Picturing Female Theatre Managers: the Iconology of Eliza Vestris and Sara Lane
Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (1797-1856) and Sara Lane (1822-1899) are two pioneering women in nineteenth-century theatrical history. Both were accomplished singers, initially made their names in comic and breeches roles, and, during periods when theatrical management was almost exclusively confined to men, both successfully ran theatre companies (Vestris at the fashionable Olympic and Lyceum Theatres and Lane at the Britannia in the East End). Despite these parallels in their professional activities there are substantial disparities in the scrutiny to which their personal lives were subjected and in how their contemporaries and posterity have memorialised them. In this article Janice Norwood examines a range of portraits and cartoons of the two women, revealing how the images functioned as reflections and creators of the women’s public identities as well as recording changes in aesthetic practice and social attitudes. She argues that the women’s iconology was fundamentally shaped by the contemporary discourse of gender difference. Janice Norwood is Senior Lecturer in English Literature, Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Hertfordshire. She has published on various aspects of nineteenth-century theatre history and edited a volume on Vestris for the Lives of Shakespearian Actors series.