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The Victorian Actress in the Novel and on the Stage

Renata Kobetts Miller

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Examines representations of the actress in Victorian novels and theatres

This book analyses how Victorian novels and plays used the actress, a significant figure for the relationship between women and the public sphere, to define their own place within and among genres and in relation to audiences. Providing new understandings of how the novel and theatre developed, Miller explores how their representations shaped the position of the actress in Victorian culture with regard to her authenticity, her ability to foster sympathetic bonds, and her relationships to social class and the domestic sphere. The book traces how this cultural history led actresses to appropriate the pen themselves by becoming suffragette playwrights, thereby writing new social roles for women.

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List of Figures
Series Editor’s Preface
A Note on Dame Ellen Terry
Introduction: Setting the Stage: Views of Victorian Theatre
1. An Actress’s Tears: Authenticity and the Reassertion of Social Class
2. The Actress at Home: Domesticity, Respectability, and the Disruption of Class Hierarchies
3. The Actress and Her Audience: Performance, Authorship, and the Exceptional Woman in George Eliot
4. Novelistic Naturalism: ‘The Ideal Mother Cannot Be the Great Artist’
5. From Playing Parts to Re-writing Roles: Actresses and the Political Stage

About the Author

Renata Kobetts Miller is professor of English and deputy dean of Humanities and the Arts at the City College of New York. She is the author of a book on reinterpretations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Her work on the Victorian novel and the theater has appeared in the Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies, MLQ and BRANCH, among other publications.


Renata K Miller’s deeply researched and original book reveals the overlooked centrality of the Victorian actress to representations of women’s rebellion in novelists from Dickens to James. In revelatory chapters on George Eliot’s depiction of actresses in her fiction and poetry, and the actress as suffrage activist, muse, and feminist inspiration, she rewrites the literary history of the Victorian era.

- Elaine Showalter, Princeton University

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