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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A stage of their own : feminist playwrights of the suffrage era Stowell, Sheila


During the years 1906 to 1914, as a flagging woman's movement was revitalized by the controversial Women's Social and Political Union, women of all classes, talents and occupations were galvanized into action. Among them were a number of playwrights who used the overtly 'public' forum of drama to argue feminist views. It is their work, in its social, political and aesthetic context that forms the subject of my study. I take as my starting point Elizabeth Robins' dramatic 'tract' Votes for Women, produced as part of the Barker-Vedrenne Court season of 1907. Introducing both feminist and specifically suffrage topics to the world of Edwardian society drama, Robins showed her sister playwrights how existing theatrical models might be manipulated to their advantage. Her success helped spawn a series of so-called "suffrage" plays produced under the direct auspices of the Actresses' Franchise League and the Women Writers' Suffrage League. Intended as agitprop drama for the converted, this sub-genre, which is looked at in my second chapter, took advantage of the techniques of contemporary realism, farce, and civic pageantry for immediate and narrowly political goals. In so doing, however, it provided valuable experience for a number of women dramatists who chose as well to write for the larger and more broadly based audiences of London's West End. My final chapters focus upon selected works by professional playwrights Cicely Hamilton (Diana of Dobson's 1908), Elizabeth Baker (Chains 1909) and Githa Sowerby (Rutherford and Son 1912). I am particularly concerned with the manner in which each reworked the theatrical conventions of the late Victorians according to avowedly feminist lights. The success of their work as well as the ways in which it may be shown to differ from both the mainstream drama of Pinero and Jones and the progressive "new" theatre of Shaw, Galsworthy and Granville Barker, suggests that in this group of writers the English speaking world enjoyed its first cohesive and substantial women's theatre.

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