“The Manager’s Daughter – or, the perils and delights of virtuosity.” Society for the History of Children and Youth. Vancouver, BC. June 2015.
This paper takes as its focus E.R. Lancaster’s The Manager’s Daughter, an 1837 theatrical afterpiece commissioned by Thomas Davenport for his young daughter. Like other child performers of the era, Jean Margaret Davenport was celebrated for her portrayal of such tragic figures as Richard III, Shylock, and Rob Roy. But her talents extended beyond tragedy, as her manager father was determined to show. Lancaster’s metatheatrical afterpiece transports the Davenports into a fictionalized scenario wherein Jean Margaret assumes the role of six other characters in order to help her father (the eponymous manager played by none other than Thomas Davenport ) navigate a managerial crisis. When the supporting players refuse to play at Davenport’s benefit, Jean demonstrates that she has the talent and range to replace them all, appearing by turns as a Yankee actor, French minstrel, Scottish lass, Irish rogue, English girl, and old woman.
In addition to showcasing Jean Margaret’s virtuosity, The Manager’s Daughter offers a unique, albeit fictionalized, glimpse of the Davenports’ daily routines and professional challenges. More importantly, though, for the purposes of our panel’s investigation of children and imperial politics, The Manager’s Daughter can be read as an imperial allegory, with each of Jean Margaret’s impersonations representing the British Empire’s allies, rivals, and internal threats. In this reading, the title of the afterpiece refers both to the specific child performer and to the many daughters (and sons) needed to manage the empire. And, as I aim to show, the politics of this afterpiece became even more apparent when the Davenports toured North America and the Caribbean in the late 1830s and early 1840s.