The American Legacy
Metropolitan Playhouse
The American Legacy

220 East Fourth Street ~ New York, New York 10009
(212) 995 8410

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Historical and Cultural Context
Read on to learn more about the people, institutions, and events that shape the experiences of the characters in A Marriage Contract.

From the script:

From the history books:
"1892" Image result for the gilded age cartoon tammany
Plutocrats and corrupt officials, like Boss Tweed, presided in the Gilded Age.
In 1892 America was in the waning days of the Gilded Age. A boom in technology and industrialization had created enormous wealth, and considerable public corruption, and lead to growing urban populations. Tensions that would explode in the Progressive Era began to make themselves known. As ever, changes in daily life seemed to herald a shift in cultural values.
"Acts 1 and 4 occur in the Metropolis"

File:The Bowery, New York Times, 1896.JPG
The Bowery, 1896. From the New York Times archive.
New York did not yet include Brooklyn, Queens, or much of the Bronx, and was home to around 1.5 million people, making it the biggest city in the nation by 50%. Tammany Hall Democrats, including Mayor Hugh J. Grant, ran the political offices.

Pognip and Ned claim they went "to the Grolier Club to see the old bindings...Old Grolier was there himself."

The chief attraction of The Grolier Club was old books.
The Grolier Club is a private association of bibliophiles and book collectors on 60th Street, and its main attraction was old, rare books. Though it was only eight years old in 1892, its namesake was  Jean Grolier de Servières, viscount d'Aguisy who had been dead since 1565. So there's little chance Pognip would have run into him. The Club itself, however, is still around.

But they really went to "the Jolly Frollickers..."

              American theatrical poster depicting four Can-Can dancers.
              Created in 1898.
The chief attraction of the "Jolly Frollickers" was probably something else entirely.
The Jolly Frollickers is a fictional company, but Daly evokes the kind of 1890s entertainment that would have included vaudeville, minstrelsy, and burlesque shows. Certainly, this kind of titillation was unavailable in a place like East Lemons.

" the Madison Square Garden."

Madison Square Garden (poster) (1900)
An advertisement for the new Madison Square Garden.

This Madison Square Garden is the second building to bear that name, located on 16th and Broadway, just south of Madison Square. Pognip would have seen a very new building, financed by J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and others in 1890 to replace the first, open-air MSG. It hosted sports, theater, conventions, and all manner of entertainment.

  "Do you know where my flat is?—Broadway and Twenty-third Street, right in the midst of the noisiest—gayest—brightest—maddest crowd on the continent."

Fleming has chosen a lively part of town.
Fleming himself lives right on Madison Square Park, and he's not lying as he brags about its flair. Madison Square and the surrounding neighborhood was one of the most fashionable commercial and social centers in the city.

Fleming is "an architect."

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal, in the Beaux-Arts style
 An architect would have been in high demand in the growing city-- and considerably less so in sleepy East Lemons. The turn of the 20th century was a fertile time for new buildings in New York, especially when the 1893 World's Fair introduced America to the Beaux-Arts style that would give us the Metropolitan Museum, the main branch of the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal (left) and more.

"I leave for New York by the six o'clock train."

Cornelius Vanderbilt had made a fortune on the railroad.

Train travel between Newark and suburban New Jersey was established as early as 1835, and by the 1890s rail was becoming a viable option for travelers, at least in the industrial Northeast. Elsewhere, the railroads had allowed industrialists like Cornelius Vanderbilt to build massive commercial empires.
"I've been to the ferry every day."

Steamboat ferries would take travelers across the Hudson.

Travelers still had to take a ferry across the Hudson, however, as the North River Tunnels connecting Weehawken to Manhattan would not be constructed until 1907.

"Acts 2 and 3 eventuate in East Lemons"
East Orange, NJ.
The corner of Main and Prospect Streets in East Orange, NJ circa 1890.
Daly's citrus-named suburb would seem to be a fictionalized version of East Orange, NJ. Only a scant 15 miles away from Fleming's apartment, East Orange had a population of about 13,000 in 1890.
FLEMING: "To East Lemons? To that hole?"
POGNIP: "My suburban residence—a hole?"

Image result for new jersey and new york
Fleming embraces New York exceptionalism.
The word "suburb" can be traced as far back as the 14th century, but by the early 19th century it had taken on the connotation of having "inferior manners and narrow views." Though Daly is still fifty-some years off from the post-war white flight interstate development that will create a boom in suburban American life, Fleming's antipathy towards suburban New Jersey is recognizably a New Yorker's attitude.

"They don't give us Ibsen in East Lemons."

Don't be fooled by the mutton chops. Henrik Ibsen's realism struck at the heart of Victorian morality.

Norwegian Henrik Ibsen was a major playwright and theater director whose plays broke new grounds of realism and scandalized Victorian morality. His Ghosts premiered in Chicago and shocked audiences with blunt discussion of venereal disease and marital infidelity. Pognip would no doubt blanch. Ibsen was a significant influence on Daly.

"Professor Merrywell, president of our Browning Club—a poet of the Browning school, himself."

Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an exemplar of Victorian literature.
Englishman Robert Browning published poems from 1833 until his death in 1889. He was enormously influential, and Daly's audience would have recognized him as the preeminent exemplar of Victorian literature. Browning societies, small groups that would gather to discuss his work, existed in great numbers through the US and the UK.

 "Oh, yes; I've read Zola."

Émile Zola was
a controversial and forward thinking novelist.

Frenchman Émile Zola published his first novel in 1865 and was consistently devoted to naturalism. Dr. Tinkey and Fleming's shared reference to Zola's Germinal indicates a familiarity with forward looking literature that sought an honest representation of the human condition.

TINKEY:  Well, what's the latest?

NATTY:  Why, "Ta-ra-ra, Boom-de-ay."

An advertisement for Tuxedo, from the Library of Congress.
The familiar refrain "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay" originated from the vaudeville show Tuxedo, which opened in New York in late 1891. Its suggestive lyrics and can-can style dance made the song an immediate and slightly salacious hit.

"Your tin plate factory is the most prosperous in America!"

North Jersey was home to many factories.
Though tin had previously been largely imported from the United Kingdom, an 1891 protectionist tariff created a major opportunity for American manufacturers like Pognip. North Jersey had long been the site of industrial production.

"Yes, Columbia, me."

File:Midtown campus 1882.jpg
Columbia's midtown campus in 1882.

In 1892, Dr. Tinkey's alma mater was still called Columbia College and located at 49th and Madison. It would not move to Morningside Heights until 1897. Nonetheless, as the alma mater of men such as John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, its reputation was sterling even then.