About the Play
March 24, 1845. Park Theatre, New York
First Publication: 1849, Samuel French
8 M; 5F; Ladies and Gentlemen of the Ball Room
In the public domain.
Samuel French (acting edition); Nineteenth Century American Plays, ed. Myron Matlaw, Applause Theatre Books; and other anthologies.
Fashion is a satire of nouveau riche Americans who aspire to the pretensions of upper-class Europeans. The extravagant Mrs. Tiffany and her equally frivolous daughter nearly lead the family into ruin. Countering them are Gertrude, a young governess from the countryside, and Adam Trueman, a plainspoken farmer. French affectations prove no match for the solid American virtues of honesty and hard work.
Anna Cora Mowatt was already an experienced writer when her friend Epes Sargent suggested that she try stage comedy. Mowatt insisted that “There were no attempts in Fashion at fine writing. I designed the play wholly as an acting comedy.” She gave her audience what they wanted but knew the limitations of the formula: when later asked to act the role of the wholesome Gertrude, she protested that the part was dull. Still, the main targets of Mowatt’s caustic wit are useless society women who, unlike the author herself, did no productive work. Edgar Allan Poe, one of the few critics who had serious reservations about the comedy, was intrigued enough to see it every day for a week and conceded that “in many respects (and those of a telling character) it is superior to any American play.” Fashion was a critical and box office success, despite a local newspaper’s pre-opening warning: “We have little confidence in female dramatic productions.” During the nineteenth century, Fashion was performed by theaters throughout this country and in England. Both the original and a musical version have continued to be revived over the past century and a half.
About the Playwright
Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie (1819-1870) was a playwright, performer, poet, novelist, essayist and memoir writer who began publishing her work while still a teenager. Fashion is generally considered the best nineteenth century comedy, and her invaluable Autobiography of an Actress provides humorous and penetrating insights into the theater of her time. Anna was born in Bordeaux, France, on March 5, 1819, to an American family that returned to the United States when she was six. Married at fif…
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