Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/13/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Boos, Florence S.

First Committee Member

Pascoe, Judith

Second Committee Member

Buckley, Jennifer A.

Third Committee Member

Mangum, Teresa

Fourth Committee Member

Marra, Kim


This study focuses on a series of late-century works by women writers that incorporate facets of theatrical performance into the printed book. Literary drama was a common genre of the Victorian and Edwardian period, used by writers such as Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold to elevate drama to the status of literature, a term synonymous with the printed page and the experience of reading. However, this project examines a series of women writers who, in contrast, used this hybrid form to challenge the assumed superiority of text. The values ascribed to the printed page—that it was a disembodied enterprise unattached to the whims of its audience or the particularities of its author—were antithetical to the experiences of women writers, whose work was often read in the context of their gendered bodies.

My study proceeds chronologically, reading the literary dramas of five writers—George Eliot, Augusta Webster, Katharine Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper (writing under the pseudonym “Michael Field”), and Elizabeth Robins—alongside changes in print practice and theatrical staging as well as evolving discourses about “literariness.” I argue that these women allude to theatrical performance in the text to show that the page always bears the physical traces of its authors and its audience. Each chapter blends book studies with performance studies, showing the way the form of a work invites particular responses from its readers. Overall, this project has two goals: one, to recover marginalized texts by women writers and revise narratives about the period to incorporate these pieces; and two, to span the scholarly chasm between Victorian poetry and drama and demonstrate, instead, the mutually constitutive relationship of these two art forms.

Public Abstract

Nineteenth-century England’s literary culture is perceived as anti-theatrical. Authors disparaged the stage as a site of commercialism and inauthenticity while praising the printed page as a space most capable of fostering intellectual rigor and sympathetic engagement. However, feeling pressure to claim their legacy as the country who gave the world Shakespeare, literary writers attempted to rescue drama by aligning it with the printed page and the experience of reading. This sentiment gave rise the genre of the “literary drama” in the midcentury. In this study, I examine the literary dramas of five influential women writers who use this form for a different purpose. Rather than remaking theater in the image of print, these writers blend print and performance to show that the two are interconnected rather than opposed. The printed page, these women argue, is as much an embodied and collaborative experience as the theater.

Literary dramas have been largely ignored in both theater studies and literary studies. The literary dramas of Victorian and Edwardian women writers have suffered a compounded neglect because our narratives of history are often told from the perspective of male writers. This study tilts the scales by reading forgotten works by women writers and rewriting our narratives about nineteenth-century theater and literature to include them.


Performance in literature, Women authors, George Eliot, August Webster, Katharine Bradley, Edith Emma Cooper, Elizabeth Robins


v, 253 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 230-253).


Copyright © 2017 Annmarie Steffes

Available for download on Tuesday, July 13, 2021