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Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity Hardcover – May 26, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0521820707 ISBN-10: 0521820707 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a most interesting and valuable study of a performer, of a woman, and of a particular cultural movement." John W. Frick, American Historical Review

"Renee Sentilles has written a scintillating book about a fascinating character. Adah Isaacs Menken was a poet, actress, publicity hound, and self-proclaimed bohemian who invented and re-invented herself dramatically in the middle years ofthe nineteenth century. This book finally puts 'the Menken,' as she was known at the peak of her fame, in the contexts that help us to understand her: the rise of celebrity culture, the shifting terms of gender, religious, and racial identity, changing public standards of taste, and the new America that was emerging during and after the Civil War." Joy Kasson, Univerisy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Vividly written, analystically sophisticated, and thoroughly fascinating, this book will be important to readers interested in cultural history, women's studies, American studies, and theater history, as well as to everyone who likes a gripping story." Joy Kasson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"In Menken's story, Renee Sentilles carries off a bravura performance of her own. Cutting her way through the numerous tales Menken told about herself, Sentilles discovers in her subject a revealing mirror of America in the Victorian age. That society, she shows with insight and wit, was far less rigid than is customarily assumed, and Menken capitalized on its desire for entertainment and its openness to change. With a chameleon-like talent for moving from one social world to another and remaking her self to fit her surround, Menken emerges as the hero of a very American adventure: a pioneer on the frontiers of identity, in an extraordinary tale of self-invention fit for a post-modern age." Robert A. Gross, College of William and Mary

"In capturing Menken's creations and revealing their cultural resonances for her time and our own, Performing Menken is at once enlightening and entertaining. Sentilles commands notice as a rising star in the interdisciplinary field of American studies.Encore!" Robert A. Gross, College of William and Mary

"A useful model of interdisciplinary research and analysis, the book is also a nuanced and insightful study of the agency of a particular woman at a contentious, complex, and rapidly changing moment in American history. Sentilles has seized on an utterly compelling figure in American culture and shown us how the culture may be more fascinating than the notoriously sensational actress-poet herself." Legacy

Book Description

Performing Menken uses the life experiences of controversial actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken to examine the culture of the Civil War period and what Menken's choices reveal about her period. It explores the roots of the cult of celebrity that emerged from crucible of war. While discussing Menken's racial and ethnic claims and her performance of gender and sexuality, Performing Menken focuses on contemporary use of social categories to explain patterns in America's past and considers why such categories appear to remain important.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (May 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521820707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521820707
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,523,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carol Dawson on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fascinating detective story and a brilliant exegesis on cultural appropriation, the cult and development of superstardom, and the wildly unconventional ways in a which a Victorian Age female visionary had to struggle to make her voice heard in a restrictive pre-feminist period. Dr. Sentilles's scholarship is evenly matched by her excellent prose and narrative gifts. This is a 'must read' for anyone interested in the theater, rebel women, iconoclastic artists, and female boldness enacted during any historic age. I can't recommend it strongly enough to readers everywhere. It is also illuminating in its insights on mid-nineteenth century social chaos. I was spellbound from the first sentence of the introduction to the last resonant sentence of the final chapter; certainly every American Studies program and history department in the country should require it.
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Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity
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