Guide to Victorian Drama


 Bibliographies & Indexes | Reference Sources | Databases | Searching | Internet Resources 


Victorian Britain was a time and place of great change and innovation. Its novels and poetry are well known and documented, but in the field of drama, it can be somewhat more difficult to find Victorian-specific resources. There is, as one author put it, a vision of "a desert stretching from Sheridan to Wilde and Shaw" in the field of English drama. This pathfinder seeks to help ease that difficulty by offering useful resources for the scholar of Victorian drama, with a clear focus on undergraduate students who aim to study plays as literature at Indiana University.

All of the resources included are available at Bloomington 's libraries and serve as excellent starting points for researchers. These resources are typically general and will not serve as anything more than areas in which to begin research. They include bibliographies which offer author indexes and resources, but the pathfinder itself does not include anything specific to author, work, or sub-topics. While I have included a few resources which give the history and context of the theatre in Victorian Britain, I have sought to include primarily sources which also offer significant critical or biographical content.

This pathfinder focuses on items which can direct researchers toward sources that will in turn point them touseful secondary and primary texts. They were chosen for their usefulness, as well as their usability. Works which were extremely outdated for their nature, which were poorly organized or difficult to use, or which were too narrowly focused were not included. The goal of this pathfinder is to serve as a portal for a wide variety of literary topics on Victorian drama.

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Bibliographies & Indexes

Chaudhuri, Brahma, ed. Cumulative Bibliography of Victorian Studies. Edmonton, Alberta: LITIR Database, 1982, 1988, 1990, & 1995.
[REF 2019 .A642]

Published regularly with 15-year updates, this bibliography is an extremely useful list of all major works in the field of Victorian Studies. Works are listed by subject and then by author, with no annotations, and include articles as well as monographs. Drama has its own section, a subdivision of Language & Literature.

Conolly, L. W. English Drama and Theatre, 1800-1900: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co, 1978.
[Auxiliary Library Facility Z2014.D7 C75]

This extensive annotated bibliography on English 19th century drama includes very useful annotations which are brief but deal with accuracy, place items in the context of reference literature, and give information on usefulness. The work is organized according to contemporary history and criticism, modern history and criticism, individual authors, bibliographies and reference, anthologies of plays, theatres, acting and management, the critics, stage design, and periodicals. Bibliographies of individuals compose the majority of this work and are divided into various sections including acted plays, collected works, biography, unacted plays, bibliographies, journals and newsletters, critical studies It also includes general index. This resource is a must-use for anyone unsure of where to start.

Ellis, James, ed. English Drama of the Nineteenth Century: An Index and Finding Guide. New Canaan, CT: Readex Books, 1985.
[Z2014.D7 E44 1985]

A thorough and useful index which lists authors and their plays, as well as where to find them. Play titles direct you to the author entry, which then lists each of the author's works and the publication information for where it ca be found.

Harner, James L. Literary Research Guide: An Annotated Listing of Reference Sources in English Literary Studies. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2002.
[REF Z2011 .H34 2002]

This Research Guide covers a broad span of both topics and time periods, but it can serve as an invaluable tool for discovering good reference resources. Its section ongeneral drama and theatre (p 123-130) and its section on 19th century literature, (p. 276-307) with a sub-section on drama and theatre (p.301-304) are particularly useful. The annotations are thorough and useful, with good information about content. When searching for reference sources, this is an excellent stop.

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Reference Sources

Adams, James Eli, ed. Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era. Danbury, Conn: Grolier Academic Reference, 2004.
[REF DA550 .E527 2004]

This attractive four-volume work serves as an excellent source of context on a variety of subjects for the beginning researcher. Topics range broadly and are well-covered, including an interesting six page article on theater which gives a good background in the importance of theater to the Victorians, the types of performances (with cross references to other useful articles), performers, and major issues. It offers several other articles to see and a brief list for further reading. This work is not the place to start for literary criticism, but serves very well for historical context and beginning research.

Bailey, James Osler. British Plays of the Nineteenth Century; an Anthology to Illustrate the Evolution of the Drama. New York: Odyssey Press, 1966.
[PR1271 .B16]

The bulk of this work is actual text of 19th century plays, however, the introductions to each are extremely useful. Bailey seeks to show an evolution in 19th century English drama which contradicts the vision of "a desert stretching from Sheridan to Wilde and Shaw" (1). His criticism and commentary is enlightening and useful in uncovering the trends and progress of drama during this time.

Demastes, William W. and Katherine E. Kelly, ed. British Playwrights, 1880-1956. London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
[PR 736 .B7 1996]

Extremely useful to anyone looking to do research on a particular playwright. Each playwright's section begins with a brief introduction to their lives and body of work and then lists their major works, along with a short history of its production and contemporary reviews. It then includes an assessment of their overall career, a guide to archival sources, and both a primary and secondary bibliography.

Mitchell, Sally, ed. Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1988.
[REF DA550 .V53 1988]

Although comparable to the larger and more thorough Enyclopedia of the Victorian Era in general topic coverage, this reference work is included on this list for its brief but very useful entry on Drama Criticism (p 227-228). It places the importance of dramatic criticism into context and gives useful information on both critics and periodicals from the 19th century, many of which have their own brief entries. This is an excellent way to get a good starting knowledge of who's who in the dramatic criticism field of Victorian Britain.

Nicoll, Allardyce. A History of English Drama 1660-1900. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959.
[REF PR625 .N66]

Considered one of the classics of the field, Nicoll's work has been added to by others buts till remains the primary resource for a listing of English plays and playwrights. He also offers brief essays on various topics relating to English drama. Volume five is of primary concern to Victorian scholars, while volume six contains an index and guide. See Conolly, L. W., English Drama and Theatre, 1800-1900, for information on updates to Nicoll's work.

Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox-Hunting to Whist - the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth Century England. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
[REF PR 468 .S6 P66 1993]

For students who are unfamiliar with Victorian terms or customs, this reference work can be an excellent resource. This book is an interesting as well as useful read, although it can be a bit difficult to browse for specific information due to the organizational structure, which is more monographic than encyclopedic. . A good index helps find specific topics.

Thomson, Peter. The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 1660-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
[PN 2581 .T485 2006]

Although the majority of this work deals with theatre before the Victorian time period, the section which deals with "The Theatre Industry: 1843-1901" (p 219-268) offers a particularly good overview of the themes and motifs which were common in Victorian drama and relates them to their historical context. It also give a good picture of the development and trends throughout this time period and mentions key authors and works.

Tucker, Herbert F., ed. A Companion to Victorian Literature & Culture. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
[REF PR461 .C597 1999]

Like Pool's work, this serves as a good introduction to various aspects of Victorian life. It's a bit less readable, but better organized, with an essay format that makes it easy to find information. Of particular note is Alan Fischler's article on "Drama" (p. 340-355) which not only highlights and contextualizes important figures in the field but also boasts a very impressive and useful list for further reading. An excellent starting place for gaining a good overview of Victorian drama.

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At Indiana University, you'll want to visit the subject page for Victorian studies in order to see a list of all of the most useful databases. Some of the best for Victorian drama are:

Academic Search (EBSCO)
A general academic database, Academic Search Premiere is often a good place to start for general articles on a subject, many of which are full-text.

Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature
ABEL indexes monographs, articles, critical editions of literature, essay collections, and book reviews for the years 1920-2005, as well as some dissertations from 1920-1999. It does not offer full-text, but many articles are available through IUCat or IULink.

English Drama
Nearly 4,000 English plays in full-text from the late 13th century through the early 20th century.

Literature Resource Center
The LRC offers a huge collection of biographical and critical information, including full-text entries from many of Gale's reference resources. An excellent starting place for anyone doing research on a particular author or literary figure.

Nineteenth Century Masterfile
Indexes 19th century British and American periodicals.

Project Muse
A database providing full-text to 300 high-quality academic journals in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.

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When using a card catalog such as WorldCat or IUCat, the best way of locating relevant materials is to use the Library of Congress Subject headings. Often, a good search strategy is to visit the record of a book you find particularly useful and to see what subject headings it is listed under.

Some useful subject headings for general works are:

English drama--19th century--History and criticism.
English drama--19th century--Bibliography.
English drama--19th century--History and criticism--Bibliography.
English drama--20th century--History and criticism.
Theater--England--History--20th century.
Theater--England--History--19th century.
Theater--Great Britain--History--Bibliography.

Subject headings for particular authors typically use the author's last name and then first name. There may be additional qualifiers added to narrow the subject. For example:

Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900--Criticism and interpretation.
Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900--Aesthetics.
Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900--Literary style.

Searching for the entire subject heading or clicking a link in a record will limit the search to everything with that heading. You can also choose 'subject' from the options in the advanced search and type in 'wilde, o scar'. This will retrieve every subject heading which includes the worlds 'wilde, oscar', including all of the above.

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Internet Resources

The 19th Century London Stage: An Exploration

Once hosted by the University of Washington, this page is now only available through the Internet Archive. Its content is good enough to warrant a visit despite that difficulty. It offers unique information such as the interiors of theatres, as well as bibliographies and a list of theatrical periodicals from 1835-1922. Some content may be missing due to the nature of the archive.

London Stage Project

The London Stage Project is "a growing compilation of essential information on English drama and theatre of the nineteenth century" from the University of Massachusetts. Although it claims to include playbills, programs, prompt books, full texts, and other items of interest, these are next to impossible to find. Of primary interest is the list of London Theatrical Periodicals.

Victorian Research Web

An excellent resource which was written by the founder of VICTORIA, a discussion list for Victorian Studies. It includes links to research guides, information on the location of archival material, bibliographical resources, periodical guides, and other useful items.

Victorian Studies Bibliography

Prepared by Indiana University's Victorian Studies program and a committee from the MLA, this bibliography covers a wide variety of subjects, from literature to science.

The Victorian Web

One of the premiere portals on the web for Victorian resources, the Victorian Web originated at Brown University and is created by scholars from various universities and includes information on everything from Victorian religion and science to literature. A section on Theatre and Entertainment includes pages on dramatists, genres of drama, themes, and the audience, as well as a few dramatic works. Of particular use, however, are the extensive bibliographies offered, arranged both by topic and by playwright.

Victorian Women's Writers Project

The VWWP's goal, according to their site, is "to produce highly accurate transcriptions of works by British women writers of the 19th century." Although a bit tricky to navigate, this site offers free electronic texts by many women authors in the Victorian period, including playwrights.

Voice of the Shuttle

Built by the University of Santa Barbara, California English Department, Voice of the Shuttle is a sizable and free database which includes information on a variety of subjects. The Victorian page is especially good in terms of the long list of resources and the bibliography of electronic resources for quite a few Victorian authors.

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Created by Nicole Robinson, MLS Candidate
Banner image adapted from The Lilly Library Victorian Christmas Cards.

last updated: 5/14/2010