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Book Review, Vol. 31 No. 2

A Student Handbook to the Plays of Tennessee Williams

A Student Handbook to the Plays of Tennessee Williams. Katherine Weiss, ed. London: Bloomsbury, 2014; Pp. 290.

The book opens with a quote from Tennessee Williams: “truth is something you need to deserve,” a statement that volume editor Katherine Weiss asserts “fl[ies] in the face of the imaginary worlds so many of his characters create” (1). From this nucleus emerges A Student Handbook to the Plays of Tennessee Williams, analysis of four plays that attempts to reconcile the contradiction between Williams’s “truth” and his characters’ fictions. The second release in Bloomsbury’s A Student Handbook to the Plays of… series, the text aims to provide a study guide to the most studied dramas from this celebrated American playwright.

In her introduction, Weiss lays the dramaturgical framework from which the rest of the volume springs. She posits that the plays from the late 1960s and after lack “the tension and the need to express topics that were considered taboos,” leaving students and scholars to focus on Williams’s early works that explore topics such as “ageing, loneliness, and time’s devastation” (7). In the chapters that follow, scholars Stephen J. Bottoms, Patricia Hearn, Michael Hooper, Philip C. Kolin, and Weiss herself offer in-depth investigations of Tennessee Williams’s most produced and critically favored plays, The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959).

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