness the performances, after all, falls asleep. However when, with time, even Smike is able to rise to the task of learning lines, assessment. Meanwhile, one way or another, the audience is entertained, and no one is throwing orange peel at these actors. 30 while their sons, with Smike, take the shortest rou te to their lodgings, these two make their way along the city streets much as a circus parade would, stately, dignified, and oy run back to stare them in the face, the (288). suggests, of course, that it is not popularity; indeed, when attraction might be. If Dickens enjoys his theatrical characters, it is also fair to say that he enjoys teasing them. All of them are shown to be, in one way or another, unabashedly hypocritical, and so used to declaiming that they can no longer speak or move naturally. 30 The Crummles troupe, it must be pointed out, are not circuit players. Though they follow the NN 274); in other words, they are strolling players. While this does not necessarily constitute from Dickens a comment on their acting skills, it does place them in a lower tier professionally.
49 mutton and onion sauce ap while Mr. Crummles, after having already taken private leave of Nicholas, feels compelled to follow him t o the station in order to take a more public one: and to render it the more imposing, he was now, to that young gentleman's most profound annoyance, inflicting upon him a rapid succession of stage embraces, which, as everybody knows, are performed by the e mbracer's laying his or her chin on the shoulder of the object of affection, and looking over it. This Mr Crummles did in the highest style of melodrama, pouring forth at the same time all the most dismal forms of farewell he could think of, out of the sto ck pieces. (381) takes his leave. constantly toward his inadvertent audience. We wince along with Nicho las. people exactly as they are, but of them as they wish to be or of persons imaged as a military know . only clerks and that, who hire a uniform coat to be painted in and send it here in
50 can see that this applies equally to La Creevy who, in presenting people as they wish to see themselves rather than as they are, produces a deception that is, while recognized as falsity, nevertheless preferenced over reality and to the Crummles performers who, in their unstated common agreement to live their lives as if perpetually onstage, comfortably t best. While Michael Bake theatre going, proclaiming the also contends that this championing was, at least in part, based in class conde paternalist scheme in which the theatre would canalise and tame the ignorance, violence s Mrs. shortly after the marriage; far from judging her or visiting any sort of no velistic punishment on her, Dickens takes her behavior completely in stride in a way that he might not for a woman of another class. Her quick dispatch may be indicative of the lower standards he found acceptable for women of her cla ss; on the other hand, her lower class may simply free him to deal with her in a more humorous manner. Amused tolerance after all, the actors receives his or her share of lighthearted ridicule, though Crummles frankly receives far more satirical punishment than the rest of the actors. Although Tracy C.
51 ment, degree of vanity and self Economics ma daughter all the best roles and the finest advertising, have left the other actors bitterly resentful. The entire troupe, in fact, is consistently shown to be hypocritical, ambitious, back biting, and vain. 31 This might seem an indictment of theater people, but it must be stressed that the aristocratic Hawke and Verisopht are far more cruel, Miss Kna g far more devious, and Mrs. Wi titterly far more false and dangerous, than an troupe; they are, in other words, entirely human and with the exception of being far more amusing, not noticeably different from the other characters in the novel. 32 Meanwhile t he Crummleses th ough their entire lives are spent acting, whe ther onstage or off a re never inauthentic: they are always authentically performers, always authentically engaged in with the devious falsity of his higher classes, fro 31 ra, as discussed in Chapter One reinforce the authenticity self serving; however, it must be remembered that Dickens dedicated this novel to Macready, apparently considering him a worthy exemplar. 32 Glavin, whose opinion of Dickens is perceptibly harsh, nevertheless asserts that the actors in Nickleby After Dickens 100). He invites us to c t manipulation of the Kenwigs. All these self conscious appropriations and approximations of theatre function to debase the already hapless or to deprive
52 accumulating embarrassing debt they have no intentions of paying off. Life in a theater troupe, as already shown, could be socially damnin g an action the text when, immediately upon joining the troupe, Nickleby and Smike change their names. As Johnson and Digby, respectively, they remain safely anonymous, the Nickleby name untainted. Throughout the brief course of their sojourn with the theater troupe they acting as a vocation. 33 s a common one: as already noted George Tay Henry Irving, Squire Bancroft, William Kendal, the actors who adopted stage names for their theate increasing preoccupation in plays of the second half of the century with questions of ). Nevertheless, the Mantalinis have also changed their This speaks not only to inauthenticity but to a certain class consciousness or natio nalism a belief that an English dressmaker will not draw as much business as an Italian one consciousness as he begins his duties with the Crummles troupe. Here, even in disguise, Nicholas is averse to 33 assumed Mantalinis, the Wittitterlys, the Curd les, and the other false actors of the novel.
53 accompany Miss Snevellicci on her subscription quest in order to fund her bespeak, consenting only after assuring himself that no one will recognize him. Clearly he finds the life beneath him. When finally he does agree to accompany Miss Snevellicci, he does so with the grudging ad His later reluctance to reveal to his mother or even to Newman Noggs the details of his sojourn with the Crum mles troupe points to embarrassment if not outright shame: this speaks bluntly to the awkward social divisions between actors and people of higher (if only by perception) social class. Dickens addresses class politics throughout the novel, not only with t he theatrical elements but with the Madeline Bray plotline, the aristocratic bounders Hawk and Verisopht, the social climbing Mrs.Nickleby, and others. Tore Rem in fact makes the argument that the Crummles episodes can be read as a retelling of the larger plot in parodic microcosm. The perceptual disconnect between the theater as entertainment and the theater as social, politi cal, and physical structure can be summed up fairly succinctly thought it was a blaze know from the text that Smike has no memories of his life before his arrival at Dotheboys; his impressions of the theater have been imparted to him by others but only the joyous aspects. Dickens uses undermine our own impressions. Nicholas himself surprised and disappointed by the tatty world that confronts him novels), comforts his friend with words that seem a little forced, a little uncertain In this
54 way the author invites us to see the theater first through the eyes of the neglected and desperately longing children of Dotheboys Hall as a magical place of wonder and enchantment only to immediately contrast it with an apparent grim reality. At the same time, he also contrasts the legitimate self conscious role playing of the actors with the deceitful and self deceiving role playing of characters such as Squeers, the Mantalinis, the Kenwigses, the Wititterly s, the Curdles, and Miss Knags. Nicholas himself cannot be truly comfortable within his own skin until he leaves t he Crummleses, regains his true name, and faces his heartfelt behalf of the Cheerybles, he must dissemble, disavowing his love for Madeline Bray. E ven now, as long as he continues to act, he undermi nes his own chances for happiness. the cause of actors, whom he saw as victims of prejudice, bound to a harsh profession to begin with, and then reviled for it by the legions of While cannot be overlooked; serious accusations hold weight, while, tone is so often patronizing, even condescending this novel has far more to say about posturing than it does about actin g. Meanwhile, by painting his actor characters as far more authentic than the non actors, he makes an entertaining but cogent point about humanity in general. Here, as with Mansfield Park we see that actors and acting are not ather, Austen and Dickens contrast the theater with
55 theatricality, addressing an intrinsic honesty a private honesty, a truth to self that has
56 CHAPTER FIVE THE HALF SISTERS omen, non English races, and the working class were all obvious targets for scapegoating in te ). Thus when, for instance, Fanny Price, in Mansfield Park is the one person to refuse to take part in the amateur theatricals, it upends gender expectations, situating her as more honest, and therefore more inherently masculine, than Edmund. Fanny is, in addition, of a lower class than the Bertrams, adding to her potential for targeting. Nickleby cheerfully picks apart this stereotype as well, with Dickens eschewing gender and racial formulae to focus primarily on dishonesty in the upper classes. Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury however, in her sympathetically drawn Bian ca Pazzi boldly attacks all three stereotypes. In Bianca Jewsbury first presents us with a half Italian woman who turns to acting only as a way to stave off abject poverty, and then neatly turns expectations on their head, giving us, in her consummate act ress, the most honest character in the novel. Sarah Bilston has noted the defensive nature of so many reader to re held notions about the theater and its performers, and to separate 49). Though her subject is fiction of the 1870s, and though she touches only briefly on the 1848 The Half Sisters the defensive attitude can be seen here as well: Bianca is contrasted not only
57 with her shallow and easily led half sister Alice but with other actresses who are, in the main, content to rely upon standardized performance conventions rather than aspire to true art In her introduction to the novel Joanna Wilkes tells us tha of the issues it raises is ambiguous . a theatrical novel and in fact at this point we should be questioning our assumptions as to whether there is really any such thing as a Victorian theatrical novel at all. As we have seen with Mansfield Park and Nicholas Nickleby the theater is really mo re frequently used as a framework upon which need for useful purposes for women 34 especially as it contrasts with ro le playing by the non theatrical characters. Alice, for instance, is strongly advised by her mother not to be too emotionally available to her fianc and to subjugate her true desires in order to settle into a comfortable position i n society ; her ambitions are compressed and manipulated the feet of Chinese women are bound into their tiny and artificial shapes, an image referenced several times b (Prichard 124). 34 Karen M. Carney literary reader, whose work was considered at best conservative and at worst a hack job to the novelist and (147 )
58 Bianca, characteristically, is shown to be a paragon of feminine virtue s in every way, self sacrificial, nurturing, and ethically far removed from the other, more typical actresses o f the novel hile secondary actresses in actresses . always the woman who winds up on stage by accident rather than design, [and the one] illegitimate heroine is no exception; so coincidentally, also like Nicholas Nickleby, she has no desire for a life on stage, and takes no joy in the color and flash of costumes and lights. It is only because her mother is ailing and poverty stalks them that she takes the one choice offered her, becoming a performer in a traveling circus in order to buy food and medicine for her only known relative. what ha d he rescued his helpless charge if it were only to bear as hard a fate as that from 79]) is a more compelling argument than his own impending poverty. [Bianca] str esses (23). This heavily underscores her feminine modesty; in a sense, it is partly h er desire not to go onstage that fits her for the life. A ppropriately, Bianca initially finds it shameful to be displayed to an audience, even though by so doing she is able to put food in her r that expediency as
59 en masse as dissipated disorderly vagabonds, whom it would no t have been creditable to It also situates them as role players, pretending to a resp ectability that they have no moral right to claim. daydreams of her legitimate half sister Alice Bryant, and throughout the novel their two natures are played against one anothe r. As a child Alice, though dismissive of theater itself, nevertheless longs for a life in the public eye as a famous authoress perhaps or at the very least her sister in law, both a dvocate duplicity in the domestic space, advising her to seem to be what her husband wants, and to hide from him her true feelings. Thus the focus of the story always remains its interest in performance, in theatricality, and in the awkward nature of a pub lic life. Throughout, the novel returns again and again to an examination of the social hypocrisy that would condemn a working woman merely for working, without any other cause. When the wealthy Alice first sees Bianca, for instance, not knowing they are husband] Mr Bryant has a great objection to those sort of people. She is starving, you
60 seems palpable, and when Alice inquires as to where Bianca lives and d etermines to pay In this way Alice performs the role of a decent, respectable woman, in contrast to Bianca ; yet for a woman such as herself to associate with one like Bianca is comparable, at least in her mind, to an association with a prostitute. Prichard reads the comparison between the two women more as a commentary on Victorian attitudes to gender norms than a critique of role playing per se: contrast of an actress who manifests openness and self revelation with an ideal domestic wo man who constantly performs, Jewsbury provided her readers with a critique of and of role playing are very important to an understanding of this story. It is especial ly significant that J ewsbury spends so wom e n in the theater. When Conrad Percy falls in love with Bianca, for instance, his y (151), and threatens to cut his son off witho ut a penny if they marry. Later (and we can hardly fail to hear distant echoes of Mansfield Park ) it will be Conrad, not Bianca, who disgraces the family, seducing Alice Bryant, who literally dies of shame wh en her husband discovers her indiscretion. Bianca meanwhile, at all times shown to be the most
61 she becomes a celebrated star of the theater, wealthy and cour ted by the masses, it counts person, than when she he informs his wife bluntly : Professional people live in a world of their own and it is very undesirable that they should be introduced into the private circles of the middle classes: it tends to destroy that sobriety and balance of conduct which makes th eir peculiar virtue, without introducing at the same time the abilities, and powers of pleasing, which are the redeeming qualities of the other class. (262) He finishes with the bald and blanket statement for those wh sort respect for it. I am not speaking of you individually, but of your way of life, which is altogether worthless, and unworthy of any immortal being. Your whole life is spent in dressing yourself That, of course, is the crux of the problem, as it was with Mansfield Park and Nicholas Nickleby to be something other than what she is; Bianca throughout the course of the novel is always frank and open about who and what she is. This would seem to illustrate that actresses are no worse than any other women but for the fact that Bianca is at all times
62 shown to be e xemplary. Here again the prosaic furnishings and petty squabbling of the the pit and the boxes. w orldly, backbiting, and succumbing (some more willingly than others) to the sexual advances of stage managers who wield financial power over them. One actress in particular, La Fornasari, even looks like Bianca, the more powerfully to draw attention to Jew reservations about actresses in general to pour onto this one in particular licentious, ambitious, sexually irresponsible, she abandons her child, secretly a dopting it out in orde r to pursue fame and adulation Bianca meanwhile remains a figure whose public self matches her private self, an odd paragon of virtue and honesty, an actress who disdains to act, except on stage, surrounded by women who do nothing bu t act. er had relationships with both Bianca and La Fornasari. Discovered at the very brink of her and, ultimately, dies of her shame As Prichard describes it, husband confronts her with her planned infidelity, the physically, mentally and morally weak woman that Alice had worked so hard to conceal is unable to endure the confrontation, playin g that has led to her ruin. Had she, from the beginning, been true to her desires and ambitions, been honest about them,
63 conscious advice, she would have known, if not necessarily physical c omfort, at the very least spiritual happiness and self respect. Had she been more like Bianca, in other words, she would have achieved success as a successful human being. Instead, she has practiced an invidious deception, and that has been the ruin of her As Prichard explains it, of the professional performing woman, in part because it is openly acknowledged as such, and in part because when such a woman [as Bianca] leaves the stage, the playing stops, is far less dangerous and damaging than t he constant and more deadly cat and longed to see, is the brittle, dishonest worl d of people like Conrad and Alice, a world of false smiles sticking to false faces, of deceived men and deceiving women. Jewsbury was herself what might be termed, anachronistically, a liberated woman. While Elizabeth Barrett Browning described her, as a y red her hand in marriage seeming capitulation to dull, middle class standards at the end of the novel all the more surprising. We must ask ourselves, what was Jewsbur y really trying to say? Lauren The Half Sisters as a sort of manifesto whose purpose is
64 Rather than for motherhood. Bianca in fact is n ot an actress at all in her own mind, has never been an actress; she is, and always has been, an artist. She has not found her identity through work in the Victorian construct but through creation. Seen from the first as a uniquely nurturing woman, Bianca creates art the way other women create life her art is, to her, child, husband, family. Thus, when she gives it up, it is not to settle into comfortable domesticity but to begin shaping a new creation, one that will take years of dedication, even obsession to craft to perfection. least partly to endorse contemporary fears that, if permitted careers outside the home, women could selfishly neglect what were considered their prim could breed a monstrous woman, a La Fornasari of enormous self serving ambition and callous disregard for life, those same highly susceptible re aders must surely also have been convinced of the opposite: that working could produce a kind, generous, self theme is the transformative power of work (147), without a dmitting that Bianca is the only employed woman in the novel whose transformation could be said to be a positive one. Indeed, it must be remembered that at no time does Bianca want to work as such ; rather, sh e wants to create art. The other actresses in th distinguishes them from her her belief in the transformative power, not of work, but of art. Spectator objected,
65 English mind cannot turn an . actress into th Chattman 76). I propose that Jewsbury was not writing about the theater at all, nor about love (at but about art and honesty. In the end Bianca marries Lord Melton and is subsumed into the aristo cratic world of her new husband performa nce yet playing does not, however, imply the same a true artist performer never pretends to something she is not, b ut becomes the role she assumes (163). While Prichard sug gests that Bianca may be acting here as much as she did while she was in the so much as she assumes the role she has already become. This aligns her with the difference between a charlaton and an artist: one merely performs the character; the other beco mes it.
66 C ONCLUSION As Voskuil points out, the antitheatricality posited by Barish and embraced by so many other theorists and historians was far from universal and fixed. This seems abundantly evident when we look at the number of novels that take a s ympathetic approach to actors and actresses. While many of the actual theatrical performers of the early to mid Victorian age appeared to denigrate their professions and their peers, in private journals as well as more public writings such as letters and memoires, it must always be understood that the Victorians were an extremely self conscious generation their carefully thought out writings cannot automatically be received at face value. qtd. in Voskuil 24) were hardly more current then than they are today, and might perhaps be approached in the same light. However much our own cinema, for instance, is denounced by the public and the critics alike, it nevertheless continues to flourish; we hear about the drug addictions and the sex scandals of those select few who publicize, whether purposely or not, their private chaos, and never hear about the many who work diligently at perfecting their art. Nor do we assume, on the basis of those few, that the entire field is in decline; indeed, we look to Hollywood as a glittering capital of art, sophistication, and necessarily sordid. Meanwhile, however much certa in segments of the population decry
67 the fall of social and moral values, blaming that fall on current standards in entertainment, the world has not yet ended. It has long been held as a fundamental truth that Victorians in general were a sober generation, too earnest to be comfortable with the thought of people making their living by acting. This discomfort we are told, stemmed from several competing impulses: for instance, the apparent ease with which an actor assumes false characteristics which made him or her morally suspect in the eyes of the general public. the Victorian f elt that people who ma d e their living by lying were intrinsically, liars. Yet Kucich makes, and supports, the claim that ( 4 ). Kucich tells us that ves who celebrated the uniqueness of their honesty and the swollen moral pride played an ( 6 ) His claim that t he English saw honesty as fundamentally English underscores the importance of literary investigations into honesty, both within and without the world of the theater. If Kucich is Mansfield Park ) fail while Fanny Price, the Crummleses ( Nicholas Nickleby ), and Bian ca ( The Half Sisters ) succeed. Henry and Mary, while they attempt skilled deception, lack both the talent and cavalier attitude at last unmasks her categorically to Edmund. Fanny, meanwhile, acting the role of sister to a
68 noble and self affirming, while Mr. and Mrs. Crummles and Bianca, embracing in the nontheatrical world. Though we are told that the antitheatrical prejudice began to dissipate in about 1860, these theater sympathetic nov els from the first half of the century would seem to prove that it was never all that strong to begin with. All three of the novels discussed here present antitheatrical characters Nickleby, disapprove of actors and of making a living through performance and deceit. That however does not make these antitheatrical novels. In fact, in all three case s, the antitheatrical characters are proven wrong; we are shown rather that active, open performance, entered into with enthusiasm instead of deceit or bravado, is more intrinsically honest than dissembling hypocrisy. Although a certain ambivalence toward acting can at times be detected in the tones and word choices of the narrators, the love of the thea ter is also there in abundance, making these three stories, in fa ct, distinctly pro theatrical.
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