Actresses and Mental Illness investigates the relationship between the work of the actress and her personal experience of mental illness, from the late nineteenth through to the end of twentieth century. Over the past two decades scholars have made great advances in our understanding of the history of the actress, unearthing the material conditions of her working life, the force of her creative agency and the politics of her reception and representation. By focusing specifically on actresses’ encounters with mental illness, Fiona Gregory builds on this earlier work and significantly supplements it.
Through detailed case studies of both well-known and neglected figures in theatre and film history, including Mrs Patrick Campbell, Vivien Leigh, Frances Farmer and Diana Barrymore, it shows how mental illness – actual or supposed – has impacted on actresses’ performances, careers and celebrity. The book covers a range of topics including: representing emotion on stage; the ‘failed’ actress; actresses and addiction; and actresses and psychiatric treatment.
Actresses and Mental Illness expands the field of actress studies by showing how consideration of the personal experience of the actress influences our understanding of her work and its reception. The book underscores how the actress can be perceived as a representative public woman, acting as a lens through which we can examine broader attitudes to women and mental illness.