Performing Masculinities in South West England at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis explores representations of masculinity in a range of British performance practices at the turn of the twentieth century using the South West of England as a geographical case study.

The investigation builds on two strands of current thinking. The first of these is the growing scholarly interest in ‘masculine spectacle’ in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, where historians of literature, sculpture, fine art and sport amongst others have most frequently analysed images of masculinity in relation to the iconography of empire. However, there have been few interventions from theatre and performance historians on this topic, inviting a deeper consideration of how these ideals were transmitted in live public displays.

The second is the relatively nascent field of British regional history, and particularly non-London histories of leisure and live entertainment. Though I do not claim to identify a definitive South West ‘style’, I show that the region was a dynamic hub of innovation at the turn of the twentieth century that attracted performers and audiences from all over the country. Additionally, the many different places of performance in the South West hosted a vast range of forms and styles, and the study is an initial attempt to map this otherwise under-considered terrain.

The methodology is predominantly archive-based and draws on newspaper accounts, administrative materials, photographs and illustrations amongst other sources. Focussing in turn on amateur sport, physical culture, challenge match wrestling, touring entertainments and boy performers, the study argues that live performance was a unique representational mode in disseminating gendered norms in the region, with ‘manhood’ persistently coded as a valuable social asset. I claim that the affective potential of the events described here were key to forging civic identities in communities across the South West, notably in a context of rapid social and technological development.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorCatherine E Hindson (Supervisor) & Jane Milling (Supervisor)

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