The Great Victorian Sacrilege

Preachers, Politics and The Passion, 1879–1884


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SKU: 9780786473878 Categories: , , ,

About the Book

What happens when freedom of artistic expression offends freedom of religion? A great controversy arose when America’s first professional Passion play, staged in San Francisco in 1879, was pronounced a “sacrilege” by Protestant ministers (Salmi Morse’s play, The Passion, was in reality a pious description of the Gospel story). This work shows that Morse and his play were victims of the Protestant church’s struggle to maintain power during the late 1800s, a time when America was changing into a more urban nation. This saga of a society’s attempt to control “immoral”art by government intervention is also a disconcerting look at how easily artistic freedom can be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

About the Author(s)

The late Alan Nielsen was a professor emeritus in theatre at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and an award-winning composer and lyricist as well as playwright and director.

Bibliographic Details

Alan Nielsen
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 304
Bibliographic Info: 15 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012 [1991]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7387-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface vii
Part One: The Passion in San Francisco, 1879
Prologue: The Most Despised Human Being in America 3
1. A “Wicked, Unchristian Pastime” 8
2. Don Quixote, Munchausen, and Salmi Morse 29
3. “A Miracle Play in Ten Acts” 50
4. Preachers, the Press, and Politics as Usual 70
5. The Passion Premieres 92
6. “It Is the Cross Strangled by the Cross” 106
Part Two: The Passion in New York, 1880-1884
7. “The Grandest Thing I Ever Listened To” …“A National Disaster” 125
8. The Mirror’s War on Mr. Abbey 146
9. The Shrine of the Holy Passion 172
10. The Passion Plays New York at Last 192
11. The Aftermath: “Alas, Poor Yorick!” 208
12. The Resurrection and Redemption of The Passion 222
Notes 239
Bibliography 281
Index 289

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Extensively researched…recommended”—Choice
  • “Fascinating”—Church & State