Clyde Fitch’s Dramatisations of Gender and Society on the Fin de Siècle Stage

Rain, Holly (2018) Clyde Fitch’s Dramatisations of Gender and Society on the Fin de Siècle Stage. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Clyde Fitch was the most successful Broadway dramatist of his time. Following his considerable popularity and success with American audiences, Fitch saw his plays staged across the globe, and particularly in London. His female-led dramas of contemporary life, though popular with audiences in his own time, received scant praise and often censure from the playwright’s critics, both in America and the UK. Writing and producing plays from 1890 until his death in 1909, Fitch’s plays, and the critical discourse surrounding his productions, intervened in fin de siècle debates concerning gender, sexuality, and fears of moral degeneration.
Influenced in construction, technique, and stage-craft by French naturalism, Fitch’s plays utilised theories of heredity and social Darwinism to explain the psychological motivations of his characters. Central to the narrative of each play, however, was the conflicting message that individual will and strength of character is of greater importance than genetic or social circumstance. Rather than following theatrical convention in punishing the liars, flirts, suffragettes, and fallen women of his plays, Fitch encouraged the sympathies of his audiences with these morally ambiguous characters and insisted, wherever possible, upon happy endings that drew the ire of the conservative male press. Fundamentally, these productions contradicted American and British ideologies rooted in the notion that national prosperity could only be secured through the marriage and propagation of white men and women of ‘good breeding’. The gendered biases of Fitch’s critics, I argue, often led to dislocated interpretations of his heroines, and to the wilful dismissal of a body of work which successfully marketed marginalised configurations, encouraging inclusivity and acceptance over fear and social division.

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