Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 21. Lurid Melodrama

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918

§ 21. Lurid Melodrama

In 1900 melodrama had a grip on the interest of the American middle class; it was the beau ideal of entertainment for the working people. Its violence accentuated the violences of American life, and Owen Davis and Theodore Kramer, the Thomas and Fitch of Melodrama, flourished on half a dozen or more successes a year. The very names suggest their sentiment and colour: Tony, the Bootblack; Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model; Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl; Convict 999. But soon, through the educational agency of the public libraries, the melodrama audiences began reading books more reserved in action, more logical in plot. While their eye would accept scenes of violence, their mind began to balk at repeated inconsistencies. Melodrama of this type began to fail, and the melodramatists were drawn towards work of a different kind. But the breathless stimulation, excitement, and variety of this special form of playwriting were taken over by the moving picture, which is based on restlessness, on kinetic motion.