This is the fourth week of my year-long blogging project. See here for more details. Charles Stratton was born in January 1838 to Sherwood Stratton, a carpenter, and his wife, Cynthia, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. At birth, he weighed 9 pounds, 8 ounces (a large baby) and he continued to develop at a “normal” rate for the first … Continue reading Charles S. Stratton (General Tom Thumb)
This is the third week of my year-long blogging project. See here for more details. Mrs. John Drew (Louisa Lane Drew, 1820-1897) was a doyenne of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century stage, as celebrated for her lengthy stage career as for her role as matriarch of the Drew family, one of the US’s oldest … Continue reading Louisa Lane (Mrs. John Drew)
This is the second week of a year-long blogging project. I’m proposing to blog on a different child actor for 52 weeks. See here for more details. Today I turn my attention towards the performer who first piqued my interest in child actors and actresses, Jean Margaret Davenport, and the scrapbooks documenting her colonial travels. … Continue reading Jean Margaret Davenport
What follows is merely an introduction to Master Betty and his first appearance before London audiences. For a much longer treatment of his career, see Jeffrey Kahan’s excellent book cited below. Master William Henry West Betty is arguably the first child celebrity of the modern era. I say arguably because much depends on how you … Continue reading Master William Henry West Betty
This year, I’ve decided to blog each week on a different c19 child performer: 52 posts for 52 weeks, with perhaps a few additional posts thrown in for fun. While some of the children on my list are well-known among historians of theatre and childhood (e.g. Master Betty, Cordelia Howard, Charles Stratton), others are relatively … Continue reading Celebrating Child Performers of the 19th Century
I’m a recent convert to Twitter and am thoroughly enjoying meeting new scholars working in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and reading about their work. It’s inspiring to see so many archive-bound, history loving scholars out there. And after some reflection, I’ve decided that I’d like to try something different next year – I’m going … Continue reading Hatching a plot
Today, I received a large brown box with David Garrick inside – well, ok, a Staffordshire figurine depicting him in the role of Richard III. I purchased him on eBay for 10 pounds, a pretty awesome deal for such a celebrated actor. He’s obviously been around for a while, as a slightly chipped nose and … Continue reading David Garrick in the mail
I’m reading an article by Stella Tillyard on celebrity in Georgian England and she references the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of celebrity. According to the OED, the term “celebrity” wasn’t applied to a person until 1849. But I’m fairly confident that I came across descriptions of Master Betty as a “celebrity” in some of the pamphlets I … Continue reading Celebrity c. 1849
The other night, in preparation for my trip to Halifax, I fell down an eBay rabbit hole and spent about an hour looking at Staffordshire figurines. I ended up bidding on a really interesting figurine of David Garrick as Richard III (the tent scene just after he awakens from his dream) because it seemed relatively inexpensive. … Continue reading Jean D, is this you?
Here are some more photos from my trip to Halifax. On Thursday, Dalhousie professor Shannon Brownlee took me out for an excursion to Peggy’s Cove. What a beautiful spot! And on Friday, I had a chance to walk through Halifax’s stately Public Gardens. It was like stepping back in time – appropriate for this project. … Continue reading Halifax trip
On Thursday night, I gave a lecture entitled “Precious Objects: The Material Culture of Nineteenth-Century Child Performers” at Dalhousie as part of the MacKay Lecture series. The audience seemed quite receptive (perhaps it was the slide with images from Us Weekly’s “Stars – They’re Just Like Us” pages) and I received some really excellent questions from students … Continue reading Precious Objects in Halifax
On Wednesday, I leave for Halifax, where I’ll be giving a guest lecture as part of the MacKay Lecture Series at Dalhousie University. The theme this year is “Performance Across Boundaries,” which resonates so strongly with the research I’m conducting for this project, e.g. boundaries of age, gender, region, class, nation, human/nonhuman, object/subject. I’m really … Continue reading Getting ready for Halifax
Here are some photos from my recent research trip to Boston/Cambridge (Sept. 28-Oct. 3), where I worked in the Houghton Library at Harvard and also visited the University of Connecticut to give a talk about our new book with my colleague Joanne Zerdy.
I just learned of this exhibit today – Candice Breitz’s The Woods at the Peabody Essex Museum. Sorry to have missed it! See here for a more detailed description of the three video installations and here for Breitz talking about her creative process.
Wow, this week has just flown by! I’ve seen so many amazing objects, manuscripts, photographs, and related material. Today, with the assistance of a generous archivist, I managed to find the illustration of Jean Davenport as Young Norval – the one Maclean references in his article (!!) – along with several playbills. They were all … Continue reading Last day at the Houghton
It’s not everyday that you come face to face with a figurine made almost two centuries ago but today I had the wonderful experience of meeting a Staffordshire figurine of Jean Margaret Davenport. She arrived rather unceremoniously at my table in the Houghton reading room but she was captivating. I took many photos of her … Continue reading First day in the Houghton Library
Tomorrow I fly to Boston to begin a week of research in the Harvard Theatre Collection. This will be my first real visit to the HTC – I had a brief tour of the Houghton Library in 2008 as part of a conference but that was just a glance. Now I’ll be immersing myself completely for five … Continue reading Getting ready for the HTC
This week I had a chance to follow a rather peculiar tip and fell down a most unusual rabbit hole. I’m beginning to think that an exploration of the material outlined below might make for an interesting conference paper or even eventually an article or book chapter… Clara Morris’s Head In her 1897 memoirs, actress … Continue reading Phrenological wonder
Just came across this provocative photo series by Sanne de Wilde, which documents “The Dwarf Empire” in China, a theme park populated by hundreds of “little people.” I can’t help but see connections to the nineteenth century performances of Charles Stratton, Lavinia Warren, and others. For more, read Sean O’Hagan’s Guardian article here.
Another object of fascination: snuff boxes. I came across a large collection of snuff boxes bearing Master Betty’s image while I was doing research at the Folger Shakespeare Library several years ago but I haven’t had time to reflect on their significance until now. Though one of my next steps will involve looking for histories of … Continue reading Snuff boxes
I’ve become obsessed with tables and chairs lately, particularly tables and chairs as they appear in images of Charles Stratton, Lavinia Warren, and other dwarf (or little person) performers of the nineteenth century. Now tables and chairs are rather common furniture items and figure prominently in nineteenth century portrait photography, especially photographs of middle-class families, wherein wives stand … Continue reading Tables and chairs
Today I met with my Research Assistants, Molly, Anthony, and Julie, who will be working with me on the project this year. I’m excited to see what we discover as we follow related research paths… More soon.
As a tangent to this project’s exploration of performing children, I’ve become fascinated with contemporary children’s performances , not so much performances by professional child actors or singers but performances of consumption by “average” children. I’ve been working on an essay on American Girl’s May 2014 arrival in Canada, focusing on the “haul” videos made to … Continue reading Canadian dolls for Canadian girls
In a few weeks I’m planning to visit the Houghton Library at Harvard where I hope to view several Staffordshire figurines of Jean Davenport in a variety of roles. I’m also eager to see materials on Charles S. Stratton, Clara Fisher, Master Betty, the Marsh children, and many of the other child performers I’ve been tracking. … Continue reading Upcoming research
I am delighted to be unofficially launching the project website with this post. The designer, Brendon George, has done a fantastic job of equipping the site with a variety of tools I’ll need to represent the project research. And in case you were wondering, the colour scheme (purple) has been chosen with the period in … Continue reading Unofficial launch