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Under the Gaslight


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Augustin Daly (1838—1899)

Rose Eytinge (1835—1911)

 

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AT: Life and Love in These Times A: Augustin Daly Pf: 1867, New York; rev. 1881 Pb: 1867 G: Melodrama in 5 acts S: New York, 1860s C: 16m, 7f, 1 child (m)The beautiful young Laura Courtland is looking forward to marriage with Captain Ray Trafford, but when he discovers that she was adopted when arrested as a child-pickpocket, he turns from her. In despair, she runs away from home and ends in court, where the villainous Byke claims to be her father. A decent one-armed ex-soldier Snorkey and a repentant Trafford intervene to prevent Byke abducting Laura to New Jersey. In the ensuing fight, Byke throws Laura in the river. She swims to safety and returns to her adoptive home, where she selflessly urges Trafford to marry her cousin Pearl. When Snorkey tries to foil Byke's plan to burgle the Courtlands' home, Byke ties him to a railroad track in the path of an advancing train. Laura breaks out of the shed where Byke has trapped her and frees Snorkey in the nick of time. She returns home and learns that she and Pearl were exchanged as babies, and that Laura is the legitimate Courtland heir. She is now able to marry Trafford.

AT: Life and Love in These Times A: Augustin Daly Pf: 1867, New York; rev. 1881 Pb: 1867 G: Melodrama in 5 acts S: New York, 1860s C: 16m, 7f, 1 child (m)

Daly was better known as a successful theatre manager than playwright, but he wrote some 112 plays, mainly adaptations from English and French originals, of which this was the most popular. The ‘sensation’ scene, in which Snorkey is tied to railroad tracks, imitated from an English play The Engineer (1865), established this as a favourite moment on stage, in silent films, and in numerous cartoons. Behind the melodramatic plot, the play offers the perennial message that nobleness of mind is more important than the accident of birth, and one may recall that Daly himself was brought up by a poor widow, a soldier's daughter.

Subjects: Theatre — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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