Tittle tattle and tales of stalking and murder feature in graduate Nell’s book on Victorian theatre

Date 13.09.2017

The seedier side of Victorian theatre has been brought to life in a new book from a University of Northampton graduate.

Life on the Victorian Stage is the third book from criminal historian, Dr Nell Darby, and focuses on how the British press covered the good, the bad and the ugly side of 19th Century theatre.

From financial disasters to stalking, from libel cases to murder, it offers a thoroughly researched by entertaining look at Victorian performers – and was inspired by Nell’s very own family history.

Nell, who gained a PhD in the History of Crime from the University in 2015. said: “I was motivated to write the book after researching the lives of my own ancestors, who included three singing, acting and dancing sisters – one of whom danced with the Folies Bergère in Paris, and another who eloped with an actor who had already undertaken a bigamous marriage.”

Viewed through the prism of Victorian newspapers, and in particular through their gossip columns, the book looks at the perils which faced actors.

It shows how the development of gossip columns and papers specialising in theatre coverage enabled fans to gain an insight into their favourite performers’ lives that broke down the public-private divide of the stage and helped to create a very modern celebrity culture.

Nell also offers an insight into how technological developments enabled the press to expose the behaviour of actors overseas, such as when actor Fred Solomon’s bigamy in America was revealed.

She also looks at the pressures facing actors, which could lead to suicide, and the impact of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act on what the newspapers covered, with theatrical divorce cases coming to form a significant part of their coverage in the latter half of the 19th Century. Other major events, from theatre disasters to the murder of actor William Terriss, are explored within the context of press reportage and its impact. The lives of those in the theatrical profession are put into their wider social context to explore how they lived, and how they were perceived by press and public in Victorian Britain.

Life on the Victorian Stage is published by Pen & Sword books, and costs £12.99 from Amazon.