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The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195365870

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195365870.001.0001

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Prima Donnas and the Performance of Altruism

Prima Donnas and the Performance of Altruism

(p.42) Chapter 3 Prima Donnas and the Performance of Altruism
The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Hilary Poriss

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates stories of philanthropic activities that litter biographies and journalistic accounts of nearly every prominent nineteenth-century prima donna. These reports describe numerous selfless acts that prima donnas committed, such as donating some (or all) of their money to worthy paupers. Although there are undoubtedly grains of truth scattered throughout these narratives, their omnipresence and repetitive structure cast some doubt on their veracity. This chapter analyzes these stories, taking note of the striking similarities among them and identifying the cultural work they have accomplished. Specifically, these narratives served to soften the images of prima donnas who were frequently disparaged for the power they exerted and for their apparent greed, moving from city to city and collecting immense fees for their services as they went.

Keywords:   philanthropy, biographies, selfless, donating, paupers, images, greed, fees, narratives, truth

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