Female Spectacle / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews


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.
— L.D. Brush

Lizabeth Cohen
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.
John Kasson
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.
Elizabeth Blackmar
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.
Brooks McNamara
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.
Christine Stansell
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.
Choice - L.D. Brush
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.
Library Journal
Searching for the theatrical roots of modern feminism, Glenn (Daughters of the Shtetl) digs broadly and shallowly in the well-worked field of the first three decades of the 20th century in America. Drawing mainly from secondary sources, she examines public images of women: flamboyant actresses, satirical and self-deprecating overweight vaudeville comediennes, theatrical renderings of the Salome and "gold digger" figures, choreographed marches of suffragettes, machine-like configurations of the chorus line, and advertisements celebrating conspicuous consumption. Glenn's assertion that these grow from female self-expression and activism rather than from male preferences is the tap root of this work, and it is weak: treated lightly, often contradicted by descriptions of the images themselves, and obscured by a choppy organization and style that seems subject to its sources. Nevertheless, the materials are interesting, and the work is a useful compilation of comments relating to public images of women, which are referenced over 900 times. Recommended for academic libraries only.--Ann Fey, Rockland Community Coll., Suffern, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674009905
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 0.70 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan A. Glenn is Professor of History at the University of Washington, and author of Daughters of the Shtetl, which won the American Historical Association's Joan Kelly Prize.
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Table of Contents


1. The Bernhardt Effect: Self-Advertising and the Age of Spectacle

2. Mirth and Girth: The Politics of Comedy

3. The Strong Personality: Female Mimics and the Play of the Self

4. The Americanization of Salome: Sexuality, Race, and the Careers of the Vulgar Princess

5."The Eyes of the Enemy": Female Activism and the Paradox of Theater

6."Nationally Advertised Legs": How Broadway Invented "The Girls"

7."Like All the Rest of Womankind Only More So": The Chorus Girl Problem and American Culture

Conclusion: The Legacy of Female Spectacle





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