'It Pulsates with Dramatic Power': White Slavery, Popular Culture and Modernity in Australia in 1913
Delamoir, Jeannette, Journal of Australian Studies
The play The Warning opened on 22 November 1913 at the Little Theatre on Sydney's Castlereagh Street. Written by Australian playwright 'Henry Basnell', its subject matter--white slavery, or the trade in women for sexual purposes--was sensational. 'It pulsates with dramatic power', declared an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald. (1) Two days later on the other side of the world, a feature-length film also dealing with white slavery, Traffic in Souls, premiered at Joe Weber's Theatre on the corner of 29th and Broadway in New York City.
At first glance it seems to be an uncanny coincidence that simultaneous productions in far-distant cities could share their subject matter so closely. Furthermore, both the Sydney play script and the New York movie (2) deal with similar issues: the proper place of women in the public sphere, the need for women's sexuality to be regulated, and the commodification of women. Both exhibit ambivalent attitudes toward modernity and the city. Underlying these discourses, in each production, were attitudes to race, especially whiteness. How could a Sydney play and a New York film be so similar? In fact, their topic and approach were not unique but were found in a plethora of investigations, newspaper articles, pamphlets, conferences and novels produced in an era of world-wide moral panic about white slavery that began around 1880.
This article will, firstly, outline the historical context of the white slavery panic and, secondly, examine The Warning and Traffic in Souls in order to explore how the language, images and metaphors connected with white slavery contributed to the discourses of modernity, (3) sexuality, gender and whiteness. Finally, because both The Warning and Traffic in Souls are productions of modern, mass-entertainment industries, they offer an opportunity to explore how popular culture forged connections between Australia and the phenomenon of global modernity.
White slavery and moral panic
Although 'Henry Basnell' was named as author of The Warning in the newspaper advertisements, copyright registration documents reveal that the play was written by Wilton and Louise Welch. (4) Wilton Welch directed the production, with his eighteen-year-old wife--as Louise Carbasse--playing the feisty heroine. (5) (Carbasse later found fame as Hollywood star Louise Lovely.) The reason for disguising their authorship of the play is unclear, but tales of subterfuge also surround the genesis of the New York film. According to Terry Ramsaye, Traffic in Souls was made on the sly by George Loan Tucker and Jack Cohn at Universal in New York. (6) They were forbidden to proceed with the project by their boss Carl Laemmle, whose concern was not the film's topic but the cost of the proposed production. Because it was longer than the cheap one- or two-reel comedies Universal had produced up until that time, it was more risky financially. As it turned out, Traffic in Souls was so profitable that its takings underpinned the success of the Universal company (even so, Laemmle persisted with short-film production longer than any other studio head). (7) However, Kevin Brownlow dismisses Ramsaye's tale of the film's secret production, (8) noting that Universal set up a special division to promote the film with a $1,000-per-week national campaign. (9)
Both the film and the play take place in contemporary urban settings and purport to reveal the dangers to women inherent in city life--especially sexual dangers. These anxieties were current for decades in both the United States and Europe. Concerns about the trade in women and girls were expressed as early as 1847, when the British Parliament considered--and then withdrew--a Bill for 'the suppression of trading in seduction and prostitution and the better protection of females'. At the same time, 'certain individuals' who drew attention to themselves by frequently traveling abroad accompanied by small groups of English girls were kept under surveillance by the British Home Office, as it was believed that these girls would end their journeys in European bordellos. (10)
Both the trade and the moral panic surrounding white slavery were products of modern technologies and social organisation. Recruitment and 'sales' of women were city-based phenomena, and related to the increasing appearance of females in a heterosocial environment. Furthermore, the supposed traffic in females depended on the availability of mass transportation, and the ease with which people could travel across national borders. Finally, the creation of a full-blown moral panic depended on the mass media. Thus, one of its earliest manifestations was William T Stead's series 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon', which was published in London's Pall Mall Gazette from 6 July 1885. One and a half million unauthorised copies of the series were estimated to have been circulated, which was interpreted as evidence of 'a new stage in the expansion of a mass market'. (11) Stead's series described how very young girls were lured and sold to wealthy aristocrats. The impact was such that 'shockwaves' were felt from Europe to the United States, (12) and its influence can be seen in the politics, fiction and journalism of late nineteenth-century London. (13)
Although the term 'white slavery' originally referred to the exploitation of low-paid workers--an appropriation of references to African-American slaves--reformers soon adopted the phrase for prostitution. This gave an emotional force to white-slavery rhetoric, which paralleled 'the familiar rhetoric of abolition, [but] in which the degraded black slave was replaced by the demoralised white woman'. (14) However, white-slavery literature and entertainments subsumed racial and ethnic diversity into the supposedly 'racially neutral' category of white women. (15) This had several effects. As well as 'disappearing' women of colour, the term came to emphasise the 'special', 'superior' nature of white women and their sexuality. Richard Dyer has written that 'the white woman is offered as the most highly prized possession of the white man, and is the envy of all other races'. (16) Women of colour, in this way of thinking, are less valuable, thus less likely to be kidnapped and ill-used, and--should they be abused in this way--their sufferings are less worthy of concern.
The construction of a sense of white unity and privilege was an important ideological project in both the United States and Australia in the early part of the twentieth century, and in both countries, this project was linked to national self-definition. In the United States, the 'tide of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe raised fears among native [i.e., white] Americans that this country's racial stock was threatened', one writer notes, adding: 'the early twentieth century was a time of ethnic self-examination in America'. (17) Urban African-American populations had grown, and segregation, rather than soothing white sensitivities to their presence, had the opposite effect. (18)
Meanwhile, white Australians were likewise acutely sensitive to race. A typical comment from Lone Hand in 1911 articulates a developing sense of whiteness: 'for the German is a white man, and a highly specialized white man; and ... the great danger from the yellow and the brown destroys any fear of the fellow white'. (19) Federation in 1901 forged the Commonwealth of Australia out of states and colonies, and replaced their separate legislation with the Federal Immigration Restriction Act, which was dubbed the white Australia policy. Richard White, in Inventing Australia, describes the nation at this time:
In a society which dreaded the mixing of the races as debilitating in the struggle for survival, in a society which was becoming more and more obsessive in its desire to protect the racial 'purity' of 'The Coming Man', the outlook for 1901 was promising. It could be proclaimed that the new nation was 98 percent British, more British than any other Dominion ... Most of the estimated 67,000 Aborigines were not counted at all. (20)
Although racial contexts were different in Australia and the United States, attitudes in Australia were certainly influenced by the circulation of North American popular culture prior to 1913. Richard Waterhouse describes how the minstrel show, imported from the US, affected white attitudes to Australia's Indigenous peoples:
'Nigger' was in commonplace use in the 1840s, and, from the late 1890s the term 'coon' was frequently employed to describe 'non-whites' ... Other terms and also images associated with the stage negro were utilized to characterise Australia's native inhabitants. As early as 1836 a published description ... referred to an Aboriginal woman as 'Old Mammy'... (21)
The derogatory terms were extended to other racial groups: 'on occasions the minstrels who performed here addressed themselves to the specific racial concerns of white Australians--those that involved the Chinese'. (22) David Nasaw notes the tendency of many American entertainments, including the minstrel show, to exaggerate racial distinctions, and he points out that these very exaggerations played down 'the social distinctions among "whites" in the audience'. (23) In the United States and Australia, then, the construction of a unifying whiteness proceeded by simultaneously creating racial and ethnic others onto whom white fears could be projected. Thus, while a woman of any racial or ethnic background could become a 'white' slave, popular culture's representation of white slaves as white women added to whites' sense of being beset by these envious and malicious others.
It is significant that although William T Stead depicted prostitutes' customers as upper-class Englishmen, white slavers were frequently described as 'Continentals': 'Britons were invoking race as a morally acceptable explanation for the rising tide of prostitution at home'. (24) Furthermore, the permeability of national borders, through both legal and illegal immigration--another concern of modernity (25)--thus registered in the panic surrounding white slavery.
Although the media scandal was international, the meanings of 'white slavery' varied. In Britain, for example, the term encapsulated:
an intriguing cluster of ideas concerning men and women, sex and society, rich and poor, villains and victims, corruption and exploitation. These themes and the rhetoric of white slavery are connected to the conditions and cultures of Victorian society. (26)
Class issues added force to the early panic there:
The ability to invoke and effectively channel working- and middle-class hostility toward a profligate aristocracy was central to white slavery's evolution from metaphor to full-blown moral panic. The theme of sexual poaching across class lines had long been present in white slavery rhetoric, just as the seduction of lower-class girls by upper-class men had long been a recurrent theme in nineteenth-century writing ... Typically she was a servant, seamstress, or uneducated village girl, and he was a gentleman or the son of a newly-rich commercial family. (27)
Class awareness, however, was not so prominent in the United States. George Kibbe Turner's 1907 expose of Chicago vice, published in McClure 's, claimed that ten thousand prostitutes worked in an industry that made $20 million per year. (28) In this different cultural context, the meanings of the 'white-slave trade' shifted, becoming 'a nightmarish reflection of a social order overthrown by business enterprise': (29)
What distinguished white slavery from ordinary prostitution ... was its advanced level of commercialization ... With the formation of corporations, trusts, and monopolies, along with the growth of marketing, economic interest had consolidated a vast amount of power; and white slavery's vision of a commercial network that corrupts civic justice and overrides individual freedom expresses the fear of economic coercion--and the impulse to fight it--which scholars consider characteristic of Progressive reformism. (30)
In many countries, muckracking journalism stimulated government investigations and legislation. The year following Turner's expose, the United States signed an international treaty against white slavery, and in 1910 Congress passed the Mann Act, which legislated against the transportation of women across state lines 'for illicit purposes'. (31) In South Australia, the Criminal Law Consolidation Act (1885) prohibited the use of 'threats or fraud' in an attempt to 'secure the defilement of any female', (32) while Western Australian police launched a 'concerted effort' against the traffic in women between 1895 and 1904. (33)
Activity opposed to white slavery was not confined to government; in the United States between 1909 and 1914, twenty-two popular culture white slavery collections were published in book form. (34) Brownlow writes that 'the white slave issue exploded' on stage and screen in 1913. Damaged Goods, a play by Eugene Brieux, attracted New York audiences for months after its March 1913 opening, with its 'frank revelations of vice', and its success was followed by The Lure, The Traffic, The Fight, The Battle and The House of Bondage. (35) On the movie screen, Traffic in Souls was quickly succeeded by The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (Frank Beal, 1913), The House of Bondage (Pierce Kingsley and Raymond West, 1914), and Is Any Girl Safe? (Jacques Jaccard, 1916). (36)
Alarmist literature circulated staggering statistics of missing--presumed abducted--women. The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, alleged that '6000 girls were "lost" during the Chicago Exposition'. (37) However, repeated investigations worldwide could not find evidence of the well-organised, international trade in young women. (38) Rather than defusing the issue, however, this seemed only to prove the conspiratorial nature of the trade at the highest levels of society: 'to assert their undetectability is to assert the absolute criminality and seamless organisation of their practices'. (39)
Sydney: The Warning
In a confronting move, the play The Warning opens with a frank discussion of women as commercial goods in a global market made possible by communications technology. Stanton, the 'agent,' says:
That girl would be worth probably 300 [pounds sterling] to me ... Perhaps 350 [pounds sterling] if I go about it the right way. I've just received a cable from Deering, the biggest Agent in South America. Listen to this--'Friend Bernard, Many thanks for the last parcel of "Cigars"'. (40)
'Cigars', he explains, is the code word for 'girls'. (41) The young woman about whom he is talking is June Travers, who was staying at the Majestic Hotel with her mother. Her father is a parliamentarian, and her boyfriend Jack Mason is a ship's wireless operator and inventor. With the complicity of villainous hotel employees, June is lured away by a woman who pretends to be an aunt whom June has never met. This ploy can only work because of the dislocations of the modern extended family, and also because strangers' appearances can be deceptive: a madam is indistinguishable from a respectable aunt.
Given the anti-foreigner slant of white-slave literature, it is significant that this procuress, Madam Gourdron, has a French name. (42) The situation is rather ironic, too, since Louise Carbasse--co-author, and playing June on stage--had been raised single-handedly by her Swiss-French mother. Madame Carbasse Alberti had owned a series of boarding houses, (43) and her business success (44) has provoked private speculation that she may have run brothels; whether or not this is the case, it suggests a stereotyped link between the French and the sex industry.
The play's second act moves to the House of Red Blinds--'a house of shame'. (45) Bernard Stanton, the 'agent' in the trade, has 'bought Madam's interest' in June, telling the shocked young woman: 'When I've finished with you, I'll send you away somewhere' (46)--probably to a brothel in Buenos Aires. (47)
The details of the second act are melodramatic and excessive. Madam threatens to whip Milly, another girl; (48) Milly drinks alcohol with unfeminine deliberation ('My life here has been hell. That is why I drink'); (49) Freddie, a blackmailed 'pigeon', toys with a revolver, considering suicide. (50) June herself, as well as being threatened with rape, beating and starvation, is pawed, (51) gagged (52) and chloroformed, (53) and learns that the house has an underground cellar in which she could be imprisoned. (54) She herself strikes Stanton, her 'owner', across the face, (55) and declares she would rather die than face the fate he has planned for her:
Beast! He is nothing but a low brute beast. I will not submit. Rather than that I will kill myself ... What chance has a powerless girl against these devils? (takes revolver) Yes, you will be my little friend. Thank heaven, I've got you to save my honour. (56)
Instead of killing herself, however, June holds Stanton and the Madam at bay with a revolver. The crooks manage to relieve her of her weapon, but she remains cool-headed enough to use the electric light to signal in Morse code, which her boyfriend had taught her, luckily.
The third act returns to the Majestic Hotel, after June's rescue. Her parliamentarian father, informed of what has happened, can no longer deny the reality of white slavery. He resolves to change the laws in order to protect other wives and daughters. By the end of the scene, boyfriend Jack has received news that his patent for a signaling device has been sold. Technology thus not only makes the international slave traffic possible, it also aids the rescue of kidnapped virgins and is a source of wealth for young men with initiative. It even becomes an agent in the formation of the heterosexual couple because, with his new income, Jack can ask for June's hand in marriage, which is, of course, happily bestowed.
The Warning was apparently received by its first-nighters 'with wonderment and enthusiasm, culminating in an unprecedented demonstration of approval'. (57) Large audience numbers extended the play's season by a month. (58) However, critical reception was mixed. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the most serious problem was the undermining of the play's moral lesson 'by the glamour that is thrown over the second act'. Indeed, Madam Goudroun is described in the script as appearing in 'resplendent evening dress', while the House of Red Blinds is a 'magnificent apartment' with a 'handsome chandelier'. (59)
New York: Traffic in Souls
Traffic in Souls was promoted as luridly spectacular. Advertisements exaggerated not only the budget but also the large cast size and elaborate story:
A $200,000 spectacle in 700 scenes with 800 players, showing the traps cunningly laid for young women by vice agents.--Don't miss the most thrilling scene ever staged, the smashing of the Vice Trust. (60)
Soon, it was showing in twenty-eight New York theatres, although it was banned in Chicago. (61) Interestingly, it was estimated that, of the 30,000 people attending the film in its first week, two-thirds were women; (62) sadly, no such audience statistics exist for the audience of The Warning. The predominantly female audience for the film conflicts with assumptions about the readers of white-slavery writing in newspapers or novels. The reader of such texts was not addressed as a female at risk but as a male who 'determines, owns, and enforces reciprocation of the value of his "own" women'. (63)
Traffic in Souls compares two sisters who live with their invalid father, an inventor, and work in a sweet shop. Mary (played by Jane Gail) is sensible and responsible, and she is engaged to a policeman (Matt Moore). The play and the film both show the modest flirtations carried out by the heroines with their beaus, indicating that each woman has a healthy, but appropriate, sexuality. By contrast, Mary's sister Lorna (Ethel Grandin) is lazy and careless, and her indiscriminate flirtatiousness leads to assignations with a pimp, who drugs her drink and takes her to a brothel. The 'drugged drink' is a standard device in white-slavery narratives, an object lesson in the dangers to which women expose themselves by imbibing alcohol. ('Drugged drinks' are also used in The Warning to explain the downfall of Milly, a 'girl' at the House of Red Blinds.) Just as threats of violence are made against June, so too is Lorna threatened with a whipping from the madam and the man who betrayed her.
Traffic in Souls reveals that the brothel to which Lorna is taken is part of a business empire run by William Trubus. This 'big boss' of vice is shown to be leading a double life: the very same man is also the wealthy, seemingly respectable head of the International Purity and Reform League. This cynicism about 'respectability' is also apparent in the Australian play through Milly's bitter comment that the bordello's clients are 'men of good reputation in the commercial world'. (64) The film emphasises Trubus's hypocrisy by showing that he has a wife and daughter, and the play makes the same point: 'these men who come here and act like beasts have in many instances good wives and daughters of their own'. (65)
Another parallel between film and play is the argument that while technology enables vice, it also helps to rout it. On the one hand, Trubus relies on advanced communications to run the activities of his sordid enterprises. On the other hand, Mary uses modern technology--a sound-recording device invented by her father--to entrap Trubus. Technological inventions are also seen as a commercial proposition, just as they are in The Warning; here they are seemingly able to financially support a family in which the father is confined to the house by ill-health.
Shared cultural contexts
The film The Warning and the play Traffic in Souls share a number of cultural contexts, as well as the narrative parallels they generate. These contexts are: ambivalent attitudes to the city; the need to establish the authenticity in these white-slavery texts; the cultural model of the melodrama; the focus on sexual issues; and the exploration of gender roles.
Neither The Warning nor Traffic in Souls specifies the city in which it is set, suggesting that any city--or all cities--create the conditions in which the white-slave trade can flourish. Elizabeth Wilson notes that the city was fascinating precisely because it was seen as a place of both sexual threat and opportunity. The heroines of both play and film enjoy the city's heterosocial, semi-chaperoned spaces to flirt with their boyfriends, but both also discover the city's sexually sinister side. This perspective corresponds to representations of the city from a male point of view, and preoccupations with 'Sexual unease and the pursuit of sexuality outside the constraints of the family'--a focus that:
in itself made women's very presence in cities a problem ... many writers ... posed the presence of women as a problem of order, partly because their presence symbolized the promise of sexual adventure. This promise was converted into a general moral and political threat. (66)
As a result, discussions of the city inevitably involve the topic of prostitutes: 'it almost seems as though to be a woman--an individual, not part of a family or kin group--in the city, is to become a prostitute--a public woman'. (67) This attitude is reflected in The Warning. June's mother asks: 'A young girl is hardly safe in the city?' She is told:
Unless she is well protected. These women have agents everywhere. There is always a possibility of any pretty young girl, who is allowed to go about alone, being snatched up and lured away into a house of infamy. (68)
This piece of dialogue is ironic given that, in real life, seven-year-old Louise Carbasse was sent alone into central Sydney to pay her mother's bills. (69) In contrast to the evils of the city, The Warning posits the countryside as powerfully restorative. When Milly is rescued from the brothel, Trent says: 'There is a lot of good in that girl still, and with a fair amount of looking after and pure country air it will not be long before she is restored back to her former self'. (70) Such comments suggest that not only her physical and mental health can be restored but also her virginity and her reputation!
Authenticity, another important shared cultural context, draws from the earlier muckraking writing, in which 'authenticity' justifies prurience. Subheadings on the title page of the play script read: 'A vivid episode of real life. A play of facts. An issue of surpassing interest'. During the play's run, advertisements exploited newspaper reports of a young woman's disappearance. The day after the story 'Missing Woman Not yet Traced' appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, (71) advertisements for The Warning read: 'IT DEALS WITH AN EVIL IN OUR MIDST ... Press reports of missing girl show the necessity'. (72) Naturally, the newspapers provided no evidence that white slavers had snatched the missing woman.
Both the play and the film employ a range of techniques to assert the authenticity of the stories they tell. The third act of the play draws links with reality by detailing loopholes in the legal system. For example, it explains that charges can't be laid against June's captors because 'June was in reality not abducted. She went with that woman of her own free will'. (73) There is also a wealth of facts about the actions taken against white slavery in Atlanta, Georgia, where previously it had 'assumed startling proportions'. (74) Traffic in Souls uses a similar variety of techniques to convince audiences of the reality of its depictions. It claims, for instance, to have been based on the report Commercialized Prostitution in New York City, and endorsed by John D Rockefeller Jr, the head of the bureau that produced the report. In fact, Rockefeller had not endorsed the film. (75) However, the strategy of using testimonials was well established, and they were sometimes employed as a protective measure against litigation. (76)
Both The Warning and Traffic in Souls further authenticate their stories by piling up particulars of the ways women are hunted. In The Warning, Trent, Secretary of the City Vigilance Association, explains how newspaper advertisements for governesses, travelling companions or nurses attract young women: 'Good situations are offered--a girl applies--she goes to the office of one of these agents. In many cases she is never seen again'. (77) Subplots in Traffic in Souls show young country women being stalked at railway stations, and female immigrants, straight off the boat, being lured to the brothel.
The connections between white-slavery entertainments and authenticity were circulated via the dominant cultural form of the melodrama. The melodrama is well known for its expression of excessively heightened emotions, but equally characteristic is the way these are set against realist, and topical, backgrounds. (78) If factual newspaper reports are understood to have influenced the plays and films, it should also be remembered that the early sensationalist exposes had themselves been shaped by melodrama. As Judith Walkowitz points out, Stead's series told 'an old story of the seduction of poor girls by vicious aristocrats ... Melodrama dramatically expressed a language of politics that had tremendous currency through most of the nineteenth century ...' (79)
The (white) female body played a particularly important role in the melodrama: 'as virtue was personified in the heroine, so was the threat to it presented in physical, specifically sexual terms'. (80) This means that white slavery, with its sexually threatened heroines, was particularly suited to melodramatic presentations. The depiction of victims being lured or kidnapped reflects a social myth that 'prostitution never could be a voluntary occupational choice'; (81) taking away the prostitutes' agency transforms them into innocent heroines beset by evil men.
The white-slavery narratives bring sex into the spotlight by their unrelenting focus on a woman's 'honour'--its fragility, the consequences of its loss and its value in the marketplace (immeasurably greater in the case of a white woman, as discussed earlier). However, these texts were only one aspect of the widespread discussions of sexual issues in popular and high culture. The year 1913--when, as noted earlier, the white-slave issue 'exploded'--was designated by one writer to be 'Sex O'Clock in America'; the following year, another writer noted 'The Repeal of Reticence'. (82) The topic of white slavery provided the opportunity for some particularly thrilling moments in these cultural explorations. For audiences, the pleasures of the form arose from the deliberate conjoining of titillation with 'moralising remarks'. (83) Margit Stange identifies 'pleasurable outrage' as the goal of white-slavery literature, and sees this effect arising from the 'clash' between the woman's objectification as an exchange object and her 'assumed subjective depth'. (84) In fact, the insistence on the authenticity of the depicted situations increases their titillation value. (85) Walkowitz draws connections between melodrama and pornography in her comments on the specifically sexual nature of the 'Other' and its location in 'the exotic culture of the metropolitan underground'. She writes that 'during the early Victorian period, both genres were produced and distributed by radical pressmen' and produced for 'an emerging "mass" reading public which cut across middle- and working-class boundaries':
Given this publishing history, not surprisingly, melodrama and pornography contained the same sexual script, which focused on the transgression of class boundaries in the male pursuit of the female object of desire, the association of sex and violence, and the presumption of aggressive male sexuality bearing down on a passive asexual female. (86)
However, sensationally sexual advertising, while it attracted audiences, could also disappoint. Brownlow claims of Traffic in Souls: 'Business dropped to a trickle within a few weeks, as the public realized it had been fooled, that there was no sex in the film whatever, and it was merely an elaborate police drama'. (87) Yet two leading exhibitors' trade journals, Moving Picture World and Variety, decided in February 1914 that white-slavery films were 'injurious to the public' and refused to carry advertisements or reviews. (88)
The white-slave texts' discourses on sexuality also explored gender roles. Janet Staiger sees Traffic in Souls as an example of the way feature films of 1913-1915 produced cultural meanings surrounding the figures of the 'New Woman' (like Mary, 'someone who knows good and evil and chooses her mate') and the 'bad woman' (such as Lorna, 'who goes astray ... the indulged, the parasite, the one who does not think'). (89) These representations can also be found in The Warning, with heroine June standing for the New Woman and Milly as the bad woman. Staiger warns that their meanings are not 'internally unified nor externally stable in meaning to readers' but are heterogeneous and complicated. (90) Susan Glenn points out a similar contradiction in women's theatre roles at the time:
By the time of World War I, and increasingly in the 1920s, competition between the spectacle of female self-assertion and theatrical spectacles that worked to obliterate the notion of female autonomy and personality turned the stage into a battleground of ideas and images. (91)
The Warning's scene with June and the revolver can certainly be seen as a 'spectacle of female self-assertion'. But June's plucky autonomy is undermined by other aspects of her stage presentation. The audience is told, for example, that she is 'pretty'--that is, she is presented on stage for the visual pleasure of the audience. In preparation for her sale to Stanton, June's feminine appeal is enhanced further when Madam puts her into a 'pink room', (92) and dresses her in a pink frock. (93) Her impeccable sexual innocence is linked to her behaviour which--like her appearance--conforms to the strictest standards of girlish modesty. In Traffic in Souls, Mary's sensible, appropriate behaviour protects her from the fate of her silly sister Lorna. In The Warning, perversely, it is exactly the correctness and daintiness of June's femininity that makes her such a valuable catch for the traffickers. In both narratives, the independent woman exchanges autonomy in the city for the sheltered safety of married life. This reflects a common ideal expressed in white-slave literature:
In white slavery's view, if the United States is to be the 'land of the free, home of the brave', its women must be freed by 'men brave enough to protect our girls' who will keep them 'glad and safe. (94)
Traffic in Souls appeared 'rather far along in the furor over the white slavery conspiracy' (95)--a comment that must also apply to The Warning. The ubiquity of white-slavery narratives probably exhausted the cycle of the popularity of such entertainments. Shortly afterward, bigger issues, such as the first world war, grasped public attention. Nevertheless, The Warning seems to have made a social impact. It argues self-servingly for public discussion of the traffic in women: 'Parents hide the facts of this white slavery from their children. The only other remedy lies in letting them know everything ... Publicity is the only way to let the people know of its terrors'. (96) My search of the Sydney Morning Herald and Truth (Melbourne) for 1913 found few articles on white slavery, but four days after the play opened, the Sydney Morning Herald's weekly women's page printed 'The White Slave Problem':
What can be done to prevent this menace to young and unprotected girls? Not only should it be combated by Act of Parliament and the assistance of the police, but women throughout Australia should band together in united effort against this scourge of civilization. (97)
Later in the play's season, another item appeared in the women's page:
A Country Woman writes: 'It is with a feeling of alarm and consternation that women residents in the country districts read of the existence and growth of that diabolical business known as 'The White Slave Traffic'. It is preposterous that in a young, free country like Australia this dreadful evil should have been allowed to get a footing. (98)
Whether or not these letters were direct responses to the play cannot be ascertained, but the play can undoubtedly be seen to have contributed to the panic's momentum. The following year, the Women's Political Association was not permitted to address the April Premiers' Conference in Melbourne because 'the Premiers did not believe such a traffic existed'. But in June, women at the Women's Conference in Perth were so concerned that they passed a resolution to seek a federal report on the white slave trade within Australia. (99)
Despite governmental reluctance to take up the issue in 1914, a play like The Warning can be seen to have another cultural effect. The coincidence of the play's timing with that of the premiere of Traffic in Souls underscores Australia's connections with global modernity. The simultaneity of Sydney play and New York film, firstly, confirmed that Australia was completely up-to-date in its entertainments. Their shared topic proved that not only was Australia a modern country but its experience of modernity was similar to that of other modern countries: Sydney, like London or New York, did indeed participate in the benefits, as well as the disadvantages, of modernity. As the play showed, Australia's modern nature was evidenced by its big cities, mass entertainments, and educated women with careers, as well as its advanced communication technologies. It was commercially connected to foreign countries, such as Argentina. These very characteristics, however, set the stage for a commercial trade in women (or 'cigars'), and although there was no evidence of a full-blown white-slave traffic, the play argues that Australians need to discuss the 'facts'. In the process, sexuality and sexual danger were presented as racy entertainment, whiteness was promoted, and gender roles were scrutinised and redefined. Ironically, national pride was bolstered through the display of knowledge of international problems and solutions. Through mass culture, discourses of sex, gender and race were circulated, the periphery was linked to the centre, and Australia prided itself on its place in the modern world.
(1) Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November 1913, p 2.
(2) Video from Kino Video, New York, 1994. The contents of this video resemble the more complete, English-release version of the film described by Kevin Brownlow in Behind the Mask of Innocence: Sex, Violence, Prejudice, Crime: Films of Social Conscience in the Silent Era, Jonathan Cape, London p 74.
(3) For the purposes of this paper, I am using a list of social phenomena drawn up by Ben Singer (Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and its Contexts, Columbia University Press, New York, 2001, p 21) as the indicative characteristics of modernity:
* rapid urbanization and population growth;
* extensive migration and emigration;
* the rapid proliferation of new technologies and transportations;
* the rise of the nation-state, popular nationalism, and colonialism;
* the establishment of stable and predictable legal codes and institutions;
* the explosion of forms of mass communication and mass amusements as well as mass merchandising and consumerism;
* the expansion of heterosocial public circulation and interaction (epitomised by the entrance of women into public space);
* the broader implementation of efficient systems of accounting, record-keeping, and public surveillance;
* the separation of workplace and household as well as the shifting of the primary unit of production from the extended family to the factory;
* the decline of the large extended family due to urbanisation and emigration as people moved to follow jobs outside the household, and due to increased use of birth control.
(4) Application for Copyright, registered 4 December 1913; Australian Archives, A 1336 3144.
(5) Carbasse had been on stage since she was nine years old and had, in 1911-1912, featured in ten films for the Australian Life Biograph Company. Welch had also had been a performer for many years. He and Carbasse toured vaudeville in Australia and New Zealand 1912-1914 before travelling to the United States at the end of 1914. There, Carbasse--as Louise Lovely--featured in many Hollywood films from 1915 to 1922. See Jeannette Delamoir, 'Louise Lovely: The Construction of a Star', PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 2002, pp 38-71.
(6) Terry Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture through 1925, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, New York, (first edn 1926) 1986, pp 612-7.
(7) Richard Koszarski, An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture 1915-1928, Scribner's, New York, 1990, p 36.
(8) Brownlow, op. cit., p 73.
(9) ibid., p 77.
(11) Judith R Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992, p 11.
(12) Mary Ann Irwin, '"White slavery" as metaphor: Anatomy of a moral panic', Ex Post Facto: The History Journal, vol 5, 1996. Accessed 14 March 2003.
(13) ibid., p 5.
(14) Irwin, op.cit.
(15) Margit Stange, Personal Property: Wives, White Slaves, and the Market in Women, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1998, p 94.
(16) Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies. Film Stars and Society, BFI/MacMillan, London, 1986, p 43.
(17) Benjamin McArthur, Actors' and American Culture 1880-1920, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1984, pp 28-9.
(18) David Nasaw, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Entertainments, Harper Collins/Basic Books, New York, 1993, pp 48-9.
(19) Randolph Bedford, 'White Yellow and Brown', Lone Hand, 1 July 1911, pp 224-8.
(20) Richard White, Inventing Australia. Images and Identity 1688-1980, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1981, p 112.
(21) Richard Waterhouse, From Minstrel Show to Vaudeville: The Australian Popular Stage 1788-1914, New South Wales University Press, Kensington, NSW, 1990, p 100.
(22) ibid., p 107.
(23) Nasaw, op.cit., p 2.
(24) Stange, op.cit., p 94.
(25) Susan Martin, 'National dress or national trousers?' in Bruce Bennett and Jennifer Strauss (eds), The Oxford Literary History of Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1998, p 92.
(27) Irwin, op.cit.
(28) Janet Staiger, Bad Women: Regulating Sexuality in Early American Cinema, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1995, p 22.
(29) Stange, op.cit., p 2.
(30) ibid., p 77.
(31) Staiger, op.cit., pp 121-2.
(32) Susan Horan, 'More sinned against than sinning? Prostitution in South Australia, 1836-1914' in Kay Daniels (ed.), So Much Hard Work: Women and Prostitution in Australian History, Fontana/Collins, Sydney, 1984, p 106.
(33) Raelene Davidson, 'Prostitution in Perth and Fremantle and on the Eastern Goldfields, 1895-September 1939', MA thesis, University of Western Australia, 1980, p 24.
(34) Stange, op.cit., p 76.
(35) Brownlow, op.cit., p 71. All the plays were turned into films 1914-1915. ibid., note, p 518.
(36) ibid., pp 80-8.
(37) 'The white slave problem', Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1913, p 7.
(38) ibid., p 5. Almost the same language is used in recent reports of bungling by federal police and the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in handling allegations of sexual slavery. See, for example, Natalie O'Brien and Elisabeth Wynhausen, 'Sex slave inquiry demand', Australian, 29 April 2003, p 2.
(39) Stange, op.cit., p 86.
(40) Wilton Welch and Louise Welch, Script of The Warning, Act 1, p 1. Application for Copyright, registered 4 December 1913; Australian Archives, A 1336 3144.
(41) ibid., Act 1, p 2. It seems that this kind of language really was used in reference to women. In 1927, a syndicate of three French men organised the supply of French prostitutes to Sydney and Perth: 'Using the description of "importer" one of the men had arranged for "goods" to the value of 180 [pounds sterling] to be send from France. When they did not arrive he had gone to Sydney to try and obtain other "goods," but while there received information that his "French order" was on the water'. Davidson, op.cit., pp 107-8.
(42) While statistics don't specify brothel-keepers, police figures from 1895 to 1939 show that native-born Australians formed the largest group among prostitutes, but the French nearly always formed the second-largest group. Davidson, op. cit., p 138.
(43) In New York, at least, boarding houses were sometimes also brothels. Timothy J Gilfoyle, City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commericalization of Sex, 1790-1920, WW Norton, New York, 1992, pp 166-70. Graeme Davison, writing about boarding houses in 1880s-1890s Sydney, recognises 'respectable white-collar and artisans' boarding-houses' but calls other boarding establishments and rooming houses 'the tidelands of the city ... the sleazy urban frontier'. Graeme Davison, 'Sydney and the bush: An urban context for the Australian legend', in John Carroll (ed.), Intruders in the Bush. The Australian Quest for Identity (2nd edn), Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, p 112.
(44) She had apparently arrived in Sydney in 1891, and when she died in 1926, she left a substantial number of properties to her daughter.
(45) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 2, p 17.
(46) ibid., Act 2, p 27.
(47) ibid., Act 3, p 9.
(48) ibid., Act 3, p 4.
(49) ibid., Act 3, p 23.
(50) ibid., Act 3, p 14.
(51) ibid., Act 3, p 25.
(52) ibid., Act 3, p 31.
(53) ibid., Act 3, p 34.
(54) ibid., Act 3, p 21.
(55) ibid., Act 3, p 27.
(56) ibid. Act 3, p 20.
(57) Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 1913, p 2.
(58) Advertisements, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 1913, p 2; 1 January 1914, p 2.
(59) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 2, p 2.
(60) Quoted in Brownlow, op.cit., p 77.
(61) Staiger, op.cit., p 120.
(62) Brownlow, op.cit., p 78.
(63) Stange, op.cit, p 84.
(64) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 2, p 22.
(66) Elizabeth Wilson, The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991, pp 5-6. The idea of city representations being gendered observations by a male flaneur has been further explored by: Janet Wolff, 'The invisible flaneuse: Women and the literature of modernity' in Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture, Polity, Cambridge, 1990, pp 34-50; Elizabeth Wilson 'The invisible flaneur', and 'The invisible flaneur: Afterwards', in The Contradictions of Culture: Cities, Culture, Women, Sage, London, 2001, pp 72-94; and Susan Buck-Morss 'The flaneur, the sandwichman and the whore: The politics of loitering', New German Critique, no 39, 1986, pp 99-140.
(67) Wilson, Sphinx, op.cit., p 8.
(68) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 1, p 8.
(69) Jottings while interviewing Louise Lovely, December 1971, Ross Cooper, used with permission.
(70) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 3, p 14.
(71) 'Missing woman Not yet traced', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 November 1913, p 4.
(72) Advertisement, The Warning, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 November 1913, p 2.
(73) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 3, p 3.
(74) ibid., Act 3, p 26.
(75) Brownlow, op.cit., p 77.
(76) Leslie Fishbein, 'From Sodom to salvation: The image of New York City in films about fallen women, 1899-1934', New York History, April, 1989, p 179.
(77) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 1, p 9.
(78) This is explored in detail by A Nicholas Vardac in Stage to Screen. Theatrical Origins of Early Film: David Garrick to DW Griffith , Da Capo Paperbacks, 1987.
(79) Walkowitz, op.cit., p 85.
(80) David Grimstead, Melodrama Unveiled: Theatre and Culture 1800-1850, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1968, p 175, quoted in Robert Lang, American Film Melodrama. Griffith, Vidor, Minelli, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1989, p 78.
(81) Fishbein, op.cit., p 173.
(82) Both quoted in Staiger, op.cit., pp 3-4: 'Sex o'clock in America', Current Opinion, vol 55, no 2, 1913, pp 113-14, and Agnes Repplier, 'The repeal of reticence', Atlantic Monthly, no 113, March 1914, pp 297-304.
(83) Fishbein, op.cit., p 177.
(84) Stange, op.cit., p 6.
(85) In saying this, I am thinking of the way 'authenticity' adds a frisson to, say, sex scenes in films rumoured to be 'the real thing', such as those between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999). There is also the down-and-dirty nature of pictures of readers' naked wives published in men's magazines, or the late-night broadcasting of Big Brother Uncut.
(86) Walkowitz, op.cit., p 97.
(87) Brownlow, op. cit., p 78.
(88) Fishbein, op.cit., p 180.
(89) Staiger, op.cit., p xvi.
(90) ibid., p xii.
(91) Susan A Glenn, Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2000, p 8.
(92) Welch and Welch, Act 2, p 2.
(93) ibid., Act 2, p 5.
(94) Stange, op.cit., p 78.
(95) ibid., p 128.
(96) Welch and Welch, op. cit., Act 3, p 25.
(97) Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1913, p 7.
(98) 'White slave traffic', Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December, 1913, p 5.
(99) Davidson, op.cit., p 71.…
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Publication information: Article title: 'It Pulsates with Dramatic Power': White Slavery, Popular Culture and Modernity in Australia in 1913. Contributors: Delamoir, Jeannette - Author. Journal title: Journal of Australian Studies. Issue: 82 Publication date: June 2004. Page number: 25+. © 1998 University of Queensland Press. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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