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Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Cultural Studies of the United States) Paperback – May 27, 1991


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Editorial Reviews

Review

A solid and often brilliant work that will challenge most readers' preconceptions about this genre of entertainment."New England Quarterly"

Review

An intriguing exploration of an important (if elusive) theatrical genre, its predecessors, successors, and cultural meaning, especially related to gender issues.--Winterthur Portfolio|Groundbreaking in situating dance as part of a social context.--Lingua Franca|A solid and often brilliant work that will challenge most readers' preconceptions about this genre of entertainment. . . . This excellent book provides both a model for investigating and interpreting American popular entertainment forms and a foundation for further analysis. Allen's history of burlesque impels readers to examine disturbing assumptions Americans have made and continue to make about class and gender in their culture.--New England Quarterly|Horrible Prettiness is an impressive, creative and entertaining piece of scholarship which deserves a wide audience.--Theatre Survey|A provocative and illuminating exploration of the meaning of burlesque in American culture. Allen takes a seemingly marginal, degraded, and little-understood theatrical form and asks why and how it came to be so. In the process, he uncovers not only the historicity of burlesque, but also its centrality to several critical cultural problems in the period from 1860 to 1920. His reading of burlesque offers significant and telling insights into the history of the theater and popular entertainment. Bridging the gap between literary theory and semiotics on the one hand and social and cultural history on the other, Horrible Prettiness may well be a model of the innovative interdisciplinary work of the future.--Kathy Peiss, University of Massachusetts at Amherst|An exemplary work of cultural studies. . . . The thoughtful, thorough way Allen has gathered and organized a wide range of data casts American popular entertainment in a new light of cultural intelligibility.--Women's Review of Books|A wonderfully readable example of how thorough archival research and sophisticated critical theory can serve one another to explicate a cultural phenomenon that falls under the sometimes problematic category of 'popular culture.'--American Studies International
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Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Studies of the United States
  • Paperback: 382 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (May 27, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807843164
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807843161
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By b. on March 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
This enchanting work brings the burlesque back to life! When Lydia Thompson hit New York theaters in 1868, she and her troupe were an immediate success. But she also initiated a vituperative debate over the appropriate limits for the female performer. Robert Allen vividly describes how Americans increasingly put aside their religious reservations and took to the theater by the mid-19th century. He first examines the physical and social arrangement of space within the theater auditorium. He then takes his reader on a journey through the male-impersonating, revealingly attired, slang-spouting, minstrel-dancing burlesque women to their descendants - the cooch dancers and modern day striptease. A unique book for entertainment buffs and feminist thinkers alike. To read actual burlesque plays see "The Best Burlesque Sketches".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Hank The Cowdog on April 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Allen's 'Horrible Prettiness' is *the* historical study on theatrical burlesque and a great background history of nightclub burlesque (yes, there is a difference). It is an excellent scholarly book and has been very useful in my own studies. Yes, it is a bit of a heavy read (as another review pointed out) but the information and research Allen provides makes it well worth it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. Clarke on October 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I must confess, I didn't know all that much about burlesque before reading this book - only that there was more to it than strip shows. Reading the account of Lydia Thompson revolutionizing the US stage with her blondes from London was thrilling. It's a very well written and very well researched account of a theatre situation long forgotten. The description of the theaters, audiences and shows from 1869 onwards is fun to read, and I must say, it's one of the best books on the entertainment industry I've come across in a long while. What I loved especially is the fact that these early burlesque shows dealt with in the first half of the book are so very close to Offenbach's new genre "opera bouffe" in Paris and the early kinky operettas in Vienna. Sadly, that connection isn't discussed here, but if you're interested in operetta, you can work it out yourself, easily. There are great images.... and the story of the female Mazeppa being strapped to a horse, topless, it priceless. No wonder the show sold out for months and months. I wish commercial theater today were a bit more like that - daring, subversive, crazy, wild, and very very sexy.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful By T. Davis on June 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While the information is very informative, the book itself is very hard to read. There is more than oneinstance where instead of focusing on the subject at hand, it appears the author tried to cram as many multi-syllable words onto 1 page as he possibly could. Rather than being impressed by his vocabularly I found it distracting, and completely unneccasary.
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