When the French actress Sarah Bernhardt made her first American tour in 1880, the term "feminism" had not yet entered our national vocabulary. But over the course of the next half-century, a rising generation of daring actresses and comics brought a new kind of woman to center stage. Exploring and exploiting modern fantasies and fears about female roles and gender identity, these performers eschewed theatrical convention and traditional notions of womanly modesty. They created powerful images of themselves as ambitious, independent, and sexually expressive "New Women."
Female Spectacle reveals the theater to have been a powerful new source of cultural authority and visibility for women. Ironically, theater also provided an arena in which producers and audiences projected the uncertainties and hostilities that accompanied changing gender relations. From Bernhardt's modern methods of self-promotion to Emma Goldman's political theatrics, from the female mimics and Salome dancers to the upwardly striving chorus girl, Glenn shows us how and why theater mattered to women and argues for its pivotal role in the emergence of modern feminism.
All the world may be a stage, but Susan Glenn brilliantly shows us how the stage can shape the world, in this case the modern world of the New Woman from the 1880s through the 1920s. What female performers did on stage and in their professional careers changed forever what all women did off of it.
Female Spectacle is a delightful book that vividly portrays the place of women in the popular theater of the early twentieth century. Engrossing and brilliantly insightful, it will surely be hailed as one of the finest studies of American popular culture to appear in the last decade.
Female Spectacle is a richly detailed, lively and original treatment of a fascinating subject. Beautifully researched and persuasively argued, it is also fun to read.
Female Spectacle is a major contribution to the limited literature of women and the American stage. Susan Glenn has offered important insights into the place of feminism in twentieth-century American theater.
Female Spectacle excavates a long-forgotten world and recreates it for us as the glittering, charming, funny theater it was for Americans a century ago. Susan Glenn's insights into the importance of the first female star system for the making of modern American womanhood are enthralling. A book full of surprises, wonders, and show-stopping insights.
Glenn prods readers into thinking about women's demands for roles in public life...As with the best history, Glenn's research sheds light on both past events and present dilemmas. Her argument and research thus provide an important historical context for the recent flood of memoirs about feminist activism in the 1960s-1990s.
- 336 pages
- 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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