Maudie: Revelations of Life in London and an Unforeseen Denouement
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Shortly after her arrival in Berlin, her brother Theodore had been arrested in San Francisco for the murder of two young women; he was convicted and executed for these homicides in In London, where she returned in , it was still not public knowledge, nor did it shadow her on her tour of Asia in and In , her family past caught up with her. During the last months of the war, theater impresario J.
Notices of this upcoming role initially appeared with no adverse comment in the London press, but they were followed by a vicious attack on the production in the right-wing press. Allan lost her case and never recovered her career. Everyone else associated with the trial was also tainted by the affair. Infamous in its own time, the libel suit has resurfaced in many posts reevaluations of the cultural, social, and even political consequences of World War I.
Political historians of the British Right have noted that the trial empowered individuals on the extreme political fringe to vent their hostility toward the Asquiths and to scotch any suggestion of peace negotiations. The libel trial, argue Samuel Hynes and Philip Hoare, was part of a cultural backlash against advanced thought and cultural experimentalism—all that came to be embodied in the legacy of Oscar Wilde.
Despite its disastrous effect on Allan, the trial may also have registered and publicized lasting changes in pre-war femininities. Given their focus on the war and its consequences, most of these studies ignore the pre-war history of Maud Allan or treat it briefly as a prelude to the trial. Overall, they are inclined to treat Allan as a passive object, a cultural fraud who was made into a pre-war icon of advanced taste by a worldly coterie of society ladies and homosexuals, only to be transformed by the radical Right into a whipping boy for Asquith and his supporters in Allan was an iconic figure of fantasy, but she was also an active agent in the production of this fantasy.
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She was the bearer of the Wildean decadent legacy, but that is not all she stood for in the pre-war years. She accomplished this shift by positioning herself outside a single national framework. Her hybrid display accounts in part for her capacity to attract an audience of men and women of radically different, even mutually exclusive, social constituencies, who were also participants in her creative enterprise. In the Palace Theatre of Varieties, the built environment where Maud Allan danced, the two meanings of cosmopolitanism were spatially and concretely expressed.
Even more troubling than the physical location was the fact that the first year exhausted the supply of commercially appealing English operas. In , under its new name, the Palace Theatre turned to international attractions: As a variety theater, the Palace no longer fell under the supervision of the theater censor but was instead subject to the restrictions of the London County Council and its inspectorate. To compete with these attractions, the Palace revived tableaux vivants, also known as poses plastiques or Living Pictures, as a form of erotic entertainment in Sometimes, the tableaux vivants would take their inspiration from genre and history paintings, but the most notorious ones were based on ancient Greek statuary, mythological subjects, or recent orientalist representations of the nude.
As amateur theatrics, it would lead to developments from which early modern dance would emerge by the end of the century. Inspectors sent out by the London County Council to monitor Living Pictures in the variety theaters had difficulty evaluating the exhibits. In , they challenged the dancing and entertainment license of the Palace Theatre before the licensing committee of the council.
Echoing contemporary discussions in the press concerning the salacious influence of French salon painting, he insisted that a demoralizing foreign influence was at work in the selection of original art works selected for reproduction on the Palace stage. In the end, the Palace license was renewed, but the Palace directors were cautioned to be more careful in the future. Despite these warnings, the Palace continued to promote Living Pictures throughout the s. He invited Maud Allan to perform, as a kind of mobile substitute for Living Pictures who would satisfy the cultural distinctions of high art but also manifest disturbing signs of animated modernity and sexuality.
Her London triumph provoked Duncan admirers, including prominent figures in feminist theater such as Christopher St. Each projected herself as a freestanding artist, who managed her career, performed and choreographed her own dancing, made her own costumes, and danced to concert-grade Romantic music. Both enthusiastically embraced the trappings of international stardom, including sumptuous residences and world tours with elaborate retinues.
Fashioning Salome as her star role was a move that gave this American entertainer her credentials in exoticism and sexual display.
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Salome makes love to the severed head, kissing it and declaring her love for it. Outraged, Herod orders his soldiers to kill her. The visual juxtaposition of a mobile female body and a very immobile, trunkless male head a head without a heart was the most shocking and climactic element of the performance. Reviewers defended the artiste and her superior background against imputations of impropriety. Blame was attached instead to the provocative turns of her many foreign, commercial imitators, who proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic and who seemed to have copied her costume down to the last beaded fringe.
Her American body seemed to embody many of the qualities associated with Anglo-Saxonism: Allan both highlighted and obscured her North American identity when she defended her art in interviews and published memoirs. Grein, manager of the Independent Theatre and the music reviewer of the Sunday Times, recognized the Delsartean heritage. For the Duncans and Maud Allans, what else are they but Delsartians. Another illustration in the Sketch fetishized Allan in a second way: When other scholars have reproduced theatrical photographs of her, they have not assessed the cultural associations that circulated through them.
In the cover illustration, she is clad in an undulating, jangling costume, consisting of breastplates of pearls and jewels above her waist and a transparent black ninon skirt with chains of pearls strung around her hips. And the jangling costume must have accentuated any motion by establishing an audible aftereffect. Even in this still image, her movement is nonetheless encoded in her body. The history of her performance is still visible in the strained neck, the oppositional position of the arms, the twisting of the torso. These newspaper illustrations of her classical repertoire adhere to an Art Nouveau, Aubrey Beardsley style: One widely circulated photograph of Allan as Salome goes even further: She is dancing to please herself, yet encouraging and enabling a voyeuristic gaze.
A wide range of women were drawn to her performance. These included well-off ladies who had already made Central London their trade route for daytime shopping and who had begun to combine an evening visit to the Palace Theatre with dinner or supper at the Savoy Hotel. My mother who despised the art of ballet [as practiced] by second rate dancers, was enthusiastic about this new Grecian frieze form of movement. She sent us weekly to watch and learn. Lady Diana also remembers another aristocratic admirer of Allan, Lady Constance Stewart Richardson, who went on to perform classical dancing on the London and New York stages in , attired in her own wisp of chiffon.
These imitations were not always socially benign. By her gesture, Lady Constance highlighted the antisemitic components of Salomania that otherwise remained subdued in pre-war Britain. A careful selection of the letters was republished in her newspaper column.
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I tried to move my arms like yours, but they seemed to have much fewer joints. I dance always as a lady. I am sure you will say at once what an extraordinary thing for a man to do; but, believe me, I am not effeminate. Allan was a magnet for men who used the standing room in the back of the theater as a cruising ground to pick up other men.
These activities, unremarked on in the public media but noted in the London County Council records or in later memoirs, would surface with a vengeance during the libel trial. This strategy clearly paid off. In a program cover from , ladies and gentlemen in evening clothes pass a portrait of a scantily clad Maud Allan in the lobby; in a second cover, a man and a woman in the audience watch a stage where the figure of the female performer is barely visible. This image highlights the public intimacy and vital expressiveness of the couple. Dancing schools that offered classes in social and theatrical dancing opened in unprecedented numbers and expanded to meet the female demand inspired by Allan and Pavlova.
The elite female constituency that adored Allan and Pavlova also embraced a new form of social dancing, when the tango craze spread from Paris to London in First performed on stage in as a dance number in The Sunshine Girls, the tango was then refined, polished, and presented in a sophisticated form appropriate for social dancing, under the supervision of professional dance instructors. Modern dancing, both as a performance and as a form of social dancing, contributed to a new kind of nightlife for women as well as men. In pre-war years, it sent elite women to the tea dances and dinner dances at the Grand Hotels, where they danced publicly amid tables of seated diners and even hired male partners employed by the establishment.
This is a significant shift. Already the pre-war center for after-theater suppers in foreign restaurants, Soho burgeoned into the staging ground for hundreds of clandestine nightclubs that opened during the war to escape the drinking curfews and to feed a new appetite for late-night dancing. Meanwhile, the English style of dancing established the criteria for dance competitions and sophisticated social dancing throughout Europe and the empire.
They were part of a cultural revolution in all the arts, associated with cosmopolitan imports performed in elite spaces but also communicated to a broad reading public through the photo-illustrated press. In a public interview, Mme. In reviewing the play, the press emphasized the illicit status of the production. To advertise feminism, the Edwardian suffrage movement had appropriated the technologies of spectacular theater, involving the massing of bodies and sumptuous set designs and costuming.
Allan, avowedly no suffragist, aligned herself with the rebellious cultural modernism of Margot Asquith and her set, who celebrated a mobile, expressive individualism but disparaged the aims and methods of political feminism. The feminist production of Salome in unsettled these divisions. An international traffic in rumors started on the Continent even before her visit to London in These early rumors linked her professional role as femme fatale to her personal life, a media strategy that had developed concurrently with the rise of the international star system.
The rumors emphasized the homoerotic overtones of her female following in London. In the pre-war period, these rumors seemed to have been largely contained, at least in the public media, on one side of the Atlantic. This courtroom drama at the Old Bailey occupied the attention of the press for six days in June after the initial proceedings at Bow Street Police Court.
Neither Allan nor her counsel was prepared for the interrogation that followed. In the end, she ultimately fell back on an orientalist defense: Billing clearly benefited from a growing public distrust of wartime censorship and propaganda; the strict control of information fed the flames of gossip and made spy stories, including this one, thinkable as did the execution of Mata Hari as a German spy in France in Ironically, Allan was punished for seeming to possess too much knowledge, particularly knowledge of a dangerous cosmopolitan variety.
Billing and his expert witnesses pointed, first of all, to the Wildean legacy of symbolism she seemed to embrace. At this time of national scandal, Justice Darling, the sitting judge, rather surprisingly invoked British feminism as the antidote to dangerous cosmopolitanism.
Previous critics have seen the trial as a simple repudiation of cosmopolitanism, but the picture is more complex. This version of cosmopolitanism not only pushed her outside the boundaries of the nation, it even alienated her from her North American roots.
The trial limited the dynamic effects of her dance to a private, elite cult, whereas her performance had promoted a new body idiom to a diverse metropolitan audience. The mass illustrated press was complicit in this blurring. Besides narrowing the set of meanings that Allan helped promote, the trial also repositioned feminism in the field of body politics. Billing and his cohorts usurped the role played by liberal feminist campaigners in attacking vicious foreign entertainments; his right-wing journal, The Vigilante renamed from The Imperialist even pirated its title from the National Vigilance Association.
Also passing unnoticed by Darling was the feminist performance of Salome, signaling the emergence of a radical feminism devoted to individualist sexual expression and to disrupting the categories of virtue and vice that sustained Victorian womanhood. Justice Darling may have anathematized Allan as representative of an elite group of idle, disloyal, pleasure-seeking women, but he simultaneously endorsed a law that disenfranchised ordinary, young women—the female munitions workers central to the war effort—as giddy, unthinking devotees of unseemly dancing.
To a considerable degree, before and after the war, the story of dance in London is the story of domestication, of the incorporation of transnational cultural forms into a national culture. This incorporation helped transform the metropolitan consumer economy. However, dancing never lost its negative edge. When the new dancing culture came under wartime siege, some of it relocated from the public venues along the thoroughfares to more circumscribed and clandestine arenas, to new social spaces outside the law.
By the end of the period I have discussed, these social spaces took the form of private clubs—nightclubs, cabarets, theater clubs—most of them housed in liminal, cosmopolitan Soho. In , the flapper, with her new body image of youthful, sexual ambivalence, signaled both this domestication and its cosmopolitan subversion. However domesticated the female dancer had become, she remained a disorderly manifestation of sexual modernism, of cultural hybridity, and of disloyalty to the disciplined body politic.
This article was completed while the author was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California. I am grateful for the financial support provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Grant no. Thanks to the editors and anonymous readers of the American Historical Review for their suggestions.
Thanks also to the following individuals for their careful reading of the text: Walkowitz, and Rebecca L. Walkowitz is a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. Her research and writing has focused on the history of political culture, social and cultural contests over sexuality, and on urban space. She is the author of Prostitution and Victorian Society: This article is part of a book-length project on the cultural geography of Central London, —, which focuses on a particular built environment—Soho and its surrounding thoroughfares—and explores the diverse cultures of modernity and modernism that it helped stage.
On the complex mapping of Anglo-Saxonism, metropole, and empire, see Judith R. Merrie Had A Little. The Abduction of Edith Martin. Seeds Of The Rainbow. The Simple Tale of Susan Aked. The Adventures Of Father Silas. Tales Of The French Riviera. The Adventures of Lady Harpur.
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