As stated in the text (The Lady Actress), actors and actresses were viewed as low and common person (2). Notable scholars commented freely on how the American public did not seem to accept theatrical expectations as proper. Actors and actresses alike were thought to be of low moral character, free-spirited and drunkards. Another scholar, Clara Morris, retorted that actors were not taken seriously because they were “buffoons” (p. 3). Because of this negative stereotype, actors were seen as having no social standing. To add to this chagrin, actors and actresses were also openly ridiculed in religious setting by figures such as Reverand Robert Hatfield, who declared the theater the “haunt of sinners” (p. 4).
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Poetry was considered “proper” for Victorian ladies because of the societal limitations placed on women during the Victorian period. Emotions were considered to be the opposite of logic and rationality. For men, the expectation was to be completely logical and rational in their lives in order to facilitate the ordinary fixed workings of the world. More than this, men were considered to be “hardwired” as purely logical and mechanically thinking according to the Victorian mindset. Women, on the other hand, were presumed to be emotional and excitable. Just as men were viewed as being “hardwired” as rigidly mechanical in their thinking, so too were women viewed as being emotional and, as a result, somewhat frivolous and certainly less valuable and significant.
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Women were criticized and looked down on for following a career in acting. Mowatt, Kemble and Cushman tried many different performance styles and found what worked best for them. All three women connected acting, reading and performing to entertain and educate their audience.
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A Fine-Tuned Persona = Success
During the Victorian Age women were viewed as porcelain dolls; fragile and delicate creatures who were incapable of engaging in intellectual discussion. Anna Cora Mowatt; however, was unique in that she used her rhetorical skills to subliminally convince her audience that she (a woman) was deserving of her own autobiography as both an intellect and a virtuous Victorian woman. In the following essay I will delve into the reasons why first person narratives by Victorian female authors were considered inappropriate, how Mowatt overcame these prejudices, and the strategies that she utilized in order to develop an accepted persona.
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Anna Cora Mowatt and the Performance of Mesmerism
A mid-nineteenth century public reader, actress, playwright, and author, Anna Cora Mowatt, has been deemed the first “lady elocutionist” because she established a career as a public reader without having previously been an actress. Anna Cora Mowatt ended her public career as a public reader due to a deliberating respiratory disease. In her search for comfort and cure, Anna began a treatment regimen called “mesmerism.” Mowatt provided a detailed description of her experience with mesmerism in her autobiography. Within Anna’s description of her experience of mesmerism, she claims to have unwittingly portrayed an alternate persona which called herself “the Gypsy.” According to Taylor (2009) who authored The Lady Actress, Anna’s Gypsy character served as a way in which she could break the Victorian social constraints and strict rules that smothered women. When Anna would undergo mesmerism, she could break away from the repressive behavioral norms imposed upon upper-class American women without gaining the negative social stigma that would normally be placed upon a person who behaved they way she did. Of course, only a few of Anna’s closest friends were privileged enough to observe her private performance in which “The Gypsy” wrote poems, told fantastic stories, and who regularly engaged in debates concerning philosophy and religion, which would have been extremely unacceptable for a woman in the Victorian era.
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