Category Archives: Anna Battigelli

a new 18th-century blog, early modern online bibliography

Anna Battigelli, a long-time contributor to the Long 18th, has just started her own blog, Early Modern Online Bibliography, which is devoted to the bibliographic issues raised by EEBO, ECCO, the Burney Collection, and other emerging digital resources.  Here’s her description:

[Early Modern Online Bibliography] was created to facilitate scholarly feedback and discussion pertaining to valuable online text-bases for the humanities, such as EEBO, ECCO, and the Burney Collection.  Of particular interest are bibliographical problems encountered while using these text-bases.

Anna’s blog already contains a useful roundup of review articles concerning these databases, here.  I suspect that such a blog could be a very useful place for pooling information concerning the best techniques for digging into these databases (either for one’s own or student research), and for confirming anomalies.  You’ll see that I’ve also added it to our blogroll, under “Eighteenth Century Resources.”

This blog is designed to supplement her ASECS roundtable scheduled for Albuquerque, 2010: “Some Noisy Feedback.”

Best, DM

PS: please let us know if you’d like to suggest your own, or someone else’s, eighteenth-century blog for us to put onto our blogroll.  We’re always on the lookout for more links to 18th century-themed blogs.

Chapter 3 of Joseph Roach’s *It*: “Hair”

One of the things I like best about Joseph  Roach’s It is his unwillingness to deprive his topic-that assemblage of charisma, magnetism, and often tragic historical contingency we call “It”-of its mystery.  For him, the true nature of It is “the spark of the divine original in the perfection of a fleshly type” (118).  The religious overtones are intentional, and one of the book’s achievements is its study of opposites, such as “saint” and “celebrity,” in which Roach, citing the novelist George Meredith, finds “poignant antiphony” (10). 

What links saints and celebrities is their staged vulnerability as history is performed on their bodies.  His third chapter, “Hair,” explores “the enchanted uses of hair in the careers of four actors whose claims to the possession of It remain unassailable and whose afterimages retain their vivacity” (119).  These are Thomas Betterton, Colley Cibber, James Quin, and David Garrick.  Each actor not only had “It”; they performed “It,” in large part, according to Roach, through their social performance of hair.

We know that hair is visually expressive; think of Donatello’s Mary Magdalen, whose disheveled hair is a synecdoche for her agonized suffering.  In this chapter, which focuses, not on saintly penitence but on the staged representation of emotion, we see actors manage their hair in order to achieve either tragic gravitas or its caricature, comic foppishness.  When we consider the difficulty of managing hair, particularly the “big hair” of the tragic actor’s full-bottomed wig, the claim that hair is “performed” becomes clearer.  One overly hasty movement, and a wig’s curls are likely to fly about, transforming intended gravitas into foppishness.  Just as actresses had to learn how to manage their gowns gracefully, transforming themselves onstage into sophisticated aristocrats, so, too, did Betterton artfully manage his voluminous head of hair, in the process transforming his clumsy body into a figure of tragic nobility. 

Betterton did this, Roach tells us, by controlling his head, upper body, and gait, restraining his motions in order to keep the audience focused on his facial expressions and on his hair’s poignant expressive value.  The magic of Betterton’s skill at balancing the exuberant expressivity of his locks with the restrained composure of his gestures led the actor Barton Booth to exclaim, “divinity hung round that man!” 

By contrast, Colley Cibber did what fops do so well: “turn convention into novelty by pushing a certain look to extremes” (136).  His foppish Sir Novelty Fashion exaggerated Betterton’s “big hair,” further publicizing and popularizing it-so much so, that Colonel Henry Brett raced backstage with an offer to purchase Cibber’s wig to make his own fashion statement.  Actresses joined the rush to replicate Betterton’s style, feminizing “big hair” by parading it onstage and inspiring women in the audience to wear their hair in similar fashions.  Through the accident of living beyond the crest of the eighteenth-century “big hair” craze, James Quin was relegated to obsolescence before the eyes of an audience for whom “big hair” had finally become outmoded.  David Garrick seized on this change in hair fashion by replacing the full-bottomed wig with a variety of hair lengths and styles.  His “fright-wig” even had a special mechanism enabling hair to rise up to express horror. 

The careers of each of these actors reveal historical forces acting on actors as they perform or manage their hair.  These actors’ vulnerability to those forces-a vulnerability Roach elsewhere calls stigmata-helped them attain It.  Certainly not saints, these four men nevertheless shared the saint’s performative transcendance of the ordinary.

As Roach explains, hair “exerts a magical power even greater than that of accessories and clothes, in part because it functions as both simultaneously” (117).  Falling somewhere between nature and culture, hair can be managed, and its management determines an actor’s or celebrity’s skill.  Princess Diana put this skill to use when she once confessed, “People wonder how I always look as if I’ve just had my hair done.  It’s because I have.”  The performative quality of her claim shows her awareness of how hair might be managed or performed by registering antithetical roles: on the one hand, she was ordinary, a person making light of the unexceptional routine of having one’s hair done; on the other hand, she was extraordinary, a princess followed wherever she went by an exceptional array of stylists and clothing trunks.  Her skill at allowing these two roles to play off each other contributed to her iconic role as the twentieth century’s It girl. 

 Like Alexander Pope’s army of sylphs, who transform Belinda’s hair and dress into a numinously powerful energy field, the forces that sustain It cannot be reduced to something as simple as a hair style alone.   As Roach puts it, “social hair is performance, with all its magic and its risks” (127).  It is a strength of this book, as it is a strength of Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, that hair is probed as a synecdoche for It without losing It’s essential mystery.

Anna Battigelli, Visiting Professor of English, Boston University; Professor of English, SUNY Plattsburgh

The Magis Theater Co. presents “The Witlings,” NYC, May 16-June 1

witlings image

[This might be of interest to people in the NYC-area this summer–DM]

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The New York Premiere of Frances Burney’s Comedy.  
Why has it taken 229 years for this comedy to open in New York? From its genesis, Frances Burney’s scathingly funny satire of the foibles of the “Enlightened” met with opposition and censorship from the status-quo, including her own father! Despite pleas from the artistic community for it to be produced, both Frances and her play were just too provoking. Those human quirks and blemishes so laughably exposed by “a sister of the Order” over two hundred years ago are just as dangerously ensconced in today’s society as they were in late 18th Century England. Magis actors join with director Gregor Paslawksy, master teacher of clown and melodrama to bring this neglected gem to light.

Don’t miss its long awaited New York premiere!
Opening May 16 and running until June 1 at the West End Theatre (86th Street and West End Avenue.)

Call 212 592 0127 for more information.  Or visit them at

http://www.magistheatre.org/index.html

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For the Magis Theater Co. blog devoted to this production (with some nice costume research, incidentally), click here.  And for an interesting account of the company’s discussions with C18-L’s Betty Rizzo, see here

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Thanks to Anna Battigelli for the notice.  And if you do make the trip to the Upper West Side, let us know what you think of the production.  Best, DM