American Literature Tennessee Williams
by
John Bak
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0136

Introduction

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III (b. 1911–d. 1983) was a poet, fiction writer, and playwright. Born in Columbus, Mississippi, Williams was raised in his grandfather’s Episcopalian rectory in Clarksdale, where he lived with his mother Edwina, sister Rose, and beloved maternal grandparents. Because his father, Cornelius, a traveling salesman, was often on the road, his grandfather served as Williams’s surrogate father, later living on and off with Williams and his partner Frank Merlo. Life as a boy in the South, with its staunch religious conservatism, had an enormous impact on Williams’s literary aesthetics and socio-religious perspective, and although today he is considered a Southern writer, much of his life was spent outside of the Deep South. In 1918 Cornelius landed a managerial job at a large shoe company and uprooted his family to live in the industrial Midwestern city of St. Louis, where Williams would spend another twenty (mostly regrettable) years. His restless spirit and desire to escape his father’s home and his mother’s Puritanism pushed the young man to write. His budding professional career led him to New Orleans in 1938, a city that would become his spiritual home, although he would drift between cities and continents for most of his life. It was there that he embraced his homosexuality. Awarded literary fellowships and a brief contract at MGM in 1943 for his early writings, Williams began working on a film script that would eventually become The Glass Menagerie (1945). The play made Williams a celebrity overnight and gave him the financial freedom he had sought all of his life: he had some regrets, however, since this newfound success threatened his Bohemian lifestyle. Williams worked feverishly over the next few years, and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) secured his reputation as one of America’s greatest living playwrights. Williams’s tormented heroines and poetic realism won him wide critical and popular acclaim, which followed him through the next decade with a string of Broadway hits, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Suddenly Last Summer (1958), and The Night of the Iguana (1961). His struggle to stay on top led to a lifelong depression that a daily regimen of drugs, alcohol, and a brief period of psychoanalysis only partly assuaged. Afraid that he would grow mad like his sister, who was lobotomized in 1943, and feeling guilty for having escaped a similar fate, Williams wrote daily to keep his “blue devils” at bay, although his dramaturgy changed drastically after Merlo’s death in 1963. Discouraged by the mounting negative reviews but never dissuaded from producing a new play on the ashes of a previous failure, Williams kept writing, penning roughly half of his vast oeuvre after the critics had largely written him off. Today, Williams is enjoying a renaissance, and many of these later plays are not only seeing a second life in theaters around the world but have secured his reputation as America’s greatest playwright.

General Overviews

Because biographical and critical traditions have evolved within the academy, books and articles on Tennessee Williams vary in quality and usefulness. Williams scholarship, too, has drastically changed over the years due to the corrections of various biographical errors (and myths) and the reevaluation of his career after 1961, the year most critics have attributed to Williams’s artistic decline. Listed here are those sources—from the first serious study (Tischler 1961) to the later ones (Bigsby 1984 and Murphy 2014)—that have withstood the test of time and are just as valuable in the early 21st century as they were when originally published. Tischler 1961 and Nelson 1961, along with Falk 1961 (cited under Criticism: Early: 1961–1979), represent the first critical assessments of Williams’s oeuvre, largely augmented by Bigsby 1984, the author of which consulted many of Williams’s then-unpublished early and late works housed in various archives. Van Antwerp 1982–1984 is a more accessible introduction to Williams’s life and career, with its inclusion of hundreds of photographs, playbills, and posters enriching the various texts reproduced from newspapers and magazines. Murphy 2014 provides the most recent coverage of the many critical issues encountered in Williams’s major dramatic works.

  • Bigsby, C. W. E. “Tennessee Williams.” In A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Vol. 2. By C. W. E. Bigsby, 15–134. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    Provides a critical introduction to Williams, focusing on ambiguity, determinism, and the motif of art in Williams’s major works. Astute analysis of the standard Williams canon and commentary on numerous later works that rarely received serious critical attention. Introduced the now-accepted view that Williams’s failure was as much the result of his artistic redirection as it was the fault of his era’s inability and willingness to understand that new theatrical vision.

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  • Murphy, Brenda. The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. London: Methuen, 2014.

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    Provides solid analysis of Williams’s major dramatic works, including in-depth studies of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and others. A tenth chapter focuses on the later plays, and an eleventh chapter on “Critical Perspectives” reproduces four original articles by some of Williams’s leading critics.

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  • Nelson, Benjamin. Tennessee Williams: The Man and His Work. New York: Ivan Obolensky, 1961.

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    Discusses the works of Williams, their themes and techniques, within the context of the playwright’s life, in particular his formative years and how they influenced his search for an individual talent.

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  • Tischler, Nancy M. Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan. New York: Citadel, 1961.

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    Supplies (along with Benjamin Nelson’s and Signi Falk’s monographs) a competent introduction into the life and work of Williams up to the late 1950s, although it is largely dated by early-21st-century scholarly standards. Several of its arguments, based on a psychoanalytical reading of the playwright and of Williams’s Southern influences (i.e., the flesh versus the spirit), are nonetheless still valid.

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  • Van Antwerp, Margaret A., and Sally Johns, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Documentary Series: An Illustrated Chronicle. Vol. 4, Tennessee Williams. Detroit: Gale, 1982–1984.

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    Resembles Leavitt’s 1978 pictorial book but is more complete in terms of covering Williams’s writing career from the late 1920s to the 1980s. Privileging the retelling of Williams’s career through the reprinting of theater and book reviews, interviews, speeches, critical articles, and essays (a few that Williams himself had written and included in Where I Live), the book is an excellent entry-level study of Williams’s professional life.

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Biographies

Williams’s biographies contain as much myth and apocrypha as they do facts, at times due to suspect research but mostly to Williams’s own disregard for accuracy in recounting his life in his letters, essays, and memoirs. Those intending to read Williams’s biography thus need to distinguish between (as Kenneth Holditch noted in Kaplan 2011, cited under Collections), what is biography and what is (at times self-aggrandizing) memoir and remembrance. The biographies listed here, based on extensive research instead of hearsay, offer the most detailed accounts of Williams’s life, though none are fully accurate. The first biography of importance (if his mother’s book is considered to be a recollection more than a biography) was cowritten by Williams’s brother (Williams and Mead 1983). The book recounts family events but ultimately contains a personal agenda and should be read within this context. The best biography is Leverich 1995, written by Williams’s authorized biographer and a biographer who had access to Williams’s private letters and notebooks and other materials. Leverich unfortunately died before completing his second volume. Several other biographies are therefore important in that they recount the rest of Williams’s life and career, but they vary in accuracy. Spoto 1986 provides the first complete biography written outside of the Williams family; but because its research was hurried, many of the facts and stories it recounts are questionable or false, and readers should be wary of the biography’s limitations. Hayman 1993 is similar to Spoto 1986, but it is ostensibly homophobic in its biased portrayal of Williams as a self-flagellating homosexual: this was a belief largely rejected in later biographies such as Kaplan 2007 and Bak 2013. Based on extensive research, Kaplan 2007 gives an in-depth biographical portrait of Williams’s life in Provincetown, a short but significant period in his personal and professional life. Fruchon-Toussaint 2011 provides a rare European perspective on Williams’s life, while Bak 2013 supplies a different slant to some of the existing stories on Williams and offers new material on the playwright’s life, in particular on his final years. Lahr 2014 (Leverich’s notes for his second volume were left to Lahr after Leverich’s death), is an extensive biography that partly continues where Leverich’s leaves off and partly stands alone as its own work on the playwright.

  • Bak, John S. Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137308474Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Draws extensively from the playwright’s correspondences, notebooks, and archival papers to offer an original angle to the discussion of Williams’s life and work and the times and circumstances that helped produce it. Particularly useful in its reproduction of many texts in Williams’s own words that are either out of print or accessible only in the archives.

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  • Fruchon-Toussaint, Catherine. Tennessee Williams: Une vie. Paris: Éditions Baker Street, 2011.

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    Arranged thematically, as opposed to chronologically, and covers several topics central to Williams’s life: his writing, his homosexuality, his love affair with Italy, Paris, his mother, and his cinema, to name a few. Offers little new information on Williams’s life and reproduces a few of the earlier errors of its English sources. Nonetheless, this is a dependable and enjoyable read (in French).

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  • Hayman, Ronald. Tennessee Williams: Everyone Else Is an Audience. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1993.

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    Provides a rather biased portrait of Williams as a drug addict and guilt-ridden homosexual that adds little in the way of biographical information or critical assessment already found in Spoto 1986. Written perhaps in haste, this biography relates Williams’s creative production to closely to his life and thus should be read with a critical eye.

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  • Kaplan, David. Tennessee Williams in Provincetown. East Brunswick, NJ: Hansen, 2007.

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    Supplies a well-researched history of Williams’s formative years when he made several visits to Provincetown, providing a short monograph-length look into the life of Williams that was previously recounted elsewhere in a few sentences or paragraphs. This close-up of Williams’s time just prior to fame portrays a Williams embracing his homosexuality. This is an antidote to the more unsympathetic biographies such as Spoto 1986 and Hayman 1993 that paint a more pained, guilt-ridden Williams who was ashamed of his sexual identity.

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  • Lahr, John. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh. New York: Norton, 2014.

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    Conceived as the sequel to Leverich 1995 but largely its own biography, offering further insights into Williams’s troubled life and into the backstage machinations of many of his plays. As enjoyable as it is reliable in its accuracy about a life confoundingly fictionalized over the years.

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  • Leverich, Lyle. Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. New York: Norton, 1995.

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    Stands as the best of the biographies available on Williams, although it is limited in scope in that it only takes readers up to 1945. Leverich, who struggled with the Williams estate (namely Maria St. Just, Williams’s self-appointed literary executor) to publish this “authorized” biography of Williams, unfortunately died while he was gathering notes for the second volume, which would have taken readers up to Williams’s death in 1983. A must read for the Williams student or scholar.

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  • Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. New York: Ballantine, 1986.

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    Reads easily, as far as biographies go, although it is often factually inaccurate. Written hastily after Williams’s death by a professional biographer (as opposed to someone such as Williams’s artistic-scholar-friend Leverich) who made abundant use of research assistants, the biography offers little “kindness” to its subject and should not be taken as factually sound in its various details.

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  • Williams, Dakin, and Shepherd Mead. Tennessee Williams: An Intimate Biography. New York: Arbor, 1983.

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    Draws heavily on Williams and Freeman 1963 and Steen 1969. Dakin, a faithful brother who nonetheless used (or attempted to use) Williams’s fame to advance his own career in politics (and then in letters), provides little new insight, making the biography anything but “intimate.”

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Personal Reminiscences

The first personal reminiscence was penned by Williams’s mother, Edwina (Williams and Freeman 1963), who recounts with Southern verve the story of her son’s rise to fame. The book now reads more like a mother’s scrapbook than a scholarly biography. Williams also had a bevy of hangers-on, several of whom produced works whose biographical accuracy should be taken with a grain of salt. These personal remembrances can be generally divided into the “harmless” and the “self-serving.” Maxwell 1965, Steen 1969, and Smith 2011 fit into the first category, while Rader 1985, Rasky 1986, Smith 1990, and Windham 1987 generally belong in the second. Each adds, undoubtedly, some interesting facts and points of view regarding Williams’s life that are not always captured in the biographies. However, it is difficult (if not impossible) to discern which stories are factually accurate and which are embellished (intentionally or not) or downright fictionalized.

  • Maxwell, Gilbert. Tennessee Williams and Friends. Cleveland, OH: World, 1965.

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    Stitches together a patchwork of recollections about Maxwell’s friendship with Williams and their mutual acquaintances, drawing heavily upon Williams and Freeman 1963 for details beyond his time spent with Williams.

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  • Rader, Dotson. Tennessee: Cry of the Heart. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.

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    Supplies memoirs from a “friend” with whom Williams had shared a troubled relationship. Drawing extensively upon Williams and Freeman 1963, Rader’s remembrance sensationalizes Williams’s life, devoting many of its pages to the December 1971 antiwar rally at the Catholic Church of St. John the Divine, where Williams was a largely unwilling participant, to the ill-fated opening of Clothes for a Summer Hotel, and to Williams’s daily life that Rader witnessed in New York, Key West, and New Orleans.

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  • Rasky, Harry. Tennessee Williams: A Portrait in Laughter and Lamentation. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1986.

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    Provides an intimate portrait of Rasky’s time with Williams during the filming of the Canadian’s documentary of the playwright in 1973, Tennessee Williams’ South, and his directing Williams’s play Tiger Tale (based on the film Baby Doll) in Atlanta. Like Smith 1990 and Rader 1985, Rasky attempts to reproduce Williams’s voice in dialogue, capturing the rhythms and the drawl but perhaps not the accuracy of his words.

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  • Smith, Bruce. Costly Performances: Tennessee Williams: The Last Stage. New York: Paragon House, 1990.

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    Resembles Rader 1985, although it is penned by an employee and friend of Williams who was considerably less influential. Derivative of previous biographies and riddled with errors, this book says as much about Smith as it does about Williams.

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  • Smith, William Jay. My Friend Tom: The Poet–Playwright Tennessee Williams. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

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    Sentimental but genuine portrait of Smith’s college days with Williams at Washington University in St. Louis and of several brief encounters he had with the playwright later in life.

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  • Steen, Mike. A Look at Tennessee Williams. New York: Hawthorn, 1969.

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    Collects twenty-four interviews with celebrities and theater personalities, all of whom had worked with Williams at one time. Mostly anecdotal in nature, the book nonetheless provides details about Williams’s life not covered in other biographies. A good source, if not unavoidably slanted, for understanding Williams’s working relationship with other artists, directors, producers, playwrights, and actors.

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  • Williams, Edwina Dakin, and Lucy Freeman. Remember Me to Tom. St. Louis, MO: Sunrise, 1963.

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    Sentimentally reproduces many of Edwina’s recollections of her and her family’s history in the South and in St. Louis. Publishing for the first time several of Williams’s unpublished letters, essays and poems that she squirreled away during her son’s rise to fame, it should still be approached as a biased portrayal of the Williamses, with very little good to say about his father, Cornelius.

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  • Windham, Donald. Lost Friendships: A Memoir of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Others. New York: Morrow, 1987.

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    Includes Windham’s 1985 extended piece on Williams entitled “As If . . . : A Personal View of Tennessee Williams.” Alternating between reminiscence and analysis of Williams’s plays and stories, it focuses on Williams’s paradoxical use of humor and tragedy, which Windham claims helps to explain his longtime friend and part-time enemy’s unpredictable kindness toward and cruel treatment of those close to him. See especially pp. 159–267.

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Interviews

Williams gave hundreds of interviews throughout his life, dating from his early professional career with the Mummers of St. Louis to his death in 1983. Unfortunately, only a few dozen of those interviews are still in print, and some of them are reprinted in Devlin 1986, a collection needing significant expansion and further editing. Interviews that are not in Devlin 1986, but should be, include those such as Whitmore 1978. It should be noted here that dozens of others important interviews exist in newspapers and magazines still in print (or on microfilm), but not all of them could be included here.

  • Devlin, Albert J., ed. Conversations with Tennessee Williams. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.

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    Collects several interviews from 1940, around the time of the ill-fated premiere of Battle of Angels in Boston, to Rader’s 1981 interview for The Paris Review. Topics include his early Southern background and his later literary influences.

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  • Whitmore, George. “George Whitmore Interviews Tennessee Williams.” In Gay Sunshine Interviews. Vol. 1. Edited by Winston Leyland, 310–325. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine, 1978.

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    Offers one of the more significant interviews not collected in Devlin 1986, exploring Williams’s relationship with the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970s. Noteworthy from this interview is Williams’s explanation why he never decidedly wrote a play for the gay community, feeling that his plays were more socially and less sexually orientated. Later interviews such as this one find Williams more open about his life and thoughts.

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Reference Works

This category of reference works can be subdivided into general reference, encyclopedias, and bibliographies. In the first category, Crandell 1996 looks into the politics of establishing a reputation, knowing that critics and scholars have as much say, if not more, than the general public on what play makes it into the literary canon. Kolin 1998 provides a synthesis of the research published on Williams’s major plays, including their several performance histories. A second category includes encyclopedias, which provide quick references to the many works, places, and people that influenced Williams’s life. Kolin 2004 and Smith-Howard and Heintzelman 2005 do just that. Kolin 2004 offers brief to long entries on the major works and figures relevant to Williams’s life. Smith-Howard and Heintzelman 2005 devotes pages to Williams’s literary production, summarizing plots, introducing themes, and offering character analyses of his plays and fiction. Despite some overlap, both books essentially complement one another. The third category collects the many bibliographies that appeared over the years. Williams’s early criticism was first listed in specialized theater journals (Dony 1958), and then updated in bibliographical journals (Brown 1963). Gunn 1991 was the first book-length bibliography and was updated in Carpenter 1980. McCann 1983 complemented Gunn’s book by annotating secondary sources on Williams. Crandell 1995 finally added the definitive descriptive bibliography of Williams’s primary sources to complete the bibliographical work on the playwright. These bibliographies offer several advantages today that online bibliographies do not in that they include commentaries, abstracts, and theater reviews.

  • Brown, Andreas. “Tennessee Williams by Another Name.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 57 (1963): 377–378.

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    Lists Williams’s early stories and poems published in American literary journals and magazines under the name Thomas Lanier Williams. Though not essential in itself, the article is significant given that its author, Andreas Brown (former owner of the famed Gotham Book Mart) was Williams’s official bibliographer in the 1960s. Brown also catalogued Williams’s massive collection at the Harry Ransom Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Carpenter, Charles A. “Studies of Tennessee Williams’ Drama: A Selective International Bibliography: 1966–1978.” Tennessee Williams Newsletter 2 (Spring 1980): 11–23.

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    Provides a running checklist in the Tennessee Williams Newsletter (and later Review) of academic articles on Williams that first appeared in Gunn 1991. Carpenter eventually collected all of the sources he had gathered since updating Dony in 1959, in particular those from international critics, and published them in Modern Drama Scholarship and Criticism 1966–1980: An International Bibliography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986).

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  • Crandell, George W. Tennessee Williams: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.

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    Provides publishing details on all of Williams’s works, from the first editions of his full-length plays, one-act plays, novels, stories, and essays to his interviews and his first appearances in magazines and newspapers. Included in the book are Williams’s program and playbill notes and book blurbs, translations, and references made to Williams in others’ interviews and articles.

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  • Crandell, George W., ed. The Critical Response to Tennessee Williams. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

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    Reprints representative reviews and criticism of Williams’s major plays up to A House Not Meant to Stand (1982), providing a chronological record of the critical response to his work. For the major plays, each section reprints several key reviews, as well as a critical essay.

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  • Dony, Nadine. “Tennessee Williams: A Selective Bibliography.” Modern Drama 1.3 (December 1958): 181–191.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.1.3.181Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stands as the first significant attempt to collect secondary material on Williams’s plays. The checklist is divided into “general” works on Williams (reviews, criticism, assessments) and his “plays,” listed alphabetically. A year later, Charles A. Carpenter Jr., and Elizabeth Cook added an “addenda” in the same journal.

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  • Gunn, Drewey Wayne. Tennessee Williams: A Bibliography. 2d ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1991.

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    Alphabetically arranges secondary sources to most of Williams’s works (plays, fiction, poetry, essays, but also his archives and occasional pieces), correcting the errors of the 1980 edition and reproducing bibliographic information about the various publications (and translations) of a given play, as well as a several noted critical sources and production reviews.

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  • Kolin, Philip C., ed. Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

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    Synthesizes the research on Williams to date and provides a performance history of his works. Arranged alphabetically by play title, chapters by several Williams scholars includes a survey of the work’s biographical context, bibliographic history, major critical approaches and theoretical problems, major productions and film/television adaptations, interpretation, and bibliography of secondary sources. Final chapters are devoted to Williams’s fiction, poetry, and films.

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  • Kolin, Philip C., ed. The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

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    Compiles 160 entries written by fifty-seven scholars about Williams’s life and work. The alphabetically arranged entries, varying in length according to importance, identify major figures in Williams’s life; provide biographical details; summarize and briefly analyze his plays, stories, and poems; provide background information about sources and publications; give brief histories of the performances of his plays; and survey important film adaptations and how they differ from the plays.

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  • McCann, John S. The Critical Reputation of Tennessee Williams: A Reference Guide. Boston: Hall, 1983.

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    Remains indispensible for its many annotations of previous criticism listed elsewhere (Gunn 1991, for example). Items are alphabetically listed by year instead of by title of a Williams work. An index is included for quick referrals.

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  • Smith-Howard, Alycia, and Greta Heintzelman, eds. Critical Companion to Tennessee Williams: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2005.

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    Provides a synopsis of Williams’s individual works, from his full-length and one-act plays to his novels, short stories, and screenplays. Arranged alphabetically by title, each entry covers plot summary and character analysis and also, where appropriate, offers brief critical commentary, production and textual history, and titles for further reading. Listed separately are the various names of places and people important to Williams’s life.

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Academic Journals

Aside from the numerous theater and drama journals that regularly publish articles on Tennessee Williams, there have been four journals dedicated solely to the work and life of the playwright. In 1979 Stephen Stanton began the first (the Tennessee Williams Newsletter), which was an underfunded publication that printed short articles, book and performance reviews, and Williams news and apocrypha. The Newsletter became the Tennessee Williams Review in 1981, but the change of name and format could not keep the journal from eventually folding. Kenneth Holditch published the first volume of the Tennessee Williams Literary Journal in 1989. The journal began as a semi-annual periodical but eventually became an annual (though years passed between issues); its latest issue appeared in 2008. Robert Bray began publishing the Tennessee Williams Annual Review in 1998, and issues have appeared annually save for the years 2004 (when the journal made the transition back to both printed and online versions) and 2008 (when resources were redirected to redesigning and updating the journal’s website).

  • Tennessee Williams Annual Review. 1998–.

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    Founded in 1998 by Robert Bray at Middle Tennessee State University and published in partnership with the Historic New Orleans Collection, this focuses on scholarly articles and unpublished examples of Williams’s one-act plays, poems, or essays. Often included are transcripts of panels given on a variety of Williams topics at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. There are currently fourteen volumes.

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  • Tennessee Williams Literary Journal. 1989–2008.

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    Founded by Kenneth Holditch at the University of New Orleans in Spring 1989, a semi-annual journal that has published several issues at varying intervals for nearly two decades. Its most recent issue was Winter 2008. The journal includes academic articles, a calendar of major productions, and a review of recent publications, but it also reproduces Williams-related apocrypha, obituaries, photographs, and news and events.

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  • Tennessee Williams Newsletter. 1979–1980.

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    Published in 1979 and 1980 (volumes one and two) by Stephen S. Stanton at the University of Michigan. The typed and Xeroxed newsletter includes brief critical articles and notes, as well as evaluations of some of Williams’s late plays. Its running “Selective Bibliography” records more than two hundred references to Williams between 1966 and 1978.

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  • Tennessee Williams Review. 1981–1983.

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    Formerly the Tennessee Williams Newsletter. The Tennessee Williams Review was retitled in Spring 1981, running for two years (volumes three and four) until Spring 1983, when it ceased publication following Williams’s death. The final issue offers several obituary tributes from theater celebrities, such as John Gielgud, as well as the transcript of the homily delivered at his funeral (and his last will and testament).

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Festivals

There are currently four major festivals meeting annually to celebrate the life and works of Tennessee Williams. Each has its own take on the playwright. By far the largest of the four is the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival held in the French Quarter of New Orleans on the weekend nearest to Williams’s birthday on 26 March. The second largest festival is the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival on Cape Cod, which focuses essentially on the theatrical side of Williams’s lesser-known and little-performed late plays. The TW Institute, a four-day symposium on Williams open to graduate students, runs parallel to the festival. Smaller, and more locally oriented festivals include the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival in Clarksdale and the Tennessee Williams Tribute & Tour of Victorian Homes in Columbus, both in Mississippi. These two festivals, held in important southern cities for Williams (he was born in Columbus and lived some of his formative years in Clarksdale), are dedicated more to the Southern life of Williams, though scholars do occasionally present their research and plays are performed.

Archives

The four most significant Williams archives are (in order of importance): Tennessee Williams Collection, University of Texas at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin; Tennessee Williams Papers, Columbia University at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University; Tennessee Williams Papers, Harvard University at the Houghton Library’s Theatre Collection of Harvard University; and the Fred W. Todd Tennessee Williams Collection of the Historic New Orleans Collection in the city’s French Quarter. University of Texas was the first to benefit from Williams’s massive collection, as Williams donated many of his early manuscripts from 1962 to 1969 (other acquisitions from Edwina Williams and Andreas Brown, Williams’s official bibliographer, filled out the collection). Columbia University acquired a substantial collection of scripts, production material, photographs, and correspondence by 1990, and in 1994 it purchased from the Tennessee Williams Estate material found in Williams’s Key West home. Williams’s former agent, Mitch Douglas, periodically donates letters and manuscripts in his possession to the Columbia collection (a recent donation of several hundred manuscript pages was made in 2012). On 10 June 1982 Williams received an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University, partly in exchange for his having promised to bequeath his manuscripts to the Houghton Library upon his death. That collection, recently catalogued, is one of the most important on Williams’s late works and letters. In 2001 the Historic New Orleans Collection, which had been amassing Williams materials for years, finally acquired the Fred W. Todd Collection, an assemblage of books, manuscripts, letters, and memorabilia related to Williams’s life and career. Lastly, like the University of Delaware (see Tennessee Williams Collection, University of Delaware Library), which purchased much of the content of its archives in auctions, UCLA bought its manuscripts directly from Williams.

  • Fred W. Todd Tennessee Williams Collection. Williams Research Center, Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans (MSS 562).

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    Gathers Fred W. Todd’s eclectic collection of Williams’s manuscripts and memorabilia, the fourth largest of the Williams archives. It contains a random selection of books, unpublished manuscripts, playbills, letters, photographs, and memorabilia. The collection is divided into six groups, with finding aids available online for each.

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  • Tennessee Williams Collection, University of Delaware Library. Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library, Newark (MS 112).

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    Lists just over four linear feet, making Delaware’s Tennessee Williams Collection one of the smaller of the Williams archives. Spanning the dates 1939–2011, the collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, printed material, and ephemera related to Williams.

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  • Tennessee Williams Collection, University of Texas. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (TXRC99-A14).

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    Includes nearly thirty-two linear feet of Williams’s manuscripts and other materials, undeniably the flagship of the Williams archives. The collection, built from four major acquisitions in the 1960s with smaller amounts of material added later, contains numerous manuscript drafts, from his best-known plays to unpublished stories, poems, and essays, all in various states of completion.

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  • Tennessee Williams Papers, Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, New York (NYCR90-A188).

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    Holds twenty-seven linear feet of material, the second largest of the Williams archives. Beginning in the 1970s, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library began collecting Williams materials through purchases made at auctions. Most of the material including notes, diaries, drafts, rewrites, scripts, typescripts, programs, flyers, ads, clippings, art work, tapes, notebooks, awards, photographs, and memorabilia dates from 1942 to 1982. The manuscripts are primarily from the 1960s to 1982.

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  • Tennessee Williams Papers, 1930–1970. Special Collections, UCLA, Los Angeles (Collection LSC 492).

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    Lists only one linear foot, making the Tennessee Williams Papers the smallest of the significant Williams archives. It contains manuscripts of several of Williams’s published and unpublished plays, play fragments, short stories, screen scenarios, and poems. Legend has it that Williams sold the manuscripts to UCLA in September 1970 to help fund his and longtime poet-professor friend Oliver Evans’s voyage to the Orient.

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  • Tennessee Williams Papers, Harvard University. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge (MS Thr 397).

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    Contains twenty linear feet, making Houghton’s Theatre Collection the third largest of the Williams archives. Williams bequeathed his remaining manuscripts to Harvard upon his death, although they remained uncatalogued and largely inaccessible for over a decade. Nearly half of the collection contains manuscripts of Williams’s plays, while the remaining boxes hold stories, essays, and poems. Also included are drafts of letters, transcripts of interviews, and Williams’s notebooks from 1942 to 1981.

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Primary Texts

A casual stroll through any of the Williams archives will show that Williams wrote constantly, and what is more troubling is that he continually rewrote and revised, even after a play or a story was published. He rarely felt that a text was completed, not even Pulitzer Prize–winning plays such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for which there exist (at least) three distinct published versions: New Directions, 1955 (reprinted in Volume 3 of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, 1971, which contains the play’s two endings, Williams’s and the one requested by director Elia Kazan); the Dramatists Play Service edition of 1958, which removed Big Daddy’s mildly objectionable elephant joke; and New Directions, 1975, which combines the two earlier endings, keeping some of Kazan’s suggestions but concluding the play as Williams had originally intended. Clearly, this is not an isolated case. Various versions of A Streetcar Named Desire exist as well, where the opening of the British Penguin edition is vastly different from that of the New Directions edition. He similarly wrote two versions of essentially the same short story, “The Mysteries of the Joy Rio” (1941) and “Hard Candy” (1953). And a few of his published poems have multiple versions, attesting to his endless tinkering with his texts. In sum, one should be cautious and judicious in selecting the version of a given play, story, or poem on which to base one’s analysis or theater performance.

Drama

It should not be assumed that the New Directions edition, just because it was from Williams’s principal publisher, is more authoritative than another version such as the Library of America collection edited by Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holditch. Both publishers have something to offer that the other does not because, as previously stated, Williams kept altering his texts. For this reason, we do not find The Two-Character Play or Out Cry in New Directions’ eight-volume collection (it was instead published separately), though the play is in the Library of America edition. Williams rewrote The Two-Character Play countless times from 1967 to 1973, changing the title to Out Cry, only to rewrite the play in 1976 and restore its original title. Similar the Library of America edition chose not to publish The Red Devil Battery Sign, which underwent significant changes and cuts from the Boston production in 1975 to the Vancouver production of 1980 (via Vienna in 1976 and London in 1977); the play is, however, in Volume 8 of the New Directions edition. Such compositional issues are maddening for an editor of Williams’s work, particularly of his late work, which he frequently rewrote in response to their failed productions.

Collected Plays and Anthologies

Today, there are two significant collections of Williams’s works for the theater: Williams 1971–1992 and Williams 2000. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Generally, the New Directions collection (Williams 1971–1992) reproduces only the plays’ texts, and invariably reprints the version that Williams had seen published; however, later publications of individual plays have extensive introductions and detailed notes at the end not found in the eight-volume series. It is worth noting that the New Directions collection does not include Out Cry, which was published separately. The Library of America edition (Williams 2000) attempted to reduce the major plays in the Williams canon to a cheaper, two-volume set, including a few plays not found in the New Directions collection (Spring Storm, Not About Nightingales, and Out Cry, for instance); but it leaves out other late plays, such as Clothes for a Summer Hotel and The Red Devil Battery Sign. Working from acting editions of the plays, Williams 2000 reproduces versions of several plays different from those found in Williams 1971–1992. It should be noted that there still does not exist a complete and authorative “collected” edition of Williams’s plays.

  • Williams, Tennessee. The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. 8 vols. New York: New Directions, 1971–1992.

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    Includes in eight volumes to date the majority of Williams’s full-length and one-act plays. A few later collections of previously unpublished one-act plays, as well as few early and late individual full-length plays, were published independently of this collection.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Tennessee Williams: Selected Plays. Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Library, 1980.

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    Offers a deluxe, limited edition, leather bound, and gold-gilded illustrated book, often signed by Williams himself, and contains the following plays: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Night of the Iguana.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Tennessee Williams: Plays 1937–1955 and 1957–1980. Edited by Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holditch. New York: Library of America, 2000.

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    Gathers in Volume 1 two of Williams’s early plays, Spring Storm and Not About Nightingales, in addition to several one-act plays and essays from the collection 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other Plays. Other full-length or one-act plays from the 1940s to the mid-1950s, as well as a chronology and notes on the texts, are included. Volume 2 includes plays from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, as well as a chronology and notes on the texts.

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One-Act Plays

Williams was a prolific one-act play writer, with several serving as storyboards for his more famous full-length plays. His first collection, entitled “American Blues,” includes one-act plays that he had submitted to the Group Theater drama contest in 1938, the year he began calling himself Tennessee Williams. Several of these one-act plays would eventually appear in the collection American Blues (Williams 1948). Missouri Review published two additional one-act plays that were originally left out of American Blues (Williams 1984). Williams’s two other collections on one-act plays include 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other Plays (Williams 1953), which contains Portrait of a Madonna, an early version of A Streetcar Named Desire, and Dragon Country (Williams 1970), whose one-act play Confessional was later expanded into Small Craft Warnings. If the early one-act plays generally carried a Southern poetic and tragic tone (his even earlier one-act plays written in St. Louis in the 1930s, such as Curtains for the Gentleman, resemble the gangster films he loved), the later one-act plays became more gothic and grotesque (The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde) and openly homosexual in their content (Williams 2008). Extensive archival research in the early 21st century has unearthed several more one-act plays, some of which have multiple versions that were collated and edited and printed in the collections Mister Paradise and Other One-act Plays (Williams 2005), The Traveling Companion and Other Plays (Williams 2008), and The Magic Tower and Other One-Act Plays (Williams 2011).

  • Williams, Tennessee. American Blues: Five Short Plays. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1948.

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    Collects five early one-act plays, including The Dark Room, Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, The Case of the Crushed Petunias, The Unsatisfactory Supper, and Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry. Not to be confused with the one-act plays that Williams gathered under the same title and sent to the Group Theater in December 1938.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other Plays. New York: New Directions, 1953.

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    Publishes, in addition to the essay “Something Wild . . . ”, the following one-act plays: 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, The Purification, The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, The Last of My Solid Gold Watches, Portrait of a Madonna, Auto-Da-Fé, Lord Byron’s Love Letter, The Strangest Kind of Romance, The Long Goodbye, Hello from Bertha, This Property Is Condemned, Talk to Me Like the Rain . . ., and Something Unspoken.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Dragon Country: A Book of One-act Plays. New York: New Directions, 1970.

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    Includes the following one-act plays: In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, I Rise in Flames, Cried the Phoenix, The Mutilated, I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow, Confessional, The Frosted Glass Coffin, The Gnädiges Fräulein, and A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot. These, along with Lifeboat Drill, Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws, and This is the Peaceable Kingdom, are reprinted in Volume 7 of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. “Beauty Is the Word and Hot Milk at Three in the Morning.” Missouri Review 7 (1984): 186–200.

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    Reprints two early one-act plays by Williams, written in the early 1930s when he was a student at the University of Missouri and just after. Beauty Is the Word (1930) shows Williams’s fascination with the conflicting views of God between traditional Christianity and the pagan belief that divine power lives in the beautiful things of this world. Hot Milk at Three in the Morning (1932), obviously influenced by O’Neill ‘s naturalist one-act plays, was rewritten as Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry and published in Williams 1948.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Mister Paradise and Other One-act Plays. Edited by Nicholas Moshchovakis and David Roessel. New York: New Directions, 2005.

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    Includes the following one-act plays: These are the Stairs You Got to Watch, Mister Paradise, The Palooka, Escape, Why Do You Smoke So Much, Lily?, Summer at the Lake, The Big Game, The Pink Bedroom, The Fat Man’s Wife, Thank You, Kind Spirit, The Municipal Abattoir, Adam and Eve on a Ferry, And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens . . . A scholarly introduction and extensive textual notes are also included.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. The Traveling Companion and Other Plays. Edited by Annette J. Saddik. New York: New Directions, 2008.

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    Includes the following one-act plays: The Chalky White Substance, The Day on Which a Man Dies, A Cavalier for Milady, The Pronoun “I,” The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde, Kirche, Küche, Kinder, Green Eyes, The Parade, The One Exception, Sunburst, Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? and The Traveling Companion. A scholarly introduction and extensive textual notes are also included.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. The Magic Tower and Other One-Act Plays. Edited by Thomas Keith. New York: New Directions, 2011.

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    Includes the following one-act plays: At Liberty, The Magic Tower, Me, Vashya, Curtains for the Gentleman, In Our Profession, Every Twenty Minutes, Honor the Living, The Case of the Crushed Petunias, Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry, The Dark Room, The Pretty Trap, Interior: Panic, Kingdom of Earth, I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sunday and Some Problems for the Moose Lodge. A foreword and extensive textual notes are also included.

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Screenplays and Teleplays

In 1943 Williams was “sold” to MGM, where he began working on “The Gentleman Caller manuscript,” a provisional filmscript that would eventually become the play The Glass Menagerie. Despite his demeaning attitude toward the major production houses, Williams gained experience writing screenplays for them, which he first put to use working alongside Elia Kazan and Oscar Saul in adapting A Streetcar Named Desire for the big screen in 1951. Williams would continue a relationship with Kazan by writing the screenplay for Baby Doll (which Williams later adapted for the stage as Tiger Tail, [see Williams 1991]) in 1956. A year later, Williams wrote the screenplay The Loss of a Tear Drop Diamond, which was only recently produced independently in 2008 by Jodie Markell, and All Gaul Is Divided (see Williams 1984), which served as the model for the play A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur and was reworked into a teleplay in the 1970s. Both were printed in Williams 1984. Later, Williams wrote the script for Boom!, the 1968 film adaptation of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore that became a vehicle for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, though it remains unpublished today (Williams 1967). In December 1967, he worked on the film adaptation of his boxer story, “One Arm” (see Williams 1948, cited under Short Fiction), envisioning Joe Dallesandro, an actor associated with Andy Warhol with whom Williams was fascinated at the time, in the role of Oliver Winemiller. Recognizing the power of television as a medium for drama, Williams wrote or adapted a few of his works for the small screen. In 1973 he began work on a teleplay for Maureen Stapleton called “A Second Epiphany” that would eventually become Stopped Rocking (1979–1981; see Williams 1984) and that carried the subtitle “An Original Two-Hour Motion Picture For Television.”

  • “The Gentleman Caller” manuscript. Tennessee Williams Collection. Accession number 2000–33-L, folder 9, Historic New Orleans Collection.

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    Contains a twenty-page screenplay, brad-bound in a blue “Liebling-Wood” folder that developed from the rough stage version of the same material, which was itself a dramatic rendering of his short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.”

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Boom! Filmscript of A Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. MSS 562, Box 45, item 944. New Orleans: the Fred W. Todd Tennessee Williams Collection, Williams Research Center, Historic New Orleans Collection, 1967.

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    Mimeographed version of the original screenplay. The script’s 132 pages are bound in black wrapper.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Stopped Rocking and Other Screenplays. New York: New Directions, 1984.

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    Includes the screenplays and teleplays All Gaul is Divided, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, One Arm and Stopped Rocking. An introduction by Richard Gilman and an informative “Author’s Note” are also added.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Baby Doll & Tiger Tail. New York: New Directions, 1991.

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    Includes the screenplay to the 1956 film Baby Doll and the 1978 play adapted from it, Tiger Tail.

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  • Williams, Tennessee, and Oscar Saul. Filmscript of A Streetcar Named Desire. MSS 562, Box 53, item 978. New Orleans: the Fred W. Todd Tennessee Williams Collection, Williams Research Center, Historic New Orleans Collection, 1951.

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    Contains Williams’s extensive revisions of Saul’s original adaption of the play for Warner Brothers in 1951. Both authors received screen credits for the script.

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Fiction

Though known as a playwright, Williams also produced a substantial body of fiction, novels and short stories. His novels include The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (see Williams 1950, cited under Novels) and Moise and World of Reason (see Williams 1975, cited under Novels). He also wrote the novella The Knightly Quest (Williams 1967) and published several books of short fiction, including One Arm and Other Stories (Williams 1948), Hard Candy (Williams 1954), The Knightly Quest: A Novella and Twelve Short Stories (Williams 1967) and Eight Moral Ladies Possessed: A Book of Stories (Williams 1974). Williams also published privately the long short story It Happened the Day the Sun Rose (Williams 1981). Collected Stories (Williams 1985) gathered all the stories previous published and added a few that had not appeared in one of the various collections. Since then, scholars have been uncovering Williams’s short stories in the various archives, and they have been appearing in print almost yearly for over a decade.

Short Fiction

Williams published his first story when he was seventeen, “The Vengeance of Nitocris” (Williams 1928), which he wrote during his junior year at University City High School and which appeared in the national magazine Weird Tales. Between 1933 and 1938, he sent out two dozen or so stories to local and national literary magazines such as Story, though few were published. Although he found fame as a playwright soon after, Williams never stopped writing short stories for the remainder of his life. Collections soon followed: One Arm and Other Stories (Williams 1948), Hard Candy (Williams 1954), The Knightly Quest: A Novella and Twelve Short Stories (Williams 1967), and Eight Moral Ladies Possessed: A Book of Stories (Williams 1974). He later published a long short story entitled It Happened the Day the Sun Rose (Williams 1981) in a collector’s edition. After Williams’s death, New Directions published Collected Stories (Williams 1985), adding nineteen previously uncollected or unpublished stories to those already in print. Some of the stories in these collections were later adapted into one-act and/or full-length plays (the 1952 story “Three Players of a Summer Game” would evolve into Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for instance).

  • Williams, Tennessee. “The Vengeance of Nitocris.” Weird Tales 12.2 (August 1928): 253–260, 288.

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    Loosely based on Herodotus’ account of Nitocris, an Egyptian princess who avenges her brother’s murder. This was Williams’s first published short story.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. One Arm and Other Stories. New York: New Directions, 1948.

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    Includes, as Williams’s first volume of short fiction, eleven stories, some openly homoerotic. Out of fear that his mother would buy a copy in a St. Louis bookstore, and thus learn of his homosexuality, Williams asked New Directions publisher James Laughlin to sell the collection of stories through subscription only.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Hard Candy: A Book of Stories. New York: New Directions, 1954.

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    Includes, as Williams’s second collection of short fiction, nine stories: “Three Players of a Summer Game,” “Two on a Party,” “The Resemblance between a Violin Case and a Coffin,” “Hard Candy,” “Rubio y Morena,” “The Mattress by the Tomato Patch,” “The Coming of Something to the Widow Holly,” “The Vine” and “The Mysteries of the Joy Rio.”

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  • Williams, Tennessee. The Knightly Quest: A Novella and Four Short Stories. New York: New Directions, 1967.

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    Includes, as Williams’s third collection of short fiction, four stories: “The Knightly Quest,” “Mama’s Old Stucco House,” “Man Bring This Up Road,” “The Kingdom of Earth” and “Grand.” Grand was first published separately as a small volume in 1964 and is now considered also as an autobiographical essay.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Eight Moral Ladies Possessed: A Book of Stories. New York: New Directions, 1974.

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    Includes, as Williams’s fourth collection of short fiction, the six stories: “Happy August the Tenth,” “The Inventory of Fontana Bella,” “Miss Coynte of Green,” “Sabbatha and Solitude,” “Completed” and “Oriflamme.”

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  • Williams, Tennessee. It Happened the Day the Sun Rose. Los Angeles: Sylvester and Orphanos, 1981.

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    Published privately in a limited edition book, a long short story inspired by his days in Tangier in the late 1940s and 1950s with Paul and Jane Bowles. Half camp, half magical realism, the story is about a witch who has the power to turn men she does not like, or grows sexually tired of, into birds.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Collected Stories. New York: New Directions, 1985.

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    Published posthumously, adding nineteen previously uncollected or unpublished stories to those already in print. The essay/story “The Man in the Overstuffed Chair,” about Williams’s father, is used as a preface. An introduction by Gore Vidal and bibliographical notes are included.

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Novels

Tennessee Williams wrote two novels, whose artistic qualities remain the subject of a heated debate among his critics today. The first is The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (Williams 1950). In April 1960, Williams worked with Louise de Rochemont and screenwriter Gavin Lambert on a cinematic adaption of the novel, which they began filming that fall in Rome. Critics have in general written more about the film adaptation than about the novel. Williams’s second novel, Moise and the World of Reason (Williams 1975), is much more experimental is its stream of consciousness (or free association) style. Written roughly at the same time as his Memoirs, Moise and the World of Reason can be read as Williams’s shadow memoirs, with both sharing many of the same details and even passages. Moise and the World of Reason unlocks some of the mysteries of Williams’s Memoirs, just as the Memoirs helps unravel the novel’s at times incoherent narrative structure.

  • Williams, Tennessee. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. New York: New Directions, 1950.

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    Recounts an affair between acclaimed American stage actress Karen Stone, whose husband has just died on their way to Europe, and a young Italian gigolo, Paolo. Williams’s first novel, originally entitled “Moon of Pause,” was drafted while he was living in Italy. It enjoyed some critical and commercial success.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Moise and the World of Reason. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975.

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    Examines themes of racial integration, hypersexuality, artistic truth, madness, and the pursuit of androgyny. Stylistically experimental, the novel was often dismissed as the result of Williams’s heavy drug use and depression throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

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Poetry

Williams dearly wanted to be a poet, like his college friends Clark Mills and William Jay Smith. Although he had some early success with his poetry, it was in using that poetic voice within his drama that Williams really discovered his talent. Williams published around forty lyrics from 1933 to 1938, mostly in collegiate literary magazines, gaining some local notoriety in 1936 when, at the age of twenty-five, he won $25 in St. Louis’s Wednesday Club poetry contest. Williams soon learned from Mills and Smith that his brand of poetry was passé. Perhaps some of that owes to the harsh criticism he received for his first serious collection of poetry in Five Young American Poets (Williams 1944). Reviews of the book were vituperative, particularly of Williams’s contribution. Though he would learn months later with the phenomenal success of The Glass Menagerie that his future was in writing plays, Williams nonetheless continued composing poetry, some (though hardly all of it, as the unpublished poems in the various archives attest) of which appears in two later collections, In the Winter of Cities (Williams 1956) and Androgyne, Mon Amour (Williams 1977). Finally, New Directions came out with Williams 2007, which not only compiled all the previously published poems but added several unpublished ones, as well as multiple versions of a few poems.

  • Williams, Tennessee. “The Summer Belvedere.” In Five Young American Poets. 3d ser. By Tennessee Williams, 122–170. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1944.

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    Contains twenty-nine poems, as well as his essay “Preface to My Poems” (all of these poems, save “Morgenlied,” were collected in Williams 1956 and Williams 1977).

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  • Williams, Tennessee. In the Winter of Cities. New York: New Directions, 1956.

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    Includes fifty-nine poems, several from New Directions’s Five Young American Poets 1944. The book is divided into four parts: “In Jack-O’-Lantern’s Weather,” “The Summer Belvedere,” “The Jockeys at Hialeah,” and “Hoofprints of a Little Horse.”

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Androgyne, Mon Amour. New York: New Directions, 1977.

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    Includes thirty-six poems, all written from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s, with most having been previous published in various major and minor magazines.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Collected Poems. Edited by Nicholas Moshchovakis and David Roessel. New York: New Directions, 2007.

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    Includes poems that were previously published in In the Winter of Cities (1964) and Androgyne, Mon Amour (1977), adding several uncollected and posthumously published poems, verse that appears in his work, poems published under the name Thomas Lanier Williams III and juvenilia. A section on textual variants, extended explanatory notes, and a CD of nine poems that he had recorded for Caedmon back in 1952 are included.

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Nonfiction

From the anecdotes recounted in his essays to extended passages in his Memoirs, Williams’s nonfiction should be read more for its artistic qualities than for its factual offerings. That said, there still is a lot in his nonfiction that is honest and truthful; the problem lies in separating the fact from the fiction. One of the reasons for this fact/fiction conundrum in Williams’s nonfiction is that he was more interested in getting straight to the “poetic” truth of something, even if the discreet facts that make up that something were partly wrong or entirely false. His nonfiction is logically divided between the prose he produced with a wider audience in mind, such as his essays and his Memoirs, and those that were written to a specific person, be it a letter or a notebook entry to himself. Each offers a unique perspective of a playwright who felt as much home writing prose as he did plays.

Autobiography

For half of his adult life, Williams jotted down his daily thoughts and activities in school notebooks and journals. These notebooks and personal writings sat untouched for the most part in the various Williams archives until Margaret Bradham Thornton made them available to the public in her exhaustively edited Notebooks (Williams 2006a). To a great extent, Williams’s autobiographical writings are an example of auto/biofiction because each tends to rewrite more than recount his life. His first “autobiographical” piece, “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?” (Williams 1927), was published in Smart Set and portrays the author as a cuckolded married man, though he was only sixteen years of age at the time. “Facts about Me” (Williams 1952), originally written as a press release following the success of The Glass Menagerie, also contains few “facts” and more carefully orchestrated artefacts about his life before becoming a writer. Similar “white lies” fill the pages of his Memoirs (Williams 2006b), including its first published version, “Survival Notes” (Williams 1973). His last, incomplete autobiographical piece (if it can be called that), “Mes Cahiers Noirs” (1979–1980; in Williams 2006b), culminates the fact/fiction divide present in his nonfiction.

  • Williams, Tennessee. “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?” Smart Set 80.3 (May 1927): 4, 9, 13.

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    Responds to the magazine editors’ request for short essays that treat their question about a wife’s role in his husband’s life. Though entirely fictionalized, the “essay” is nonetheless based on Williams’s troubled family life in St. Louis.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. “Facts About Me.” In Tennessee Williams: Selections from His Writings Read by the Author. Recorded 6 June 1952. New York: Caedmon, 1952.

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    Presents a press release written in April 1945, following the success of The Glass Menagerie, updated in December 1945, then printed for publicity and promotion in 1947 by Williams’s agent, Audrey Wood. It was first published in 1952 on the back of the record jacket of Tennessee Williams Reading From His Works (Caedmon Records) and reprinted in New Selected Essays: Where I Live.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. “Survival Notes: A Journal.” Esquire 78.3 (September 1973): 130–134, 166, 168.

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    Recollects events in his life that were later rewritten and incorporated into chapters 1, 4 and 5 of his 1975 Memoirs. This piece is Williams’s first extended attempt at autobiographical writing about his own life (bearing in mind that previous essays like “Grand” or those that appear in Where I Live also contain elements about his life, even though they are not essentially considered autobiography).

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Notebooks. Edited by Margaret Bradham Thornton. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2006a.

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    Reprints Williams’s personal notebooks from 1936 to 1958, with a few more entries extending to Spring 1981. Williams’s entries run on the odd pages, while the facing even pages are used for commentaries, contexts, and explanatory notes. Reproductions of never-before-seen photographs, letters, and manuscript pages are interspersed throughout. “Mes Cahiers Noirs” (pp. 737–755) records incoherently his daily activities between 1979 and 1980 and rants vindictively about the people who had discredited or crossed him over the years, while praising those whom he still held dear. Thornton admits that “no known notebooks for the period October 1958 to March 1979” exist (p. 725).

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  • Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. New York: New Directions, 2006b.

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    Bares all, but of questionable accuracy and partly written to earn money. It is nonetheless a fascinating portrait that alternates between past memories and the current production of Small Craft Warnings. Largely written in 1972 and first published by Doubleday in 1975, the book captures Williams’s life via “free association” and thus lacks a traditional chronological (or at times even coherent) structure. New Directions reissued the book in 2006, adding a foreword by John Waters and an afterword by Allean Hale that decodes some of the names of people originally given pseudonyms for legal reasons.

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Essays

Nonfiction, in particularly his essays, was Williams’s public confessional, a place where parable-like recollections of his past could resonate certain truths about his vision of humanity and the directions he thought it was taking. Like his Memoirs (Williams 2006b, cited under Nonfiction: Autobiography), many of the essays gathered in his collection Where I Live (Williams 1978) claim “truth” through exaggerated or, at times, questionable facts, and they also frequently end up neglecting to address the plays. In many ways, the essays collected in Where I Live form individual chapters of Williams’s shadow memoirs that, when read in parallel with the Memoirs, demonstrate how his nonfiction prose constituted for him singular pieces of a complex mosaic: by themselves, the essays capture those significant moments in Williams’s personal and professional life, to which he refers time and time again; reconstituted as a whole, they display the splendor of Williams’s lifelong pursuit of the truth, personal and artistic alike. In Williams 2009, New Directions reissued an expanded and entirely reedited version of Where I Live, entitled New Selected Essays: Where I Live.

  • Williams, Tennessee. Where I Live: Selected Essays. Edited by Bob Woods and Christine R. Day. New York: New Directions, 1978.

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    Reprints significant essays Williams wrote from 1944 to 1978, most of which were pre-production pieces published in the New York Times days before a given play’s premiere. The collection comprises thirty essays from “Preface to My Poems” to “The Pleasures of the Table.” An introduction is included.

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  • Williams, Tennessee. New Selected Essays: Where I Live. Edited by John S. Bak. New York: New Directions, 2009.

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    Expanding and reediting Where I Live, adding fifty-four new essays to the original thirty (only the essay “The Pleasures of the Table” was not kept). The collection includes several full essays, as well as miscellaneous reviews, introductions, appreciations, and program notes written by Williams, and several juvenilia writings from his childhood to his college days. A foreword by John Lahr, an afterword, extensive textual notes, and a list of Williams’s published and nonpublished nonfiction are included.

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Letters

Williams was an avid letter writer. When he was not inspired to write, he would type out a letter, often times in many drafts, and sometimes end up not sending it. For those letters that he did send, many are reproduced in these four collections. Devlin and Tischler 2000 and Devlin and Tischler 2004 are exquisitely edited, providing necessary contexts to Williams’s letters written from 1920, when he was nine years old, to 1957, when he was at the summit of his career. A third volume from New Directions has been promised, taking readers up to the year of Williams’s death. Williams wrote fewer and fewer letters from the 1960s onward; many were to Maria St. Just and are collected in St. Just 1990. Finally, Windham 1977 gathers letters that recount Williams’s early life and career but also documents gay life in America before and during the Cold War. Williams fought the publication of the letters in the mid-1970s (an event that eventually caused an irreparable rift between the two former friends), not because they were raw in their details of his homosexual life (Williams had already made that public in his 1975 Memoirs, but rather because he did not like Windham’s sardonic commentaries that precede the letters and that puts them into context.

  • Devlin, Albert J., and Nancy M. Tischler, eds. The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams. Vol. 1, 1920–1945. New York: New Directions, 2000.

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    Selects and reprints Williams’s early letters to his family, friends, business associates, and theater personalities. Volume 1 covers the first letters Williams wrote to his family to those just after the premiere of The Glass Menagerie in 1945. Obscure or esoteric references in each letter are decoded in explanatory notes.

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  • Devlin, Albert J., and Nancy M. Tischler, eds. The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams. Vol. 2, 1920–1945. By Tennessee Williams. New York: New Directions, 2004.

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    Covers letters Williams wrote to family, friends, business associates, and theater personalities from the premiere of The Glass Menagerie in 1945 to 1957, just following that rather lukewarm critical and commercial response to Orpheus Descending. Obscure or esoteric references in each letter are decoded in explanatory notes.

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  • St. Just, Maria, ed. Five O’Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St Just, 1948–1982. New York: Knopf, 1990.

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    Reprints Williams’s letters to his Russian-British friend and later co-literary executor, Maria, the Lady St. Just. The collection is shoddily edited and interspersed with self-aggrandizing commentary in the third-person and, at times in, the first-person when St. Just is citing from her diaries or recalling an event from memory. It contains Williams’s letters just following the success of A Streetcar Named Desire to the Chicago production of A House Not Meant to Stand.

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  • Windham, Donald, ed. Tennessee Williams’ Letters to Donald Windham, 1940–1965. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.

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    Publishes funny, insightful, and endearing letters from Williams that portray a playwright involved in his craft and a gay man celebrating his sexuality. The letters cover the period from 1940, when Williams met and fell in love with Kip Kiernan, to 1965, when Williams and Windham’s friendship was on the decline. The letters are grouped chronologically, with each group introduced by a short, contextual explanation.

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Criticism

Tennessee Williams criticism has, like that of many writers over the years, evolved considerably. Although some solid academic articles were written in the 1950s, the majority of the criticism on Williams back then was written by theater critics and reviewers and often included plot summary, personal observations, or comparisons with other playwrights, American or otherwise (e.g., Harold Clurman, Walter Kerr, Joseph Wood Krutch, Brooks Atkinson, and George Jean Nathan). Williams studies proper did not really begin until 1961 with the publication of three books: Nelson’s Tennessee Williams: The Man and His Works, Tischler’s Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan, and Falk’s Tennessee Williams. In tune with most academic criticism at the time, these early approaches to Williams often dominated the criticism for the next twenty years or so and much to Williams’s detriment as an artist. It would not be until the early 1990s that this trend dramatically shifted. At the watershed of Williams studies was David Savran’s Communists, Cowboys and Queers (Savran 1992), which opened up Williams’s readings to homophile assessments of his triumphs during the homophobic Cold War era, and Murphy 1992 (cited under General: Late: 1980–present), which made extensive use of the Williams archives. Savran gave scholars a new paradigm in which to revisit the old plays, one that went beyond the traditional views of the Old South versus the New South, flesh versus spirit, and other such paradigmatic models that had dominated Williams scholarship for decades. Queer theory and new historicism gave critics and scholars tools with which to analyze the old classics, and once this was completed they returned to the late Williams, those works that had been dismissed for their lack of literary quality or, more often than not, lack of good taste. Scholars such as Linda Dorff and Annette J. Saddik led the charge in rereading the late Williams plays anew, and one major result of their research has been the publication by New Directions of many of these late plays. With the recent publication of his letters, essays, and notebooks, Williams scholarship today is gradually returning to the autobiographical approach of analyzing his work but doing so with a more unbiased homo-directed approach inspired by Savran 1992 (cited under General: Late: 1980–present), Clum 1989 (cited under Sexuality and Gender) and others. Williams studies, which were at one time thought or feared dead or at least on life support, began experiencing a full-fledged renaissance in the late 20th century.

General

Given that 1992 is generally considered to be the birth year of the new school of Williams criticism, we could arguably divide Williams scholarship between early and late criticism. By no means is the later criticism better than the early criticism. It is just that cultural circumstance and academic agendas changed drastically, producing this noted binary. There is as much excellent early criticism as there is poor later criticism, and the interested reader should be careful in what he or she chooses or discards. What follows is a selection of books and articles that does not necessarily represent the best of the research conducted on Williams; this selection is more representative of the various strains of analysis of Williams’s work. Certain names and books have been left out that could have easily been added, but restraints on coverage in this bibliography prohibited their inclusion.

Early: 1961–1979

The 1960s marked the movement of Williams criticism away from the theater review criticism that dominated the previous decade and a half and toward the academic criticism that prevails today. When Williams began his career, Eugene O’Neill was still the dominant American playwright, and Williams, along with Arthur Miller, was being positioned as a future heir to O’Neill’s throne. The year 1961 was seminal, as it saw the publication of three key biocritical studies of Williams’s life and work: Nelson 1961, Tischler 1961, and Falk 1961. Each offers a different take on the playwright, but all of them include a heavy dose of biographical readings of his works. Donahue 1964 followed quickly after, expanding the classification of Williams’s drama into major categories that were important in placing Williams within a given tradition but furthered the reductive trend of pigeonholing his theater. Two books came out in the years that followed: Jackson 1965, which is arguably one of best studies of Williams’s style and aesthetics ever, and Fedder 1966, which features a close reading of the influence D. H. Lawrence had upon Williams. Once the Stonewall Riots in 1969 brought the gay rights movement the visibility that civil rights and women’s rights enjoyed throughout the decade, criticism began studying Williams as a gay playwright, but often without much understanding or even sympathy. Nearly a decade and a half after the last monograph dedicated to Williams, Hirsch 1979 reduced most of Williams’s plays to inverted sexual legerdemains. A product of its homophobic times (which colluded to destroy Williams’s reputation), the thesis of Hirsch’s book would sadly be one that would endure for another decade. Londré 1979 thankfully avoids falling into this trap, and her look into Williams’s late plays was exemplary for the times.

  • Donahue, Francis. The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams. New York: Ungar, 1964.

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    Classifies Williams’s drama into four major categories (illusion versus reality, the quest for beauty, man’s destruction by his times, and romanticism’s death by modernism) and his characters into five distinct types (the Southern belle, the rebel dreamer, the yea-sayer, the coarse brute, and the average American).

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  • Falk, Signi Lenea. Tennessee Williams. New York: Twayne, 1961.

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    Adheres to the Twayne series guidelines of providing a general introduction into the life and work of a given writer. Classifying his characters by types more than analyzing his plays, Falk provides what would become some of the basic, albeit reductive, rubrics by which Tennessee Williams’s works were understood.

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  • Fedder, Norman J. The Influence of D. H. Lawrence on Tennessee Williams. The Hague: Mouton, 1966.

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    Studies the textual parallels between Lawrence and Williams, suggesting that their antimaterialistic philosophies were similar in how they looked at the flesh-spirit dialectic, rejected bourgeois rationalism, and promoted animalistic blood knowledge.

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  • Hirsch, Foster. A Portrait of the Artist: The Plays of Tennessee Williams. Port Washington, NY: Associated Faculty, 1979.

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    Claims that Williams, a gay playwright forced by his times to write from the closet, wrote plays that are “homosexual fantasies” on which he transferred his desire for male characters by placing himself in a female character. Hirsch concludes that Williams presented gay men as depraved individuals as a way to insure his critical reputation and commercial marketability.

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  • Jackson, Esther M. The Broken World of Tennessee Williams. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965.

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    Studies Williams’s dramaturgy per the plastic theater, notably examining the many European influences at work on Williams’s literary and artistic aesthetics evident in his plays, in particular Camino Real. A classic study that is still relevant today, the book’s analysis moves beyond the plot summary and psychological commentary found in many of the earlier studies.

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  • Londré, Felicia Hardison. Tennessee Williams. New York: Ungar, 1979.

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    Provides basic plots, discusses themes, analyzes characters, and summarizes the critical reception of Williams’s plays, from his early one-act plays through to his later full-length and one-act plays, countering the existing trend that Williams’s late work could be dismissed.

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  • Nelson, Benjamin. Tennessee Williams: The Man and His Work. New York: Ivan Obolensky, 1961.

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    Discusses Williams’s themes and techniques within the context of his life, in particular his formative years and how they influenced his search for an individual talent.

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  • Tischler, Nancy M. Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan. New York: Citadel, 1961.

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    Supplies a competent introduction into the life and work of Williams up to late 1950s, though largely dated by today’s scholarly standards. Many of its arguments are based on a psychoanalytical reading of the playwright and of Williams’s Southern influences (i.e., flesh versus spirit) and are still valid.

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Late: 1980–present

The 1980s witnessed Williams scholarship opening up significantly. One of the main reasons for this development was the changing face of academics itself, which was reeling under the influences of the multicultural movements (such as cultural studies, women’s studies, and gender studies) and the English translations of France’s literary theorists, evident in the postmodern and poststructuralist readings of Pagan 1993, Fleche 1997, and Saddik 1999. Although Williams studies still suffered in some ways from the reductive classifications of the 1960s and the homophobic discourse of the 1970s, a trend was growing to find new and more instructive approaches to studying both Williams and his plays. Thus, studies throughout the 1980s, such as Bigsby 1984 (cited under General Overviews), tended to look for new ways to read the old classics but also for ways to interpret (and, for some, to merely understand) the later plays. Though Williams’s biography never quite left the criticism, scholars were gradually moving away from it. By the 1990s Williams scholarship exploded, and one of the sparks that set it off was Savran 1992, whose study of Williams’s gay politics and aesthetics opened up doors to Williams criticism that had remained closed for decades. With the proliferation of queer studies and theory throughout the decade, critics such as the author of Paller 2005, among many others, contributed to the revisioning of Williams as a pioneer of the gay movement. Another spark was Murphy 1992, a study of the collaboration between Williams and theater/film director Elia Kazan that showed scholars the riches still to be mined in the various archives. Together, these monographs capture that various directions that Williams studies have taken over the past twenty years or so.

  • Bigsby, C. W. E. “Tennessee Williams.” In A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Vol. 2. By C. W. E. Bigsby, 15–134. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    Offers one of the first critical introductions to Williams not based on biographical readings of his plays. Working from archival material, Bigsby provides some important criticism of both the unpublished early plays, as well as some of the later work that had up till then received little critical attention.

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  • Fleche, Anne. Mimetic Disillusion: Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and U.S. Dramatic Realism. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

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    Explores how mid-century US theater shifted away from representational theater and toward a more post-structuralist distrust of mimesis. Drawing upon the theories of Derrida, de Man, and Foucault, Fleche offers original readings of The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire to show that the plays are not just open to post-structuralist readings but that they are themselves deconstructions of the US dramatic realism of their day.

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  • Murphy, Brenda. Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan: A Collaboration in the Theatre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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    Studies the collaboration between Williams and director Elia Kazan from 1947 to 1960, drawing heavily from the archives. Murphy counters the once-accepted view that Kazan bullied Williams into rewriting his plays by demonstrating the artistic symbiosis between them, where Williams deliberately sought out the director’s input in the earliest stages of the scripts.

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  • Pagan, Nicholas. Rethinking Literary Biography: A Postmodern Approach to Tennessee Williams. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993.

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    Provides both a meditation on the theory of literary biography and an examination of the relationship between Williams and the texts attributed to him. Steeped in French critical thought, particularly Barthes’s theory of literary biography, the book argues that Williams’s texts are part of “an intertextual network” and that the relationship between author and text is “not one of filiation but of connection” (p. 10).

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  • Paller, Michael. Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Drama. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403979148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Looks into the gay community and theater culture that Williams encountered in New York from his early years on Broadway to his struggle with the New York Times’ increasingly homophobic agenda.

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  • Saddik, Annette J. The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams’ Later Plays. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Press, 1999.

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    Emphasizes the harsh critical reception of Williams’s late plays with respect to absurdist and postmodern plays by European playwrights. Saddik offers the first book-length study on Williams’s late work, analyzing fifteen plays and devoting twenty-two pages to The Two Character Play in one of the most enlightened treatments to date.

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  • Savran, David. Cowboys, Communists, and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the Works of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

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    Breaks new ground in Williams studies and opens up new avenues of Williams scholarship and interpretation. Savran looks at Williams in the light of gay politics of the Cold War era and gives an in-depth treatment in areas others had mostly avoided or relegated to the margins of Williams studies (i.e., the homosexual language and aesthetics of his work).

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Collections

If the 1970s saw collections reprinting previously published essays, such as Miller 1971 (cited under Drama: A Streetcar Named Desire), Tharpe 1977 included much new and groundbreaking criticism. In the early 21st century the general trend of new collections is to contain previously unpublished essays, although Harold Bloom’s many multiple collections on Williams and his plays with Chelsea Press offer a reprinted selection of the best criticism that appeared in various academic journals. Roudané 1997 and Martin 1997 reproduce various essays that chronologically cover Williams’s life and career and represent two of the best contemporary introductions to the playwright. By the turn of the millennium, Williams scholars were finding new ways to study their subject. Gross 2002, Kolin 2002, and Voss 2002 not only collect original readings of the major plays but offer more insights into Williams’s early and late works. Murphy 2010 collects many of Williams’s best early and late criticism and adds a brief biography of the author that situates him within American theater. Finally, to celebrate the Williams centennial, two books appeared that again advanced our understanding of Williams within American and European contexts. Kaplan 2011 collects original and previously published work that attempts to put to rest the timeworn image of Williams as a tortured homosexual. Bak 2014 documents the bi-directional exchange of ideas and images between Williams and Europe that have altered the artistic landscapes of two continents.

  • Bak, John S., ed. Tennessee Williams and Europe: Intercultural Encounters, Transatlantic Exchanges. New York and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014.

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    Gathers fifteen original articles from leading Williams scholars in America and in Europe that explore Williams’s relationship with Europe, from his first voyage in 1928 to his final attempts at theater success in cities such as London and Vienna. Essays look at Williams’s first productions in countries such as Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden, and Bulgaria, as well as his impact on contemporary European dramatists, directors, and filmmakers.

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  • Gross, Robert F., ed. Tennessee Williams: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Attempts to present a “new” vision of Williams “uncovered in unlikely pairings of famous with nearly forgotten plays” (p. v). The collection includes essays by many newcomers to Williams scholarship and covers the spectrum of Williams’s early and late plays from Spring Storm to The Notebook of Trigorin.

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  • Kaplan, David, ed. Tenn at One Hundred: The Reputation of Tennessee Williams. East Brunswick, NJ: Hansen, 2011.

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    Publishes, on the occasion of the Williams centennial, eighteen original and previously published articles that look at Williams’s reputation throughout the years (from his college years to his repeated failures later in life) from his reviewers, his biographers, his censors, and his audiences.

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  • Kolin, Philip C., ed. The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Includes fifteen original essays from leading scholars in Williams studies, offering new looks at the once-blighted later works, including his full-length and one-act plays, his nonfiction and his paintings, in light of critical and performance theories.

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  • Martin, Robert A., ed. Critical Essays on Tennessee Williams. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997.

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    Reprints thirty-six newspaper reviews of Williams’s Broadway productions, as well as twenty-one academic articles (of which six are original) on his major plays, on his concept of the plastic theater and on his dramatic voice and vision.

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  • Murphy, Brenda, ed. Critical Insights: Tennessee Williams. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 2010.

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    Offers a brief biography on the life, career, and influences of Williams, followed by four original articles on Williams within an American theater context. The final section reproduces thirteen early and late articles on Williams that cover a variety of topics on his major early and late plays and prose, including his relationship with politics, madness, and mid-century homosexuality in America.

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  • Roudané, Matthew C., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521495334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains original articles by many of Williams’s leading scholars, covering topics from the early Williams through the canonical plays to the late Williams. Though similar in scope to Tharpe 1977, the book is more compact in its framework and its research more current with 21st-century Williams studies. A fine introduction to Williams’s work for the neophyte and a solid offering of scholarship for the more seasoned Williams reader.

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  • Tharpe, Jac, ed. Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Remains the bible of Williams studies, offering a comprehensive and ambitious volume of nearly 900 pages with fifty-three articles of varying quality that cover Williams’s major and minor plays, fiction, poetry, and European influences. It is particularly important for its commentary on the later plays (though A Streetcar Named Desire receives the most critical attention), with many of its articles having withstood the passage of time.

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  • Voss, Ralph F., ed. Magical Muse: Millennial Essays on Tennessee Williams. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

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    Collects twelve original essays by leading Williams scholars that address a wide range of topics in Williams’s life and works, with particular attention given to the influences of popular culture on Williams’s work and, in turn, his influence on popular culture; his relationship to Hollywood and struggles with censorship; his depictions of gender and sexuality; and the effects the recently discovered works have had on the changing appreciation of the playwright’s place in the American dramatic canon.

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Drama

While monographs provide an excellent overview to Williams’s oeuvre, articles on individual plays should not by any means be neglected. Often, given the requirements of academic journals and the nature of research articles, some of the best criticism of a given play can be found in journals (bearing in mind that several collected editions can also be dedicated to one play, as is the case with Miller 1971 (cited under Drama: A Streetcar Named Desire) and Kolin 1993 (cited under Drama: A Streetcar Named Desire) on A Streetcar Named Desire or Bloom 2007, cited under Glass Menagerie). The articles listed here, therefore, do not account for the most noteworthy research on any given play, but rather the scope of criticism and scholarship dedicated to that play since its Broadway or off-Broadway (or off-off) premiere. In other words, the articles noted below attempt to capture the varying interpretations a play has undergone as literary and cultural criticism itself has changed with time.

Pre-Broadway

Williams began writing plays in the summer of 1935 during a brief respite from St. Louis at his grandparents’ home in Memphis and, in 1936, began work on several full-length plays that were given productions in St. Louis by the semi-professional troupe Mummers. Obvious products of a young but talented writer, they do not stand up to the great plays of the 1940s and 1950s, but they are interesting in themselves and in what they reveal about the early Williams, who was still looking for his literary voice. Hale 1997 and Hale 1998 represent perhaps the best research and commentary done on the early Williams thus far, although more and more scholars are looking into these early plays. Although Williams was living in St. Louis during that time, he set several of his early plays in the South, and Radavich 2007 explores the tensions between these locales in the two plays Candle to the Sun and Spring Storm. Bak 2009 studies the manuscripts of the incomplete and unpublished play American Gothic and demonstrates how the play’s drafting in August 1937 helped Williams complete his more profound play, Fugitive Kind. O’Connor 2004 also looks into Fugitive Kind and points out how its Depression-era language and symbols inform readers as much about the younger Williams as they do about his generation. For a strong overview of the proletarian background to Williams’s early plays, Systermans 2010, though written in French, is particularly useful.

  • Bak, John S. “American Gothic Grants Tennessee Williams a ‘Woodian’ Play.” Philological Quarterly 88.1–2 (Winter–Spring 2009): 171–184.

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    Looks into the history of the writing of the unpublished play American Gothic, which Williams undertook during the summer of 1937 while completing his bachelor’s degree at the State University of Iowa and when his sister Rose was first interned in an asylum for her dementia praecox. Bak traces how the play, influenced by the famous painting by Grant Wood (who was then an art professor at Iowa) later influenced the completion of Williams’s full-length play, Fugitive Kind.

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  • Hale, Allean. “Early Williams: The Making of a Playwright.” In The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams. Edited by Matthew C. Roudané, 11–28. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521495334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the various literary and political influences from the South to St. Louis during the Great Depression that turned the poet Thomas Lanier Williams III into the playwright Tennessee Williams.

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  • Hale, Allean. “Tom Williams—Proletarian Playwright.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premier Issue (1998): 13–22.

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    Reconstructs the historical and biographical setting of Williams’s years in St. Louis and how his literary ties led him to join various left-leaning organizations that had a direct impact on the proletarian topics of his early plays.

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  • O’Connor, Jacqueline. “Moving into the Rooming House: Interiority and Stage Space in Tennessee Williams’s Fugitive Kind and Vieux Carré.” Southern Quarterly 42.2 (Winter 2004): 19–36.

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    Shows how two of Williams’s plays, written nearly forty years apart, share a common structure and setting and make use of similar symbols and Depression-era issues. O’Connor studies the cultural contexts in which they were written and produced to help map out the changes Williams and his generation underwent from 1937 to 1978.

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  • Radavich, David. “Regional Tensions in Tennessee Williams’s Candles to the Sun and Spring Storm.” South Atlantic Review 72.3 (Summer 2007): 38–50.

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    Notes how Williams’s early plays juxtaposed St. Louis and the South as settings, which created regional tensions that provide “important insights into the budding playwright’s methods and concerns during this period” (p. 39).

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  • Systermans, Valérie. “Les paradoxes de l’engagement chez Tennessee Williams: Les pièces des années trente.” PhD diss., Université de La Réunion, 2010.

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    Argues that prior to 1939, Williams wrote economically engaged plays; after 1945, he wrote more socially and sexually engaged ones. The change is marked by Williams’s full discovery of his homosexuality and the subsequent prejudices Americans had against the gay community. In effect, his outward political battle turned inward and away from class warfare, using poetry to hide his political engagements.

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The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie was Williams’s breakout play in American theater and, to some critics, it was his best work, in particular for its theory and use of the plastic theater: an antimimetic dramaturgy that makes use of all the arts in the creation and production of a play. Criticism on the play has varied widely over the years, and in many ways the articles produced reflect the changes in theater criticism just as much as they do theater culture in America. Perhaps the best places to start are with Parker 1983 and Bloom 2007. Reading them together (and a few essays appear in both collections) offers clear idea how the criticism of the play panned out for the first half century, much of which focuses on the play’s antirealistic style or themes of loneliness and comparative regionalism (set in St. Louis, the play evokes memories of a lost Southern gentility). When literary theory began dominating the academy from the 1980s, critics turned to cultural theories to analyze the play. Through a Marxist lens, Reynolds 1991 describes how changing economic and social modes per the Wingfield family restrict more than enrich their lives. Later, as with many of Williams’s plays, critics turned to gender studies to examine Laura’s extreme shyness, as with Cardullo 1998, and Tom’s closeted homosexuality, evident in Paller 2005. Interest also returned to Williams’s first intentions with his plastic theater, since the play’s original production failed to adhere strictly to Williams’s manifesto about a noncommercial theater that invokes all the arts to transmit its message. One major interest turned to the use of the screen device as a metatheatrical commentary on the characters, akin to placards used in Vaudeville or in silent films. Crandell 1998 studies the presence of the cinema in the play, both as a metaphor for escapism and as a narrative technique, which coincides with Williams’s brief tenure as a film screenwriter for MGM in the summer of 1943.

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Rev. ed. New York: Chelsea House, 2007.

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    Vastly different from the 1988 edition that collects much of the best early to recent criticism on the play, including influential articles by Nancy Tischler, Elmo Howell, Charles Watson, Lester Beaurline, Frank Durham, Thomas Scheye, Brian Parker, Roger Stein, Signi Falk, Geoffrey Borny, Roger Boxill, Drewey Wayne Gunn, C. W. E. Bigsby, William Fordyce, Lori Single, Bert Cardullo, and Gilbert Debusscher.

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  • Cardullo, Bert. “The Blue Rose of St Louis: Laura, Romanticism, and The Glass Menagerie.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premier Issue (1998): 81–92.

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    Situates Laura Wingfield within the German Romaniker tradition of searching in vain for mythical beauty and idealized love associated with the blue flower, to which her nickname “Blue Roses” aligns her.

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  • Crandell, George W. “The Cinematic Eye in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premier Issue (1998): 1–11.

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    Studies how the movie house referenced in the play as Tom’s haven to escape the social and familial problems he faces reflect the shaping influence of the cinema in American society, as well as the “articulation of the dominant cultural ideology as expressed by the cinematic apparatus” (p. 1) where Tom, functioning like a movie camera in his narrative role, captures the cinematic eye/I of the play.

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  • Paller, Michael. Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Drama. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403979148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Looks into the gay community and theater culture that Williams encountered in New York from his early years in Broadway to his struggle with the New York Times and their increasingly homophobic critics. Paller is particularly insightful in his analysis of The Glass Menagerie. See especially pp. 35–47.

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  • Parker, Brian, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Glass Menagerie. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1983.

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    Reproduces significant early reviews and scholarship on the play. The book is organized into four sections that cover the first reviews of the Broadway production (including a review of the film), the textual itinerary from manuscript to story to play, a study of Williams’s expositional strategies in the play from his plastic theater to his narrator/character, and a look at the play’s dramaturgical strategies as a memory play.

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  • Reynolds, James. “The Failure of Technology in The Glass Menagerie.” Modern Drama 34.4 (December 1991): 522–527.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.34.4.522Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points out how technology (and not Southern tradition) in the play is portrayed as the future of American society but insists that the play “consistently reiterates the failure of technology to achieve social or individual values—or, for that matter, even to function at a practical level” (p. 523) where careers tied to technology are presented as soulless and unfulfilling.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

There is, arguably, no greater play in Williams’s oeuvre or, for that matter, in the canon of American theater, and the criticism written on it alone could fill a small library. The sources listed here were chosen mainly for their comprehensiveness in dealing with the play’s context, its interpretations, and its many productions. For a general introduction to the play, Adler 1990 covers most of the play’s context and the basic interpretations of its characters, themes, and symbols. For a general assessment of the play’s criticism, Bak 2004 classifies and summarizes over half a century of theater reviews, articles, and monographs, dividing the play essentially between those who viewed it a social struggle between two epochs and those who find it a psychological portrait of a women descending into madness. Miller 1971 reprints numerous theater reviews of the play and much of the best early criticism (Bloom 2007, cited under Glass Menagerie, does something similar with later articles). To complement these early articles, Kolin 1993 studies the play using one of the many contemporary literary theories that were gaining popularity in the 1980s (Marxism, postmodernism, reader-response, feminism, etc.), while Kolin 2000 provides another important overview to the major productions of the play in the United States and throughout the world, giving readers insight into how the play has been adapted to various times, cultures, and languages. Kazan 1988 is the director’s personal notebook in which he describes how he staged the play based on his perception of the characters and their individual struggles. Again, these are only a few resources. Dozens upon dozens of excellent articles on the play are available in various theater journals around the world.

  • Adler, Thomas P. A Streetcar Named Desire: The Moth and the Lantern. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

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    Provides a brief historical context and summation of its reception, as well as a general interpretation of the play’s structure, style, and characterization. Adler writes in clear, jargon-free prose, making the book an excellent introduction for high school and undergraduate students, as well as for interested lay readers.

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  • Bak, John S. “Criticism on A Streetcar Named Desire: A Bibliographic Survey, 1947–2003.” Cercles 10 (2004): 3–32.

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    Distills half a century’s criticism of the play, dividing the interpretations between those that see it as a social play between clashing epochs and warring cultures and those that view it as a psychological play about a woman’s descent into madness.

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  • Kazan, Elia. “Notebook for A Streetcar Named Desire.” In Directors on Directing: A Source Book of the Modern Theatre. 2d rev. ed. Edited by Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy, 364–379. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

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    Documents Kazan’s interpretation of and insights into A Streetcar Named Desire as he prepared the play for its Broadway premiere. Important aspects include how he views the “spine” of each character, ultimately finding Blanche to be the intruder into the Kowalski home as she desperately seeks a place to finally fit in.

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  • Kolin, Philip C., ed. Confronting Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire: Essays in Critical Pluralism. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.

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    Contains fifteen specially commissioned articles from distinguished scholars, who interpret the play via various cultural and literary theories popularized during the 1980s. Theories represented include: Lacan, Foucault, Marxism, feminism, reader response criticism, deconstructionism, chaos and anti-chaos theory, translation theory, formalism, mythology, perception theory, and gender theory.

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  • Kolin, Philip C. Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire, Plays in Production. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Covers all the elements of major American productions (producer, director, music, designer, and cast) before detailing the play’s world premieres in cities such as Havana, Mexico City, Rome, Stockholm, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Production revivals on the English-speaking stages are also included, as are multiracial productions and pastiches. The book finishes with a discussion of the play adapted for other media, including film and opera.

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  • Miller, Jordan Y., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Streetcar Named Desire. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

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    Reprints major theater reviews of the Kazan production, as well as early criticism of play, including influential essays by Philip Weissman, John T. von Szeliski, Signi Falk, C. W. E. Bigsby, and Joseph Riddell.

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The Rose Tattoo

The Rose Tattoo was Williams’s first full-length comedy, whose main themes include flesh versus spirit, old versus new visions of the South, and religious dogma versus pagan celebration, prompting early reviews to compare the play and its heroine Serafina Delle Rose to Blanche DuBois and Alma Winemiller in terms of their struggle to control their sexual passions often hindered by religious principles or cultural directives. While the reviewers dismissed the play as an inferior version of A Streetcar Named Desire, critics looked more closely at its structure, characters, and dynamics. Starnes 1969 argues that, in creating a comic folk tale, Williams puts rhythms and colorful images of a southern region into the mouths of “essentially imaginative people” (p. 357) so as to distance his play from the realist ones that were dominating Broadway. Thompson 1977 looks more at the archetypes of the play’s Italian immigrants, and Kolin 1977 catalogues the play’s various types of comedies and demonstrates Williams’s complete knowledge of the comedic form and its use for dramatic effects. Later criticism focused less on the text itself and more, as Parker 1997, on its evolution or, as De Angelis 2012, on is cultural context. Despite these quality articles, The Rose Tattoo remains one of the least analyzed of Williams’s major plays.

  • De Angelis, Rose. “The Rose Tattoo: Reading Tennessee Williams’s Play in a Cultural Context.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 13 (2012): 19–33.

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    Examines how Williams uses the ambiguities in southern Italian culture, in particular the peoples’ relationship to religion and paganism, to underscore Serafina’s problems as a transplanted Italian in the American South.

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  • Kolin, Philip C. “‘Sentiment and Humor in Equal Measure’: Comic Forms in The Rose Tattoo.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 214–231. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Traces the various comic forms in the play, from low to dark to tragicomedy, including slapstick humor, farce, music hall antics and vaudeville, showing how Williams uses humor not just to sell tickets but to make audiences sympathize with the characters’ plight.

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  • Parker, Brian. “A Provisional Stemma for Drafts, Alternatives, and Revisions of Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo (1951).” Modern Drama 40.2 (Summer 1997): 279–294.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.40.2.279Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reconstructs through genetic criticism the various stages that led to the final version of the play. Parker’s work here, similar to that done on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth, helps readers better understand Williams’s creative process.

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  • Starnes, Leland. “The Grotesque Children of The Rose Tattoo.” Modern Drama 12.4 (Winter 1969): 357–369.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.12.4.357Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the childlike quality of the characters in the play and points out how the bawdy humor they produce does not diminish the play but rather leads “almost syllogistically” to a “comprehension of the symbolism of the play, and from thence, as in any poetic work of integrity, back again to even deeper understanding of the characters” (p. 364).

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  • Thompson, Judith J. “Symbol, Myth, and Ritual in The Glass Menagerie, The Rose Tattoo, and Orpheus Descending.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 679–711. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Analyzes Williams’s use of Christian symbols in the play (such as the rose) and pagan myths (the Dionysian and Apollonian struggle for flesh and spirit), demonstrating how, unlike in his previous plays, Williams was more “concerned with union and reconciliation rather than disintegration and alienation” (p. 693).

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Camino Real

If The Rose Tattoo suggested that the direction Williams was taking in the theater displeased the New York critics, the premiere of Camino Real confirmed it. The play still hovers in the netherworld of criticism, with some critics finding it Williams’s chef d’oeuvre for its antimimetic depiction of an America in social decline and its response to Cold War demagoguery, while others see it as overly pretentious and largely incomprehensible. Wolf 1959 attempts to locate the various sources in Williams’s early canon to explain the play’s complex and often paradoxical nature. Turner 1977 believes that the play’s unity is formed by its reliance upon mythologies that structure it around dominant themes of rebirth and regeneration. Cless 1983 also looks at the complexities of the play’s structure and finds that it closely resembles Brecht, where alienation and contradiction are at the heart of his principles of epic realism. Later critics focused less on the play’s intertextual references and episodic structure and more on its cultural context. While Balakian 1997 situates the play squarely at the center of the Cold War debate that pitted conservative hawks against liberal doves, Murphy 2011 suggests that the play’s political reach was much wider than the United States alone, as it invokes images, history, art, and cultural icons from across Europe.

  • Balakian, Jan. “Camino Real: Williams’s Allegory about the Fifties.” In The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams. Edited by Matthew C. Roudané, 67–94. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521495334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Situates the play alongside Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as Williams’s personal response to the rising fascist demagoguery in America fomented by Senator McCarthy.

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  • Cless, Downing. “Alienation and Contradiction in Camino Real: A Convergence of Williams and Brecht.” Theatre Journal 35.1 (March 1983): 41–50.

    DOI: 10.2307/3206700Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Claims that alienation and contradiction are at the center not only of the play’s structure but also its dramatic message, where the episodic plotting and direct address to the audience draw from Brecht’s epic realism.

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  • Miller, Jordan Y. “The Three Halves of Tennessee Williams.” Journal of the Literary Imagination 21.2 (Fall 1988): 83–95.

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    Describes the play as a rational paradox of three halves that blur together, creating a life-in-death purgatory where good opposes bad in separate worlds but where both finally reside in each other.

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  • Murphy, Brenda. “Toward a Map for the Camino Real: Tennessee Williams’s Cultural Imaginary.” Southern Quarterly 48.4 (Summer 2011): 73–90.

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    Focuses on the interaction between Williams’s imagination and the “rich and chaotic cultural imaginary” (p. 74) that he drew upon in shaping the play, including highbrow and mass culture, contemporary American popular culture, Latin American and Middle Eastern geographic spaces, American and European literary references, and gay and straight subcultures.

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  • Turner, Diane E. “The Mythic Vision in Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 237–251. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Studies the play’s mythic structure of rebirth, renewal, and rededication and how it functions on both a profane and a sacred level.

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  • Wolf, Morris Philip. “Casanova’s Portmanteau: A Study of Camino Real in Relation to the Other Plays and Stories of Tennessee Williams, 1945–1955.” PhD diss., University of Georgia, 1959.

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    Examines several of Williams’s previous one-act plays and stories, such as Ten Blocks on the Camino Real and “Rubio y Morena,” that influenced the play’s main theme of Romantic dreaming, from those who wish to escape entrapment in present time to those trying to part with past memories. A portion of the dissertation appears in Tharpe 1977.

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Williams responded to his doubters by the mid-1950s with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a play that many critics consider to be his best work, surpassing even The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire in the unity of its structure and in the power of its dramatic situations. Characterizations and the poetics of his dialogue were also main elements covered by the early critics, consistent with the scholarship on most of his other plays. But Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had a different problem, the “mystery” surrounding Brick’s refusal to sleep with his seductive wife Maggie. Many early critics focused on the play’s resistance to closure and its third-act controversy between Williams and Elia Kazan (Williams rewrote his original third act, which he says was at Kazan’s request, to reconcile Brick with Maggie.) Studies in the manuscripts and in the transformation of the play from the short story “Three Players of a Summer Game,” from which it was derived, also dominated the criticism for years, as Reck 1968, May 1977, and Loomis 2002 evince. Each reading is shaped by its era’s cultural perspectives vis-à-vis homosexuality in America and thus responds differently to the charge that Williams intentionally buried references to Brick’s sexual existentialism ostensibly for commercial reasons. By the 1990s, when gender studies and, more significantly, queer theory became dominant critical tools in the academy, scholarship such as Winchell 1995 began looking again at the play for its problematic treatment of homosexuality, less to chide Williams for his indirect treatment of homosexuality but more (see Shackelford 1998) to laud his efforts in exhibiting how society “dehumanizes men through its overt homophobia” (p. 105). Bibler 2002 continues this line of queer scholarship and examines the southern plantation as a locus for homosocial culture that influenced Brick’s sexual education. And situating the play within America’s homophobic 1950s, feverishly fueled by the anti-American demagoguery spawned by McCarthy, Bak 2010 explores precisely how Williams, like Hemingway before him, exploited the sexual divide of their modernist and postmodern eras to demonstrate the limits of heteromasculinity in America and to show how Brick’s own uncertainty about the limits of his desire was endemic in a nation’s struggle to control and codify desire, heterosexual, and homosexual alike.

  • Bak, John S. Homo americanus: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Queer Masculinities. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010.

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    Offers a close reading and historical analysis of the respective endings of Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises and Williams’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, arguing that both works attempt to bridge the modernist/postmodernist divide through mutual examinations of the polemics behind American heteromasculinity and the construction of a queer masculinity.

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  • Bibler, Michael P. “‘A Tenderness which was Uncommon’: Homosexuality, Narrative, and the Southern Plantation in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Mississippi Quarterly 55.3 (Summer 2002): 381–400.

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    Does not attempt to “solve” Brick’s “mystery” as previous criticism has done but rather to “elaborate on exactly how white male homosexuality works . . . to create and sustain [an] indeterminacy” (pp. 381–382), in particular on southern plantations in the United States.

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  • Loomis, Jeffrey B. “Four Characters in Search of a Company: Williams, Pirandello, and the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Manuscripts.” In Magical Muse: Millennial Essays on Tennessee Williams. Edited by Ralph F. Voss, 91–110. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

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    Revisits the debate about the play’s troubled sense of closure in the original and Broadway versions of the third act. Loomis studied more than twenty drafts of the play to show how it progressed toward the 1975 version, which combined the best of the two third acts but retained Williams’s original ending.

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  • May, Charles E. “Brick Pollitt as Homo Ludens: ‘Three Players of a Summer Game’ and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 277–291. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Returns to Brick’s character in the story to explain his cool detachment from Maggie in the play, suggesting that while even fewer answers to Brick’s mystery are provided in the story, Williams does show how Brick at least deals with his problem: playing the game of croquet, whose precision and aesthetics help the drunken Brick to conquer his problems of the flesh.

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  • Reck, Tom S. “The First Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Williams’ ‘Three Players.’” University Review 34.3 (Spring 1968): 187–192.

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    Compares the short story “Three Players of a Summer Game” with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and declares that “the usual Williams intrigue with homosexuality” (p. 191) only entered the plot when the story evolved into the play.

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  • Shackelford, Dean. “The Truth That Must Be Told: Gay Subjectivity, Homophobia, and the Social History in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premiere Issue (1998): 103–118.

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    Explores the play’s reactionary politics toward homosexuality during the Cold War and defends Williams’s “closet” play from gay critics such as John Clum, who attacked Williams for not having addressed homosexuality more directly in his theater.

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  • Winchell, Mark Royden. “Come Back to the Locker Room Ag’in, Brick Honey!” Mississippi Quarterly 48.4 (Fall 1995): 711–712.

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    Studies the various male-male relationships in the play via Leslie Fielder’s theory about innocent homoerotics occupying the heart of American literature. Royden argues that Williams’s choice not to dramatize Brick’s relationship with Skipper but rather to present it in various characters’ viewpoints demonstrates less his desire to avoid addressing homosexuality in the play and more his need to exploit the inconsistent lines between homosociality and homosexuality.

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Sweet Bird of Youth

In 1952 Williams wrote a one-act play titled The Enemy: Time, which would form part of the love story for Sweet Bird of Youth. From 1952 to 1956, Williams attempted to graft this one-act play onto a previous work of his in draft form, which was a political play about Huey Long entitled “The Big Time Operators.” But Williams could not create a seamless fusion, which resulted in the structural flaw present in the Broadway play performed in 1959. For many of Williams’s early reviewers and critics, this was the play’s greatest error. Gunn 1981 studies the manuscript’s evolution from 1956 to 1962 and notes that the structural flaw only worsened with subsequent rewrites. For others, the play’s greatest limitation was its all-too-familiar storyline. Although Dukore 1965 suggests that this familiarity grew out of the play’s similarities to the castration ending of the medieval romance Heloise and Abelard, other critics felt that Williams was simply repeating himself in his characterization, his choice of themes, and his dramatization of violence. Clum 1997 and Adler 1997 look for more probing reasons behind the play’s similarities to previous Williams plays. Clum sees Sweet Bird of Youth as forming the final panel of a triptych of plays that examines the quasi-religious nature of human sexuality. Taking a darker approach, Adler considers how Williams offers mirrors or doubles to the characters in his plays that serve as counterbalances between good and evil.

  • Adler, Thomas P. “Monologues and Mirrors in Sweet Bird of Youth.” In Critical Essays on Tennessee Williams. Edited by Robert A. Martin, 143–151. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997.

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    Analyzes how Williams creates dualities in the play, such as mirroring Boss Finley in the Heckler, which helps create “antidotes” to the cruelties of Finley’s world. But even these antidotes tend to be corrupt, which underscores the bleakness of Williams’s view of the human condition.

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  • Clum, John M. “The Sacrificial Stud and the Fugitive Female in Suddenly Last Summer, Orpheus Descending, and Sweet Bird of Youth.” In The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams. Edited by Matthew C. Roudané, 128–146. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521495334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sees Chance as a martyr “sacrificed” for violating his proscribed role in “the patriarchal sex/gender system” that renews itself in the image of the play’s two central women, Heavenly and Alexandra, “one mutilated, the other healed.” Clum looks into the play’s “dynamics and erotics of the martyrdoms, and on the ways in which his relationship to the fugitive women suggests a liberating possibility” (p. 128).

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  • Dukore, Bernard F. “American Abelard: A Footnote to Sweet Bird of Youth.” College English 26.8 (May 1965): 630–634.

    DOI: 10.2307/373321Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Declares the source for the castration story in Sweet Bird of Youth to be the tale of Heloise and Abelard. Dukore points out that James Forsythe’s play Héloïse, which played off-Broadway the same season as Sweet Bird of Youth, had opened in London in the fall of 1951, suggesting that Williams may have seen it performed during his travels there. He lists other potential sources for the too “coincidental” similarities: George Moore’s Héloïse and Abélard, Pope’s Eloïsa to Abelard, or even Peter Abelard’s memoirs.

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  • Gunn, Drewey Wayne. “The Troubled Flight of Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird: From Manuscript through Published Texts.” Modern Drama 24.1 (March 1981): 26–35.

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    Studies three successive texts of Sweet Bird of Youth from 1959–1962 and posits that the rewrites represent “a sequential degeneration” since, in each subsequent revision, “the structure, the development of the characters, and the focus of the play become progressively less coherent” (p. 26).

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  • Voss, Ralph F. “Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth and William Inge’s Bus Riley’s Back in Town: Coincidences from a Friendship.” American Drama 15.1 (Winter 2006): 62–73.

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    Compares and contrasts the two plays, noting that their striking similarities might suggest that the friendship-rivalry between Williams and Inge, and Inge’s string of successes during the 1950s, may have led one to “borrow” material from the other.

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Suddenly Last Summer

On and off from June 1957 to March 1958, Williams underwent psychoanalysis to locate the sources of his anxiety, which Dr. Kubie told him were his writing and his homosexuality. Unwilling to accept either of Kubie’s diagnoses, Williams wrote Suddenly Last Summer. Despite its violence in the form of cannibalism and its open treatment of homosexuality, the play received praise from several New York theater critics. For the most part, the play’s cannibalistic climax has been the lighting rod for its criticism, evident in Hurley 1965, Saddik 1998, and Bak 2005. Following Williams’s appeal not to see the play’s cannibalism in realistic terms, Hurley 1965 argues that the play is more about moral absolutes than sexual transgression. Saddik 1998 agrees but sees the body consumed as representing the symbiotic need to expiate and atone for uncontrolled desires. Bak 2005 sees the play’s cannibalism working on an analogical level, where Sebastian’s consumption at the end is quid pro quo for the economic consumption he and his mother (and Christianity in general with its religious precepts of con- and transubstantiation) have been exerting all their lives on the world’s less fortunate. Sofer 1995 makes a more symbolic leap in his analysis of “cannibalism.” Since the source of cannibalism in the play is a direct allusion to Melville’s description of the Encantadas, several critics such as the author of Hurt 1960, have looked into the play’s Melvillian universe. If the early critics were largely drawn to the play’s cannibalism, later critics focused on Williams’s representation of homosexuality. Bruhm 1991 discusses the play’s treatment of homosexuality as Williams’s direct affront not to Kubie and his psychoanalysis but rather to McCarthy and his political pogroms against the gay community. Gross 1995 suggests that if cannibalism is present at all in the play, it is in the ways in which Williams cannibalizes his gay poetic mentor, Hart Crane. Crane’s poems influence the play, as do notions of another of Williams’s plays, Steps Must Be Gentle, in which the two characters are the ghosts of Hart Crane and his mother, Grace.

  • Bak, John S. “Suddenly Last Supper: Religious Acts and Race Relations in Tennessee Williams’s ‘Desire.’” Journal of Religion and Theatre 4.2 (Winter 2005): 122–145.

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    Studies “Desire and the Black Masseur” and Suddenly Last Summer as inheritors of a Hawthornian gothicism, where race and Puritanism (Williams adds homosexuality to the mix) are deemed implicit threats to the ruling white social order. Cannibalistic tropes in both works, albeit intentionally nonmimetic, thus invoke a fear of the arrival of a black bourgeoisie into traditionally white enclaves.

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  • Bruhm, Steven. “Blackmailed by Sex: Tennessee Williams and the Economics of Desire.” Modern Drama 34.4 (December 1991): 528–538.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.34.4.528Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes the historical link between homosexuality and political instability in McCarthy’s America, where “the homosexual is by definition a threat to national security because he harbors a secret which is linked to economic imbalance” (p. 529).

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  • Gross, Robert F. “Consuming Hart: Sublimity and Gay Poetics in Suddenly Last Summer.” Theatre Journal 47.2 (May 1995): 229–251.

    DOI: 10.2307/3208485Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads the play as a “recasting of Edmund Burke’s concept of the sublime, with all its heterosexual male assumptions, within a gay subjectivity” (p. 229). Gross sees not two dramatic triangles at work in the play but three, where the use of the sublime moves the play from being a “facile melodrama to a poetic myth of the relationship between a gay artist and his illustrious gay predecessor” (p. 230).

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  • Hurley, Paul J. “Suddenly Last Summer as ‘Morality Play.’” Modern Drama 8.4 (Winter 1965): 392–402.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.8.4.392Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that critics have misread the play (and much of Williams’s previous work that dramatizes violence) because they insist on seeing Sebastian realistically as another of Williams’s decadent heroes. This is opposed to seeing Sebastian metaphorically as one of Williams’s villains whose obsession with evil and corruption belies the author’s moral imperative about the goodness of humanity when it is not self-consumed.

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  • Hurt, James R. “Suddenly Last Summer: Williams and Melville.” Modern Drama 3.4 (Winter 1960): 396–400.

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    Uses the Melville allusion in the first scene to trace its implications through the play, namely that the play is not about the contrast between “natural” and “unnatural” evil, but rather with “the very Melvillian problem of the nature of the universe, in this case, the universe of sex” (p. 396).

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  • Saddik, Annette J. “The (Un)Represented Fragmentation of the Body in Tennessee Williams’s ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ and Suddenly Last Summer.” Modern Drama 41.3 (Fall 1998): 347–354.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.41.3.347Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that cannibalistic acts in both works function symbiotically, namely that for the one being consumed it is an act of “oneness” that nullifies fragmentation between people, while for the person doing the consuming it is “an eradication of desire (the source of that fragmentation) in the annihilation and death of the ‘self,’” in short, a “retribution and atonement for the sin of transgressing the boundaries of desire established by social institutions” (p. 348).

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  • Sofer, Andrew. “Self-Consuming Artifacts: Power, Performance and the Body in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer.” Modern Drama 38.3 (Fall 1995): 336–347.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.38.3.336Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares the relationship of power (discourse/language) versus performance (the body) in containing and disseminating truth. Sofer claims that Suddenly Last Summer “weaves its subject into a glittering skein of language, until we can no longer say for certain where the body ends and discourse begins” (p. 337).

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Period of Adjustment

Williams’s theatrical response after the violence of Suddenly Last Summer and Sweet Bird of Youth was the dark comedy Period of Adjustment, which juxtaposes the marital problems of two couples on Christmas Eve. Predictably, critics did not know what to make of the play: it was called a “serious comedy” and was a cross between the situational comedies on television such as The Honeymooners and the situational tragedy on stage such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Goldfarb 1977 admits that it is highly successful as a satire on the American middle class and its heterosexual inadequacies, but Weales 1989 wonders if indeed it is a comedy or one of Williams’s darkest plays wrapped up in Christmas schmaltz. Later critics began finding more literary value in the play, with Hooper 2009 suggesting that war haunts the play’s domestic struggle between the two couples, given that both men are veterans. The most thorough essay to date is Pettit 2012, which claims that Period of Adjustment holds clues to understanding much of the black humor and genre tampering present in Williams’s plays throughout the 1960s.

  • Goldfarb, Alvin. “Period of Adjustment and the New Tennessee Williams.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 310–317. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Points out the play’s generally disinterested to disheartening criticism and argues that the comedy should be read alongside the entire Williams canon, which brings to the fore not just the play’s weakness but also its strengths, namely its ability to satirize middle-class American life and monogamous heterosexual marriage.

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  • Hooper, Michael S. D. “Warring Desires: Sex, Marriage, and the Returning Soldier.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 10 (2009): 31–39.

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    Charts the breakdown of marital relations and the impact the Korean War has on the sexual desire of the play’s veterans and their wives. Hooper argues that Williams “presents marriage not as a settled state where minor disagreements stem from a range of domestic problems, nor as a tired convention where infidelity has become routine, but as something that is almost solely dependent on sexual compatibility” (p. 34).

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  • Pettit, Alexander. “Tennessee Williams’s ‘Serious Comedy’: Problems of Genre and Sexuality in (and after) Period of Adjustment.” Philological Quarterly 91.1 (Winter 2012): 97–119.

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    Argues that Williams invoked the traditional comic form (i.e., plays about bourgeois marriage issues set in parlors) only to pastiche it, which is a point most of his critics failed to see in 1960. Pettit concludes that all of Williams’s later plays “reconfigur[ed] the elements of low-mimetic comedy: propulsive and sanctionable sexual desire, social integration, money, and implicit propagation” (p. 110).

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  • Weales, Gerald. “High Comedy over a Cavern.” Journal of American Drama and Theatre 1.1 (Spring 1989): 25–38.

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    Suggests that Williams’s own “somewhat tenuous relationship with his own play” (p. 27) is either a sign that Williams did not take the play seriously or that he did but could not share that fact with his critics. Either way, Weales sees that play as marking the birth of the “new” Tennessee Williams.

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The Night of the Iguana

Williams opened the 1960s with one last critical and commercial success, The Night of the Iguana. That the play evoked the poetic naturalism of the theater that Williams produced in previous years was no doubt one of the reasons behind its success, something many of the early critics were quick to point out. The Night of the Iguana managed to draw upon many of the themes and characters of Williams’s previous plays; however, unlike them, this play offered audiences a new character in Hannah. Hannah’s Eastern philosophy versus Shannon’s Christian faith was thus one of the main issues in the play’s early criticism, as Presley 1971 addresses. Embrey 1977 shows that The Night of the Iguana was not a new direction at all for Williams but just another twist on a familiar formula about the dangers of sexual profligacy. Moritz 1985 makes the case for classical allusions to Sophocles in the play while Phillips 2000 offers one of the first ecocritical readings of the play. Haake 2004–2005, perhaps taking the biographical reading of the play too far, sees Williams as having written his sister Rose into Hannah’s Eastern philosophy as a way to free Shannon/Williams from his guilt for having abandoned her and the world. More recent criticism has moved beyond the religious and biographical focus and has begun looking at the play less as Williams’s swan song and more as his entrance into a grotesque style. Saddik 2012 sees Williams as delving more fully into German Expressionism and that the grotesque German characters in the play are less politically motivated than they are signs of this aesthetic shift in his dramaturgy.

  • Embrey, Glenn. “The Subterranean World of The Night of the Iguana.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 325–340. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Claims that if sex drives the plots and themes of many Williams plays prior to 1962, there is also a subterranean treatment of sex and desire that lurks beneath the more obvious traces in a play. In the case of Shannon, that subterranean sexual desire belies the apparent optimistic ending of the play that celebrates his union with Maxine, for his “unacknowledged fears of sexuality undermine their more overt and positive levels” (p. 326).

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  • Haake, C. Allen. “Exorcizing Blue Devils: The Night of the Iguana as Tennessee Williams’s Ultimate Confession.” Mississippi Quarterly 58.1–2 (Spring–Winter 2004–2005): 105–118.

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    Sees the play as Williams’s guilty apology to his sister Rose, who suffered a lobotomy while he was able to abate his “blue devils” through his art. Haake claims that Williams, who wrote all of his plays for his sister, finally realized that it was he who was now suffering the most and writes Rose into the character of Hannah as a way to ease his/Shannon’s conscience over having abandoned her.

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  • Moritz, Helen E. “Apparent Sophoclean Echoes in Tennessee Williams’s Night of the Iguana.” Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly 5.4 (Summer 1985): 305–314.

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    Moritz believes that Antigone and Oedipus Rex, which Williams read in college, work to counter both the Christian symbols and the Eastern philosophy in The Night of the Iguana. Sees allusions to Sophocles in the play, such as the similarities between Shannon and Oedipus or Hannah’s relationship with Nonno, which recalls Antigone’s sacrifices for her aging father.

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  • Phillips, Rod. “‘Collecting Evidence’: The Natural World in Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana.” Southern Literary Journal 32.2 (Spring 2000): 59–69.

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    Takes into account the natural world not only captured in the Mexican landscape but also in both Hannah’s and Shannon’s religio-philosophical visions of humanity, where the natural world helps restore courage, hope, and redemption. Suggests that the idyllic natural world often buried in his other characters’ idealized memories of a lost Eden or in his plays’ “stylized local color setting” is here brought to the fore as both a central image and theme, “firmly root[ing] the play in the nature world” (p. 60).

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  • Presley, Delma E. “The Search for Hope in the Plays of Tennessee Williams.” Mississippi Quarterly 25.1 (Winter 1971): 31–43.

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    Focuses on Williams’s religious questions addressed in the play that trace his protagonists’ pilgrimage from despair to hope. Presley believes that Williams’s more openly religious plays that express hope and redemption reduced his stature among the critics and was in part responsible for his decline in the American theater at the time.

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  • Saddik, Annette J. “‘Drowned in Rabelaisian Laughter’: Germans as Grotesque Comic Figures in the Plays of Tennessee Williams.” Modern Drama 55.3 (Fall 2012): 356–372.

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    Points out that Williams’s interest in the fantastic world naturally led him to experiment with antirealistic styles such as German Expressionism that allowed him to access “the truths that exist beneath the surfaces of constructed social realities” (p. 357). Saddik finds that, along with his “exaggerated, grotesque, and dreamlike portrayal of Germans in the play,” Williams shows he was beginning “to engage more fully a German sensibility that he would continue to develop in his later plays throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties” (p. 357).

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The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

In January 1962, Williams admitted to Lewis Funke that his style of writing for the theater was obsolete and that he wanted to explore new directions, and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore was one of them. The early critics and reviewers found the play instead to be a simple rehashing of earlier Williams material, which is a point McBride 1977 makes, though not derogatorily. Most recent critics, however, see the play as anything but a continuation of Williams’s earlier dramatic style. One of Milk Train’s obvious inspirations, besides Frank Merlo’s impending death, was Kabuki theater, drawn from Williams’s exposure to the form after meeting Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima in 1957. Paller 2002 recalls this influence on Milk Train; but rather than exploring the obvious Kabuki elements he looks at the more subtle traces of Japanese Nō theater in the play, which Paller suggests inaugurated a new dramaturgical style for Williams. What Paller does for the Japanese influences in the play, Colacchia 2004 does for the Italian influences. Another influence was undoubtedly French, since the play’s content, structure, and symbolism exhibit what uses Williams’s made of Jean Cocteau. Debusscher 1982 was the first critic to make the connection between the two artists, a literary comparison furthered by Michiels and Collard 2013.

  • Colacchia, Maria Letizia. “L’Italia di Tennessee Williams.” Il Veltro: Rivista della Civiltà Italiana 48.1–2 (January–April 2004): 123–130.

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    Explains what Italian experiences influenced Williams’s work on The Rose Tattoo and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.

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  • Debusscher, Gilbert. “French Stowaways on an American Milk Train: William, Cocteau and Peyrefitte.” Modern Drama 25.3 (1982): 399–408.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.25.3.399Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Scrutinizes Williams’s play against Jean Cocteau’s L’aigle à deux têtes in terms of their similar stage designs, characters, plots, and symbols, concluding that “there is a strong probability that Williams took a great deal of his inspiration” (p. 405) from Cocteau’s play.

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  • McBride, Mary. “Prisoners of Illusion: Surrealistic Escape in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 341–348. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Describes how Williams’s characters such as Sissy, due to their inability to cope with reality, imprison themselves with pipe dreams of escape. Their confrontation with the truth shatters all illusions (what she terms “surrealism”) as the veils of reality are inevitably lifted. The realities from which Sissy hides but that ultimately imprison her are society, illness, and death.

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  • Michiels, Laura, and Christophe Collard. “Double Exposures: On the Reciprocity of Influence between Tennessee Williams and Jean Cocteau.” Comparative Drama 47.4 (Winter 2013): 505–527.

    DOI: 10.1353/cdr.2013.0054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Advances Debusscher’s article by looking into Williams’s and Cocteau’s treatments of the Orpheus myth, as well as into Williams’s use of Cocteau in his one-act play The Parade and the late full-length play based on it, Something Cloudy, Something Clear, which they claim echoes Cocteau’s collection of poetry Claire/Obscure.

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  • Paller, Michael. “The Day on Which a Woman Dies: The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore and Nō Theatre.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 25–39. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Rejects the previous critical assessments of the play as a failure and sees Williams instead promoting a dramatic conflict in the play that is Japanese and not Aristotelian. This “new personal dramaturgy” (p. 26) erased many of his previous statements and conclusions about the value of living and dying.

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Slapstick Tragedy

Following the failure of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, financial angels were hesitant to back any new Williams production, especially since Broadway had seemingly moved on from staging plays of poetic naturalism or personal lyricism. Production of Slapstick Tragedy (a double bill of two one-act plays, The Mutilated and The Gnädiges Fräulein) would thus be delayed a year until 1966, closing after only seven performances. Most early critics and theater reviewers saw both plays as autobiographical expressions of Williams’s struggle with his naysayers. Debusscher 1989 finds the plays to be allegorical self-portraits, constructed as a collage of fragments from Williams’s previous plays that treat the destruction of the artist. Hale 2002 also finds The Gnädiges Fräulein to be a self-portrait, but one done in the pop art style of the 1960s that lampooned high art with its cartoonish representations. Saddik 2002 also finds art and parody at work in Williams’s later works, but she sees The Gnädiges Fräulein more as the culmination of Williams’s plastic theater. While Williams had espoused his vision of the plastic theater back in 1944 when he wrote The Glass Menagerie, it is only in this later work that he fully realized his efforts to capture, as did Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, human experiences beyond the limited powers of language. The goal of Quinlan 2010 is not to see The Gnädiges Fräulein as “another metaphor for the aging Williams as an alienated artist” (p. 54) but to separate the play from Williams’s experience.

  • Debusscher, Gilbert. “The Gnädiges Fräulein: Williams’s Self-Portrait among the Ruins.” In New Essays on American Drama. Edited by Gilbert Debusscher and Henry I. Schvey, 63–74. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989.

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    Finds the play to be an “allegory found elsewhere in Williams’ work about the fate of the artist in a cruelly uncomprehending and destructive world,” one which provides a “startling re-arrangement of familiar material, a collage-like presentation of recognisable fragments re-assembled in an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle” (p. 63).

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  • Hale, Allean. “The Gnädiges Fräulein: Tennessee Williams’s Clown Show.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 40–53. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Finds the surrealist elements of the play to be “a nightmare captured on paper” (p. 41) and suggests that, in addition to all the anti-mimetic theses forwarded by critics, Williams’s interest in the world of art, from Picasso’s cubism to Warhol’s pop art, can help explain the play’s seemingly incomprehensible meaning. When read alongside the other half of Slapstick Tragedy, The Mutilated, it becomes evident to Hale that Williams intended both to parody a circus clown show.

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  • Quinlan, Stefanie. “The Gnädiges Fräulein: Tennessee Williams’s Southernmost Belle.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 11 (2010): 53–64.

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    Explains the confusing elements in the play by arguing that its heroine, the Gnädiges Fräulein, is another allegorical Southern belle similar to Amanda, Blanche, and Alma, but that the Fräulein becomes “a condensed version of all that the southern belle symbolizes—or, more precisely, of what the failed belle symbolizes for Williams” (p. 54).

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  • Saddik, Annette J. “‘The Inexpressible Regret of All Her Regrets’: Tennessee Williams’s Later Plays as Artaudian Theater of Cruelty.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 5–24. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Aligns many of Williams’s later plays, in particular The Gnädiges Fräulein, with Antonin Artaud’s doctrine of the Theatre of Cruelty, which views speech and language as inadequate tools to capture and relate the human experience in drama.

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Kingdom of Earth

A gothic tragicomedy, Kingdom of Earth (alternatively entitled The Seven Descents of Myrtle) mixes some of Williams’s earlier themes with his more recent characters, leading early reviewers to mostly pan the play. Kalson 1970 found it to be a “wasteland,” an unintentional parody of Williams’s previous plays about sexuality and the destruction of the artist’s soul. Schiavi 1999 compares the effeminate Lot with the sissy Williams and argues that Williams offers a “radical reconception of what is tenable in masculine representation” (p. 100). Perhaps only Kolin 1993 and Pettit 2014 see the play in a positive light with respect to Williams’s take on humanity. Kolin finds Myrtle’s bearing Chicken’s children and populating this kingdom of earth as Williams’s commentary on a postracial society. Pettit, less optimistic about the result of that union, nonetheless sees Williams as having reshaped his characters over the years and through many versions and drafts precisely to question not only the fertility of that heterosexual (and interracial) union but also the comic genre’s reliance upon marriage and propagation to restore order to a world experiencing unrest.

  • Kalson, Albert E. “Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth: A Sterile Promontory.” Drama and Theatre 8 (1970): 90–93.

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    Reads the play as an “extended dramatic metaphor for the act of fellatio which becomes . . . a metaphor for any brutal, degrading, sterile relationship between a man and a woman” (p. 92). Kalson finds Chicken to be a parody of the Lawrentian hero that previously filled Williams’s dramatis personae, and Lot to be a “parody of impotent aestheticism” (p. 91).

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  • Kolin, Philip C. “Sleeping with Caliban: The Politics of Race in Tennessee Williams’s Kingdom of Earth.” Studies in American Drama, 1945–Present 8.2 (1993): 140–162.

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    Offers a postcolonial reading of the play that explores how Williams “challenges race ideology by destabilizing the ‘either/or’ economy of colonialism and demoralizes such mythologies upon which racial stereotypes are grounded” (p. 144). Kolin sees the play with its “ravages of colonialization” (p. 143) as Williams’s criticism of America’s role in the Vietnam War and finds the sterility of Myrtle’s relationship with the effete Lot countered by the promise of children with Chicken, the Other with whom she will populate the new kingdom of earth.

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  • Pettit, Alexander. “The Queer Mockery of High Expectations: Comic Closure and the Texts of Kingdom of Earth.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 14 (2014): 81–96.

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    Believes that the “tendency to consult only the 1968 or 1975 edition has obscured” Williams’s intent with the play, which is to demonstrate his “skepticism about bourgeois heteronormative comic closure” (p. 81). Pettit provides a genetic reading of the many versions of the play to demonstrate how Williams finally mocks the comic genre’s “prejudices” with his grotesque characters and they “remake the genre in their own fallen and sullied images” (p. 92).

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  • Schiavi, Michael R. “Effeminacy in the Kingdom: Tennessee Williams and Stunted Spectatorship.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 2 (1999): 99–113.

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    Examines the play’s notion of the “sissy” and argues how Williams shows “effeminacy to be a rich narrative and dramatic resource, far from the theatrical aberration typically reviled in mainstream spectatorship” (p. 100).

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Out Cry/The Two-Character Play

Out Cry first premiered in the summer of 1971 and closed not long after. It was revised in 1973, then again in 1976, with Williams restoring the original title, The Two-Character Play. Both versions of the play were published, but close textual comparisons remain surprisingly few. Instead, most critics have examined both plays’ obsession with themes of incest and madness. Stamper 1977, one of the first critics to look at all the versions of the play, addresses their obvious theme of psychic individuation and finds them demonstrating Williams’s victory in that psychic battle, where the artist discovers that it is the self, and not the societal other, who is responsible for his suffering. Parker 1985 also defends the play, openly attacked in the theater reviews, and suggests that it contains elements from many of the stories and one-act plays that influenced The Glass Menagerie and actually brings the cycle of “incest” related work to a close. Pagan 1992 finds both interpretations legitimate but believes that the two versions of the play are “metadramas” on the process of artistic creation. Londré 2002 provides a comprehensive look at the two plays’ compositions and productions and ponders the question of why, for critics and for theater companies alike, Out Cry has received more attention than its sibling. Williams sincerely felt that this play was his best and most probing since A Streetcar Named Desire and wanted more than anything for the critics and audiences to appreciate its artistry and philosophical inquiries.

  • Londré, Felicia Hardison. “The Two-Character Out Cry and Break Out.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 93–106. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Offers a comprehensive look at the theater and critical histories of Williams’s most personal late play, suggesting that the play was as much Williams’s breakout from American theater as it was his outcry against all injustices.

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  • Pagan, Nicholas O. “Tennessee Williams’ Out Cry in the Two-Character Play.” Notes on Mississippi Writers 24.2 (July 1992): 67–79.

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    Finds the play to be a break from Williams’s earlier realism and argues that both versions need to be studied for their experimentations with theatricality, where any reality outside of the two “metadramatic” plays is contingent upon the reality inside them as well. Both plays address, Pagan asserts, a playwright’s struggle to create art and then to let it have a life of its own.

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  • Parker, Robert B. “The Circle Closed: A Psychological Reading of The Glass Menagerie and The Two Character Play.” Modern Drama 28.4 (December 1985): 517–534.

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    Compares the image of “abandoned solipsism” (p. 520) at the end of The Glass Menagerie with that of The Two-Character Play. Parker notes, among the various versions of both plays that exist (including in manuscript form), that The Two Character Play actually concludes The Glass Menagerie given its invocation of incest.

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  • Stamper, Rexford. “The Two-Character Play: Psychic Individuation.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 354–361. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Finds The Two-Character Play to be flawed but confirms that it is an important play in the Williams canon because it turns away from the naturalistic plays of his earlier career that focus on the individual crushed by society and concentrates instead “upon the subjective self in order to demonstrate that the artist’s greatest struggle is not with his society but within himself” (p. 355).

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Small Craft Warnings

Although Small Craft Warnings was not the first Williams play that deals frankly and unapologetically with homosexuality, it was the first that had been given a New York production. It received mixed (though not damning) reviews, but one of the more severe attacks against it was Williams’s fragmentary dialogue. Early theater critics felt that Williams’s use of incomplete sentences in the play was more the result of his inebriated state when writing it than his postmodern disillusion with human communication. Adler 1975 takes those critics to task, finding Williams’s experiments with dialogue not only indicative of the new direction his theater was taking but also unique to American speech patterns, and therefore not derivative of the work of absurdist playwrights such as Beckett and Pinter. Kolin 2002 also defends the play, not for its experiments in language but for its ability to relate Williams’s spiritual struggles throughout his life. Both critics bemoan the earlier reviewers’ eliding of Williams’s life with his play and demand that the play itself be studied anew.

  • Adler, Thomas P. “The Dialogue of Incompletion: Language in Tennessee Williams’s Later Plays.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 61 (1975): 48–58.

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    Argues that language in Williams’s late plays should not be read for it semantics but rather for its “verbal aspects,” namely his “experiments with syntactical patterns which suggest a new direction in Williams’s theatrical technique” (p. 48).

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  • Kolin, Philip C. “‘Having Lost the Ability to Say: My God!’: The Theology of Tennessee Williams’s Small Craft Warnings.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 107–124. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Offers a summation of the play’s critical reception during production, suggesting that too often reviewers studied Williams’s life instead of the play. Kolin de-centers Williams from his play and demonstrates how the playwright “‘refines’ and elevates’ the deepest spiritual values that shaped his life through his work to produce one of the most Christian (theological) plays in his canon” (p. 110).

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The Red Devil Battery Sign

The Red Devil Battery Sign opened on 18 June at Boston’s Shubert Theater but ran for only two weeks. Following several revisions, it re-opened the following winter in Vienna, where it was a minor success, as Kahn 1977 describes in detail, citing the Austrian press. Williams felt that its sharp social criticism and reference to the various cover-ups in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy that were coming to light in 1972 made it inappropriate and even “dangerous” for an American production, hence his desire to produce it abroad. Schlatter 1998 believes that despite questions about its aesthetic merits, Red Devil is an important play because it captures a historical moment in American history not found in the nation’s theater productions. Grosch 1998 concurs, showing how, from the early versions of the play to a New York production in 1996, Williams castigates a nation for its cultural inability to remember the tragedies of its past. Gross 2002, who recognizes that most of the play’s criticism centers around its ingénue politics, nonetheless believes that politics are really only a red herring to the play’s more serious focus on gender and sexuality.

  • Grosch, Robert J. “Memory as Theme and Production Value in Tennessee Williams’s Red Devil Battery Sign.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premier Issue (1998): 119–124.

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    Details the many changes in the playscript from the failed Boston production in 1975 to New York’s WPA Theater production in 1996 and points out how the persistence of memory remains the one consistent theme and preoccupation in all the scripts (and later productions) because it decries a culture’s failure to recall (and thus preserve) its past.

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  • Gross, Robert F. “The Gnostic Politics of The Red Devil Battery Sign.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 125–141. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Contends that the “lack of a substantial production history” may account for “the play’s critical neglect” (p. 125) and then offers a summary of the play’s harsh criticism. Most of the negative criticism focused on Williams’s political naiveté; yet, Gross asserts, Williams’s political insights are “not to be found immediately addressing the play’s topicality” (p. 126) about the Kennedy assassination but instead issues of gender and sexual desire.

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  • Kahn, Sy M. “The Red Devil Battery Sign: Williams’ Götterdämmerung in Vienna.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 362–371. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Details the play’s production in Vienna through a summary of several Austrian theater reviews, pointing out that although not entirely as favorable as Williams had hoped, the reviews were generally more deferential to Williams himself, something he rarely found in the States at the time.

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  • Schlatter, James. “Red Devil Battery Sign: An Approach to Mytho-Political Theater.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premier Issue (1998): 93–102.

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    Begins with the shopworn idea that the plays of the later Williams period are obsessed with “artistic self-caricature, self-pity and drug-induced self-annihilation” not to “refute” the claim but rather to make it “irrelevant” (p. 93). As such, Schlatter studies Red Devil as an important play because it “speaks to the American political culture of the 1970’s” (p. 94) and tells as much about our past as it does about our 21st-century culture.

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Vieux Carré

The Vieux Carré that premiered in New York on 11 May 1977 shares little in common with the play that Williams conceptualized back in 1973 and reworked over the next two years. In 1975 he was working on a pair of one-act plays called Vieux Carré that he hoped to produce in Key West. Eventually the two plays were fused, though many early reviewers found little to praise in either storyline. Criticism of the play, however, is evolving. Dorff 2000 examines the play via a late-20-century postmodern theatricalism that “incorporate[s] elements of popular culture into the previously sanctified realm of ‘high’ art” (p. 1), while Murphy 2002 sees it as Williams’s response to the Cold War, finding his politics true to his Romantic nature in combating theories of containment with endless tropes of escapism. O’Connor 2004 sees this stage space of containment both reassuring and suffocating, acknowledging that escape is as necessary for some Romantic spirits as protection is for others.

  • Dorff, Linda. “‘All Very [Not!] Pirandello’: Radical Theatrics in the Evolution of Vieux Carré.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 3 (2000): 1–23.

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    Studies the various drafts of the play to contrast the “modernist lexicon” of its early drafts with the more “postmodern, radically theatricalist vocabularies” of the later versions. Dorff wishes to locate “the trajectory of Williams’s evolving theatricalist poetics through the lens of a single play” (p. 1).

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  • Murphy, Brenda. “Tennessee Williams and Cold-War Politics.” In Staging a Cultural Paradigm: The Political and the Personal in American Drama. Edited by Barbara Ozieblo and Miriam López-Rodríguez, 33–50. Brussels: Presses Interuniversitaires Européennes/Lang, 2002.

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    Explores how Williams provides his protagonists, from those of Camino Real to Vieux Carré, with avenues of escape from their “Cold-War hell” by having them “embrac[e] a mad romantic quest” (p. 46).

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  • O’Connor, Jacqueline. “Moving into the Rooming House: Interiority and Stage Space in Tennessee Williams’s Fugitive Kind and Vieux Carré.” Southern Quarterly 42.2 (Winter 2004): 19–36.

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    Shows how two of Williams’s plays, written nearly forty years apart, share a common structure and setting and make use of similar symbols and Depression-era issues. O’Connor studies the cultural contexts in which they were written and produced to help map out the changes Williams and his generation underwent from 1937 to 1978.

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Clothes for a Summer Hotel

Like most of Williams’s late plays, Clothes for a Summer Hotel was frequently considered as another embarrassing blemish on a rather illustrious career. It is not coincidental, then, that such a work of then-minor standing should have met with so little critical attention from the theater public or from the academic community, whose tolerance with the play was surpassed only by the dearth of pages dedicated to its interpretation, something Bryer 2002 reports in his millennial retrospect of the play’s critical reception. Those critics who did venture into analyzing the play have studied it as either a psychodramatization of Williams’s guilt-ridden relationship with his sister Rose (Adler 1987), a mimetic representation of his auto-da-fé at the hands of belligerent critics, or a personal exegesis on the tortured psyche’s struggle to produce art with impunity. Bryer shies away from the autobiographical reading of the play and argues instead that Williams, “already sympathetic” to Zelda’s story because it was so close to that of his own heroines, felt “empowered to tell a version to which he was extremely sympathetic, namely one in which Scott is the villain and Zelda is the victim” (p. 168). Later critics, buttressed by postmodern theories about the cannibalization of biography for fictional ends, studied the play not as failed biodrama but as successful postmodern theater. Crandell 2002 believes the play’s nonlinear use of time, something that troubled early critics, functions more as a notion of aesthetic theater space that helps Williams to delve into biographical truth more than time-bound history could. Dorff 2002 also rejects the play’s realism and finds in its postmodern toying with history a hyperreality that upturns traditional narratives of people we thought we already knew. Concluding the recent postmodern readings of the play, Jenckes 2002 suggests that Clothes for a Summer Hotel is a pastiche take on ideas associated with Romanticism, where historical love stories can no longer ring true outside of the era that produced them.

  • Adler, Thomas P. “When Ghosts Supplant Memories: Tennessee Williams’ Clothes for a Summer Hotel.’” Southern Literary Journal 19.2 (Spring 1987): 5–19.

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    Sees the play less as biographical drama and more as autobiographical drama (like Vieux Carré before it) with it emerging, just as The Glass Menagerie had, as a “play of guilt, spawned by the author’s betrayal of the person closest to him” (p. 6).

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  • Bryer, Jackson R. “‘Entitled to Write About Her Life’: Tennessee Williams and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.” In Magical Muse: Millennial Essays on Tennessee Williams. Edited by Ralph F. Voss, 163–177. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

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    Studies the play from the perspective of a Fitzgerald scholar, claiming that Zelda’s recent feminist biographers (Nancy Milford and Sara Mayfield) had probably influenced Williams’s chauvinism toward her in thinking that she was a greater writer than her more celebrated husband.

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  • Crandell, George W. “‘I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow’: Tennessee Williams and the Representations of Time in Clothes for a Summer Hotel.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 168–180. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Looks at the postmodern representation of time in the play that “substitutes for historical time an aesthetic space, a representation of time that permits the exploration of an alternative temporality and a virtual reality that bears no mimetic relationship to the world outside of the play’s dramatic boundaries and yet, paradoxically, illuminates that real world” (p. 170).

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  • Dorff, Linda. “Collapsing Resurrection Mythologies: Theatricalist Discourses of Fire and Ash in Clothes for a Summer Hotel.” In Tennessee Williams: A Casebook. Edited by Robert F. Gross, 153–172. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

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    Works from various drafts of Clothes for a Summer Hotel to show how the play “rejects the earlier plays’ redemptive paradigms” of modernist resurrection mythologies by using fire and ash metaphors within a postmodern discourse of doubt and distrust to foreground “the artificiality/artifice of the denaturalized ghost form as an ultimate simulacrum . . . a reproduction of a reproduction—what Jean Baudrillard has defined as ‘that which is already produced. The hyperrealist . . . which is [already] entirely a simulation’” (p. 158).

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  • Jenckes, Norma. “‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’: Resurgent Romanticism in Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real and Clothes for a Summer Hotel.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 181–193. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Examines the play’s postmodern flippancy toward serious modern issues such as love, to demonstrate how “an historically constructed emotion and state of being . . . can be and is affected by the material conditions of society in which it rises and falls” (p. 189)—in other words, how love has become a commodity, a postmodern spin on Romanticism.

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Something Cloudy, Something Clear

Something Cloudy, Something Clear is a dramatization of Williams’s first visit to Provincetown and his love affair there with Kip Kiernan. It was an expansion of an earlier play, The Parade, that Williams had begun drafting in 1940 and completed in 1962. Something Cloudy, Something Clear is thus another “ghost” play that divides its author into two people at two different stages of his life. For Kolin 1998, the play paints Williams’s self-portrait both as a young and as an older artist but also, and more importantly, “interrogates the larger postmodern issues of the creation of art and culture” (p. 38) on the whole, deceptively making it a throwback play. Fisher 2002 concurs, showing the irony behind how the later Williams, in form, abandoned the Romantic style that made his name in American drama, whereas, in content, he “clings to a deep romantic longing for it” (p. 195). Although written in the mid-1980s and published posthumously two decades later, Prosser 2009 provides some of the history behind the play’s composition and production, offering insight into why Williams returned to the subject of his Provincetown summer in 1940.

  • Fisher, James. “‘In My Leftover Heart’: Confessional Autobiography in Tennessee Williams’s Something Cloudy, Something Clear.” In The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 194–206. New York: Lang, 2002.

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    Finds the play to be a “triumph of autobiographical confession and a culmination of prevalent themes in Williams’s plays” (p. 194). Fisher believes that the year of the play’s setting, 1940, marks the watershed in Williams’s long career and shows how he continually “probe[d] his own persona” and experimented with “the tools of the stage at the end of his life . . .” (p. 194).

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  • Kolin, Philip C. “Something Cloudy, Something Clear: Tennessee Williams’s Postmodern Memory Play.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 12.2 (Spring 1998): 35–55.

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    Recounts the early history of the play’s writing and premiere in 1981 and champions the play as more than a postmodern rewriting of The Glass Menagerie or Memoirs. It is instead, Kolin posits, a “postmodern investigation of the playwright and his art” and is clearly a “triumphant closure to Williams’s exploration of non-linear dramaturgy” (p. 38).

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  • Prosser, William. The Late Plays of Tennessee Williams. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009. 157–187.

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    Provides detailed plot summary and production history of many of Williams’s late plays, including Something Cloudy, Something Clear. Although the analysis is threadbare, the commentary is significant in that it was provided by one of Williams’s more reliable collaborators (and champions of his late plays) near the end of his life.

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The Notebook of Trigorin

In 1981 Williams completed an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, entitling it The Notebook of Trigorin. Most of the early criticism and reviews, when there were any at all, often looked entirely at the “the suspicion surrounding adaptation in general” (p. 246), something that Ross 2011 has pointed out. Williams had taken several liberties with plot and character, even to the point of refocusing the story around the character of the writer in the play, Trigorin. Fisher 2000 elides the original source with Williams’s autobiography in an attempt to explain the reasons behind the alterations. Following Fisher, Ross looks at the process of adaption but offers reasons behind Williams’s changes, most significantly making Trigorin a bisexual writer struggling against the homophobic climate in Russia. With adaptation theory undergoing its own changes in the academy, there is a good chance that this play will receive substantially more scholarship in the future.

  • Fisher, James. “Tennessee Williams’s The Notebook of Trigorin: Adapting Chekhov’s The Sea Gull into Dramatic Autobiography.” Text and Presentation 21 (2000): 81–99.

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    Studies the autobiographical links between the original play and the changes Williams instituted.

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  • Ross, Zackary. “Opening The Notebook of Trigorin: Tennessee Williams’s Adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull.” Comparative Drama 45.3 (Fall 2011): 245–270.

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    Examines the history of the adaptation and its stage and publication history, focusing on the changes that Williams introduces into the original play (i.e., making Trigorin bisexual). Ross suggests that “Williams’s awareness of the treatment of homosexual artists in the Soviet Union” inspired him to alter Trigorin’s sexuality, “a means of undermining one of the most celebrated Russian plays” (p. 247).

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A House Not Meant to Stand

During the winter of 1981–1982, Williams devoted most of his writing energy to expanding the one-act play Some Problems for the Moose Lodge, later retitled A House Not Meant to Stand. Subtitled “A Gothic Comedy,” although called “A Spook Sonata” in various drafts, this Strindbergian play freed some of the ghosts of Williams’s past. Some of these ghosts included Williams’s coming to terms with his father’s belligerence and his feud with his brother Dakin over his placing Williams in the Renard Psychiatric Division of Barnes Hospital in 1969. Keith 2008 explores this notion of gothic comedy in the play and offers the only significant piece of criticism on the play to date. Not much criticism has been written on the play, given its late publication date, but no doubt that will change soon, given the play’s rising stature within the Williams canon.

  • Keith, Thomas. “Introduction: A Mississippi Funhouse.” In A House Not Meant to Stand. By Tennessee Williams, xiii–xxvii. New York: New Directions, 2008.

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    Details the play’s production history at the Goodman Theater in Chicago from the one-act play Some Problems for the Moose Lodge to the full-length version and ruminates on what a Williams “comedy” actually entails.

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Fiction

The study of Williams’s nondramatic works pale in number to those written on his plays, and if there is an avenue in Williams scholarship still to be explored it is here. Williams was a prolific writer of short fiction, as well as the author of two novels, and he himself admitted that he thought some of his best writing could be found in his short stories. Early critics largely ignored or missed this admission, and among those who did study Williams’s novels or short stories, they often did so only in connection with Williams’s life or his plays. The inquiries generally centered on questions of analogy or influence: what, for instance had the novel The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone in common with the play A Streetcar Named Desire, or how does Brick Pollitt’s dilemma in the short story “Three Players of a Summer Game” illuminate our understanding of the same character’s “mystery” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Later criticism would eventually study the novels and short fiction on their artistic merits alone. In 1999 Philip C. Kolin guest edited an issue of the Southern Quarterly with a focus specifically on these nondramatic works. Though individual essays on Williams’s fiction and nonfiction had already appeared separately, this was the first collection of essays dedicated to the lesser-studied Williams, including essays on his Memoirs, his essays, and his poetry. Since then, more and more scholars have begun looking into the novels and the short fiction, in particular since more and more stories have been emerging from the various archives. Research on Williams’s fiction has thus been gaining ground in the past few years, but there is still much more work to be done.

Short Fiction

For the most part, Williams criticism has focused on a few dozen or so of his stories, such as “Desire and the Black Masseur,” “Three Players of a Summer Game,” and “Hard Candy.” The publication of Williams’s Collected Stories in 1983 has surely been a positive contribution to the study of Williams’s short fiction, but, as Vannatta 1988 notes, criticism “concerning the plays rather than the short stories” is about “fifty to one” (p. ix). Although there are certainly several excellent articles written about specific short stories that are not included here, the critics presented below have attempted to assess the whole of Williams’s short fiction. Peden 1964 was the first critic to examine several story collections, attempting to go beyond the basic analysis of seeing them only as sketchbooks for the later plays, as Reck 1971 does. Reck not only suggests that Williams’s successful plays often came from strong short stories (which is not always true) but also that his failed plays after 1960 lacked prior prose treatments (which is also not true) and that may have accounted for their shortcomings. One of the first significant changes in how Williams’s stories were being read came from Sklepowich 1977, who focused (like Crandell 1999 later) more on the stories’ representations of homosexuality than on their usefulness in studying the plays. Vannatta 1988 tends to read the stories traditionally (i.e., based on how they reflect the themes often encountered in Williams’s plays) and concludes that Williams’s best stories are “better than all but a few of his plays” (p. 77). Drawing upon the poststructuralist theories of Lacan and Kristeva and the more enlightened research of Williams’s queer critics in order to explore the construction of identity in the stories, Torres-Zúñiga 2011 reads the short fiction for its “hermeneutical potential” (p. 9) and for its postmodern aesthetics.

  • Crandell, George W. “Peeping Tom: Voyeurism, Taboo, and Truth in the World of Tennessee Williams’s Short Fiction.” Southern Quarterly 38.1 (Fall 1999): 28–35.

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    Examines how several of Williams’s short stories capture his struggle with conventional sexual codes and notions of taboo and truth. In this way, Williams makes the reader a voyeur of sorts who peeps through keyholes into the extraordinary lives of his many characters.

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  • Peden, William H. “Mad Pilgrimage: The Short Stories of Tennessee Williams.” Studies in Short Fiction 4.1 (Summer 1964): 243–250.

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    Examines Williams’s early short fiction from One Arm and Hard Candy, demonstrating how certain themes and motifs and even character types are found later in the plays. In half plot summary/half analysis, Peden classifies the short stories by character types, such as those that contain nonessential beings (Homer Stallcup and Brick Pollitt) and those pathological or social outcasts (Oliver Winemiller, Edith Jelkes, Billy and Cora, Anthony Burns).

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  • Reck, Tom Stokes. “The Short Stories of Tennessee Williams: Nucleus for His Drama.” Tennessee Studies in Literature 16 (1971): 141–154.

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    Compares several of Williams’s short stories with his plays, suggesting that a strong play emerged when the story that gave shape to it was already well developed and that, conversely, a failed play such as those in the 1960s may have been the result of their not having first been given prose treatments.

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  • Sklepowich, Edward A. “In Pursuit of the Lyric Quarry: The Image of the Homosexual in Tennessee Williams’ Prose Fiction.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 525–544. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Supplies an early reading of Williams’s short fiction via his “homosexual sensibility,” considering it to be “an important way of understanding and perhaps of evaluating that vision so frequently labeled grotesque, decadent, and neurotic, since that vision is at many points related to homosexuality” (p. 526). Exploring the changes in how Williams describes his homosexual characters from his early stories to his late ones, Sklepowich finds that “Williams’ homosexual has moved from the mythic to the real” (p. 526).

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  • Torres-Zúñiga, Laura. “The Other Tennessee Williams: A Postmodern of Identity and Abjection in His Short Fiction.” PhD diss., University of Granada (Spain), 2011.

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    Deconstructs Williams’s short fiction via poststructuralist readings (Lacan, Foucault, Kristeva), focusing on how “the dynamics of abjection by which the identities in the stories are constructed and, what is more, by which the world as we know it—its social and cultural structures—is constructed to” (p. 9).

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  • Vannatta, Dennis. Tennessee Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

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    Looks conventionally at the stories and their narrative strategies and offers a general assessment of Williams as a short story writer. Part one is an analysis of Williams’s short stories, from his first stories as a young man to those of his later years. Part 2 provides extracts from Williams nonfiction prose writing, and Part 3 offers extracts from a few of the critics who studied his short fiction.

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Novels

Although many early reviews and critics read the novels for their autobiographical content and often dismissed their artistic merits, a few critics have attempted to read them for their narrative aesthetics. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is often studied for its intertextual references, such as to Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (Ricciardi 2000) or James’s The Portrait of a Lady or even to Williams’s own A Streetcar Named Desire (Alladaye 2011). Fisher 1999 even attempts to raise the novel’s stature by examining its heroine’s descent into loneliness and despair with those of Williams’s great plays. In the case of Moise and the World of Reason, because many critics found the novel incomprehensible (or only interpretable when read alongside of Williams’s Memoirs, published the same year), they read it only for its autobiographical details, and there certainly are many. Akers 2011 is clearly one example of this interpretive vein, and to some extent Bray 1999 is an example as well. Bray does point out the inevitable parallels but also tries to justify the novel’s apparent incoherence by explaining the novel as Williams’s experiment with postmodern narrative forms. Di Cintio 2002 avoids the obvious autobiographical connections and attempts to explicate the novel in terms its Narrator’s maturation process as a writer.

  • Akers, Shelley. “The Blue Jays of My Life”: An Autobiographical Approach to Moise and the World of Reason.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 12 (2011): 45–56.

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    Provides a rather uninspired and dated piece of criticism that understands the novel in relation to Williams’s life in the early 1970s. Akers claims that Williams’s “writing-as-companionship” model followed him throughout his life and that Moise is an “important text for understanding the turmoil (both internal and external) present throughout Williams’s own coming-out story” (p. 46).

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  • Alladaye, René. “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone: Entre théâtre et prose romanesque?” Études Anglaises 64.1 (January–March 2011): 44–57.

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    Attempts to read the novel as a play, arguing that Williams drew from his experiences as a playwright when he penned and structured his first novel, which is why The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone repeatedly refers to the world of drama and appears at times to be the novelization of A Streetcar Named Desire. In French.

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  • Bray, Robert. “Moise and the Man in the Fur Coat.” Southern Quarterly 38.1 (Fall 1999): 58–70.

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    Reads the novel through a postmodern lens, suggesting that Williams’s experiment with style and form “contradicts traditional assumptions about sequence, logic, order, and completion” (p. 62). Bray sees all the various characters in the novel, in spite of their real counterparts (e.g., artist Olive Leonard as Moise), as forming a composite portrait of Williams himself.

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  • Di Cintio, Matt. “Ordered Anarchy: Writing as Transitional Object in Moise and the World of Reason.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 5 (2002).

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    Compares child psychologist D. W. Winnicott’s theories of infantile transition to maturity in Playing and Reality with the Narrator’s maturation as a writer. Di Cintio sees the Narrator’s Blue Jay notebooks as an “object” that lends him passage from an internal and an external reality, a development that necessitates the destruction of the “object” to complete the transition.

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  • Fisher, James. “‘An Almost Posthumous Existence’: Performance, Gender, and Sexuality in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.” Southern Quarterly 38.1 (Fall 1999): 45–57.

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    Explores the relationship between love and sexuality in the novel and attempts to place Karen Stone’s descent into loneliness and despair on par with Williams’s great dramatic heroines, such as Blanche DuBois and Maggie Pollitt. The essay offers an extensive study of the making of the film and suggests that the novel’s poor critical reception at the time of its publication condemned it to receive little critical attention later.

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  • Ricciardi, Caterina. “La primavera romana di Tennessee Williams.” Il Veltro 44.1–2 (2000): 207–216.

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    Examines the importance of place and architecture in Rome in the novel, comparing it to Hawthorne’s in The Marble Faun.

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Nonfiction

Williams wrote in his Memoirs, “I have written a goodly quantity of prose works, some of which I prefer to my plays” (p. 178). Yet much of Williams’s nonfiction prose writing, like his poetry, has generally been undervalued and under-evaluated. Kramer 1977 (cited under Memoirs) was the first critic to study Williams’s nonfiction and focuses on the Memoirs (though Where I Live had not yet been published, most of its essays were already in print). Since then, other critics have gradually moved away from the plays and stories and begun looking into various nonfiction work that Williams produced, from his essays to memoirs and even to his letters. Much of this criticism, though limited (given the amount of nonfiction Williams produced), is excellent, but there is still considerable critical space to be claimed by future Williams scholars in this field. A thorough analysis of his notebooks has yet to appear in the criticism, but it would provide rich avenues of research into Williams’s life and work and the fact/fiction hybridity that often characterized both.

Essays

Anecdotal, disarming, and calculatedly deceptive in nature, Williams’s essays provide valuable insight into yet another Williams persona. If Kramer 1977 (cited under Memoirs) studies Williams’s nonfiction as a whole, Shackelford 1999 examines only the essays, and his article attempts to understand how, collectively, they demonstrate Williams’s ability to theorize about American society and its times. Interest in the essays would not appear again until the New Directions release of the reedited and expanded New Selected Essays: Where I Live in 2009. Bak 2010, the revised version of that book’s afterword, looks at the whole corpus of Williams’s essays (a much larger corpus than Shackelford had at his disposal) and argues that Williams used digressions and personal anecdotes to talk around his play and resonate certain truths about his vision of humanity and the directions he thought it was taking. Pecorari 2011 also looks at the corpus of Williams’s essays, but instead of trying to find unity between them, she exposes the “recurring logical and rhetorical patterns” (p. 23) that instead demonstrate their individualistic natures as “essays,” as opposed to prose writings or articles. Williams uses the term “essay” not to define the genre of the writing and, therefore, shackle its meaning, but precisely to leave its parameters open, allowing him to experiment on smaller canvases what he would later work out in his plays.

  • Bak, John S. “‘Forgive the Digression’: Tennessee Williams’s Essay in the Non-Fiction Genre.” Coup de Théâtre 24 (April 2010): 107–124.

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    Supplies a comprehensive study of Williams’s essays, examining them collectively as fragments of a larger autobiographical memoir complementary to Williams’s Memoirs. Bak explains how Williams’s signature nonfiction style of recalling personal anecdotes translated into coded analysis about his plays and theories of dramatic art and poetic truth.

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  • Pecorari, Marie. “‘Scratches Upon the Caves of Our Solitude’: Weighing in on the Essays.” Études Anglaises 64.1 (January–March 2011): 21–32.

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    Examines the essays collectively from a generic perspective, claiming that Williams plays with the essay genre to substitute “the expected reflexivity with meta-literary devices that systematically deflect any ambition to paint his own singularity” (p. 23). Pecorari finds that the essays are proof of Williams’s desire to incorporate dramatic elements into all forms of his writing.

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  • Shackelford, Dean D. “The Transmutations of Experience: The Aesthetics and Themes of Tennessee Williams’s Nonfiction.” Southern Quarterly 38.1 (Fall 1999): 104–116.

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    Offers a “brief survey” of Williams’s “loosely structured, organic and informal” (p. 104) essays, suggesting that his sophisticated prose style, honed while at university, anticipates contemporary theories of reading and post-structuralist approaches to interpreting literature. Several recurring themes in the essays are discussed: endurance and struggles, the problem of the artist in American society, and the devaluation of the individual.

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Memoirs

It would not be an exaggeration to say that more ink has been spilled in the last twenty years reviewing Memoirs than analyzing it. What had been a common line of criticism about his plays since The Night of the Iguana was seemingly confirmed by Memoirs, namely that Williams had either lost the talent to provide material that would inform an audience or the will to structure it in the lucid manner worthy of a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, or both. Today, critics have become more thoughtful about the book, though not everyone is in concert about its literary merits. Kramer 1977 responded compassionately about the Memoirs, claiming that the bad press and theater reviews Williams received from the mid-1960s onward tainted critics’ perception (and reception) of the autobiography and that readers would be better served looking at how the book challenges mores and breaks taboos, just as Williams had been doing all his creative life. Ruckel 1999 calls the Memoirs Williams’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and defends the book as his attempt to push the boundaries of the traditional literary memoir. Bak 2011 studies hundreds of pages of unpublished manuscripts, many dating back to the late 1950s, that demonstrate Williams’s early interest in autobiographical writing as an exercise in psychoanalysis, which accounts for the book’s “free association” structure.

  • Bak, John S. “‘White Paper’ and ‘Cahiers Noirs’: Williams’s many ur-Memoirs.” Études Anglaises 64.1 (January–March 2011): 7–20.

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    Provides a comprehensive study of Williams’s autobiographical writings from the 1950s to the 1980s, looking in particular at early essays and unpublished fragments that would later influence the writing of the Memoirs. This is one of the earliest attempts to explain Williams’s unorthodox and much-maligned structure to the work.

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  • Kramer, Victor. “Memoirs of Self-Indictment: The Solitude of Tennessee Williams.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 663–675. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Offers an early sympathetic reading of Williams’s Memoirs as the logical extension of the playwright’s life and career, arguing that readers should look beyond the trivia and read the implications of his recollections and how they all point to his lifelong struggle with loneliness and need for acceptance.

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  • Ruckel, Terri Smith. “A ‘Giggling, Silly, Bitchy, Voluptuary’: Tennessee Williams’s Memoirs as Apologia Pro Vita Sua.” Southern Quarterly 38.1 (Fall 1999): 94–103.

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    Analyzes Williams’s Memoirs as a metabiography that conflates past and present in ways similar to the postmodern plays he was writing at the time. Ruckel suggests that the book, first judged and condemned for its shocking confessional nature, was more in line with traditional confessional autobiographies that focus on moral crises and conversions as a way to self-healing and public forgiveness.

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Poetry

In Smith 2011, a fellow St. Louis author reminds readers that the playwright was first and foremost a poet. Although it is inevitable that many of Williams’s poems are read and appreciated more for what they bring to our understanding about the man himself, or the plays he wrote (such as the poem “Orpheus Descending”), the trend is gradually changing, and Williams’s poetry is being studied more and more for its artistic merit. Ower 1977 provides the seminal reading of Williams’s poetry, suggesting that his mix of Romantic and modernist influences make him a poet of no small concern; and Taylor 1977, in a more traditional reading of prosody, finds Williams’s poetic voice situated somewhere between Walt Whitman and D. H. Lawrence. Adler 1989 is one of the first critics to analyze the poetry in depth, moving beyond the intertextual relationship between certain poems and the plays in which they are reprinted and providing a more aesthetic reading of the poems in terms of what they reveal about Williams’s view of the human condition. In an autobiographical reading of Williams’s poetry, Conlon 2001 follows up on Adler to a certain extent, though his topic is less what the poems reveal about Williams’s ontology and more what they say about his complex, troubled, even guilt-ridden views of his homosexuality. Dorff 1999 provides one of the best readings of Williams’s poetry to date, treating it collectively as proof of Williams’s evolution from Romantic to post-Romantic aesthetics first noted by Ower. With New Directions’ publication of Williams’s Collected Poems in 2007, there is little doubt that we will see more scholarship on his poems.

  • Adler, Thomas P. “Tennessee Williams’s Poetry: Intertext and Metatext.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review Premier Issue (1989): 63–72.

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    Reads Williams’s poems as intertexts of and metatexts for his plays, where the intertextual poems are integral to their dramatic message (The Night of the Iguana, for example) and the metatextual poems are those which “encapsulate his ethics and aesthetics” (p. 71).

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  • Conlon, Christopher. “‘Fox-Teeth in Your Heart’: Sexual Self-Portraiture in the Poetry of Tennessee Williams.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 4 (2001): 59–69.

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    Looks into the autobiographical elements of Williams’s poetry, arguing that as self-portraits in verse they produce the “clearest road-map we have to Williams’s own deepest feelings, especially in regard to his sexuality” (p. 59). Conlon believes that unlike the Memoirs or the late interviews, where Williams is publically outspoken about his homosexuality, his treatment of his sexual nature is much more complex in the more private spheres of his poetry.

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  • Dorff, Linda. “‘I Prefer the “Mad” Ones’: Tennessee William’s Grotesque-Lyric Exegetical Poems.” Southern Quarterly 38.1 (Fall 1999): 81–93.

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    Traces Williams’s poetry and its complex relationship to its Romantic roots, suggesting that he developed a grotesque-lyrical style in poems as early as 1941, one that openly rejects the redemptive quality evident in the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley, and, later, Rilke, Rimbaud, and Hart Crane. Dorff finds that Williams wrote exegetical poems (i.e., poems that interpret another poet’s work) to better “negotiate his position as a post-romantic writer” (p. 82).

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  • Ower, John. “Erotic Mythology in the Poetry of Tennessee Williams.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 609–623. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Studies Williams’s first collection of poetry, In the Winter of Cities, focusing specifically on the erotics and mythology of poems such as “Lady, Anemone” and “San Sebastiano de Sodoma,” and a few others. Ower suggests that if Williams were indeed influenced by the Romantic poets in his vision as mythmaker, he was also significantly influenced by the late-19th-century decadents, which demonstrates how his Romantic strains merge with his modernist tastes. These “two poles” of Williams’s poetics are evidence of his range and variety as a poet.

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  • Taylor, William E. “Tennessee Williams: The Playwright as Poet.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 624–630. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Analyzes Williams’s poetic technique and prosody in several poems from In the Winter of Cities, finding him straddled between the “open, sprawling, prophetic” poetry of Whitman and the “tight, delicate lyric” (p. 624) of Lawrence.

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The South

In an interview with Louise Davis in 1957, Williams said, “I write out of love for the South. But I can’t expect Southerners to realize that my writing about them is an expression of love. It is out of regret for a South that no longer exists that I write of the forces that have destroyed it” (p. 43). Though studied perhaps less today than twenty years ago or more, the South as theme, myth, locale, and even character has dominated the analysis of much of Williams’s work, which is frequently (though hardly repeatedly) set in the American South. Adler 1977, Prenshaw 1977, and Holditch and Leavitt 2002 represent arguably the best of this analysis, where they explain these complexities of his relationship with the South. Though by and large not the first critic to examine the flesh-spirit syzygy (see also Bock 1981) of the Southern dialectic present in Williams oeuvre, Prenshaw was the most convincing in her analysis by moving it out of the Williams household and into the cultural context and literary imagination of the South. Holditch and Leavitt 2002 traces the geographical and cultural influences of various places in the South that have left their indelible imprint on Williams’s work, from Columbus and Clarksdale evident in plays from the 1940s and 1950s, such as Summer and Smoke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to the French Quarter in his 1976 play Vieux Carré. Although studies of the South in Williams’s work have generally been shelved for more contemporary debates about the nature of gender and sexual identity, Bak 2006 returns to the South’s importance in A Streetcar Named Desire but through the lens of Williams’s relationship with the Scopes Trial of 1925 (and its judge), and how he found legitimacy in both sides’ arguments for and against the importance of privileging revealed religion or Darwin’s theory of evolution.

  • Adler, Jacob H. “Tennessee Williams’ South: The Culture and the Power.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 30–52. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Defends the Chekhovian view that all of Williams’s plays set in the South deal with the confrontation between culture and power and with the Southern dilemma that pits an encroaching and destructive modernism against a gentile agrarian society that has failed to establish a consistent identity within itself beyond myth.

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  • Bak, John S. “Tennessee v. John T. Scopes: ‘Blanche’ Jennings Bryan and Antievolutionism.” The Tennessee Williams Annual Review 8 (2006): 73–94.

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    Compares the Scopes Trial (i.e., “The Monkey Trial”) transcripts of 1925 and A Streetcar Named Desire, pointing out how Williams and Blanche identify nostalgically with William Jennings Bryan’s southern struggle against encroaching northern industrialism but also how Williams saw Progressivist antievolutionalism as ultimately harboring superannuated ideals of an old order necessarily displaced by American modernism as embodied in Stanley.

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  • Bock, Hedwig. “Tennessee Williams, Southern Playwright.” In Essays on Contemporary American Drama. Edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim, 5–18. Munich: Hueber, 1981.

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    Discusses the relationship between the Southern myth and psychological neuroses, particular manifested in the flesh-spirit dichotomy, as well as their images and symbols in Williams’s work.

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  • Holditch, Kenneth, and Richard Freeman Leavitt. Tennessee Williams and the South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.

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    Recounts Williams’s impressionable years in the South, heavily illustrated with important photos of the people, places, and events not found in previous books on Williams. Written by renowned Southern scholars and friends of Williams, the pictorial biography is essential for those interested in the South’s influence on Williams’s life and work.

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  • Prenshaw, Peggy W. “The Paradoxical Southern World of Tennessee Williams.” In Tennessee Williams: A Tribute. Edited by Jac Tharpe, 5–29. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

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    Asserts that Williams’s connection to the South and his turbulent home life while growing up were the catalysts involved in shaping his personal and artistic natures. Consequently, Williams “perceived and portrayed in his work a world of singular paradox. His characters and themes are built upon paradox” (p. 9). This paradox is historically and culturally linked to the Southern literary imagination of which Williams is just one example.

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Madness

Art and madness are inextricably entwined in Williams’s life and work, and that fact has led to a number of studies of madness and institutionalization in his plays. Sievers 1955 was the first study to look at the importance of madness in Williams’s theater, focusing on how Freudian psychoanalysis helps explain Blanche’s breakdown. Criticism would evolve as psychoanalytical theories developed over time, and the quality of the analysis would become more refined. O’Connor 1997 provided the first extended analysis of madness in Williams’s plays, including discussions from A Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly Last Summer to later works such as The Two-Character Play and Clothes for a Summer Hotel. When Lacan reread Freud through a post-structuralist lens, he altered the way madness was to be understood and consequently represented, and Fleche 1995 draws upon Lacan’s metalanguage of desire to explore how the expressionistic and realistic stage devices and setting in A Streetcar Named Desire establish a myriad of potential endings to the play, where the notion of madness no longer becomes stable for rational audience members. Paller 2000, like several critics before him, turned from the play to the playwright; however, what Paller does better than previous critics is that he historically examines the state of psychoanalysis in mid-century America, when Williams himself underwent treatment to combat depression and addiction.

  • Fleche, Anne. “The Space of Madness and Desire: Tennessee Williams and Streetcar.” Modern Drama 38 (1995): 496–509.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.38.4.496Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores how Williams exploits the expressionistic uses of space in A Streetcar Named Desire, attempting to represent desire from the outside through a loosening of verbal and stage languages. This metalanguage of desire competes with the play’s realistic setting and details to convince the audience to accept Blanche’s or Stanley’s stories of the rape and thus entraps them in conflicting worlds.

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  • O’Connor, Jacqueline. Dramatizing Dementia: Madness in the Plays of Tennessee Williams. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Press, 1997.

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    Examines how madness in Williams’s major plays shows his preoccupation with his sister Rose’s mental illness and her institutionalization. Chapters draw upon psychological, literary, and biographical sources, and are arranged thematically in terms of how the plays treat madness with respect to confinement, language, women, and the creative artist.

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  • Paller, Michael. “The Couch and Tennessee.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 3 (2000): 37–55.

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    Traces Williams’s experiment with psychoanalysis in the late 1950s under the care of Dr. Lawrence Kubie, when professional failures and personal traumas began taking their toll on his nerves. Paller looks into how Williams responded to Kubie’s diagnosis that Williams give up writing and his homosexuality by writing Suddenly Last Summer.

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  • Sievers, W. David. Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama. New York: Hermitage, 1955.

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    Offers a standard overview of the influences and traces of Freudian psychology on American drama, focusing specifically on Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire in chapter 13 (pp. 370–399).

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Religion and Myth

The grandson of a southern Episcopalian minister well versed in the classics and a later (albeit unenthusiastic) convert to Catholicism, how could Williams avoid repeatedly returning to the South and its penchant for religious fervor in his work? The study of Williams’s religious references and influences, as well as the classical myths that underpin them, have thus preoccupied the majority of Williams’s early scholars, much the way gender issues and sexuality in Williams’s work has dominated the later scholarship. Space limitations here prohibit the exhaustive list of books and articles that focus on both issues, whether considered separately or in hybridity, but what is offered here are the main early and late works that illuminate how the study of religion and myth is essential to any analysis of a Williams play or story. Porter 1969 offers one of the early studies that consolidates the general discussion of the myth of the Old South in Williams’s work, whereas Thompson 1987 employs the classical definition of myth and explores the many myths from Greek and Roman literature that infuse his plays. Egan 1993 shows best how Williams mixes regional southern and classical myths with Christian symbolism in his study of Battle of Angels and Orpheus Descending. For the most part, Williams criticism no longer discusses the role of the myth of the Old South, although religion is still a topic worth exploring. Adler 2004 offers perhaps one of the best single explanations of Williams’s curious religious cocktail, one that needs to be both shaken and stirred in future scholarship.

  • Adler, Thomas E. “Religion.” In The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia. Edited by Philip C. Kolin, 211–215. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

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    Covers familiar ground for the uninitiated and offers new insight for the more informed Williams reader in terms of the importance religion had in Williams’s life and writing. Inverting Sartrean ideology to explain Williams’s paradoxical Christian dogma, Adler concludes that “[f]or Williams, it might be said that hell is the self, while God is the other, and so to deny the other is to deny God” (p. 214).

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  • Egan, Rory B. “Orpheus Christus Mississippiensis: Tennessee Williams’s Xavier in Hell.” Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly 14.1 (Fall 1993): 61–98.

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    Explores the connections between Christ and Orpheus in classical and religious myths and demonstrates how Williams combines his sources (Virgil and the Bible) to create the southern fugitive hero, Val Xavier.

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  • Porter, Thomas E. Myth and Modern American Drama. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969.

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    Thoroughly examines the myth of the Old South in Williams, particularly A Streetcar Named Desire, suggesting that Williams creates ambiguity because he is writing from inside the southern myth, which will not allow him to decide whether his allegiances lay with the past or with the present.

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  • Thompson, Judith J. Tennessee Williams’ Plays: Memory, Myth, and Symbol. New York: Lang, 1987.

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    Examines Williams’s extensive use of myths and symbolism, offering an existential and an archetypal reading of his major plays. Thompson reads A Streetcar Named Desire, for example, as a “dramatic agon” between Stanley (Dionysus) and Blanche (Pentheus), based on Euripides’s The Bacchae.

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Film

No American playwright has had as many of his plays adapted to the big screen as Williams had. But Williams’s plays were largely problematic as adaptations because they did not fit the schema of Hollywood’s mid-century productions. Perhaps Elia Kazan had as important a role as Williams did in the course of modernizing Hollywood, and Ciment 1974 provides an early interview with the director of A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll, two films that pushed the moral envelope in artistic ways still relevant today. Yacowar 1977 and Phillips 1980 both provide excellent early introductions into the study of the adaptations of Williams’s plays and novel for the screen. Phillips’s book is less evaluative than Yacowar’s but more detailed and analytical (and perhaps more useful) in that it studies at great length the problems encountered in the play or novel first, and only then discusses how these issues had to be overcome in the film version. Both books have been largely updated (and surpassed) by Palmer and Bray 2009, who look not only at how Williams’s works were adapted for the big screen but also how Hollywood packaged and sold the playwright at a time of American cinema’s coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s. Williams’s film career continues to preoccupy scholars, evident in Menegaldo and Paquet-Deyris 2003, whose work is generally less biographical, historical, and contextual (as the other four studies are) and more aesthetic in terms of their use of filmic language.

  • Ciment, Michael. “Tennessee Williams and the South: A Streetcar Named Desire (1950), Baby Doll (1956).” In Kazan on Kazan. By Michael Ciment, 66–82. New York: Viking, 1974.

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    Captures a candid Kazan in an extended interview on how he transferred Williams’s perception of the American South to the big screen in two iconic American films. Kazan discusses issues of decor, casting, and censorship with respect to the Hays Production Code and the Catholic Church in America, as well as his working relationship with Williams during filming.

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  • Menegaldo, Gilles, and Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris, eds. A Streetcar Named Desire: Tennessee Williams (1947), Elia Kazan (1951). Paris: Ellipses, 2003.

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    Collects articles (many in French) that offer a tripartite analysis of the play, the film, and the crossover between the two, with an emphasis on history and context but also offers close readings of particular screen stills and passages.

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  • Palmer, R. Barton, and Robert Bray. Tennessee’s Hollywood: The Williams Films and Postwar America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

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    Provides the comprehensive study of Williams’s relationship to Hollywood, from his early days at MGM to his final films in the 1960s. Palmer and Bray discuss not only how Williams’s experiences with Hollywood shaped his conception of the theater but also how he almost single-handedly altered the course of Hollywood and American culture by introducing popular films that contained serious adult themes and content.

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  • Phillips, Gene D. The Films of Tennessee Williams. Philadelphia: Art Alliance, 1980.

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    Looks into the making of the films and their critical reception, drawing upon comments made by Williams and those of his directors, designers, and actors. Arranged not by film but by director, so A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll are both discussed in a chapter on Elia Kazan.

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  • Yacowar, Maurice. Tennessee Williams and Film. New York: Ungar, 1977.

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    Introduces several films made of Williams’s work, covering the major issues (censorship, production costs, casting, lighting, artistic direction) confronted with each adaptation. Yacowar provides a then-complete filmography, listing release dates, directors, producers, screenplay writers, directors of photography, art directors, music composers, designers, production houses, and the length of each film.

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Sexuality and Gender

If the southern myth along with its paradoxical “Cavalier thesis” dominated Williams scholarship from the 1960s through to the 1980s, it could just as well be said that sexuality was the watchword of Williams critics from the 1990s onward. Largely because academic criticism loosened up its own puritanical mores toward talking openly about homosexuality (and not through the lens of empathy or abjection), Williams studies in general underwent a significant sea change. Gender studies, queer theory, and sex studies (all generally recent academic disciplines) fueled this renaissance, and at its forefront were names such as David Savran, Steven Bruhm, and John Clum. Savran 1992 provides the queer grammar to reexamine Williams’s literary aesthetics, and his monograph remains a seminal study in a field that has grown to the level of saturation. Bruhm 1991, like Savran, focuses on the political dangers Williams faced by not hiding in the closet and by openly rejecting the policies of a McCarthyite America. Clum 1989, one of the first critics to unapologetically examine Williams’s treatment of homosexuality in his stories and plays, argues that Williams adopted two personae: the openly gay and homoerotic poet and short story writer, and the more reserved queer playwright. These adopted identities enabled him to hide behind coded language that talked about homosexuality without really talking about it all. Since the early 1990s, Williams scholars have systematically restored his reputation as a politically engaged playwright in the vein of Arthur Miller but whose politics were more about marginalized and sexed identities than about conservative policies. Shackelford 2000 assesses how A Streetcar Named Desire “confront[s] the taboo subject of homosexuality directly and without apology” (p. 105). Gindt 2010, Hooper 2012, and Sarotte 1976 reach similar conclusions but place Williams’s struggle with the politics of sexual desire within a European context in Sweden, England, and France, respectively. Gindt offers a Nordic perspective on what happened when Williams’s plays were translated into Swedish and performed in national theaters before publics unwilling to sympathize with sexual transgressions. Trying to reverse the recent critical trend that sees Williams as a political writer, Hooper argues that Williams’s politics were essentially about sexual (not political) power or control. Sarotte offers the first gay-oriented analyses of A Streetcar Named Desire, Camino Real, Orpheus Descending, and Suddenly Last Summer and views Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a prisoner of masculine American mores. In short, there has been a lot of criticism recently invoking gay history or queer theory with respect to Williams’s life and work, but what would benefit Williams studies even more is a movement beyond sexual and gender studies and toward new critical horizons.

  • Bruhm, Steven. “Blackmailed by Sex: Tennessee Williams and the Economics of Desire.” Modern Drama 34.4 (December 1991): 528–538.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.34.4.528Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes the historical link between homosexuality and political instability in McCarthy’s America, where “the homosexual is by definition a threat to national security because he harbors a secret which is linked to economic imbalance” (p. 529). Bruhm discusses this context with respect to Williams’s 1958 play, Suddenly Last Summer, and locates Williams as a “threat to national security” (p. 529) for McCarthy.

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  • Clum, John M. “‘Something Cloudy, Something Clear’: Homophobic Discourse in Tennessee Williams.” In Displacing Homophobia: Gay Male Perspectives in Literature and Culture. Edited by Ronald R. Butters, John M. Clum, and Michael Moon, 149–167. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989.

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    Examines the private art/public art split that kept Williams from openly addressing homosexuality in his public plays, all the while celebrating it in his private fiction and homoerotic poetry. In comparing Williams’s use of the word “mystery” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with another “peculiar rejoinder” about a “mystery” in the story “Hard Candy,” Clum sees Williams as “proceed[ing] with a scene about homosexuality while denying that that is what he is doing” (p. 161).

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  • Gindt, Dirk. “Torn between the ‘Swedish Sin’ and ‘Homosexual Freemasonry’: Tennessee Williams, Sexual Morals, and the Closet in 1950s Sweden.” Tennessee Williams Annual Review 11 (2010): 19–39.

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    Analyzes how the politics of the closet in Sweden influenced the relationship between Williams and the Swedish press when Williams was translated into a Swedish context during a period marked by institutionalized homophobia.

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  • Hooper, Michael S. D. Sexual Politics in the Work of Tennessee Williams: Desire Over Protest. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139058469Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Williams’s political engagement was generally limited to reactionary politics about how individuals are dominated by the negotiation of sexual power. Williams’s writing, Hooper suggests, expresses “social disaffection before glamorizing the outcast and shelving thoughts of political change” (p. i).

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  • Sarotte, Georges-Michel. Comme un frère, comme un amant: L’homosexualité masculine dans le roman et le théâtre américains de Herman Melville à James Baldwin. Paris: Flammarion, 1976.

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    Surveys roughly a hundred years of homosexuality in American literature at a time when such research was not yet generally practiced or accepted in America. In terms of Sarotte’s work on Williams, he focuses essentially on theater as his form of psychotherapy to deal with the stigma that his homosexuality had brought him in America throughout his life. In French.

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  • Savran, David. Cowboys, Communists, and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the Works of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

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    Breaks new ground in Williams studies and opens up new avenues of Williams scholarship and interpretation. Savran looks at Williams in the light of gay politics of the Cold War era and gives an in-depth treatment of what others had mostly avoided or relegated to the margins of Williams studies: the homosexual language and aesthetics of his work.

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  • Shackelford, Dean. “Is There a Gay Man in This Text? Subverting the Closet in A Streetcar Named Desire.” In Literature and Homosexuality. Edited by Michael J. Meyer, 135–159. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.

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    Studies the trope of the “closet” in A Streetcar Named Desire as defined by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler and proclaims that Allan Grey helps Williams expose the latent sociopolitical structures that underpin the heteronormative context in which the play was written and performed.

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