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Sarah Siddons (ePub)

The First Celebrity Actress

P&S History > Social History

By Jo Willett
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
File Size: 8.2 MB (.epub)
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781399018630
Published: 23rd May 2024


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Sarah Siddons grew up as a member of a family troupe of travelling actors, always poor and often hungry, resorting to foraging for turnips to eat. But before she was 30 she had become a superstar, her fees greater than any actor - male or female - had previously achieved.

Her rise was not easy. Her London debut, aged just 20, was a disaster and could have condemned her to poverty and anonymity. But the young actress – already a mother of two - rebuilt her career, returning triumphantly to the capital after years of remorseless provincial touring.

She became Britain’s greatest tragic actress, electrifying audiences with her performances. Her shows were sell-outs. Adored by theatre audiences, writers, artists and the royal family alike, Sarah grasped the importance of her image. She made sure that every leading portrait painter captured her likeness, so that engravings could be sold to her adoring public.

In an eighteenth-century world of vicious satire and gossip, she also battled to manage her reputation. Married young, she took constant pains to portray herself as a respectable and happily married woman, even though her marriage did not live up to this ideal.

Sarah’s story is not just about rags to riches; this remarkable woman also redefined the world of theatre and became the first celebrity actress.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this and found it very informative. Anyone who has an interest in the history of actresses and theater will no doubt enjoy this one.

NetGalley, Bethany Swafford

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From poverty-stricken beginnings to superstar status, Sarah Siddons became Britain’s greatest tragic actress. Her rise was not easy, but she overcame a disastrous London debut and relentless touring to electrify audiences with her performances. Adored by the public and royalty alike, she mastered her image and redefined the world of theater. This book is fascinating, engaging, and well-researched.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I had never heard of Sarah Siddons before so I was excited to read about her. Jo Willett does a fantastic job in bringing her to life in this book and it had that research element that I wanted.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sarah Siddons The First Celebrity Actress by Jo Willett is a stunning account of a woman who defied conventions and succeeded against the odds in an era where women were secondary and to be seen, not heard, having a career and independence unheard of.

As a part of a travelling troupe of actors, Sarah Siddons lived in poverty and destitution, only just surving. She left the troupe at 20, and over 10 years of hard work and toil, with her children in tow, she climbed the ranks to become the most famous actress despite the vicious rumours and slander trying to tarnish her reputation. Siddons married young and despite the image on the surface, behind closed doors, the marriage itself was very different.

Well written, intriguing and immersive, a very interesting account of a powerful soul.

NetGalley, Ink Reads

I have often seen the stunning Gainsborough portrait of Sarah in London’s National Gallery so this was a must-read. Detailed and thoroughly researched, this book provides a comprehensive account of the great actress’s life and it also gives us a good picture of her personality. She was truly an amazing woman! The daughter of itinerant players, who yet focused on respectability and success, Sarah had to really struggle to rise to the top. She married young, became the primary breadwinner in the marriage, and had many children. Presenting herself as virtuous and respectable, she ensured that actresses were not just seen as mistresses or prostitutes. She also became the first celebrity actress.

She suffered from ill-health, money troubles and various scandals but she managed to act until she was quite old, unusual even today for women. She was also greatly loved by her public. 5,000 people attended her funeral!

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

I've often wondered about the captivating woman painted several times by Thomas Gainsborough and others. Now my curiosity is satisfied by this biography of Sarah Siddons, the first "celebrity actress". She grew up as a member of a family troupe of travelling actors, always poor and often hungry, resorting to foraging for turnips to eat. But before she was 30 she had become a superstar, her fees greater than any actor - male or female - had previously achieved.

The book is full of period detail and I really enjoyed Sarah's story.

NetGalley, Gail Hanlon

About Jo Willett

JO HAS BEEN an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer all her working life. Her credits range from the recent MANHUNT, starring Martin Clunes, to BIRDS OF A FEATHER. Her most relevant productions include BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (a fictionalised story of the first women who ran Ann Summers parties in the 1980s), THE MAKING OF A LADY (an adaption of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Making of a Marchioness), BERTIE AND ELIZABETH (telling the story of the Queen Mother’s marriage) and the BAFTA-and-RTS Award-Winning A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE (starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Joanna Lumley, adapted from the novel of the same name by Angela Lambert). She studied English at Queens' College Cambridge and has an MA in Arts Policy. She is married with a daughter, a son and a step-son. She lives in London. 

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