Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

John Ernest


My dissertation examines the relationship between Jewish identity and performance in non- Jewish novelists' portrayals of tableaux vivants, or living pictures. As a performance genre imported from Europe, the tableau vivant was a frequent element of nineteenth-century American fiction and a popular pastime of middle- and upper-class Americans in the 1800s. Since living pictures were ideologically coded---in general, designed to motivate viewers, mostly women, to adopt the patriarchal values invoked through the performance, such as chastity, purity, and piety---scholarship on the application of tableaux vivants primarily focuses on gender and class. My dissertation contributes to these discussions by highlighting the significance of ethnicity in this performance genre. Since the 1800s were the period of increased Jewish immigration to the United States, non-Jewish authors started exploring the Jewish presence on American soil in their fiction. The novels I examine are Louisa May Alcott's Behind a Mask, Henry James's The Tragic Muse and The Golden Bowl, and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Drawing from Michel de Certeau, I contend that the behavior of the dominant social order can be considered a series of strategies (policies and actions of the powerful) and that the behavior of Jewish women and non-Jewish women who perform Jewishness can be evaluated as a series of tactics (ruses of the powerless). These performances of Jewishness have the purpose of subverting, reshaping, and redefining the patriarchal and nationalist values of the dominant social order. I end this project with an analysis of the absence of living pictures in Jewish novelists' portrayals of Jewishness, the silent film as a genre that surpassed the tableau vivant, and the role of Jewish silent films in the creation of Jewish American culture.