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The Theatre of the Flappers?: Gender, Spectatorship and the ‘Womanisation’ of Theatre 1914–1918

  • Viv Gardner
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Abstract

Seven months after the Armistice, St John Ervine, writing on the deplorable state of the post-war British theatre, expressed the belief that it was all the fault of ‘the flappers2 and the aged gentlemen who loved “Hilloa Twaddle!”’ He exonerated the soldier who, ‘being a good-natured man, went to see those appeals to the immature and the senile simply to humour [the] civilians’.3 Ten years later Ervine was describing the ‘womanisation’ of theatre as the greater of the two threats that theatre had suffered since its hey-day before the Great War.4 Fellow critic, Frank Vernon, went further in his condemnation of female spectator-ship in his 1924 overview of a British theatre that he claimed had been ‘butchered for the War-time flapper’. In a lengthy diatribe he argued that the war-time theatre ‘reflected accurately the spirit of the times and deteriorated progressively as the deadly years went on, in ideals and all the finer things’ and asserts that ‘while the men on leave came and went, [the Flapper] remained, helping one soldier after another to spend his money on the entertainment she chose’. She was ‘an excited, uneducated young person who couldn’t be bothered to listen to a play unless it had melodrama and jejune sentimentality in slabs; she knew it was a jolly War, because it bought home men in uniform, and that thrilled her sexually’.

Keywords

Daily Mail Sexual Autonomy Home Front Deplorable State European Theatre 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Mary Macarthur (1880–1921). Trades Union leader, founder of the National Federation of Women Workers, and member of the wartime government’s Reconstruction Committee. Cited in M[arian] Phillips, ed. Women and the Labour Party (London: Headley Bros, 1920), 18.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The definition of the word ‘flapper’ shifts across the period, reflecting contemporary attitudes towards young women. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was used with two ostensibly contradictory meanings: (a) a female adolescent on the eve of her début in society i.e. between about thirteen and sixteen years of age, and (b) ‘a very young girl trained to vice’. The word was used flexibly throughout the war, but from about 1917 onwards more frequently to describe a young woman liberated from all traditional sexual and social mores. See Billie Melman, Women and Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1988), 28–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    St John Ervine, The Theatre in My Time (London: Rich & Cowan Ltd, 1933), 135.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
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    St John Ervine, The Organised Theatre (London: Allan and Unwin, 1924), 53. Though Ervine says the family were from Birmingham.Google Scholar
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  35. 76.
    Andrew Horrall, Popular Culture in London c. 1890–1918: Transformations in Entertainment (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 189, 193.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Viv Gardner 2015

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  • Viv Gardner

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