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Title: Jokes for women : suffrage and the sense of humour on the stage
Author: Cairns, Anna
ISNI:       0000 0004 5920 3232
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis investigates the works of the London-based suffrage theatre group, the Actresses' Franchise League (AFL). Examining the period between 1907 and 1914, it considers the immediate influences on its foundation in 1908 up to the start of the First World War, when the League changed its focus from that of women's enfranchisement to the entertainment of troops. It analyses in particular the influence of the contemporary debate concerning the sense of humour, and women’s supposed lack thereof, on the focus and style of the playwrights' work. In contextualising the AFL's negotiations with ideas of women’s sense of humour, this thesis represents a shift from the prevailing critical caution shown towards the politicisation of literary humour and laughter. I challenge distinctions between offstage political activity and laughter in the theatre, as well as definitions of radical suffrage action and the privileging of the tragic or violent within feminist discourse. The League displayed a sensitive and, sometimes, angry understanding of the impact of anti-suffrage humour. In a politically motivated move, playwrights consciously rejected the narrative of the tragic and bitter woman both to emulate and defiantly invert such jokes, in order to assert the strength of women's humour. Not without debate within the League’s own circles, the AFL and the wider movement's various politics are manifested in this construction of women’s sense of humour. These theatrical negotiations impacted on the internal strength of the suffrage community and on its political reception. In uncovering suffrage humour as a critical area in its own right, this thesis reinvigorates the categories by which this theatre has been defined and challenges the demotion of its political contribution. Bringing together little known, unpublished, and formerly lost plays into dialogue with each other, it also contributes to the ongoing recuperation of suffrage theatre, such as Cecil Armstrong’s staging of jujitsu. Setting this in conversation with more established playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw and with suffrage playwrights who have already received considerable attention, such as Cicely Hamilton, this thesis actively resists the isolation of suffrage theatre within critical discourse. In addition, its reconsideration of Shaw's relationship with the suffrage movement challenges prevalent deprecation of his playwriting contribution that invites further re-evaluation of his literary politics, while the survey and application of humour theory contributes to the evolving and exciting area of literary humour studies. Overall, through the close documentation of the AFL's alliances with offstage debate, a fuller conception of this political theatre is detailed in ways that also capture the variety of its membership, as indeed of its humour too.
Supervisor: Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; women's suffrage ; theatre