Plays in American Periodicals, 1890–1918 by Susan Harris Smith (auth.)

By Susan Harris Smith (auth.)

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The Arena, a progressive periodical, presumably would have only been concerned with the social message and not the art, dramatic, literary, or theatrical of the poem. William Carpenter’s more complicated summary and interpretation of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman in Bookman (1897) is in three parts. First there is a long plot summary of the play, which concludes with an excerpt between Mrs. Borkman and 28 Plays in American Periodicals Ella from the end of the play; second, there is an interpretation of the symbolism and an explanation of the play’s social lesson; third, there is an appraisal of the play’s literary merits.

The construction of the antebellum American reading public has been amply detailed in A Fictive People by Ronald J. Zboray, who stresses the reading public’s preference for fiction over fact as it negotiated both national and individual identity. Michael Lund in America’s Continuing Story makes a similar argument for a later period, 1850–1900, giving primacy 18 Plays in American Periodicals to the national magazine industry, which “helped preserve regional and ethnic identity through fiction published in its pages at the same time that it asserted a national identity in the broad range of its subject matter and the great reach of its distribution” (111).

One could profitably study the genealogy of modern drama as manifested by the excerpts and commentary in Current Literature and, within those confines, create a lineage of (largely) politically engaged (though not “politically correct”) and (largely) Anglo-American plays. In “The Theatrical Muck-Raker Answered” (1909), Current Literature invokes Jane Addams’s praise for the American dramatist eager to attack serious social problems and reminds its readers that they “are not unaware of the ethical note so strongly sounded in the American drama and so persistently ignored by its critics” (669).

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