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The Wonders: Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age

John Woolf



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04 September 2019
Theatre Studies; Circus
'A promising young historian with a taste for the exotic.' Stephen FryA radical new history of the Victorian age: meet the forgotten and extraordinary freak performers whose talents and disabilities helped define an era. On 23 March, 1844, General Tom Thumb, at 25 inches tall, entered the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and bowed low to Queen Victoria. On both sides of the Atlantic, this meeting marked a tipping point in the nineteenth century - the age of the freak was born. Bewitching all levels of society, it was a world of astonishing spectacle - of dwarfs, giants, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and swaggering showmen - and one that has since inspired countless novels, films and musicals. But the real stories (human dramas that so often eclipsed the fantasy presented on the stage), of the performing men, women and children, have been forgotten or marginalized in the histories of the very people who exploited them. In this richly evocative account, Dr John Woolf uses a wealth of recently discovered material to bring to life the sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, always extraordinary stories of people who used their (dis)abilities and difference to become some of the first international celebrities. And through their lives we discover afresh some of the great transformations of the age: the birth of showbusiness, of celebrity, of advertising, of 'alternative facts'; while also exploring the tensions between the power of fame, the impact of exploitation and our fascination with 'otherness'.
By:   John Woolf
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 153mm,  Spine: 34mm
ISBN:   9781782439936
ISBN 10:   1782439935
Pages:   384
Publication Date:   04 September 2019
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Dr John Woolf is a historian and researcher. He has most recently co-written the bestselling Audible book Victorian Secrets with Stephen Fry and is currently working on a new screenplay set in the Victorian circus for the makers of Downton Abbey. Having read history at the University of Cambridge John went on to obtain a PhD on nineteenth-century freak shows. Since then John has developed the BBC4 series The Real Tom Thumb: History's Smallest Superstar, been featured in the BBC4 documentary Dwarfs in Art and was assistant producer for Queen Victoria's Letters: A Monarch Unveiled, also for BBC4 and narrated by A. N. Wilson. In 2017 The Wonders was awarded the Biographers Club Tony Lothian Prize for the best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography.

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