Spectators, Actors and the American Dramatic Text
Edited By Barbara Ozieblo and María Dolores Narbona-Carrión
Reading Drama. Plays in American Periodicals 1890-1918 39
Reading Drama Plays in American Periodicals 1890-1918 Susan HARRIS SMITH University of Pittsburgh In The Long Revolution, Raymond Williams reminds us that the most difficult thing to get a hold of, in studying any particular period, is the felt sense of the quality of life at a particular place and time, a sense of the ways in which particular activities combined into a way of thinking and living. The “felt sense of life” I want to recover is that of America at the turn of the last century, from 1890-1918, a time at which a new social order, managed by the growing middle class, a professional- managerial class, engaged in the project of achieving a “modern” cul- tured status through the activity of reading which, I am not the first to argue, was a consumer activity. The consumption of culture encouraged and enabled the reader-consumer to bask in an expanded world of goods to be purchased and lands to be claimed. The new American national identity, fed by mass culture, mass advertising, and mass anxiety was one of patriotic material advancement at home and rationalized right- eous expansionism abroad. At the turn of the century, the cultural milieu encouraged the middle class to self-improve as both readers and consumers, to participate in and contribute to an America that was presented to them as a cultural and political success dependent upon their full co-operation and adher- ence to a narrowly circumscribed national norm. “Nation,” as defined by Benedict Anderson, is “an...
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