Review: Horrible Prettiness

Dear Constant Reader,

Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture by Robert C. Allen (1991).

There was burlesque before striptease! In 1868 Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes brought burlesque to America. Professor Allen examines its effect on theatre and on society. Early burlesque was a form of musical satire. Popular tunes and themes were rewritten to spoof current social norms. Women were the stars and frequently played men, in abbreviated classical costumes, showing off their legs. “Thompsonian” burlesque was considered a threat to the cultural norms, giving women power and sexuality on stage.

By the 1890’s burlesque had changed so much that Lydia Thompson said she did not recognize the art form she had brought to America and it was going to change even further. For one thing, women lost their voices on stage and became merely objects of desire, showing their legs and even more and more. By the 1920’s striptease had become an indelible part of burlesque.

If you are interested in early burlesque, this is the book. It’s an academic work, thoroughly annotated, with a large bibliography.

Published in: on 20 June 2012 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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