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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s


Edited By Charlotte Ashby, Grace Brockington, Daniel Laqua and Sarah Victoria Turner

The period from the 1870s to the 1920s was marked by an interplay between nationalisms and internationalisms, culminating in the First World War, on the one hand, and the creation of the League of Nations, on the other. The arts were central to this debate, contributing both to the creation of national traditions and to the emergence of ideas, objects and networks that forged connections between nations or that enabled internationalists to imagine a different world order altogether. The essays presented here explore the ways in which the arts operated internationally during this crucial period of nation-making, and how they helped to challenge national conceptions of citizenship, society, homeland and native tongue. The collection arises from the AHRC-funded research network Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870–1920 (ICE; 2009–2014) and its enquiry into the histories of cultural internationalism and their historiographical implications.

This collection has been edited by members of the ICE network convened by Grace Brockington and Sarah Victoria Turner.

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19. ‘So Utterly Foreign to the Spirit of Modern English Drama’: Internationalism and Theatrical Relations in London in the Early Twentieth Century (Katja Krebs)


← 428 | 429 →


19   ‘So Utterly Foreign to the Spirit of Modern English Drama’: Internationalism and Theatrical Relations in London in the Early Twentieth Century

‘Now, it is obvious that the drama is, of all others an intensely racial art’, claimed Harley Granville Barker (1877–1946), one of the foremost campaigners for the establishment of a National Theatre in London.1 While his efforts to establish such a theatre were not successful during his lifetime, he was one of the most outspoken reformers of theatre in Britain in the early twentieth century.2 His idea of what he terms an ‘exemplary theatre’ seems at first sight anything but international. His assessment of contemporary theatre practices, whether management, writing or indeed acting, seems obviously and robustly nationalistic, as indicated by his account of the art of performance:

But the compulsion thus laid afresh at that critical moment [the death of the director T. W. Robertson] upon English actors […] to be modelling their style more than half the time upon French acting was a serious matter. […] [N]o doubt a study of its methods would be as great an addition to any actor’s education as is some study of the French language to education in general. But it would be no good substitute for an in-and-out familiarity with one’s own; and acting is either an art of intensely racial expression or it is nothing.3 ← 429 | 430 →

Barker’s position was complex. He fought for...

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