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Phineas Taylor Barnum lived from 1810 until 1891. This study investigates the influence he had on American popular culture of the 19th century and looks at how he continues to have an influence today. Beginning with a discussion of Barnum's early shows, the author demonstrates the dynamic interplay between the showman's increasingly "respectable" aspirations for his entertainments and his active cultivation of middle-class sensibilities in his audiences. In his discussion of the 1850-51 concert tour of the "Swedish nightingale" Jenny Lind, Adams explores the role played by women's rights and class issues in Barnum's management of these concerts. Barnum's American museum and the "moral dramas" presented in its theatre (which included a play of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" are examined in the context of debates over slavery and temperance. The later circuses are discussed in terms of their racial exhibitions and their use, through pageantry, of orientalism and other racial spectacles. Adams creates a portrait of a nation seeking to establish an identity, and clarifies the connections between that search and Barnum's response to and creation of discussions of such central issues as class, race, ethnicity, and gender.
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Rather than offer biographical data on the legendary showman and entrepreneur, Adams (English, Univ. of Iowa) here assumes a basic knowledge of the subject and moves on to examine Barnum as cultural phenomenon. Barnum-style entertainments appealed to, and even targeted, lower- and middle-class patrons. At the heart of Adams's argument is the assertion that the spectacles' wide appeal allowed Barnum's special mixture of "high-culture" aspirations and commercialism to contribute directly to the then-evolving class structure in America. An exploration of Barnum's sometimes dubious role in (and continuing impact on) crucial social issues such as women's rights and race and exploitation is long overdue. Adams does not take Barnum at his word, and the author's objectivity in deconstructing this controversial figure serves him well. Recommended for cultural studies and social history collections in academic libraries?Douglas McClemont, New York, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Book Description Univ of Minnesota Pr. Hardcover. Condition: Good. 0816626308 1997; Minnesota; gray paper covered boards with red titles; moderate wear; light foxing on top edge; interior clean and unmarked; 8vo - over 7 3/4" to 9 3/4" tall; 249 page. Seller Inventory # SKU1109372