Can you believe it? We’ve just passed 100 posts on the blog! Over the last two and a half years, we’ve been bringing you all the exciting news and updates from our treasures in the Templeman; I hope you’ve been enjoying the posts so far. I am honestly surprised that it’s been quite so long, but they do say that time flies when you’re having fun.
To mark this impressive milestone, I thought I’d tell you about some new additions to the archival materials we now have available online. The eagle-eyed amongst you may already have noticed (if you’ve happened to type ‘Melville’ into our Special Collections search), that it’s not just digital images of playbills which now accompany our catalogue records. Type ‘Bad Woman’ into the search box, and you will now be greeted by images of black and white publicity postcards from the melodramas of the Melville family.
You’ve probably read about the Bad Women dramas here before; they are one of the most popular parts of our Theatre Collections, but also sadly underresearched. Created by Frederick and Walter Melville, two brothers from the theatrical Melville dynasty, the Bad Women plays were stock melodramas, dealing with all kinds of concerns of their day, the early 1900s. The majority follow an upright hero and an innocent heroine (a ‘good’ woman) whose honourable intentions are usually impeded by a villain and the trademark villainess, the ‘bad woman’ of the title.
During my time in Special Collections, we have been able to purchase a number of these postcards which still survive, resulting in a gradual increase in our understanding of these unpublished plays. Every time we get a new delivery, it feels a little bit like Christmas to open the envelope and take a close look at the wonderfully posed and illustrative scenes from each individual play. Our latest acquisition increased the number of cards we have from ‘The Female Swindler’ from two to eight, opening up this little known play without reading the whole text.
I must confess that I haven’t read very many of the Bad Woman dramas (much as I would love to spend the time doing so!) Aside from the exciting theatrical read-through which we did with the Melodrama Research Group, to my knowledge these plays haven’t been performed for around 100 years, so the postcard images are a valuable insight into performance styles, set and costume at the turn of the century. It’s also always a bit of a challenge to look at our whole stock of cards for any given melodrama (the most we have for one play is currently eleven for ‘The Bad Girl of The Family’) and try to piece together the narrative. Of course, we don’t know whether we have a complete set of any of these, we can only build them up as we go, which means that the order in which the postcards are catalogued doesn’t necessarily reflect the story!
We are also lucky enough to be involved in the Melodrama Research Group which specialises in cross-faculty research on this performance style and has broadened our understanding of where the Melville melodramas fit into the popular tastes of the time. Linking quite neatly with this, we do have some (non-Melville) filmic postcards available in the Templeman Gallery space advertising the Melodrama Group and its activities – do feel free to pop in and pick one up!
As for the Melville postcards, it’s a delight to be able to share them with you, and I hope that they will inspire some new interest in melodrama and the Melvilles, who have been sadly forgotten today.