St John’s Eve (1848)–Ernest Jones
in Chartist drama
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The only extant play in the dramatic oeuvre of the important Chartist politician, writer, and editor Ernest Jones, St John’s Eve appeared serially in 1848 in the Chartist literary journal the Labourer. A gothic melodrama, the play recounts a Faustian story about the love-struck Rudolf, who traffics with a Mephistophelean stranger in order to peer into the future and discern whether or not the tyrannical elderly father of his beloved will die in the next year. Although less obviously political than much Chartist drama, the play takes up questions of gender equality, a theme to which Jones’s writing frequently returned. The hero’s moral ambiguity coupled with his counter-productive efforts on the heroine’s behalf might be understood as a challenge to the Chartist endorsement of couverture, the idea that a wife’s political life should be subsumed into her husband’s. With its suspect hero, St John’s Eve marks a significant departure from the narrative of feminine vulnerability protected by working-class manhood depicted in an array of radical rhetoric (and working-class theatre) throughout the 1840s and 1850s.

Editor: Gregory Vargo

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