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Staging Family

Domestic Deceptions of Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Actresses

Nan Mullenneaux

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 12/2018
Pages: 462
Subject: History
eBook ISBN: 9781496210890


Breaking every prescription of ideal femininity, American actresses of the mid-nineteenth century appeared in public alongside men, financially supported nuclear and extended families, challenged domestic common law, and traveled the globe in the transnational theater market. While these women expanded professional, artistic, and geographic frontiers, they expanded domestic frontiers as well: publicly, actresses used the traditional rhetoric of domesticity to mask their very nontraditional personal lives, instigating historically significant domestic innovations to circumvent the gender constraints of the mid-nineteenth century, reinventing themselves and their families in the process. Nan Mullenneaux focuses on the personal and professional lives of more than sixty women who, despite their diverse backgrounds, each made complex conscious and unconscious compromises to create profit and power. Mullenneaux identifies patterns of macro and micro negotiation and reinvention and maps them onto the waves of legal, economic, and social change to identify broader historical links that complicate notions of the influence of gendered power and the definition of feminism; the role of the body/embodiment in race, class, and gender issues; the relevance of family history to the achievements of influential Americans; and national versus inter- and transnational cultural trends. While Staging Family expands our understanding of how nineteenth-century actresses both negotiated power and then hid that power, it also informs contemporary questions of how women juggle professional and personal responsibilities—achieving success in spite of gender constraints and societal expectations.  


Nan Mullenneaux is a lecturer in international writing in Duke University's Thompson Writing Program and Duke Kunshan University.  


"A richly detailed study of the rhetorical and performative strategies employed by nineteenth-century American actresses to construct the public identities as ideal, middle-class domestic women upon which their success depended. The work is solidly grounded in the context of mid-nineteenth-century American nation building, social mobility, and changing roles for women and vividly illustrates the development of a new, distinctive voice and culture for the young republic. Nan Mullenneaux's work is a welcome and highly readable addition to theater scholarship as well as an engaging work of social and women's history in its own right."—Amy Lehman, director of graduate studies, Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Carolina