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Theatrical Celebrity and the Coming of the Picture Postcard, 1890-1914

When: Wednesday, November 2, 2022, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Where: Graduate Centre Queen Mary University of London Mile End Road London E1 4NS


A lecture by Prof. Rohan McWilliam on the nature of theatrical celebrity in the nineteenth century through the lens of picture postcards. 

This talk examines the way the coming of the picture postcard in the 1890s changed the nature of theatrical celebrity and the relationship between performer and audience. Postcards are an under-used resource for the cultural historian. They were integral to the creation of the image of the star. What we find is the construction of a visual culture that sustained a fan base and predated the cinema. This paper will look at the images of performers who appeared in straight drama and in musical comedy, contrasting the images of actors and actresses. The talk raises issues about celebrity culture, portraiture, performance and sexuality.

About the Speaker

Rohan McWilliam is Professor of Modern British History at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and a former President of the British Association for Victorian Studies. He is at work on a history of the West End of London, the first volume of which was published in 2020: London’s West End: Creating the Pleasure District, 1800-1914 (OUP). Rohan has published widely on the histories of popular politics and popular culture, including his book The Tichborne Claimant: A Victorian Sensation (2007) and articles on topics ranging from Victorian melodrama to the Labour Party in the 1980s.

The Respondent

Dr Aoife Monks, Director of Arts and Culture and Reader in Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies (Queen Mary University of London)

This is a launch event for the QMUL Centre for the Study of the Nineteenth Century and its Legacies.

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