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Acts of DesireWomen and Sex on Stage 1800-1930$
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Sos Eltis

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199691357

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691357.001.0001

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Bigamy and Sensation

Bigamy and Sensation

Chapter:
(p.47) 2 Bigamy and Sensation
Source:
Acts of Desire
Author(s):

Sos Eltis

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691357.003.0003

Plays about unintentional bigamy were as old as melodrama itself and remained popular throughout the nineteenth century, exercising an important influence on sensation novels such as Ellen Wood's East Lynne and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret and Aurora Floyd. This chapter looks at the tensions between the plays’ decorously moral plots and the more disruptive adulterous desires suggested by the plays in performance. This chapter argues that far from being comparatively moral simple, bigamy plays offered a model for the subversive narratives and moral ambiguities for which sensation novels became notorious. In turn, the success of dramatic adaptations of sensation novels enabled the pre-eminent sensation dramatist Dion Boucicault to push the limits of stage representation still further, scandalizing the critics in 1869 with the first nineteenth-century English courtesan drama, Formosa; or, the Railroad to Ruin.

Keywords:   melodrama, sensation, novel, bigamy, courtesan, adultery, performance, plot, fallen woman, theatre

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