Anna Cora Mowatt, Mimic Life, and the Critics

Part III: Publication

Although January of 1856 is usually listed as the publication date of Mimic Life, newspaper ads and reviews indicate that there was an initial release of the book starting in the Northeast around December 25, 1855.  This run quickly sold out, leading to the publication of blind items similar to this one that appeared in the Charlotte Democrat in the early weeks of January, 1856;

Quick Sales – Mrs. Anna Cora Ritchie’s (wife of the Editor of the Richmond Enquirer) new work, “Mimic Life,” it is stated has sold at the rate of a thousand copies a day, for the ten days it has been on the market.1

Later in the month, there were also notices from book sellers reassuring patrons of the receipt of re-stock of the volume;

Another Supply of Mimic Life just received L.L. Smith’s Book and Periodical Agency Corner Broad and 8th Streets, opposite the Depot.2

Mowatt’s Autobiography of an Actress had added to the din and confusion of the media coverage of her retirement tour and the coverage of preparations for her marriage to W.F. Ritchie because that book had sold not only very well, but with breath-taking speed.  In addition to the normal amount of advertising and reviews that the release of an anticipated volume by a public figure could be expected to churn up in the press, Mowatt’s autobiography generated frenetic periodic reports of its remarkable sales and all-caps announcements from frenzied vendors of the arrival of new shipments of the book to impatient fans anxious to obtain a copy of their own.

Newspaper ad for Mimic Life, 1856
Newspaper ad for Mimic Life, 1856

Ticknor and Fields were doubtlessly hoping for a repeat performance from Mimic Life.  Although the book seems to have had respectable sales, it did not have the sort of gale-force winds of publicity that the autobiography at its back and was not paired with an equally exciting chain of seemingly non-stop chaotic mix of events that characterized Mowatt’s  life and career from the winter through summer of 1854.

Perhaps because there was such expectation that Mimic Life might prove another juggernaut sales event, most of the reviews published in January of 1856 dealt only superficially with the book’s literary merits.  Despite Ticknor and Fields’ efforts to position the text as a reading material on par with the works of Dickens and the publisher’s deliberate choice to present it side by side with prestigious new works from Longfellow, G.H. Lewes, and Robert Browning, most columnists did not bother to delve into an analysis of Mowatt’s style, construction, or characterization, other than to toss in a single sentence granting that the book “seemed to be well-written.”

Rather than being literary analyses, many articles had the pragmatic tone of product reviews.  Most columnists took a guess at what a prospective buyer of this quick-selling and potentially hard-to-obtain book might be seeking and evaluated whether or not the end product was worth the trouble of the purchase.  There were also a significant number of commentators in the press whose reviews took only superficial notice of the contents of the text.  Instead, they used Mimic Life’s publication as an excuse to comment on Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie’s public persona and her subject matter. For me as a historian/biographer reading these articles one hundred and sixty-six years later, this last class of writers who pig-headedly refused to engage with the book in favor of giving their opinion on Mowatt’s voice in U.S. literary world is the most intriguing.  However, these reviews had to be disappointing for Ticknor and Fields, who were sinking a significant amount of advertising money into promoting the book, an affront to Mowatt’s many loyal fans, and doubtlessly quite annoying to the actress/author herself.

Ticknor and Field's Boston bookstore, circa 1851
Ticknor and Fields’ Boston bookstore, circa 1851

Before getting to the socio/cultural commentary, let’s start with the stalwart souls who actually reviewed Mimic Life as a work of literature.  Writing for the North American Review, critic A.P. Peabody (Dr. Andrew Preston Peabody, clergyman and author ) gives what is essentially a vivid characterization of the book without going into a great deal of detail to analyze the component elements;

“The Lights and Shadows of the Stage” would have been a not inappropriate alias for this title. Mrs. Ritchie vindicates the capacity of her late profession, not only to preserve uncontaminated, but to nurture and cherish, glorious types of moral beauty no less than of genius; and at the same time lets us into the source and process of the debasing and corrupting influences to which many of its members have yielded.

The stories are all tragedies, unless we except the last, in which the heroine is made happy by the suicide of her accepted, but unloved lover, who adopts this ultra-heroic mode of abdicating in favor of his successful rival. The interest of each of the tales is even painfully intense; and they are all characterized by pure and lofty sentiment, and wrought out in a style of exquisite grace and beauty.3

Dr. Andrew Preston Peabody
Dr. Andrew Preston Peabody

John Reuben Thompson’s entry on the Mimic Life for the Southern Literary Messenger also leans more in the direction of description than analysis. (J. R. Thompson, journalist, editor, poet, and critic, was a literary pal of Mowatt’s during her days in Richmond and a frequent guest at soirees held at her home.  His lasting claim to fame is that he is generally reviled by fans of Edgar Alan Poe for dishing dirt on that author.) While commending her style, Thompson adds a gentle air of apology for Mowatt’s subject matter;

John Reuben Thompson
John Reuben Thompson

Mrs. Ritchie has added largely to an already enviable literary reputation by this delightful collection of “Narratives,” in which the graceful and the tender meet and mingle in the most charming and touching manner. Having herself won on the stage a renown scarcely below that of the highest names in histrionic annals, she manifests a pardonable esprit-de-corps, in her retirement, by seeking to dignify the actor’s profession and to enlist public sympathy for the trials that wait upon dramatic life. Whatever may be thought of the design, and there is little charity, we fear, in this censorious world for the followers of the theatrical calling, there can be but one opinion as to its execution, and the sweet creations of the gifted writer cannot fail of endearing themselves to all who read of their ambitions and triumphs and sorrows. We do not recall a brighter picture in the range of modern literature than Tina Truehart, and if it be not drawn from the life, it shows with what pure and lovely images the limner’s imagination is stored. The style of “Mimic Life” is almost faultless, indicating far greater care than any of Mrs. Ritchie’s previous compositions, and giving promise of a fame as high in the walks of Belles Lettres as Mrs. Mowatt achieved in her interpretations of Shakespeare.4

The following review from New York Weekly Day Book does address some of Mowatt’s stylistic choices directly and specifically. Without labeling the work “melodramatic” per se, the writer critiques the former playwright’s reliance on popular dramatic tropes;

Mimic Life, or Before and Behind the Curtain, by Mrs. Ritchie, (formerly Mrs. Mowatt) from the press of Ticknor & Fields, may be considered as a sequel to the author’s former work, “The Autobiography of an Actress.”  The present book consists of three distinct stories – Stella, The Prompter’s Daughter, and The Unknown Tragedian.  They all relate to the stage, and we presume we may take it for granted that the writer had daguerreotyped scenes which have fallen under her own observation.  Mrs. Ritchie writes with distinctness and perspicuity, and preserves one good trait which is a rare one in story writers.  She does not distract her readers with a large number of characters but makes the interest center upon a single hero or heroine, who enlists our sympathies and demands our attention.  There is a certain dramatic exactness, however, about the character of these tales which is not sufficiently genial, and the evident desire to produce a tragic and effective finale reminds us too strongly of stage denouements. In theatrical circles they will be highly prized and eagerly perused, for they present, in a striking light, the ups and downs, fortunes and misfortunes of those who make a choice of the theatrical profession.  The friends and admirers of Mrs. Ritchie would read with pleasure a work from her able pen disconnected from the profession, which she seems to love and respect with so much ardor.  Her talents eminently qualify her to shine in the higher walks of romance.5

I feel like this reviewer has sketched the beginnings of a fruitful idea for an interesting critique of Mimic Life.  The three narratives, with their judiciously limited casts of lead and supporting players, dramatic twists, and tragic denouements, do have a little of the feel of mid-century five act plays.  However, our columnist goes too fast and doesn’t follow through.  The writer doesn’t support their assertion adequately or give it any significance.   Why does it matter that Mowatt chose to tell stories about life in the theatre in the form of stories that read as if they were plays?  Is this choice inappropriate for some reason? Why does this writer feel like these tales are not “sufficiently genial?” Why do they assume that stories about the theatre should be happy and/or romantic?

The longest of these critiques was from Knickerbocker magazine. Although not going into a great deal of depth, this article covered many aspects of the book’s presentation and style as well as including several excerpts;

Knickerbocker Magazine, Jan. 1856
Knickerbocker Magazine, Jan. 1856

We like this work even better than we did the ‘Autobiography of an Actress.’ The style is natural, and it is apparent that the numerous scenes and incidents which it contains have been drawn from the life. The pictures of “behind the scenes are exceedingly graphic. The sketch of Stella’s first rehearsal at the Boston theatre is capital. Just such a scene we remember once witnessing at the Old Park Theatre in our city, one morning, in the dim gloaming of the tenantless interior, and we have never forgotten it. Observe what pleasant places theatrical dressing-rooms are, even ‘star’-chambers, which of course are always the best of them:

‘The dreary gloominess of a theatre behind the scenes, when twilight is chasing the out-spent day, must be seen and felt to be fully comprehended. The desolate cheerlessness of the place has struck a chill to the heart of many a novice. The crowded scenery looks rougher and dingier; the painted tenements, groves, gardens, streets, more grotesque; the numberless stage anomalies more glaringly absurd.

‘The sea-weed floating on the waves in feathery sprays of brilliant red and vivid green, that, seized for closer scanning, turns to an unsightly, shapeless mass, fitly typifies the stage in its resplendent wizard-robe of night enchantment, and its unideal, lugubrious day-time garb.

Where am I to go?’ Stella inquired of Perdita.

“The dresser, Mrs. Bunce, has not come yet, and the gas will not be turned on until half-past six. Mr. Belton only allows it to be lighted for one hour before the curtain rises; but, if you please, I can show you the star dressing-room.’

‘Perdita led the way up a long flight of stairs, then through a narrow entry, or rather gallery. On one side appeared a row of small doors, very like those of a bathing-machine. They opened into the rooms of the ladies of the company. A wooden railing extended on the other side. To anyone who leaned over this rude balcony the larger portion of the stage became visible. Five or six persons were often crowded into one dressing-room. The apartments were portioned off into set spaces, and every cramped division labelled with a name. The room at the end of the gallery was appropriated solely to the lady star.’ The dressing-rooms devoted to the use of gentlemen were located beneath the stage.

‘Perdita opened the door of this modern star-chamber.’ The apartment was very small, the atmosphere suffocatingly close. Mattie at once threw up the tiny, cobweb-draped window. A shelf ran along one side of the wall, after the manner of a kitchen dresser. In front lay a narrow strip of baize; the rest of the floor was bare. On the centre of the shelf stood a cracked mirror. A gas-branch jutted out on either side. Two very rickety chairs, a crazy wash-stand, a diminutive stove, constituted the furniture of the apartment. In this unseemly chrysalis-shell the butter-flies of the stage received their wings. Little did the audience, who greeted some queen-like favorite, sumptuously attired in broidered velvet and glittering with jewels, imagine that suck was the palace-bower from which she issued.’

Some little inkling of the kind of welcome which a débutante receives at the hands of theatrical subordinates, may be obtained from the following passage:

“Mrs. Bunce, a portly, middle-aged woman, now bustled in. What a voice that Mrs. Bunce had! It was so shrill that, when she spoke, Stella almost fancied her ears were suddenly pierced by a sharp instrument. All Mrs. Bunce’s words were darted out with amazing rapidity.

“Here in time, eh? That’s a good sign for a novice. This is the young lady, I suppose,” examining Stella. “Quite a stage face. How do you do, my dear? This is your maid, I presume?”

“Her maid, or her nurse, or her costumer, or anything she is pleased to want,” replied Mattie, with dignity.

“Ah! that’s well. No doubt a very serviceable person. So you’ve set the fire going?”

“That’s a pity! You may be smoked out soon; all the stoves here smoke when the wind’s contrary. Out with the dresses! Hang them up on those nails. Her toilet things go here. Never been on the stage before, miss? It’s a trying thing for beginners. I’ve seen hundreds of débuts in my day. Most of the young ones think a deal of themselves until they get before the lights; then they find out what they’re made of. Not one in fifty succeeds. Hope you’re not scared? Don’t show it to the audience, or they’ll think it good fun. They always laugh at the fright of novices; you know it makes the poor, simple things look so ridiculously awkward! Here, Jerry,’ calling over the gallery to the gas-lighter, ‘if you can’t light up that gas yet, give us a candle, will you? The young person is a novice, and I may have trouble dressing her.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Bunce,” Stella ventured to say; “but Mattie has been accustomed to dress me.”

“Yes, that I have, ever since she was that high!” added Mattie, affectionately, and designating with her hand a stature of some few inches.

“Ah! I dare say, but not for the stage. Mr. Belton depends upon me to look after the novices on their first night, and see that they don’t disfigure themselves.”

Take a peep into that mysterious apartment, the Green-Room;’ and note also, the way in which they sometimes suffer, who labor to amuse and entertain you upon the stage:

“This is the green-room,” said Mrs. Fairfax.

Stella looked in curiously. It was a long, narrow apartment. At one end sofas, throne-chairs, and other stately seats for stage use, stood crowded together. On either side of the wall a cushioned bench was secured, the only article of stationary furniture except the full-length mirror. On this bench lay an actor in Roman apparel. Stella’s uninitiated eye failed to detect that he was indebted to art for his white locks and venerable aspect. He appeared to be studying, but every now and then gave vent to an uneasy groan.

“That is Dentatus — Mr. Martin. Don’t you recognize him?’ inquired Mrs. Fairfax.

“He is a martyr to inflammatory rheumatism, and can scarcely stand. He has suffered for years, and finds no relief.”

Stella called to mind the gentleman on crutches whom she had seen at rehearsal.

“But how can he act?” she asked.

“That is one of the stage mysteries which it requires some wisdom to solve. You will see him, when he is called, hobble with his crutches to the wing, groaning at every step, and really suffering, there is no doubt about that; but the instant his cue is spoken, his crutches will very likely be flung at Fisk’s head, and lo! Denatus walks on the stage, erect and firm as though he had never known an ache. He is a great favorite with the audience, and generally manages to keep them convulsed with laughter, though he never ceases complaining and groaning himself, when he is out of their presence.”

Two other Romans were walking up and down the green-room, repeating their parts in a low tone. At the further end where the sofas and chairs were huddled together, sat a group of girls in Roman costume.

We had marked for insertion the exciting account of the heroine’s triumphant débût, but we lack space to present it. We hear, without surprise, that this work has already achieved a great success. The truth is, there is an ever-new interest in all that relates to the stage; but when a writer goes behind the curtain and the scenes, and in plain, unvarnished terms describes what takes place there, then the interest of such narratives is complete. The book is well printed, and has an illustrative frontispiece. We cannot, however, commend the long syllabus that sets forth the contents of each chapter, at its head. To our eye it is not in good taste. It looks scrappy and finical.6

The Knickerbocker review is more descriptive and evaluative than analytical.  Although the reviewer gives specific examples of scenes and characterization that appeal to their taste, this writer does fall into the trap of engaging with Mimic Life as a consumer good that happens to be a book instead of work of literature to a certain degree.   Mowatt did have a little input about the frontispiece. (Her request to have a caption for the picture was ignored.) However all the other paratextual elements the reviewer mentioned — such as the overall quality of the printing and the chapter headings — were probably decisions made by Ticknor and Fields.

Illustration for "Mimic Life" 1856
Illustration for “Mimic Life” 1856

The last review I’m going to include in this first category is an unabashed rave from a writer who seems to have been a fan;

Mrs. Mowatt Ritchie deserves the everlasting gratitude of all the professors and friends of the dramatic art.  She has done more, as an actress and an authoress, to redeem the stage from popular odium, than any of her contemporaries, to say the least.  As a successful actor and writer of plays, she has won abundant laurels; but the transitory triumphs of the theatre are but as the glittering of stage tinsel, comparted with the pure gold and real pearls that enrich her volumes of real life gathered from scenes before and behind the curtain.  Her “Autobiography of an Actress” is a charming book; but this “Mimic Life,” is in every way superior.  It is written with great power and beauty and pathos; and evidently sketched more from memory than imagination.  It contains three stories of the most absorbing interest: Stella; The Prompter’s Daughter; and the Unknown Tragedian.  We will not venture upon an analysis of either of these highly dramatic productions; but in commending them to universal perusal, we would use the strongest, the sweetest, and the most admiring words in our vocabulary of praise.  No one can close this volume without a kindlier feeling towards actors; a higher estimate of the dramatic art; a livelier sympathy with all the sons and daughters of toil.  Stella and Perdita, and Tina and poor Susan, win upon our sympathies until even their memories give us the heart-ache.  Many a page of this “Mimic Life” will be blistered with –

“The holy water shook
From heavenly eyes.”7

This review, printed in the Thibodaux Minerva, is pure, gushing praise for the book and its author.  The critique does directly address subject matter and style.  However, it is short on specific examples of what makes Mowatt’s writing so commendable.

Overall, it does not seem that there was anyone in the winter of 1856 interested in picking apart the nuances of Mimic Life as critics might do for books by a male author.  There was no serious discussion of the way she created character or mise en scene as there might have been for a book by Dickens or Thackeray.  There was no dissection of the peculiar balance of humor and tragedy Mowatt employed to communicate her points or other techniques unique to her writing.  I bring all this up to point out that Mimic Life is yet another example of critics wasting an opportunity draw attention to the aspects of a female writer’s composition that they felt made her work exceptionally compelling by discussing her technique in detail as they might have done for a male writer who wrote a book that they found unique and compelling.  Cumulatively, this failure on the part of critics to particularize and praise the workmanship and technical ingenuity displayed by female authors creates an impression that the efforts of women are mere competence, never rising to the level of brilliance displayed by their male counterparts.

Ticknor and Fields logo
Ticknor and Fields logo

As I said earlier, many of the reviews for Mimic Life that were published in January were very short and business-like. Rather than being book reviews that answered the question “Does this text have lasting literary merit?” these articles were product reviews that addressed the consumer’s query of “Will the buyer be satisfied with this purchase?”

The unadorned tone of the review that graced Providence, Rhode Island’s Manufactures’ and Farmers’ Journal will doubtlessly give you a picture of the genre of writing I’m trying to describe;

Few books, except those of fiction, to be read and thrown aside, have had a larger sale than Mrs. Ritchie’s “Autobiography of an Actress.”  The present volume is made up of sketches of the singular incidents that occurred around her and such striking histories as awakened in her an interest during the nine years she was connected with the stage.8

I will not waste time presenting a large number of examples from this category. I will only say that there were many such reviews and several of them came from outlets from which one might have expected a bit more diligence, such as this flimsy entry from Harper’s Magazine;

Mimic Life, by Anna Cora RITCHIE, consists of a series of reminiscences connected with theatrical career of Mrs. Mowatt, and embellished with various fancy touches, forming a succession of readable narratives. The characters are evidently taken from real life, but are vested in a thin disguise of fiction, which, however, will probably not conceal their identity from readers who have any inkling of the scenes in which they are introduced. Although of inferior interest to the author’s “Autobiography of an Actress,”  this volume describes many amusing incidents, and some curious revelations of the manners of the histrionic world. (Ticknor and Fields.)9

The entries that I am categorizing a product reviews are generally very short, stress a direct connection to Mowatt’s autobiography, and commend the quality of the author’s writing.  The book is recommended for readers interested in theatrical life.  The message to potential buyers is, “If you loved Autobiography of an Actress, you’re certain to like Mimic Life!”

The last category of reaction comprises resistant reviewers who refused to engage with the book and instead made observations on Mowatt or her subject matter.  I’ve saved most of this type of response for my next essay dedicated to pushback against the book’s pro-theatrical arguments.  However, I’m including two of the responses that seem to be directed at Mowatt herself here.

Marvel at the understated condescension contained in this gem from the New Orleans Crescent;

Mrs. Ritchie, better known as Mrs. Mowatt, having quit public life so far as playing upon the stage is concerned, seems determined to retain her connection with it by playing a part in the field of letters.  She has ceased reciting the language of others in order that she may give expression to her own; and deserted the drama that she may be better able to criticize it.  Her former work, entitled the “Autobiography of an Actress,” won no inconsiderable amount of praise and enjoyed a very marked popularity.  The same animating principle which inspired that, gives life to this.  They both treat of the stage, its tinsel crowns, grand dresses, mimic reality, its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and defeats.  The field is a broad one and has been but slightly cultivated.  Mrs. Ritchie has, therefore, the benefit of novelty to commence with, and has, also, a very considerable ability to sustain it.  Those who sit down to the perusal of “Mimic Life,” will be apt to continue to its conclusion.  It is in itself “as good as a play.”10

From the first sentence, the critic seems to be casting a disapproving eye on Mowatt’s choice to re-enter public life after her marriage.  To characterize her decision to retire from acting as “deserting the drama that she may be better able to criticize it” certainly makes her seem more self-involved and opinionated than was socially acceptable for women of her class at that time. Saying that the writing of Mimic Life is some kind of desperate effort to retain a connection to the stage by playing a part in the field of letters is a less than flattering interpretation of her actions.  Although the review says nothing negative about the book, saying that the work benefits from novelty and that readers will probably be able to finish it without stopping is certainly damning with faint praise.  Considering how low the general opinion of the literary merits of the drama of the day was, saying someone’s novel was as “good as a play” can safely be considered to fall into the category of a sick antebellum burn as well.

The effectiveness of this kind of coded attack was highly targeted and limited, of course.  A reader not sharing the writer’s social values and assumptions is likely to read the piece and miss entirely that Mowatt had been vilified in any way.

The last reaction that I wish to bring forward is one that again, I am very sorry that I do not have in full.  This time, I do have the writer from the Boston Evening Transcript’s column.  However, I do not have the comments from others that initiated this response. After having stressed in the review I quoted previously that Mimic Life was a sequel to Mowatt’s autobiography and in some instances “literally true,” comments from other papers forced the columnist from the Transcript to walk back their claims as follows on January 30th, 1856;

How much so ever the adjective which makes the title of this work may be appropriate to the character of the narratives embodied in the volume, there is certainly nothing “mimic” in the pathos with which each story is imbued.  Here every touch is genuine – the stamp of truth seems affixed to every page.  The heart kindles with a fresh warmth at each pathetic incident, and the tear comes spontaneously into the eye.  Although the work before us may not excite the same kind of interest as the “Autobiography” of Mrs. Mowatt, which everyone read because of a deep regard for the woman as well as for the actress, it will doubtless gain the good will of another class of readers.  The young will find in it a succession of tales as bewitching as any work of fiction, drawn, as the author tells us, “out of the many-colored webs of life” – a life not familiar to the many, however – and which these fresh and graphic stories depict with peculiar intensity.  Their morale is self-evident. In all her life, the author’s aims, whether individual or general, have been high and lofty ones.  We could not expect from her pen anything that would not “point a moral” as well as “adorn a tale.”

Some critics, writing of this new work, have tried to make out that the authoress has portrayed herself in “Stella,” presuming to add that the terrible close of her career was unnatural.  We have it from the very best authority, that “Stella” was the younger sister of a well-known tragedian, a valued friend of Mrs. Mowatt.  She made her appearance upon the stage one year after the latter; and, in spite of her brother’s opposition, she played six or seven nights – became insane through the effects of excitement, and died of brain fever after a few days’ illness.  Some of the less marked incidents introduced into her career appeared in the life of Mrs. M., and of course are given to perfect a story which would otherwise have been incomplete in the pages of a narrative publication.  This proper correction we have thought due to the author, and we doubt not that the facts as they are will be read with added interest from this brief statement.  There is much to entertain in these scenes of “Mimic Life” and more that should make one ponder over the checkered scenes of a career which, more than any other, is “a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”11

Again, I feel that it is highly probable that Epes Sargent in his capacity as literary editor for the Boston Evening Transcript either wrote or supervised the writing of this column.  If Sargent is the author, the odds are then quite high that the “very best authority” cited here is Mowatt herself.  Readers can, therefore, feel reasonably assured that the broad outlines of Stella’s story are based on the tragic death of a sister of one of her former colleagues.  However, those of us who have studied her autobiography also know that Mowatt gifted this character with many instances of “less marked” details from her life and career to give breadth, depth, and believability to the young actress as the writer of the column also grants. As I said, I would very much like to see the contemporaneous cross-discussion about the appropriateness of Mowatt killing off a character who was in part based in her own experiences.  Given a number of issues – such as Mowatt’s struggles with mental health, the unspoken traumas buried within incidents recalled by Mimic Life, controversy about the appropriateness of actress as a career choice, the erasure of women writers in U.S. literary life – Mowatt’s decision to blend her own life experiences with Stella’s is a topic that troubles me a good deal.  I will continue to search for the reviews that directly address the issue of Mowatt’s choice to add autobiographical details to a character who, after initial, meteoric success in her career, experiences a mental breakdown so devastating that it ends her life.

Epes Sargent
Epes Sargent

Sales of Mimic Life continued to be brisk through January of 1856.  As had occurred with Autobiography of an Actress, booksellers placed ads in papers announcing the arrival of new shipments of the book at their stores for anxious buyers.  However these notices began to disappear by mid-April. The notices did not continue into the summer as they had with Mowatt’s previous book.  Mimic Life might generate a dazzling blitz in sales, but it was soon clear that it was not going to duplicate Autobiography of an Actress’ amazing marathon run of sold-out editions.  Times had changed.  The two books were too different to replicate that phenomenal success. The public, perhaps, had moved on.

In the next entry, I will present reviews that voice the sentiments of the segment of the public that had little enthusiasm for Mowatt and her book.  These writers give testimony to the fact that despite the number of theaters springing up in every major city and the fanatical devotion of fans to actors like Forrest, Booth, and Cushman, anti-theatrical prejudice was still a potent ingredient in mix of strong opinions that made up the complex social soup that combined to form popular culture in the U.S. in the 1840s through 60s.

Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie and images of the publication of Mimic Life, 1856
Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie and images of the publication of Mimic Life, 1856
  1. “Quick Sales.” The Charlotte Democrat. Jan. 15, 1856. Page 1, col. 4.
  2. Richmond Enquirer. Jan. 8, 1856. Page 3, col. 2.
  3. Review of Mimic Life. A.P. Peabody. North American Review. Vol. 82 (April, 1856.). Page 580.
  4. “Notices of New Works.” John Reuben Thompson. Southern Literary Messenger. Vol. 22. Issue 1. Jan. 1856. Page 79.
  5. “Mimic Life.” New York Weekly Day Book. Saturday, Dec 29, 1855. Page 1, col. 3.
  6. “Literary Notices.” The Knickerbocker Magazine, Volume 48, (February, 1856) Pages 185-187
  7. “Mimic Life.” Thibodaux Minerva. Vol. 11. Saturday, Jan 19, 1856. Page 3, col. 5.
  8. “Mimic Life.” Manufacturers’ and Farmers’ Journal: Providence, RI. Thursday, Dec 27, 1855. Page 1, col. 4.
  9. “Literary Notices.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, January, 1856, No. LXVIII, Vol. XII. Page 407
  10. “Mimic Life.” New Orleans Daily Crescent. Wednesday, Jan 09, 1856. Page 3, col.3
  11. Boston Evening Transcript. Wednesday, Jan. 30, 1856. Page 2, col. 1.

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