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Jan/Feb 2005 Book Reviews

Music Hall and Modernity: The Late-Victorian Discovery of Popular Culture
Barry J. Faulk
Ohio University Press (2004) 243 pages

reviewed by Kevin McGowin


Like many career academics, Barry Faulk gets a hefty, tedious monograph out of a self-evident premise: "...discourse on music-hall entertainment helped consolidate the identity and tastes of an emergent professional class."

Uh, wtf? Do I hear a DUH from the Audience?

In the course of padding out his circular argument, Faulk expostulates at considerable length about peripheral minutae, while neglecting to tackle the factors that helped create the middle-class music hall in England at all: the French influence and the popular reaction to the "legitimate" theatre. If Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, or Sarah Bernhardt are mentioned, I missed it. In fact, much of the humor of any "burlesque" is to satirize "high" culture. There are also other factors involved: sex, drugs, and booze. But not for Faulk. He writes a great deal about Goethe, though, and I wish to make a point to tell everyone out there writing a dissertation on the 18th-century German writer to write me at the address on my webpage so I can send you my copy. First comer.

The Goethe et. al. stuff is an an attempt to place the late-Victorian music hall in "historical perspective." Well, how 'bout the fucking British stage, dude? Charles II and Restoration theatre and Nell Gwyn, actress and mistress/whore-figure? David Garrick and the legitimization of the English Stage as High Art in the 1700s? Edmund Kean?

Or the future: Lawrence Olivier and the legitimization of Shakespeare on Screen?

Faulk writes well, technically, but he's boring, and moreover he's just saying things in big words that people like Chris Snodgrass have been talking about for twenty years. Faulk must surely know Snodgrass, as Faulk teaches at Florida State and Snodgrass teaches the same thing at the University of Florida, but the latter's work on the subject is not mentioned. But hell, Chris Snodgrass culled all the shit he writes from a bunch of other people who wrote a generation before him!

See what, then? Not only is this book boring and axiomatically specious, it's rehashed rehash, too, and I hate to see it, I surely do. Lord knows. Goodness gracious alive, fella.

And what about the homosexuality? Gay writers have covered this, but it merits mention. In fact, straight writers have, too! But not Faulk. Man, the music halls were pickup joints. Like the café at your local Barnes & Noble. And I was in one the other night getting a Christmas Latte Mocha, and the place was packed, and the work of Barry Faulk was not the topic of those readers' conversations.

Why do people take the time and energy to write books like this? Love? Money? No. Tenure. I hope Barry at least gets that much out of it, that and a little student nookie because he wrote a book. See.

 

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