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Norwalk, CT 06855-1702

Acting Like a Lady

British Women Novelists and the Eighteenth-Century Theater

By Nora Nachumi

LC 2006046364
ISBN-10: 0-404-64850-9
ISBN-13: 978-0-404-64850-3
Cloth $94.50
AMS Studies in the Eighteenth Century, No. 50

“Nora Nachumi’s important book . . . examines in a clear yet nuanced way the engagement with theatricality that pervades women’s fiction of the period. The key to this book is its interdisciplinary approach. . . . Acting Like a Lady offers much contextual material which will prove useful for readers less familiar with the period and its theatre. Nachumi enters into debates which are crucial to the study of eighteenth-century culture and society. . . . Acting Like a Lady is a significant work which brings the novel into dialogue with the stage in an intelligent and fruitful way. Particularly valuable is the appendix. . . . This appendix represents substantial original research and provides an important scholarly resource. It demonstrates that the author’s work has ramifications beyond this book, and it is to be hoped that Acting Like a Lady will inspire further research into this important aspect of women’s theatrical and literary history.”

—Fiona Ritchie, Times Literary Supplement

“The book’s third part, an appendix of women writers and their theatrical involvement, is a painstaking piece that will be useful to future scholars.”

—Bonnie Latimer, Modern Language Review

“The interdisciplinarity and breadth of Nachumi’s study . . . make it an important contribution to several critical discussions.”

——Emily Hodgson Anderson, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Acting Like a Lady examines the impact of the eighteenth-century theater on the ways British women novelists represented female subjectivity. The theater, Nachumi demonstrates, offered women alternatives to contemporary models of feminine nature that insisted on a direct correlation between a lady’s appearance and her quality of mind. It provided theatrical images and tropes that helped women writers dramatize the performative nature of female experience. Grounded in theater history, Acting Like a Lady draws on current theoretical work concerning gender and representation on the stage and in novels. It considers its primary subjects (Burney, Inchbald, Austen) in depth, and places them in relation to each other and to other novelists, performers, and playwrights. In each case, the novelist’s use of theatrical images and practices is linked to her own theatrical experience and to debates relevant to the eighteenth-century stage. Especially valuable to scholars is the appendix demonstrating that approximately one-third of the female novelists writing between 1660 and 1818 were actresses, playwrights, or part of a theatrical milieu. Acting Like a Lady envisions these women as participants in a critical conversation about female nature and performance that continues today.


Part One: Acting Like a Lady
1. The Theatrical Woman and the Feminine Ideal
2. The Lady and the Novelist: Paragon and Performer

Part Two: Writing Like a Lady
3. Those Simple Signs: Elizabeth Inchbald and the Performance of Emotion
4. Not as Juliet She Followed: Frances Burney and the Performance of Femininity
5. Seeing Double: Jane Austen and the Perception of Performance


Appendix: British Women Novelists and the Theater, 1660–1818

Selected Sources

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Acting like a lady : British women novelists and the eighteenth-century theater / Nora Nachumi.
     p. cm. — (AMS studies in the eighteenth century ; no. 50)
     ISBN 0-404-64850-9 (alk. paper)
     1. English fiction—18th century—History and criticism.
     2. Performing arts in literature.
     3. English fiction—Women authors—History and criticism.
     4. Theater—Great Britain—History—18th century.
     5. Inchbald, Mrs., 1753–1821—Criticism and interpretation.
     6. Burney, Fanny, 1752–1840—Criticism and interpretation.
     7. Austen, Jane, 1775–1817—Criticism and interpretation.
     8. Theater in literature.
     9. Actors in literature.
     I. Title
     II. Series.
PR858.P44N33 2008
823'.5093579—dc22                                                       2006046364