Life as melodrama, history as play
Life as melodrama, history as play - Inaugural Lecture by Erica Carter
In December 1933, the Nassau Development Board launched The Nassau Magazine, an illustrated monthly showcasing the British colony of the Bahamas to international visitors. ‘Poets,’ one article suggested, ‘have returned in ecstasy from a trip among the Exuma Cays. Riotous with blues, greens, silver strands, and palms, the scene is enhanced by little hill ranges…Even hardhearted men who shake the stock exchanges with a nod have been rendered inarticulate with delight and wonder’.
The Nassau Magazine’s dramatic prose evokes a melodramatic heightening of social experience that was characteristic of postwar Nassau’s hectic white leisure culture. In this inaugural lecture, Erica Carter will show how fashion parades, beach barbecues, dances, the cinema, and calypso music engaged white tourists and expatriate residents in repeated re-enactments of life as melodrama. At the same
time, these melodramatic forms reinvented ideas of race, class, and gender in late colonial society.
Focussing on the biographies of two post-war Bahamas nurses – Austrian émigré and colonial nurse Erna Felfernig, and the archipelago’s first black nursing sister, later its first hospital Matron, Hilda Bowen – this lecture explores the interlocking historical experiences that these dual life histories evince. The lived colonial melodrama of Erna Felfernig’s Bahamian life is contrasted with Hilda Bowen’s photographs, scrapbooks, and archived memorabilia. Bowen’s accounts, it is suggested, rewrite the melodrama of Bahamian life, recasting its conventions, and opening perspectives on vernacular history-writing as performance and play.
ERICA CARTER is Professor of German and Film at King’s. Her publications include How German is She? Postwar West German reconstruction and the Consuming Woman (1997); The German Cinema Book (2002, co-edited with Tim Bergfelder and Deniz Göktürk); Dietrich’s Ghosts: The Sublime and the Beautiful in Third Reich Film (2004); and Béla Balázs: Early Film Theory(2010). She currently runs the UK German Screen Studies Network, and is co-director with Lara Feigel of the Centre for Modern Literature & Culture at King’s.