‘Sexual Transgression on the American Stage: Clyde Fitch, Sapho and the “American Girl” ’

Authors


Correspondence: School of Language, Literature and International Studies, University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire, United Kingdom. Email: tsaxon@uclan.ac.uk

Abstract

Clyde Fitch's play, Sapho (1900), is significant in the history of theatre censorship in America as a result of the arrests of the leading actress, Olga Nethersole, and several of her entourage. Critical analyses have focussed explicitly on the role of Nethersole in the censorship of the production. But the play as a dramatic production and the role of the playwright have been obscured by the media frenzy that led to the arrests and the subsequent furore. This article looks to expand the critical landscape of the censorship of Sapho, exploring the critical reputation of the writer, the public reception and the media reaction that led to its closure and the arrests, in the wider context of the show′s performance. This article argues that Sapho became a moral crusade because Fitch′s drama staged the critical intersection between the erotics of sexual transgression and the cult of the ‘American girl’. Further, Clyde Fitch's version of Sapho recognised the critical link between discourses of sexuality/purity and discourses of ‘nervousness’ that pervaded America at the turn of the century. To survive as the epitome of ‘civilisation’, America required the repeated and continuous modelling of the asexual body of the pure ‘American girl’; Sapho exposed the model and the structuring impulses that participated in its formation.

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