An Ethical Approach to Encountering Nineteenth-Century Girls

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 Independent scholar heatherff@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

In this article I explore the implications and challenges of applying the tenets of twenty-first century, girl-centered ethical research methodologies to a study of archived diaries, letters, and cultural ephemera made by Victorian girls. Archives of the words of young people can be augmented by the judicious application of knowledge that Victorian girls could not have had, and by using the ways in which contemporary young people theorize their own lived experiences. I suggest that the words of twenty-first century young people who participate in qualitative research studies may be used to speak to without speaking for historically located girls. In seeking an ethical girl-centered approach to learning about these long-deceased girls I call on aspects of Victorian studies and on studies that focus on youth and girlhood, as well as on contemporary drama in education within an overarching framework of ideas about the porosity of time and space.

Elsa plays the fiddle well & I the piano decently. I love it. So does she … . I am pretty, nice complexion blue eyes curly hair all that sort of thing. I bite my nails like a trooper … [o]therwise I shd have nice hands. However I am stopping. Mother [,] Elsa & I have enormous feet, I have the biggest worse luck! I am much too fat … I think it would be advisable if this diary were not left about! (15-year-old Molly Bell, 17 December 1897).

While conducting research for my dissertation1 and seeking to tease out the potential for at-home theatricals to have encouraged nineteenth-century middle-class English girls2 to explore alternative identities and possible futures, I consulted many girls’ diaries, letters, scripts, juvenile newspapers, and other ephemera. Girls’ own words support the idea that the popular Victorian leisure activity of what was called getting-up a play at home could provide especially potent thought-provoking tools for girls because scripts often invited girls to embody identities and to imagine futures for themselves that went beyond pervasive discourses concerning middle-class female adulthoods. Boys and girls participated in these plays but I focus on girls because the stakes were higher for them. During the nineteenth century, girls’ choices regarding employment, mobility, and education increased, and women’s suffrage seemed more and more likely. Theatrical projects could give voice to girls’ dreams and aspirations, highlight the limits of their lives, and allow them opportunities to try on different roles that temporarily othered them. Put differently, their families (their influential immediate social circle) could see them performing in ways that lay outside conventional expectations. Although my original work was an historical study, it became clear to me that applying modern methods of qualitative research from girlhood studies and the study of drama in education to the voices preserved in these Victorian girls’ diaries and letters, could both increase what is possible to learn from them, and, at the same time, improve the ethics of carrying out research.

Ethical Methodology

A central focus of research in the field of contemporary girlhood studies is on ethical methodology. Caroline Caron writes, “[G]irlhood studies is a rights-based approach to research and activism” with an “explicit focus on voice and participation by girls, and its concern with social change” (2016: 122); similarly, Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh3 describe the “girl method” (2008: 17) as consciously addressing what participatory research and advocacy with girls actually means, taking into account the researcher’s identities and relation to girlhood, and being aware of the intersecting cultural contexts of the girl participants. Both Caron’s definition and Mitchell and Reid-Walsh’s three points can be read as a checklist for an ethical implementation of a girlhood study. Yet, voice, participation, and advocacy/social change have particular meanings when they are applied to historical subjects. Using the qualitative ethnographic research methodology Kathleen Gallagher (2001, 2014) employs in studying young people and drama, Doreen Massey’s (2005) view of space, and Rebecca Schneider’s (2011) view of time, I wove the approaches of girlhood studies together in order to create an ethically grounded and imaginative framework in which to study the traces of the voices of historically located girls. My goal in adopting this girl-centered approach was to find ways of thinking about how nineteenth-century girls presented themselves, and reconcile that presentation with knowledge available today. This knowledge includes information about those girls’ specific life trajectories, changes in laws and socio-political conditions that influenced the lives of girls, and also includes awareness of the theoretical lenses that enable us to study girls and girlhood that have developed since these particular girls lived and left written traces of themselves. In this article I discuss the specific challenges with which I tried to deal in my applying contemporary ethical research standards to historical subjects, and I argue that girl-centered methodology improves analysis and it offers opportunities for advocacy.

Mitchell and Reid-Walsh’s (2008) points about being aware of researcher identities in relation to girlhood, and of the cultural contexts of the girl participants, seemed relatively simple to follow, but to address the first point of Mitchell and Reid-Walsh’s girl method method—paying conscious attention to what it means to carry out participatory research with girls and advocating for them—I needed to do something different since the girls with whom I was working, as it were, were deceased. While I had literary evidence of at-home theatrical activities, girls’ own voices and their creative work was essential to girl-centered analysis, so I started a challenging process of finding girls in the historical record, treating the archives as though they were research participants as well as sites where advocacy could happen. This gave me the opportunity to contribute to social change in two ways: I demonstrate how significant it is to studies in drama and history that girls matter; and I offer evidence that girls’ ideas, experiences, and agency in the past have the potential to be valuable to girls today.

Caron’s concerns about ethical, accountable research practice with girls address project design, political choices, and power dynamics. She describes designing research projects as “an active process of inclusion and exclusion” (2016: 126) understood to influence outcomes, and mitigated by a reflexive approach. Girls’ voices commenting on at-home theatricals were not easy to find. The way I chose what I thought of as my research participants, while not made with any political agenda in mind, had political implications that shaped what I could learn because nearly all the girls I discussed came from families where there was one published at-home theatrical playwright, and all the girls whose words I analyzed came from established, middle-class or upper-middle-class families. Furthermore, the power dynamic between the girls whose lives I examined and me is almost as fixed as it can be: I hold all the power because I am alive and they are not. After all, in the moment when Molly wrote, “I think it would be advisable if this diary were not left about!” I am sure she meant it. But I also know that she saved her diary, and that her family donated it to the archives in Newcastle along with the diaries she kept throughout her life. My approach attempts to sidestep that power differential through an intentional willingness to—as Patti Lather puts it—“get lost” (2008: 219). She argues in favor of letting “absolute knowledge,” and “commanding, controlling, mastery discourses” (225) be derailed by exposing so-called knowledge to chance and to “multiple othernesses” (227): that process prevents a researcher from getting comfortably settled in supposed knowledge. In particular, she suggests that a methodology of getting lost means that “constitutive unknowingness becomes an ethical resource and aporetic suspension becomes an ethical practice of undecidability” (227). Applying Lather’s ideas allows girls from the past to surprise, teach, and confound researchers dealing with past lives, and to gently shake up that seemingly fixed power dynamic and researcher-subject relationship.

Whether or not we are investigating historical subjects, ethical practice hinges on researcher-participant relationships. I worked with Kathleen Gallagher as a research assistant and saw at first hand how she conducts ethical research with project participants and I intentionally modelled my work on hers. Even though her research participants may never read the scholarly analysis resulting from their contributions, she still uses their words with careful respect; an ethical approach is orthogonal to whether or not there is direct impact on participants. Her participants would readily recognize their own words should they ever read her analyses. She invites participants to choose self-identifiers, such as gender and ethnic background, acknowledging that identities are ever-changing, and multiple, so participants’ descriptors, far from being fixed, represent a moment in time. Furthermore, Gallagher is interested in genuine encounters with young people. In a personal communication she said,

I do not hold ‘my expertise,’ back under some misguided assumption that to say anything at all is to obliterate their power and knowledge. They see who I am and I see who they are and we get on with it. I call them out and they call me out. That’s respect.

In the epigraph to this article drawn from her 1897 diary, Molly describes herself at 15 as being a nail-biter, fat with big feet, conventionally pretty, and able to play the piano decently. Respectful engagement means accepting that Molly is an expert on her own life. However, I also openly apply my own expertise and feminist politics when I analyze her words. I have relevant information Molly did not reveal or did not know: she was English, very well-off, from the upper middle classes, with an industrialist father and a proto-feminist mother who was a socialite and a writer. I also know things about Molly she could not yet know like, for example, that her life trajectory would include a husband and five children, and I view her through analytical tools such as feminist theories, performance studies, contemporary ethnographic research, and discourse theory. Yet when Molly’s pen formed letters on the page, her point of view concerning her own identity and how she felt about herself must be met with the same kind of critical respect Gallagher taught me to extend to research participants. But there is a primary tension in our power relations—while Gallagher and her students can “call each other out,” how can Molly do the same for me?

Patti Lather advocates getting lost and becoming unknowing. Her methodology embraces chance encounters and surprises, “in order to ‘learn by heart,’ knowledge from the other, thanks to the other” moving towards “knowledge that recognizes the inevitable blind spots of our knowing” (2008: 225). Girls, especially girls living in other times and places, are clearly other than me, even though I, too, am white, female, and English-speaking. Lather suggests that as researchers we need to get uncomfortable and need to unsettle the supposed absolute knowledge we think we already have; this is what ethics in this kind of research is about. When a research participant like Molly is already dead, historical analysis also needs to be of the sort in which she is permitted to confound the researcher.

Present-Minded Questions with Historically-Located Answers

The girls I studied are not central to the existing dominant historical narrative, but their diaries, letters, memoirs, and playscripts demonstrate that they were certainly capable of communicating for and about themselves. The challenge was therefore to locate nineteenth-century girls within the specific material and historical conditions of their lives, while examining their written words in search of answers to questions they never asked themselves (and perhaps did not have the theoretical tools to ask) about the potential meaning of dramatic activity in their lives. I wanted to heed Jo-Anne Dillabough’s words of caution not to “rescue” (2008: 194) girls from their own time and place by imposing my own contemporary feminist agenda. I also followed Jacky Bratton’s historiographic advice to theatre historians by asking “present-minded questions” without finding “present-minded answers” (2003: 14).

The key to simultaneously locate and dislocate nineteenth-century girls in this way is adopting a porous approach to space and time. Massey (2005) calls for a reconception of space—one that acknowledges that no space is static because it is made of multiple open-ended processual relations, and “makes room for a genuine multiplicity of trajectories, and thus potentially of voices” (2005: 55). Her ideas unfix space in ways that not only mean that drawing rooms could expand to fit the imaginations4 of girls performing at-home theatricals, but that drawing-room spaces simultaneously contained girls’ lived experiences, the imaginary worlds of the play, and imagined futures of the girls in the room. Spaces—even drawing rooms—are never static because they include the constantly changing ideas of people thinking about and in these spaces. Powerfully political, Massey’s open view of space allows us to see that girls inhabiting private space could speak beyond its boundaries, and could change the ways in which their identities occupied those spaces and were understood in them. Finding instances of words that stretch drawing-room spaces is an instance of the modified girl-method at work: the power of girls’ words disrupts mainstream versions of nineteenth-century history that systemically exclude or ignore the voices of girls regarding their socio-political world. Simultaneously, it demonstrates the ways in which nineteenth-century girls could use theatricals as thinking tools and ways to explore agency, alternative identities, and possible futures for themselves.

Schneider (2011) suggests disrupting the linear flow of time, attempting to allow time to play “forward, and backward and sideways” (2011: 6). Probing actor experiences in historic re-enactments (of events such as the American Civil War), she imagines that certain lived and artistic moments can productively and thoughtfully play back and forth to one another. Inspired by her analysis, I conceptualize time as porous, and find moments where traces of twenty-first century girls’ words might connect with and even speak to the performance experiences of nineteenth-century girls. It would be inaccurate and unethical to say that twenty-first century girls can speak for Victorian girls, or that the material conditions and lived experiences of girls participating in at-home theatricals are irrelevant in contextualizing the traces of nineteenth-century lives in the present. Schneider resists the sedimentation of time and argues in favor of working with time more playfully. Following Schneider, my girl-centered method extends my analysis of nineteenth-century girls’ experiences using my most methodologically controversial source of data—traces of twenty-first century girl voices, on similar subjects drawn from contemporary ethnographic research, answering the questions I could not ask the nineteenth-century girls. Traces of recent girls’ voices discuss drama experiences similar to those of nineteenth-century girls, judiciously creating cross-temporal dialogues regarding girls’ experiences, and provoking a reimagining of their meaningfulness to girls in the past.

Applying knowledge gleaned from twentieth- and twenty-first century drama education and girlhood studies to a specific, clearly contextualized historical moment requires as much clarity as possible about nineteenth-century professional and amateur theatrical productions, constructions of girlhood, and the constraints on and possibilities available to middle-class nineteenth-century girls. I also realize that the more recent girl traces I used were selected by ethnographers and drama education researchers like Kathleen Gallagher (2001, 2014), Christine Hatton (2013), Jonothan Neelands and Bethany Nelson (2013), and Mia Perry and Theresa Rogers (2013) within the context of entirely different projects.

In spite of the challenges, this ethically-driven, modified girl-method, enhanced by twenty-first century qualitative ethnographic research, and incorporating a porous view of time and space, creates opportunities to see girls of the past in powerful ways. Jill Dolan argues that what she calls performatives are doings, and when communities gather together to share live theatre, sometimes “it’s in the performance-based performative that hope adheres, that communitas happens, that the not-yet-conscious is glimpsed and felt and strained toward” (2006:171). In the sections that follow I introduce three girls: Juliana Horatia Ewing, BA-JANIE, and Amy Levy. Using traces of their lives, I demonstrate how the methodology can be applied, and can make the not-yet-conscious easier to glimpse.

Juliana Horatia Ewing, née Gatty

Juliana Horatia Ewing wrote many popular children’s stories, and her fame means that one challenge of dealing with her as research participant is the apparent tension between what she wrote about herself and what contemporaries published about her. I had to resist the temptation to reinterpret her words out of her historical context, and, instead, look for discourses that might explain the discrepancies. Prior to her marriage in 1867, Ewing frequently notes charades, rehearsals, and occasionally, at-home theatrical performances in her diary. When Ewing passed away, her sister Horatia Gatty eulogized her with a piece called “In Memoriam,” in which she declares, “All my earliest recollections of Julie (as I must call her) picture her as at once the projector and manager of all our nursery doings. Even if she tyrannised over us by always arranging things according to her own fancy …” (1885: 6). She also notes that Ewing exercised “a great influence over our theatricals.” Gatty claims that Ewing was an excellent mimic, and also, that she preferred “the walking gentleman’s part” in comedic “character” roles (10).

Yet, regarding theatricals, the young Ewing’s diary entries are remarkably perfunctory and brief, while other events are granted more lines: in 1856 she described a holiday party with dancing, and included the names of those with whom she danced the quadrille and a polka, and said who took her in to dinner, concluding, “We came away at one. I enjoyed it extremely” (3 January 1856). On 7 January she writes “Mr. Norton came last night as usual. He called today for his umbrella. Discussed Butler’s sermons & the obedience proper to wives, with Mother.” I can imagine the possible mortification that led a 15-year-old girl to underline the word Mother, and of course, a conversation about “obedience proper to wives” would be a significant one to have overheard, but the detail about Mr. Norton fetching his umbrella seems more note-worthy to Ewing than does the children’s play: “In the evening the children had a play of Regie’s [her younger brother] composing. We attended.” She does not say what the play was about, if there was music, whether she was impressed, or proud, or even if the players wore costumes. Of interest here is the fact that Ewing also regularly downplayed her own participation in theatricals. For example, Horatia Gatty writes that her sister’s “most successful character was that of the commercial traveler, Charley Beeswing, in ‘Twenty Minutes with a Tiger’” (1885:10). Yet Ewing’s own entry for a performance of that play in February of 1860 reads:

In the afternoon at Mrs. Guests’ Mrs. Greville Chester came. Dined at six after which we acted “20 minutes with a Tiger.” It went off well.

If Horatia is correct that her sister loved theatricals so much, and that she was especially good at roles like that of Beeswing, why does Ewing devote so many lines to describing attending a dance or to the account of a man retrieving a forgotten umbrella but write only “it went off well” about a performance of a particularly memorable role?

Even though Ewing is the expert on her own life, here I apply an historical perspective so as to examine her motives and the constraints that influenced what she wrote about herself. Valerie Sanders (1989) argues that Victorian middle-class girls and women were trained to avoid what they saw as overly indulgent and therefore selfish contemplation of their own lives, even in what might be considered private writing. Girls might be willing to analyze other girls, but self-reflection was inappropriate, or at least, as Jane Welsh Carlyle wrote in 1843, it would be indecent for a woman to write an autobiography “without reservation or false colouring” (Carlyle quoted in Sanders 1989: 1). I realized that while Gatty could write about Ewing’s success as a stage manager at home, or as the leading actor, Ewing simply could not bring herself to write a lot about something that already put her at the center of attention. In order to make meaning from Ewing’s diaries and in thinking about the significance of amateur theatrical activities in Ewing’s life, I carefully weighed her words about her activities other than theatricals against Sanders’s assertion that women were discouraged from focusing too much on themselves.

BA

Another set of letters is printed in Recollections of a Spinster Aunt (1908), edited by Sophia Beale. Beale’s aunt signs her letters to her cousin Mary “BA” or, once, “BA-JANIE” and, fortunately for my research, in January 1851, when BA was about twelve years old, she described performing a play at home.

The first things I considered were how BA presented herself, and what I knew about her life. Apart from her self-chosen name, I knew very little about BA. A middle-class child, she grew up in London, holidayed by the sea, and attended a wide range of professional theatrical performances and spectaculars. Her niece’s introduction explains that she published most of her aunt’s correspondence and diary fragments in the book, with the exception of some love-letters whose envelopes bore a Jamaican postmark, which she burnt.

I was especially interested in two letters in which BA described their at-home theatrical performance of “King Charming” because she performed as two very different characters. BA tells her cousin, “I have two parts, the good fairy and the Lord Chamberlain because he sings a song and wears a turban and baggy trousers and I wear a beard and a mustarche.” She also candidly notes that “Alice [is] the bad fairy because we don’t like her.” In her second letter, BA tells Mary, “I wish you could have seen the play. A lot of people came and they said it was lovely” (22). BA reflects that when she performed as the Fairy Asuzena, she was so frightened that she forgot the words. Then she declares, “But I did not mind when I was the Turk in a turban and a beard and mustachos and black eyebrows. Everyone laughed so when I sang the song … (23).

I would like to have been able to ask the young BA whether she loved her part as the Turk in “King Charming” because she could play the male role and could hide behind a beard, or because she could stride about the stage confidently as someone completely other than who she was in daily life, or because of the appreciative laughter. I would have asked why she felt more nervous as the fairy. But, being unable to probe her statements the way I would in a qualitative research study, I turned to other research about theatrical dressing up including studies concerning nineteenth-century fancy-dress and twenty-first century studies on cosplay.5

What was known as Victorian fancy dress has many commonalities with twenty-first century cosplay. Broadly speaking, nineteenth-century English girls would most likely have held beliefs about people they called Oriental (from where we would now call the Middle East), based on widely circulating so-called information found in geography studies, fictional works, and various spectacular performances. In fictional works, for the most part, including theatricals, so-called Oriental women were imagined as passionate, sensual, and violent while Oriental men were described as being indolent, impulsive, and violent so embodying dramatically those kinds of characters invited white, middle-class girls to take behavioral risks and to be transgressive in ways impossible to enact in daily life. Advice manuals included specific rules concerning character performances and costumes, comparable to role performance expectations for particular characters described by present-day cosplayers. I wonder if self-reported motivation and payoff for cosplayers could inform my understanding of the possible benefit of fancy dress to otherwise socially constrained Victorian girls. I was intrigued by two cosplayers’ statements in a twenty-first century Hong Kong study (Rahman et al. 2012):

Joyce: Every time I put on a cosplay costume, I immediately feel like I’m transformed into a new person. It’s kind of an experience of changing my identity.

Po Yin: Being a cosplayer, I can transform myself into many different characters—a heroine, a cute little girl, or even a beautiful boy… I’m no longer a passive reader or video game player. I’m a producer and performer (333).

Their comments suggest that, for them, cosplaying is, indeed, a chance to experiment with and embody a different identity from one they perform in daily life. Furthermore, the cosplay experience makes Po Yin feel like a “producer” in its offering her agency and a feeling of power and control. Rahman et al. argue that in order “to feel ‘alive’ in a mundane society” cosplayers search for comfortable spaces in which to express themselves, and “role-play their beloved characters in order to fulfill the role/dream that is missing in real life” (333–334). Analyzing their participants’ words, they claim that changing identity “can offer excitement, contentment, escapism, and empowerment” (334) and “imaginative and alternative identities can create meanings for the performers” (333).

The analysis of Rahman et al. (2012) resonates with Cynthia Cooper’s discussion regarding the appeal of nineteenth-century fancy dress parties, which she calls “a reprieve from limitation on [the players’] identities” (1997: 37). Just as participants in the formerly mentioned study discuss the importance of cosplaying “correctly” (emphasizing details like shoes, appropriate poses, and even colored contacts), nineteenth-century fancy dress literature emphasizes “appropriate” costumes for different people, which Cooper calls balancing the fine line between “ephemeral freedom and retaining integrity” (37). Cosplayers seek out sanctioned arenas in which to experiment with identity performance, like nineteenth-century girls opting to perform unexpected difference in the culturally appropriate venue of a fancy dress ball, or like BA, in the relative privacy of a drawing-room theatrical performed among family members and friends. Although I could not ask BA, of course, to expand on her comments to Mary about her experience performing in “King Charming,” some parallels between cosplay and Victorian fancy dress suggest that I can judiciously use these comments about cosplay, and apply the insights they give to the past. Treating BA and her words with respect means probing the possibilities in her letters, neither ignoring BA’s words nor supposing that they contain the full story. By my recruiting contemporary vocal traces to re-imagine the past, BA is not ripped out of her time; she becomes part of a cross-temporal dialogue in porous time, and in space that is understood as a process, where girls’ words matter.

Amy Levy

Like Juliana Horatia Ewing, Amy Levy was a published author who wrote novels, poetry, and essays. Today she is also known as an Anglo-Jewish New Woman who suffered from depression and who took her own life when she was only twenty-seven. I have seen few diaries and letters in which Levy discusses her theatrical activities, but she published a play called “The Unhappy Princess,” and Linda Hunt Beckman allowed me to see the family’s original production playbill. I use this example to show how twenty-first century qualitative research influences how I worked ethically and thoughtfully to make meaning out of an historical, girl-made cultural product.

Amy Levy and her family performed her play, “The Unhappy Princess,” at home in 1880. The play is not autobiographical: she credits George MacDonald’s “Double Story” (1875) as inspiration. But Levy’s treatment of the characters is self-referential and poignant, and while MacDonald’s princess is prone to temper tantrums, Levy’s princess, Morosa, is inexplicably melancholy. Beckman argues that the Princess “shows that Levy could laugh even at this aspect of herself” (2000: 14) and the witty, if conventional, script ends after the Princess learns the pleasure of hard work (which means that she is too busy to be sad), and she and her Prince Felix (whose name, of course, means happiness) fall in love. Princess Morosa succeeds in embracing life while Levy, apparently, could not.

Although analyzing the play in terms of Levy’s later suicide is reductive, her family’s original playbill is an interesting document to consider in terms of the power of role-playing as a thinking tool. The playbill indicates that while Princess Morosa was depicted in a way that echoed her own sorrow, Levy chose not to play that part herself. Instead, Miss Irene Cohen (possibly a cousin or friend) had the opportunity to interpret and imagine depression. One of Christine Hatton’s studies that specifically encouraged girls to use drama to re-imagine femininities argues that student comments and written assignments demonstrate that her carefully constructed drama improvisation project provided “space for care, courage and empathy to be experienced and communicated” (2013:162). Rather than improvisation in the style of realism, the dominant style of the late Victorian era was gestural/pictorial or melodramatic acting in which certain gestures and types of body language were seen to convey and externalize inner emotions truthfully. The externalized gestural code did not diminish the impression of the reality of this style of performance for Victorian audiences. Like Hatton’s students, unless Irene chose to mock malaise in her performance, she could imagine Princess Morosa’s sorrow as her own, possibly leading her to a sympathetic understanding of depression. Meanwhile, Amy Levy took on the part of the generous, sensible, and self-composed Wise Woman and thus gave her audiences the opportunity to see her differently than they might have done in what we have come to call real life. Simultaneously, through dramatic performance, Levy could observe herself behaving differently. The power of this kind of witnessing is supported by a drama education study conducted by Mia Perry and Theresa Rogers that “invited connections between what and how we perform and what and how we watch” (2013: 49). The potential for role playing to encourage spectators and actors to simultaneously re-imagine characters and think critically about their performance is also found in Jonothan Neelands and Bethany Nelson’s study with students who performed Hamlet. Many students suggested that performing a character helped them to understand it differently. However, as one student, Lily, explained, “Complicated characters will only reach you if you are trying to reach them” (2013: 27), thus underscoring the fact that acting does not immediately guarantee that young people will experience something that might change the way they think about themselves and others. Irene Cohen and Amy Levy did not perform roles that would probably have been close to their quotidian lives, and it is impossible to ask them how they felt about those characters, or the performance experience. However, studies with drama education students in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century offer suggestions about how to interpret and imagine the possible meanings of those nineteenth-century performance experiences for the girls who performed them.

Ethics, History, and Girls’ Voices

Engaging with questions inspired by Paul Ricoeur (1981) regarding scholarly amnesia of the now, Jo-Anne Dillabough and Jacqueline Kennelly express concern about how young people get frozen in text or in historical time, and what they call the persistent hold of “the residual weight of the past.” They contrast this weight with the notion that “regardless of place or temporality, young people are always the bearers of something which must necessarily exceed their own frontiers” (2010: 3). Dillabough and Kennelly are, among other things, examining how the legacy of past discourses influences how young people are framed in the contemporary world. Without suggesting a direct causal trajectory between nineteenth-century young people’s lives and young people today, I think that there is value in imagining places where young people “exceed their own frontiers” and are not only able to reach into the future, but can speak in ways that help us to re-imagine and understand girl experiences in the past. The work needs to be done with care because young Victorians had their own lived experiences and material conditions that differ substantially from those of participants in drama education studies in Canada, Australia, England, and the United States today. Yet, considering the words of twenty-first century young people as a filter through which present-minded questions can be studied is illuminating; it honors the power of young people to theorize and analyze their own lives, ultimately making space for a kind of girl-centered advocacy.

Margaret Werry discusses ways in which performance history can offer a “politics-to-come,” and, when one is doing performance research with “the Other,” she recommends a fluid “Oceanic” approach to thinking about time and space so that “the past appears before your face to lead you (spatially and temporally) into the future” (2010: 222). If the past is leading us then surely young people’s voices describing their own lives and experiences can help us to listen better to the long-ago voices of young people, to hear, as it were, ideas that might exist in what they did and did not write, and to see the contrasts between young lives of the past, and those of the present we now live. Caron (2016) argues that ethical girlhood scholars need to be held accountable to the implicit goals of advocacy and social change. If voices from the past leading us into the future were inaudible before, sharing them is an essential piece of advocacy. If they are interpreted in ways that consider the lives of girls today, that is advocacy, too. Putting girls at the center of an historical study complicates how we can conduct research, but it ensures that girls are treated with respect, it changes what we can discover, and it reminds us to use the work to see social change in the past, and to make positive changes today.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Kathleen Gallagher for being an inspiring advisor, mentor, and friend. Thanks to the archivists who supported my research, especially Geraldine Hunwick in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Notes
2

The Victorian conception of middle-class girlhood is not monolithic (Moruzi 2012), but I adopt the general definition: female, unmarried and still marriageable.

3

Reid-Walsh also studies girls in historical contexts. (See, for example, Reid-Walsh 2016.)

4

See Paul Harris 2000.

5

Cosplay is a combination of the words costume and play, and is both a verb and a noun. Probably originating in Japan, it refers to the practice of dressing up as favorite fictional characters, usually from science fiction, manga, and anime films.

References

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  • Harris, Paul L. 2000. The Work of the Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Hatton, Christine. 2013. “Educating Rita and Her Sisters: Using Drama to Reimagine Femininities in Schools.” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 18, no. 2: 155167. doi:10.1080/13569783.2013.787254

    • Crossref
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  • Lather, Patti. 2008. “Getting Lost: Critiquing across Difference in Methodological Practice.” Pp. 219231 in The Methodological Dilemma: Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research, ed. Kathleen Gallagher. London and New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Levy, Amy. 1898. “The Unhappy Princess.” Samuel French. The British Museum.

  • Massey, Doreen. 2005. For Space. New York: SAGE Publications.

  • Mitchell, Claudia A. and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. 2008. “How to Study Girl Culture.” Pp. 1724 in Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia, Vol 1, ed. Claudia A. Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. Westport: Greenwood Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moruzi, Kristine. 2012. Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850–1915. Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington: Ashgate.

  • Neelands, Jonothan, and Bethany Nelson. 2013. “Drama, Community and Achievement: Together I’m Someone.” Pp. 1529 in How Drama Activates Learning: Contemporary Research and Practice, ed. Michael Anderson and Julie Dunn. London and New York: Bloomsbury.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Perry, Mia, and Theresa Rogers. 2013. “Meddling with ‘Drama Class’, Muddling ‘Urban’: Imagining Aspects of the Urban Feminine Self through an Experimental Theatre Process with Youth.” Pp. 4762 in Drama and Theatre in Urban Contexts, ed. Kathleen Gallagher and Jonothan Neelands. London and New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rahman, Osmud, Liu Wing-sun and Brittany Hei-man Cheung. 2012. “‘Cosplay’: Imaginative Self and Performing Identity.” Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body and Culture 16, no. 33: 317342.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline. 2016. “Modding as Making: Religious Flap Books Created by Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Girls.” Pp. 197211 in Girlhood and the Politics of Place, ed. Claudia Mitchell and Carrie Rentschler. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ricoeur, Paul. 1981. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, trans. John B. Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Sanders, Valerie. 1989. The Private Lives of Victorian Women: Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century England. New York and Toronto: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schneider, Rebecca. 2011. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Trevelyan, Mary K. (Molly Bell). Diary. February 1897–May 1898. MS. CPT Ex 146. Special Collections, Robinson Library. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Newcastle University.

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    • Export Citation
  • Werry, Margaret. 2010. “Interdisciplinary Objects, Oceanic Insights: Performance and the New Materialism.” Pp. 221234 in Theater Historiography: Critical Interventions, ed. Henry Bial and Scott Magelssen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Heather Fitzsimmons Frey is interested in theatre and dance for young audiences (TYA), and in how cultural, indigenous, youth, and girlhood identities are performed. She has done research with partners in Canada, England, Germany, and the United States, and has had articles published in Canadian Theatre Review and Youth Theatre Journal. Heather co-edited Theatre and Learning (2015) with Art Babayants, and edited a critically contextualized anthology of plays called Ignite: Illuminating Theatre for Young People (2016).

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Beale, S. Sophia, ed. 1908. Recollections of a Spinster Aunt. London: William Heinemann.

  • Beckman, Linda Hunt. 2000. Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters. Athens: Ohio University Press.

  • Bratton, Jacky. 2003. New Readings in Theatre History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Caron, Caroline. 2016. “Placing the Girlhood Scholar into the Politics of Change: A Reflective Account.” Pp. 122136 in Girlhood and the Politics of Place, ed. Claudia Mitchell and Carrie Rentschler. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Cooper, Cynthia. 1997. Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada’s Governors General, 1876–1898. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dillabough, Jo-Anne. 2008. “Exploring Historicity and Temporality in Social Science Methodology: A Case for Methodological and Analytical Justice.” Pp. 185218 in The Methodological Dilemma: Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research, ed. Kathleen Gallagher. London and New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dillabough, Jo-Anne, and Jacqueline Kennelly. 2010. Lost Youth in the Global City: Class Culture and the Urban Imaginary. New York: Routledge.

  • Dolan, Jill. 2006. “Utopia in Performance.” Theatre Research International. 31, no. 2: 163173.

  • Ewing, Juliana Horatia. Diaries. 1855–1866. MS. HAS 41. Sheffield Archives, Sheffield.

  • Fitzsimmons Frey, Heather. 2015. “Victorian Girls and At-Home Theatricals: Performing and Playing with Possible Futures.” Ph.D. diss. University of Toronto.

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    • Export Citation
  • Gallagher, Kathleen. 2001. Drama Education in the Lives of Girls: Imagining Possibilities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Gallagher, Kathleen. 2014. Why Theatre Matters: Urban Youth, Engagement, and a Pedagogy of the Real. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Gatty, Horatia. 1885. “In Memoriam.” Pp. 3-82 in Juliana Horatia Ewing and Her Books, ed. Horatia Gatty. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harris, Paul L. 2000. The Work of the Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Hatton, Christine. 2013. “Educating Rita and Her Sisters: Using Drama to Reimagine Femininities in Schools.” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 18, no. 2: 155167. doi:10.1080/13569783.2013.787254

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lather, Patti. 2008. “Getting Lost: Critiquing across Difference in Methodological Practice.” Pp. 219231 in The Methodological Dilemma: Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research, ed. Kathleen Gallagher. London and New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Levy, Amy. 1898. “The Unhappy Princess.” Samuel French. The British Museum.

  • Massey, Doreen. 2005. For Space. New York: SAGE Publications.

  • Mitchell, Claudia A. and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. 2008. “How to Study Girl Culture.” Pp. 1724 in Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia, Vol 1, ed. Claudia A. Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. Westport: Greenwood Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moruzi, Kristine. 2012. Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850–1915. Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington: Ashgate.

  • Neelands, Jonothan, and Bethany Nelson. 2013. “Drama, Community and Achievement: Together I’m Someone.” Pp. 1529 in How Drama Activates Learning: Contemporary Research and Practice, ed. Michael Anderson and Julie Dunn. London and New York: Bloomsbury.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Perry, Mia, and Theresa Rogers. 2013. “Meddling with ‘Drama Class’, Muddling ‘Urban’: Imagining Aspects of the Urban Feminine Self through an Experimental Theatre Process with Youth.” Pp. 4762 in Drama and Theatre in Urban Contexts, ed. Kathleen Gallagher and Jonothan Neelands. London and New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rahman, Osmud, Liu Wing-sun and Brittany Hei-man Cheung. 2012. “‘Cosplay’: Imaginative Self and Performing Identity.” Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body and Culture 16, no. 33: 317342.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline. 2016. “Modding as Making: Religious Flap Books Created by Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Girls.” Pp. 197211 in Girlhood and the Politics of Place, ed. Claudia Mitchell and Carrie Rentschler. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ricoeur, Paul. 1981. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, trans. John B. Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Sanders, Valerie. 1989. The Private Lives of Victorian Women: Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century England. New York and Toronto: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schneider, Rebecca. 2011. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Trevelyan, Mary K. (Molly Bell). Diary. February 1897–May 1898. MS. CPT Ex 146. Special Collections, Robinson Library. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Newcastle University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Werry, Margaret. 2010. “Interdisciplinary Objects, Oceanic Insights: Performance and the New Materialism.” Pp. 221234 in Theater Historiography: Critical Interventions, ed. Henry Bial and Scott Magelssen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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