Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Down to Business: Success on the Stage, circa 1894

Unknown stage actress, early 1900s

From time to time I have acted on the stage–not professionally, but as an amateur. I enjoy it, especially performing comedy–I love to make people laugh! So I was intrigued by the following description of the theatrical life, found in a section called “Occupations for Women” in an 1894 book titled The Woman’s Book: Dealing practically with the considerations of home-life, self support, education, opportunities, and every-day problems, written by a variety of experts in various disciplines. While browsing through fascinating descriptions of  teaching, nursing, newspaper work, and other late-nineteenth-century jobs for women, I ran across this late-Victorian advice for a career on the stage:

“If a girl decides that her vocation is the stage, here is a list of the qualifications for success compiled by an expert:

A strong physique
An unimpaired digestion
A slender figure
A marked face (Ed. note: !! Sounds alarming, but I think this means a face that’s markedly attractive)
Strong features
A carrying voice
A lack of real feeling
An abundance of pretended feeling
Much magnetism
Great fascination of manner
Purity of speech
Elocution to a degree
A general knowledge of history
A good general education
An adeptness at making herself necessary
A well-defined specialty
A good memory
Good luck
A quick study
Talent

I thought it was interesting that “Talent” was listed last. That certainly explains some of the performances generated from Hollywood today!

The author goes on to say that “There are many reasons why a woman may lose mental and moral fiber in this profession. Its associations are often not of the best. Many of the girls who go upon the stage begin young, often without much education, and at a time when their character is still unformed, and they are most easily led by flattery, love of ease, and display; they are removed from family influence to be thrown into the company of men and women to whom nothing is sacred. . . . So far as morals go, a woman may, of course, remain untainted on the stage. It depends on herself. . . . No matter how refined and quiet a girl may be when she enters this feverish life, the stage will leave its marks on her. Insensibly she will contract the free and easy manners of the life. The constant association of men and women on the stage, the constant playing of emotion, the mockery of love that goes on, end by dulling even the most sensitive nature. There is probably no profession in which the woman of refinement and sensibility meets with greater disappointment than stage life. She will often find that notoriety counts for more than merit.”

Imagine that–notoriety counting for more than merit. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sparkle on!

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