American Literature


‘Dramatic Effects’: 19th-Century Theater as Epicenters of Social Networking

Think about this word: melodrama. What image comes to mind?

Brooklyn College theater historian Amy E. Hughes began her presentation at the 2019 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting with that short thought experiment, asking attendees to picture melodrama.

Did you “see” what they did?

 

Many in the audience had envisioned something akin to the “Railroad Rescue,” a scene that originated in Augustin Daily’s Under the Gaslight, a popular play which premiered in New York City in 1867. But as Hughes would reveal, the “Railroad Sensation”—as it was called then—has a “surprisingly complicated and convoluted history.” View the full presentation.

Throughout her talk, titled “Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society,” Prof. Hughes provided a fascinating overview of the 19th-century theater industry. She shared some of the discoveries her recent research has reWatkins sm.jpgvealed, and she unpacked the little-known history of that “Railroad Rescue,” pointing out its significant political and social factors.

‘Dramatic Effects’: 19th-Century Theater as Epicenters of Social Networking

'Great Suds and Seeds!' Three Full-Length Plays by American Writers

 

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Previous monthly release announcements of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, have primarily highlighted one-act plays. This has not been by design. Although there are hundreds of short works in this digital collection—including farces, comediettas, black sketches, and plays intended for home or private performances—many multi-act plays may also be found. Three longer scripts are highlighted below.


The County Fair: A Comedy in Four Acts

By Charles Barnard and Neil Burgess

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Substantial biographical information about Charles Barnard is not readily found. Bartleby.com provides the following: “Barnard, Charles. An American journalist and author; born in Boston, Feb. 13, 1838; died in 1920. His most popular play is ‘The County Fair’ (1888). Author of ‘The Tone-Masters’ (New York, 1871); ‘Knights of Today’ (1881); ‘The Whistling Buoy’ (1887); dramas, and books on gardening and electricity.” The Library of Congress does not reference his playwriting but credits him with a book entitled Mozart and Mendelssohn.

'Great Suds and Seeds!' Three Full-Length Plays by American Writers

“A fantastic resource” – 1-Minute Video about Bawdy U.S. Newspapers of the 19th Century

The appearance of the terms “licentious” and “licentiousness” in American periodicals rose dramatically in the early 1840s in tandem with the rise of the unruly urban newspapers collectively called the Flash Press. Now a unique collection of this short-lived form of journalism, created from the exceptional holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, is available in digital form.

Learn more about the Flash Press in this new 1-Minute Video:

 

Discussing this collection, the scholar Robert Wilhelm, author of The Bloody Century: True Tales of Murder in 19th Century America, writes:

These 19th-century papers provide a missing link—a sympathetic view of the demimonde, appealing to a literate, urban and mostly male audience to balance the moralistic tone taken by mainstream publications of the time. While I was aware these papers existed, I had no idea how many different titles had been published and how many issues have survived. To have them all available in one place, carefully digitized and easily searchable, is invaluable. I was especially impressed by the quality of the illustrations which were often as important as the text in these publications and are as pleasing to contemporary readers as they were to rakes and sporting men. American Underworld: The Flash Press offers a unique perspective for scholars of American vice and crime as well as researchers in other scholarly areas such as urban life and women’s studies.

“A fantastic resource” – 1-Minute Video about Bawdy U.S. Newspapers of the 19th Century

Female Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Works by Clara Harriet Sherwood, Nellie H. Bradley, and More Than 100 Other Women Dramatists

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Among the playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama there are scores of women. The genres of their plays are as varied as those of their male counterparts, although more of the works for children and classrooms are by women. Many of the temperance plays are by women which is not surprising given the prominent role of women in the temperance movement. Some of the women were prolific. Still, it is more difficult to find biographical information about many of the female playwrights.


Little seems to be recorded about the life of Clara Harriet Sherwood, author of three plays included in this digital collection. These three plays all signal an acute social awareness and a ready wit. As with many other women dramatists, Sherwood is concerned with the social nuances of courtship.

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Female Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Works by Clara Harriet Sherwood, Nellie H. Bradley, and More Than 100 Other Women Dramatists

‘Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society’ – Announcing the Readex ALA Midwinter Breakfast

On Sunday, January 27, Readex will host a special breakfast presentation titled “Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society.” An open discussion will follow the talk by Amy E. Hughes, Associate Professor of Theater History and Criticism at Brooklyn College.

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About the Presentation

From Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, U.S. theater has inspired fervent passion and intense loyalty in those who enjoy and study it. As architecture and activity, edifice and event, refuge and recreation, the theater is deeply beloved.

In this engaging talk, Prof. Amy Hughes—a leading authority on American drama—reveals some of the chaotic complexities of 19th-century theater culture. She brings to life the eclectic amusements staged in playhouses, the diverse work and workers involved, the dynamic camaraderie that sustained theatrical communities, and the lasting influence and impact of its most popular spectacles. To understand 19th-century theater fully, she argues, researchers must read surviving dramas and ephemera against the grain and between the lines.

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About the Speaker

‘Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society’ – Announcing the Readex ALA Midwinter Breakfast

Prime Bang Up: Three of the Rarest American Broadsides Published Two Centuries Ago

Shaw Supp 3 Nov 2018 3_Page_2 Image only.jpgThis most recent release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society includes a number of the rarest American broadsides from 200 years ago. These range from the pathos of an honorable man’s petition to the court for protection from his creditors to a peculiar promotion for an evening of entertainment in Augusta, Georgia.


To the Honorable Superior Court to be held at Hartford....The Petition of George Robinson, of Marlborough, in the County of Hartford, humbly sheweth— (1817)

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In the early 19th century it was not unusual for an indebted person to publish a broadside acknowledging his debts and his creditors. George Robinson of Connecticut did exactly that in 1817. Of interest is his specificity and the striking contrasts in the amounts he owed to contemporary creditor. The largest debts were “Orlando Raymond two thousand five hundred dollars” and several for one or two hundred dollars. Many of his obligations were for a few dollars and sometimes for ten and twenty dollars. Robinson appears to support his claim to integrity in the details he provides.

Prime Bang Up: Three of the Rarest American Broadsides Published Two Centuries Ago

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

51e3GlaHyjL__SX338_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe most recent release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes most of the short plays, or comediettas in one act, by the prolific Frances Aymar Mathews. This understudied author was born in New York City in the middle of the 19th-century. She began publishing in the 1880s. In addition to plays, her written output included feature articles, short stories and such novels as My Lady Peggy Goes to Town and Allee Same.

Eighteen of Mathews’ shorter plays are included in this release. When reading her works, Edith Wharton comes to mind. They were contemporaries, shared a Manhattan upbringing during the Gilded Age, and were sensitive to class distinctions and social niceties. It may be something of a stretch to compare Mathews to Jane Austen, but both women are close observers of the foibles of the prosperous and employ a satirical view of them. There is one more comparison to make, to wit, William Dean Howells. Again, this may be a stretch, but the famous Howells and the obscure Mathews wrote short plays which, as previously noted here, featured wealthy people with ample time to expand upon largely trivial events.

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

‘Light Up Your College Classroom with Primary Sources’—A new eBook for librarians and faculty

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This unique 34-page eBook offers five original articles that offer fresh ways to captivate and inspire college students—all based on the authors’ actual classroom experience. Written for both librarians and faculty, each short article offers first-hand descriptions of the successful integration of primary sources into teaching activities at a range of academic institutions.

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The classroom uses of primary sources described in this new eBook have worked not only to introduce students to the experience of the past, but also to create deeper engagement with research activities that spark lively discussions and improve the teaching process.

 

‘Light Up Your College Classroom with Primary Sources’—A new eBook for librarians and faculty

“A Rare Window into U.S. Culture” – 1-Minute Video on America’s Most Popular Form of Entertainment in the 19th Century

In the nineteenth century, drama became the most popular form of entertainment in the United States. Now a unique digital collection titled Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment is available to researchers worldwide. This new online resource sheds light on an enormous range of heavily studied topics, including daily life in the United States; politics, both local and national; culture in all of its forms; and the shifting and evolving tastes of Americans from across the country.

Learn more about this new digital collection in this 1-Minute Video:

 

Discussing this collection, English professor and theater scholar Robert Davis writes:

By making so many plays that have largely been forgotten available, Nineteenth-Century American Drama can bring back a vital part of U.S. cultural history. Its tragedies, poetic dramas, comedies, farces, sketches, and burlesques provide a rare window into nineteenth-century U.S. culture. Many of these works…were wildly successful at the time. Others formed parts of nineteenth-century social and political movements like abolitionism, temperance, and suffrage, making these plays key to understanding U.S. literary, political, and social history.

“A Rare Window into U.S. Culture” – 1-Minute Video on America’s Most Popular Form of Entertainment in the 19th Century

Ye Spleeny Folks: Highlights from the Most Recent Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II

The July release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819, includes three anonymous works discussing sobriety, levity, and the cost of crime. 


The Importance of Sobriety: Illustrated by the Evils of Intemperance (1802)

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This imprint concerns itself with “the evils of intemperance” and begins with this anecdote:

Cyrus, when quite a youth, at the court of his grandfather, Astyages, undertook one day to perform the office of cup bearer. He delivered the cup very gracefully; but omitted the usual custom of first tasting it himself. The king reminded him of it, supposing he had forgotten.

“No, Sir,” replied Cyrus; “but I was afraid there might be poison in it; for I have observed that the lords of your court, after drinking, become noisy, quarrelsome, and frantic; and that even you, Sir, seem to have forgotten that you were a king.”

The king goes on to ask if the same thing did not happen to Cyrus’s father:

“Never,” answered Cyrus…. ”Why, when he has taken what wine he chooses, he is no longer thirsty, that is all.”

Happy the man, who shall live in those days, in which the practice of excessive drinking shall be universally laid aside, and detested!

Expanding on his thoughts, the author continues:

Ye Spleeny Folks: Highlights from the Most Recent Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II

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