PERFORMING ARTS

Starring Women: Celebrity, Patriarchy, and American Theater, 1790-1850

Univ. of Illinois. (Women, Gender, and Sexuality in American History). Oct. 2020. 280p. ISBN 9780252043352. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252085260. $28. THEATER
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This meticulously researched, scholarly work focuses on the careers of female performers who, in the late 18th century and first half of the 19th century, toured theaters throughout the United States and Europe, often becoming wealthy celebrities as they pursued their aspirations of becoming “starring” players. Lampert (history, Univ. of South Dakota) studies the role of “sensation journalism” in creating the rise of the celebrity performer and the complex relationship these performers developed with the public, who expected women to conform to “the domestic and moral standards of a white middle-class ideal.” Unable to do so, many of these performers became embroiled in the biggest scandals of the century—involving opioid addiction, adultery, divorce, and even suspicion of murder. Against a backdrop of moral reform in theater, expanding mass media, and gender politics, the women attempted to overcome sexual and financial exploitation to gain respectability, obtain financial independence, and develop other passions (writing, producing, managing).
VERDICT Lampert offers a fascinating glimpse into the complicated history of 19th-century theater and the role of female performers in changing the dynamic of women’s place in society. For libraries with large gender studies and performing arts collections.

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