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Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody (Gender and Culture Series) Hardcover – November 25, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Gender and Culture Series
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (November 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231148046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231148047
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,217,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A superb examination of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas... Highly recommended.Library Journal

(Library Journal)

Rich, challenging, irritating, inspiring, provocative, just what one wants in a new G&S study, this is a worthwhile albeit tough read.


Williams substantive study is all the more praiseworthy because her biting insights into gender and sexuality, sharpened through the lens of contemporary critical theory, are tucked within what could pass as a much more staid study of Gilbert and Sullivan.

(Josephine Lee Nineteenth Century Gender Studies 1900-01-00)

Unmodified rapture should best describe the scholarly reponse to this exciting contribution to a broad swath of disciplines...

(Victorian Studies 1900-01-00)

this book will be an important reference point for future discussions of Gilbert and Sullivan, gender, and the Victorian stage.

(Benjamin D. O'Dell English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 1900-01-00)

[A] triumphant cultural history.

(Joseph Bristow Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 1900-01-00)


Carolyn Williams highlights what ought to have been obvious all along about Gilbert and Sullivan's portrayal of gender: they're just kidding. Williams gives these wonderful works the reading they deserve.

(Robyn Warhol-Down, Ohio State University)

More About the Author

Carolyn Williams has taught at Boston University, Duke University, and Rutgers University, where she is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of English. Her special field is Victorian literature and culture. She loves the way the Columbia University Press has made her Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody look so gorgeous! Now she's hard at work on a book about Victorian melodrama, as a form of musical theater.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Grossman on April 1, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: the author is a colleague in the field, whom I know & respect.

But I had to write this review in reply to the negative customer review by Koko, who despairs that William's analysis of Gilbert & Sullivan's works is not as funny as the comic operas. This is to miss the point and the pleasure of this book!

Williams's aim is to illuminate for us how parody works, e.g. that it is "a mode, not a genre"; that we should notice how it typically plays smartly on the very question of "originality" and "convention" and "recognition"; and that it juxtaposes historical theatrical types with present-day social types to expose us all as a pack of fools.

For me, one of the most important effects this book had was to rescue Gilbert and Sullivan from what I had taken to be their unthinking sexism--but of course I was not crediting the *parody* enough: for instance, Williams shows how the opera's divisions over and over into male and female choruses makes a joke out of the idea of tidy gender oppositions and stereotypes.

Sometimes to get a joke, you really do need to have someone explain it. With great sensitivity to the humor, Williams does that for the jokes--and for the serious cultural critiques that lurk behind them--and so there is a good chance this book will make you like your favorite Savoy opera even more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was a revelation. Focusing on the three elements of the subtitle, Professor Williams devotes a chapter to each of the works in the G&S canon. She makes a persuasive case that Gilbert wrote each libretto as a parody of a particular theatrical genre that was popular at the time. She reviews the most salient examples of these genres to illustrate the aspects that Gilbert was parodying -- and makes Gilbert's work seem even more brilliant because we now understand it in the context of the times. That seems like enough for one book, but as it was written as part of the Gender and Culture series, Professor Williams takes on gender as well -- and makes that element far more interesting and integrated into her G&S deconstruction than the necessity for including it might indicate. In fact, show by show, she illustrates how Gilbert's treatment of women (and men) was either a reflection of, or more often, a reaction to, Victorian culture. Having just prepared a multimedia presentation on Gilbert & Sullivan, I can tell you this book was easily my most valuable resource of the many G&S books available.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Koko on February 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This study has everything concerning the canon of Gilbert and Sullivan. Everything, that is except the one key element -- a sense of humor on the part of the author. Totally misses the fun and greatness of the collaboration. An academic screed, molded to fit a supposed scholarly mold. Save the money; buy a CD.
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