History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/American Realist
Among American melodramas of the late 19th century, akin to the popular boulevard theatre of France, James A Herne (1839-1901) is notable for "Shore Acres" (1893), Augustin Daly for "Under the gaslight" (1867), and Steele MacKaye (1842-1894) for "Hazel Kirke" (1880). The beginning of the latter play resembles George Eliot's novel, "The mill on the Floss", in that a miller's daughter is prevented from marrying the man she loves because of her father's financial situation. Another play of interest is "The village postmaster" (1894) by Alice Emma Ives (1874-1930) and Jerome H Eddy (1834-1918).
"Shore Acres"↑Jump back a section
"Under the gaslight"
"Under the gaslight". Time: 1870s. Place: New York and surroundings, USA.
"Under the gaslight" text at http://www.archive.org/details/undergaslighttot00daly
In a wealthy house, Ray is engaged to be married to Laura. One evening, they receive a visit from Byke, introduced as Laura's music teacher, who requests a meeting with her, which, to Ray's surprise, she grants. Though known to everyone as her cousin, Pearl reveals to him that Laura is not, but was picked up from the streets as a child thief by her parents. Ray is stunned, starts to write a letter, hesitates, and says little to Laura. At a social ball, Mrs Van Dam notices letters dropped from Ray's overcoat pocket, including one, unsealed and addressed to Laura, which, out of curiosity, she reads aloud to her friends, revealing Laura's origins. Instead of going towards Laura, Ray joins his friends. Laura must now work for her living, touching up photographs. Ray returns, saying he still loves her, to which Laura retorts: "I know how to construe the love which you deny in the face of society, to offer me behind its back." But she agrees to go with him to see Pearl and her mother again. While Ray goes out for a carriage, Byke enters, reveals he is her father, and forces her to come with him to a police court, where he pleads his case before a judge that Laura was taken from him by rich people and now he wants her back, as "the prop of my declining days". Laura resists, challenging him to describe her clothing when she was found, but he successfully passes the test. Byke and his woman-accomplice Judas plan to keep Laura to blackmail Pearl once she marries Ray, but their plan is upset by the latter convincing the police patrol to seize them on a pier when about to enter a boat. As the police officers close in, Judas pushes Laura in the water, rescued by Ray. Near Shrewsbury among his friends at Courtland's cottage, Ray is despondent. Despite having asked to marry Pearl and been accepted, he has not forgotten Laura, who nevertheless suggests to him to forget her. Worried about being found out again by the blackmailers, Laura leaves the party to sleep at the signal shed of the train station, where Ray's messenger-friend, Snorkey, is captured by Byke, tied up, and laid across the tracks, but she is locked inside. He has found out that Byke and Judas intend to rob at the cottage. She at last finds an axe and cuts the wooodwork as his neck tingles, saving him just in time. As Pearl sleeps on a divan, Byke takes bracelets and diamonds, until she screams, at which point Ray and Laura enter running and Snorkey takes hold of the thief, who proceeds to continue his blackmailing by threatening to expose Pearl as Judas' substituted child. Pearl seizes the occasion to release Ray from his marriage vow. Byke rejoices when they release him but is crossed from any further blackmail by learning of Judas' death in a road accident.
"Hazel Kirke". Time: 1880s. Place: Blackburn, Lancashire, England.
"Hazel Kirke" text at http://www.archive.org/details/hazelkirkedomest00mack
Dunstan Kirke, a miller, was saved from financial ruin seven years ago by Squire Aaron Rodney. In return of this kindness, Dunstan encouraged his 14-year-old daughter, Hazel, to plight her troth to Aaron, which she did. Aaron paid for her education so that she may do him honor as the lady of Rodney Hall. In the meantime, Dunstan has saved Arthur Carringford from drowning, unknown to all a lord, near his mill, subsequently nursed back to health by Hazel, to the extent that a romantic attachment between them has developed, to Aaron's grief. Hazel distributes flowers to Arthur and a friend, Aaron stares inside her basket: "Emblems of my hopes; nothing but leaves, dead and withered leaves." When Dunstan's wife, Mercy, discovers this attachment, she asks her to forget him, but Aaron, staggering towards a chair, interrupts them: "I know that you love her- that she loves you! Nay, ye need not be afeer'd, lass: I'm not the man to rail at or curse ye-I shall only-". He is more coherent when confronting Arthur: "I have written to your mother, Mr. Carringford, begging her to call you away from here- I know the pride o' your race, sir. Your mother will never consent to your marriage with Hazel, and I warn ye- if ye seek to dishonor her, there is no living power will prevent me from murdering ye." When Dunstan discovers Hazel wants to marry Arthur instead of Aaron, he disavows her. Hazel marries Arthur in Scotland, or so they thought before Arthur's servant discloses the Scottish ceremony was performed on English ground and thereby void. While Arthur attempts to set things right, his extremely ailing mother, Lady Danvers, discovering the truth of her son's illegal marriage, visits Hazel, imploring her no longer to hope for Arthur: "My husband had a ward (Lady Maud), whose fortune he wrongfully used and lost. Upon his dying bed, he confessed this to me, and made me promise to hide his shame by marrying our only son to that ward." Feeling betrayed by Arthur, Hazel leaves abruptly. Having delivered herself of her final wish, Lady Danvers dies. Because of his daughter's treachery, Dunstan must abandon his mill to Aaron to pay his debts. Worse news yet: he caught a fever in the midst of this unhappiness and after it went away, he went blind. When Aaron sees Hazel seeking to return to her parents, he asks her: " Keep the old promise- become my wife," which she accepts if her father consents, but the blind old man refuses. In despair, Hazel throws herself in the water, but, unknown to the grieving and remorseful Dunstan, is saved by Arthur, who the next day explains: "Well, I ordered my solicitor to settle my estate and satisfy every claim of Lady Maud's against my grandfather, if it took the last penny he had in the world." Poor but together, Arthur and Hazel prepare to marry again, this time with Dunstan's consent, when Aaron learns that the servant was mistaken and that their marriage is legal after all.
"The village postmaster"
"The village postmaster". Time: 1852. Bridgewater, New Hampshire, USA.
"The village postmaster" text at http://archive.org/details/villagepostmaste00ives
The village postmaster, Seth, has nothing against John, the Methodist parson's son, as a son-in-law for his daughter, Miranda, except he has not proven himself and he aims higher for her. "I've spent a sight eddicatin' thet girl, an' the man thet marries Mirandy Huggins hez got to be somebody. He's got to be a good clus communion Baptist, too," he concludes. In contrast, when asked by Ben, a lawyer, he shows no objection of his courting her. Ben specifies that a man should court one woman at a time and John has been seen with Mary, a seamstress. Ben also has been courting Mary, but, in view of his improved prospects, he tells her he wants to break off their relations. Mary answers bitterly and pleadingly: "As fer the love that ken stand one side for money, it's a poor sort thet I wouldn't own to. It ain't the sort I had for you, Ben. Ye know that well." When John approaches Miranda, she shows no sign of being interested in him, thinking he loves Hattie, though their engagement was broken off. John is easily discouraged, all the more so in thinking Miranda loves Ben. At Seth's farmyard, John tries out an invention of his: a feeder to a threshing machine while Seth's sister, Samantha, is being courted by the shy sexton, Ebenezer. Out of mischief, Seth's young son, Tom, throws apples on his head in the midst of his difficulties, then does the same to his aunt, till, bearing too heavily on the tree-limb in his eagerness to listen, he loses his balance and hangs on dangling between the two. Samantha grabs him by the collar and walks him in the house, but the interruption is enough to discompose Ebenezer. To be rid of Mary, Ben pretends to want to marry her out of town and offers her money to travel. Overjoyed, she believes him and takes the money. When John mentions to Miranda news of Hattie's marriage, she is surprised at his cheerful voice, till, to her contentment, he explains he does not love her. Discouraged of his inability to get anywhere with Miranda, Ben tries to push John in the threshing machine, but is knocked down by him. John then leaves town for several months to perfect his invention. When he returns, Ben is about to marry Miranda, who has had no word from John throughout this period, the same as he. Aiming to avenge herself on her forsworn lover, Mary explains to John that while Seth was ill, Ben replaced him at the post-office, insinuating he may have intercepted their letterts. When this is found to be true, "Take her with my blessin'," Seth announces John with the consenting Miranda.