‘One always catches the "frou-frou" of the leading actress’ skirts’: Virginia Woolf’s dramatic journalism

Wright, E.H (2017) ‘One always catches the "frou-frou" of the leading actress’ skirts’: Virginia Woolf’s dramatic journalism. In: International Virginia Woolf Conference, 28 June - 2 July 2017, Reading University, UK.

Official URL: https://woolf2017.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/conf...

Abstract

Women during Virginia Woolf’s lifetime were not welcome to the realm of theatrical journalism. To review a play was to be out after dark, possibly alone and, as Gay Gibson Cima states, the female theatre critic would have to write ‘when proper women were sleeping’. Nor were they deemed, because of their sex, to be in a position to voice an opinion which guided the general public’s tastes – they were not considered able to ‘practise the “masculine” intellectual skill of judging’ (Carolyn Latta). Female theatre critics were characterized in 1912 by Mrs Desmond Humphreys as being no-bodies who observe the audience as much as the play and who cannot set their gender aside in order to comment objectively: One always catches the "frou-frou" of the leading actress's skirts throughout the maudlin inefficiency of feminine criticism. It is essentially feminine, and that says—all. However, ‘[w]hen women get the vote’ she argues, ‘all this will, of course, be altered’. Virginia Woolf reviewed editions of plays and theatrical memoirs for The Athenaeum, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and The Cornhill, before and after female enfranchisement, but rarely and reluctantly reviewed performances, unlike her friend Desmond MacCarthy who was a well-known theatre critic. Why? Was ‘the angel in the house’ stopping her theatre critic’s rather than her literary reviewer’s pen? Did she not consider herself qualified to comment? Certainly, her informal criticism of the dramas that she saw was percipient and often more illuminating than her handful of published reviews. This paper explores the issues that faced female drama critics in Woolf’s lifetime and when, where and why Woolf herself wrote them.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2018 09:40
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2018 09:41
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