Shevelow, Kathryn 1951-
Shevelow, Kathryn 1951-
SHEVELOW, Kathryn 1951-
CAREER: Writer. University of California, San Diego, CA, associate professor of British literature.
Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical, Routledge (New York, NY), 1989.
Charlotte: Being a True Account of an Actress's Flamboyant Adventures in Eighteenth-Century London's Wild and Wicked Theatrical World (biography), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2005, published as Charlotte: A True Account of an Actress's Extraordinary Adventures in Eighteenth-Century London's Theatre World, Bloomsbury (London, England) 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: In Charlotte: Being a True Account of an Actress's Flamboyant Adventures in Eighteenth-Century London's Wild and Wicked Theatrical World, literature professor Kathryn Shevelow relates the story of Charlotte Charke, an eighteenth-century actor who turned an aptitude for male impersonation into a scandalous success story. Born into an artistic family—her father, Colley Cibber, was an actor, playwright, and onetime poet laureate of England—Charlotte began impersonating some of her father's stage characters at age four. Commenting on Charlotte in the Advocate, Renate Stendahl explained, "Once she had tasted success in breeches she wouldn't take them off; she scandalously went on to live her life dressed as a man." "Shunning the conventions of her day," reviewer Dale Singer noted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Charlotte first took on male roles on the stage, then increasingly wore male clothing outside the theater as well, finally scandalizing much of 18th-century England by openly living with another woman and often assuming the persona of a man."
Charlotte's propensity for cross-dressing, however, also alienated her from the rest of her family, which essentially disowned her and left her to support herself on her own resources. Married when she was only seventeen, Charlotte was deserted by her husband and left with her infant daughter to fend for herself. She turned her hand to a variety of occupations in order to stay solvent, ranging from managing theater troupes to creating a puppet theater. Booklist reviewer Michele Leber praised Shevelow's "vivid language" and description of "the dirt and danger of London streets, the economics and politics of the theater world." Charlotte even turned her hand to autobiography, hoping to capitalize on public interest in her scandalous lifestyle. Eventually she created a stable relationship with another woman, known to history only as "Mrs. Brown." Charlotte, observed a reviewer for the New Yorker, "was most at home in a world where artifice was valued for its ability to deceive and delight."
In general, critics commended the approach Shevelow takes in presenting Charlotte's life story. However, Singer found the book "overly detailed" in places, particularly in its description of the minutiae of the London theater scene, but he added that the volume "rarely strays too far from the engaging central story of Charlotte Charke's battles with her family and London society." According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "The great strength here is Shevelow's refusal to flatten out and pigeonhole the dazzling Charlotte. In her hands, Charke is not just a famous actress, nor a strong woman in an age of patriarchy." Neither, the reviewer continued, does Shevelow use Charlotte simply as a symbol of sexual identity. "She is all of these—and an important contributor to the history of puppetry to boot." As a Publishers Weekly contributor concluded, "With more than a few speculative passages, this splendiferous recreation of the past is rich in period detail, and theater buffs will applaud."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, May 10, 2005, Renate Stendhal, "Wearing the Pants," p. 74.
Booklist, March 15, 2005, Michele Leber, review of Charlotte: Being a True Account of an Actress's Flamboyant Adventures in Eighteenth-Century London's Wild and Wicked Theatrical World, p. 1256.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of Charlotte, p. 112.
New Yorker, May 16, 2005, review of Charlotte.
New York Times, April 10, 2005, Christopher Benfey, "Charlotte: Drama Queen."
Publishers Weekly, March 7, 2005, review of Charlotte, p. 60.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 24, 2005, Dale Singer, review of Charlotte.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2005, Andrea Hoag, "Resolute Woman in a Wicked World: Charlotte Charke's Romp through Eighteenth Century London's Theater."
Scene 4, May, 2005, Renate Stendhal, "Charlotte alias Sir Charles."
Washington Post, May 29, 2005, "When London Was Hot," review of Charlotte.