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Acting Naturally

Victorian Theatricality and Authenticity
Lynn M. Voskuil

BUY Cloth · 288 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813922690 · $39.50 · Jun 2004

In Acting Naturally Lynn Voskuil argues that Victorian Britons saw themselves as "authentically performative," a paradoxical belief that focused their sense of vocation as individuals, as a public, and as a nation. Rather than confirming the customary view of Victorian England as fundamentally antitheatrical, Voskuil shows instead how the Victorians’ fabled commitment to the culture of sincerity was often authorized, rather than invariably threatened, by their equally powerful fascination with acting and performance. She explores a diverse range of materials: plays, novels, drama and theater criticism, newspaper reviews and columns, theatrical memoirs, private diaries and letters, cartoons, political pamphlets, and satires. Throughout, Voskuil charts the mid-Victorian heyday of these beliefs and their late-Victorian transformations in a variety of cultural practices and controversies, among them the conduct of audiences at sensation theater in the 1860s, political debates over the Eastern Question in the 1870s, and the cult of personality that shaped the popularity of the stage actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in the late 1880s.

By demonstrating that Britons were perceived or enjoined to "act naturally" in such cases, this pathbreaking book not only offers an innovative interpretation of Victorian culture but also challenges what has become a theoretical commonplace: the unreflective use of postmodern theatricality to explain earlier cultures and literatures. Precisely by analyzing central issues in the historical context of the nineteenth century, Acting Naturally reconceives widely used theoretical models that have influenced literary, performance, and cultural studies more broadly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Victorian Literature and Culture Series


"Acting Naturally stands to make a significant and lasting contribution to Victorian studies and performance theory.... There is nothing quite like it out there, and it is going to be unavoidably influential—no one will be able to adopt the thesis that the Victorians were antitheatrical without taking Voskuil into account, without answering to her brilliant reframing of the problematic.

Amanda AndersonJohns Hopkins University, author of The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment

About the Author(s): 

Lynn M. Voskuil is Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston.

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