Horrible Prettiness

Burlesque and American Culture

By Robert Allen

Foreword by Alan Trachtenberg

370 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4316-1
    Published: May 1991
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6008-3
    Published: November 2000
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6483-3
    Published: November 2000

Cultural Studies of the United States

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Awards & distinctions

1991 George Freedley Memorial Award, Theatre Library Association

A 1992 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

About the Author

Robert C. Allen is James Logan Godfrey Professor of American Studies, History, and Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is author of Speaking of Soap Operas, coauthor with Douglas Gomery of Film History: Theory and Practice, and editor of Channels of Discourse, Reassembled and To Be Continued: Soap Operas Around the World.
For more information about Robert Allen, visit the Author Page.


"An intriguing exploration of an important (if elusive) theatrical genre, its predecessors, successors, and cultural meaning, especially related to gender issues."--Winterthur Portfolio

"Groundbreaking in situating dance as part of a social context."--Lingua Franca

"An exemplary work of cultural studies. . . . The thoughtful, thorough way Allen has gathered and organized a wide range of data casts American popular entertainment in a new light of cultural intelligibility."--Women's Review of Books

"A solid and often brilliant work that will challenge most readers' preconceptions about this genre of entertainment. . . . This excellent book provides both a model for investigating and interpreting American popular entertainment forms and a foundation for further analysis. Allen's history of burlesque impels readers to examine disturbing assumptions Americans have made and continue to make about class and gender in their culture."--New England Quarterly

"A wonderfully readable example of how thorough archival research and sophisticated critical theory can serve one another to explicate a cultural phenomenon that falls under the sometimes problematic category of 'popular culture.'"--American Studies International

"A provocative and illuminating exploration of the meaning of burlesque in American culture. Allen takes a seemingly marginal, degraded, and little-understood theatrical form and asks why and how it came to be so. In the process, he uncovers not only the historicity of burlesque, but also its centrality to several critical cultural problems in the period from 1860 to 1920. His reading of burlesque offers significant and telling insights into the history of the theater and popular entertainment. Bridging the gap between literary theory and semiotics on the one hand and social and cultural history on the other, Horrible Prettiness may well be a model of the innovative interdisciplinary work of the future."--Kathy Peiss, University of Massachusetts at Amherst