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200 × 130 × 12 mm
192 pages
32 illustrations
01 Aug 2016
Critical Lives

Tennessee Williams Paul Ibell

During his long career Thomas Lanier ‘Tennessee’ Williams III (26 March 1911 – 25 February 1983) created several of the most iconic characters in American theatre. Though his greatest roles were for women Williams also brought gay relationships into the spotlight – his art, as so often is the case, reflecting his life. Williams mined his dysfunctional family for inspiration, particularly his sister, Rose, whose tragic mental instability influenced the plots of many of his plays. These often bordered (and sometimes plunged into) melodrama, for he wrote with an almost operatic intensity of feeling, but the defining characteristic of his work is the poetry of his language. In this gripping new biography Paul Ibell discusses Williams as a poet as well as a playwright, at the same time revealing the crises of doomed relationships, promiscuous sex, alcohol and prescription drug abuse that gave the writer the raw material for his plays, but which ultimately destroyed him.

Ibell champions the playwright’s later work, whose regular and, he argues, unjustified maulings by critics drove Williams further into decline. Ibell also emphasises the importance of Europe in the imagination of a writer who is best-known for plays set in America’s Southern states; Williams’s love of Italy gleaned from many holidays in the company of his friend Gore Vidal produced a novel, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, which shares with his plays the recurring themes of the power of sexual attraction and the tragedy of its loss when beauties (of both sexes) grow old. Essential reading for playgoers, students of literature or the general reader alike, this is an excellent introduction to Williams’s life and work.

‘A wonderfully concise and totally compelling introduction to the life and work of America’s most extraordinary playwright.’ — Gyles Brandreth

‘a brisk and entertaining read’ — Modern Language Review

‘Ibell gives refreshing attention to Williams’s global contexts, from his travels in Italy to theater productions in Tokyo and London . . . This succinct yet comprehensive addition to the “Critical Lives” series is illustrated with more than 30 photographs . . . This is a sympathetic study of the playwright. Recommended’ — Choice

‘[a] witty, intelligent, and deeply sympathetic book . . . This biography will interest people who’ve read previous treatments, because few of us have read them all . . . Ibell’s book is full of interesting details . . . And biography is in the details. Plus, the photographs are marvelous’ — Gay and Lesbian Review

‘Provides an eminently readable compilation of significant milestones in the author’s life and explores how Williams’s personal evolution, particularly with regard to how he understood his sexual identity, intersects with the key themes addressed in his writing . . . as well as being of interest to a general readership, the text might serve as a useful primer for undergraduate students of drama and literature, because it surveys not only Williams’s major plays but also a wide range of his lesser known dramas, short stories, novellas and screenplays, and poems. The illustrations, which feature throughout, are a bonus. Ibell presents his arguments in a highly accessible manner, and the easy flow of his prose renders this critical biography an enjoyable introduction to one of the most important canonical figures in American theatre history.’ — Journal of American Studies

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Paul Ibell writes and lectures on theatre, and he has previously been Awards Manager for the Olivier Awards. His articles have appeared in The Spectator and New Statesman, and he is the author of Theatreland: A Journey Through the Heart of London’s Theatre (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2009).


1 Early Life

2 The Later 1940s: A Streetcar to Success

3 The 1950s: A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

4 The 1960s: A Period of Adjustment

5 The 1970s: Small Craft Warnings

6 The 1980s: Steps Must Be Gentle

7 Afterlife: Into the Twenty-first Century

Selected Plays

Select Bibliography


Photo Acknowledgements