Stage Mothers

Stage Mothers
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Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660–1830
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Laura Engel
Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650–1850
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Stage Mothers expands the discussion of eighteenth-century women’s social and dramatic roles by demonstrating the complicated, contradictory, and celebratory faces of maternity on stage and on the page. This collection examines and extends recent debates in women’s history, theater history, and eighteenth-century literature and drama.

Stage Mothers explores the connections between motherhood and the theater both on and off stage throughout the long eighteenth century. Although the realities of eighteenth-century motherhood and representations of maternity have recently been investigated in relation to the novel, social history, and political economy, the idea of motherhood and its connection to the theatre as a professional, material, literary, and cultural site has received little critical attention. The essays in this volume, spanning the period from the Restoration to Regency, address these forgotten maternal narratives, focusing on: the representation of motherhood as the defining female role; the interplay between an actress’s celebrity persona and her chosen roles; the performative balance between the cults of maternity and that of the “passionate” actress; and tensions between sex and maternity and/or maternity and public authority. In examining the overlaps and disconnections between representations and realities of maternity in the long eighteenth century, and by looking at written, received, visual, and performed records of motherhood, Stage Mothers makes an important contribution to debates central to eighteenth-century cultural history.


Elaine M. McGirr and Laura Engel

Part One: Actresses, Motherhood, and the Profession of the Stage

Chapter 1. “The Divided Heart of the Actress”: Late Eighteenth-Century Actresses and the “Cult of Maternity”

Helen E.M. Brooks

Chapter 2. The Inconvenience of the Female Condition: Anne Oldfield’s Pregnancies

J.D. Phillipson

Chapter 3. “Inimitable Sensibility”: Susannah Cibber’s Performance of Maternity

Elaine M. McGirr

Chapter 4. Working Mothers on the Romantic Stage: Sarah Siddons and Mary Robinson

Ellen Malenas Ledoux

Part Two. Representations of Mothers on the Stage and the Page

Chapter 5. Rebels for Love: Maternity, Absolutism, and the Earl of Orrery’s Mustapha

Laura R. Rosenthal

Chapter 6. Rowe’s The Ambitious Stepmother: Motherhood and the Politics of the Blended Family

Marilyn Francus

Chapter 7. Staged Virtue: Anastasia Robinson as Ideal Mother in Two Operas of the 1720

Kathryn Lowerre

Chapter 8. Maternal Duties and Filial Malapropisms: Frances Sheridan and the Problems of Theatrical Inheritance

Emrys Jones

Chapter 9. My Son, My Lover: Gothic Contagion and Maternal Sexuality in the Mysterious Mother

Jade Higa

Part Three. Actresses and their Children

Chapter 10. Elizabeth and Keppel Craven and the Domestic Drama of Mother-Son


Judith Hawley

Chapter 11. Mommy Diva: The Divided Loyalities of Sarah Siddons

Laura Engel

Chapter 12. The Gerbini Letters: or, A Tale of Two Mothers

Gilli Bush-Bailey


About the Contributors

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