Almost in its death throes at the turn of the present century, sensational melodrama threw up a curious mutation at the hands of the prolific playwrights and managers, the brothers Walter and Frederick Melville. In numerous of their plays performed in the decade or so before the First World War, the ‘New Woman’, whose rights and rebellions were simultaneously the focus of debate in so-called ‘problem’ plays, took on a new and threatening aspect – as the eponymously ‘dangerous’ central character of The Worst Woman in London, A Disgrace to Her Sex, The Girl Who Wrecked His Home, and a score or so of similar titles. In the following article Elaine Aston and lan Clarke explore the nature of these ‘strong’ female roles, both as acting vehicles and as embodiments of male fears and fantasies, in a theatre which existed in large part to serve such needs and which, through such characters, at once fictionalized and affirmed the fears of ‘respectable’ society about the moral stature of the actress. The authors both teach in the Department of English and Drama at Loughborough University, where lan Clarke is Director of Drama, having previously published his own study of Edwardian Drama in 1989.
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=NTQ The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, New Theatre Quarterly, 12 (45), pp 30-42 1996, © 1996 Cambridge University Press.