"Sobered Speakers, Wasted Words: Washingtonian Spectacle and Temperance Autobiography in Antebellum America”
In the early 1840s, groups of ex-drunkards—collectively known as the Washingtonians—gathered in taverns and recited tales of their former inebriation. Soon following, these speakers attempted to reproduce their speeches on the page, a daunting challenge since so many of them also struggled to stay sober. In this talk, I explore how Washingtonian saloon speeches—which often included convulsing re-enactments of delirium tremens episodes—translated to the written word. Moreover, I ask what were the social consequences for those speaking, writing, and reading the exploits of these supposed “low-lifes.”
Michael D’Alessandro is Assistant Professor of English at Duke University. Currently, he is working on a book manuscript, Staged Readings: Sensationalism and Class in Popular American Literature and Theatre, 1835-1875. Studying dime novels, stage melodramas, and parlor theatre guides, Staged Readings analyzes how nineteenth-century citizens shifted between roles as literary consumers and theatrical spectators.
Follow the Americanist Speaker Series on Facebook.