For a sixty-year period, Deborah and its many offshoots provided audiences with the ultimate feel-good experience of tearful sympathy and liberal universalism. With Deborah and Her Sisters, Jonathan M. Hess offers the first comprehensive history of this transnational phenomenon, focusing on its unique ability to bring Jews and non-Jews together during a period of increasing antisemitism. Paying careful attention to local performances and the dynamics of transnational exchange, Hess asks that we take seriously the feelings this commercially successful drama provoked as it drove its diverse audiences to tears. Following a vast paper trail in theater archives and in the press, Deborah and Her Sisters reconstructs the allure that Jewishness held in nineteenth-century popular culture and explores how the Deborah sensation generated a liberal culture of compassion with Jewish suffering that extended beyond the theater walls.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Anatomy of a Tearjerker: The Melodrama of the Forsaken Jewess 26
Chapter 2 Sensationalism, Sympathy, and Laughter: Deborah and Her Sisters 65
Chapter 3 Playing Jewish from Rachel to the Divine Sarah: Natural Acting and the Wonders of Impersonation 110
Chapter 4 Shylock and the Jewish Schiller: Jews, Non-Jews, and the Making of Philosemitism 164
Concluding Remarks. Jewishness, Theatricality, and the Legacy of Deborah 196