Portable Theater - American Literature & the Nineteenth Century Stage


Alan L Ackerman Jr

Published by John Hopkins University

"Alan Ackerman examines selected writers of the second half of the nineteenth century for their relationship as poets and fiction writers to the evolving theater of Edwin Forrest at one end and the new dramatic realists at the other ... Even for readers familiar with the theater of the time, Ackerman's book provides intriguing new readings to force one to rethink old assumptions... Ackerman's book is essential reading for unpacking (to use a James metaphor exploited brilliantly by the author) the relations between an often ignored popular theater and the 'portable theater,' in Howells's phrase, of the better-known novelists. Americanists should understand that both theaters are inextricably linked, and Ackerman makes a deft guide to opening a treasure-laden box" - Jeffrey H. Richards, American Literature

"The Portable Theater is an important step out of a dead-lock between literary and theatre studies. Its conceptual vision and acute analysis will be indispensable for studies in any period devoted to analyzing the relation between the literary text and the theatre. It should, therefore, be required reading not only for Americanists, but also for students and scholars of drama at large, as an exemplary study of how indispensable a knowledge of theatre history is for an adequate understanding of literature" - H. Martin Puchner, Theatre Journal

"Ackerman effectively uses the particulars of theatre history to make his argument, most especially reading his selected authors against the shift in nineteenth-century theatre from melodrama, with its hyperbolic and theatrical modes of expression, to realism, with its focus on understated and quiet expression, and its newly darkened theatres, which enabled the illusion of eavesdropping on private moments and interior states... An intellectually strong and compelling book." -- Randall Knoper, University of Toronto Quarterly

"The Portable Theater is clearly written and carefully researched. It will be required reading in graduate courses on nineteenth-century American literature and drama. I plan to include it on my list of recommended readings for the undergraduate class on American drama I teach each year." -- Donald E. Pease, Dartmouth College

"Alan Ackerman resituates American theatre in American literature, in the prose narrative performances of Whitman, Melville, Howells, Alcott, and James. He does so with an authoritative command of stage history and the theatrical representations that generally permeated American culture in the nineteenth century." -- Joseph Roach, Yale University

In The Portable Theater, Alan Ackerman investigates the crucial importance of theater in the works of Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, William Dean Howells, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry James. Whether as drama critics, playwrights, amateur actors, or simply as avid theater goers, each of these authors thought deeply about the theater and represented it in literature.

Table of Contents



List of Abbreviations

1 SETTING THE STAGE: Representing Nineteenth-Century American Theater

2 CHARACTER ON STAGE: Walt Whitman and American Theater

3 "ANOTHER VERSION OF THE WHALE-SHIP GLOBE": Narrative and Drama in Moby-Dick

4 THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY: William Dean Howells and the Rise of Dramatic Realism

5 THE THEATER OF PRIVATE LIFE: Acting Out in the Families of Louisa May Alcott

6 UNPACKING THE BOX: Form and Freedom in the Dramatic Writings of Henry James

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