Humanities and Arts

Holidaying with Late-Victorian Theatrical Celebrities: Rest, Wellbeing and Public Identity

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‘In the Theatrical World our talk is all of holidays.’ So opened one of Hearth and Home magazine’s gossip columns in July 1897. The holidays taken by London’s late-Victorian West End theatre stars attracted regular press coverage and formed a regular subject of letters between actresses, actors and their friends. The narratives of hard work and public service that had played a significant role in improvements in the theatre industry’s reputational and cultural status prompted a secondary narrative around rest: a widely shared understanding that rest was necessary to counter the impacts of the ongoing on- and off-stage labour undertaken by stage stars. Together newspaper accounts and correspondence capture both industry-focused concerns about the maintenance of the strong physical and mental health required to sustain a theatrical career and social disquiet around the changing world of work more widely and patterns of overwork and exhaustion. In this essay I consider a range of press accounts and correspondence to consider how evidence of stage stars’ holidays can extend our understandings of the professional culture of the late-Victorian theatre industry and theatre’s contribution to wider social and political ideas surrounding work and rest, and physical and mental health.