“My thesis work was inspired by a love for and interest in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire combined with an interest in queer and performance studies that has developed over the course of my time at Haverford,” said Clara Abbott ’18 of her English capstone project. “One of my English professors told me last summer about Belle Reprieve, a comedic sendup of A Streetcar Named Desire performed in drag, and I knew immediately I had to write about it.”
Combining an analysis of influence, camp, humor, truth, and perspective, Abbott’s thesis, “Generations of Desire: Belle Reprieve and the ‘Beautiful Dream’ of Blanche DuBois,” flips traditional narratives about attribution and credit on their heads.
“Because my thesis argues that Belle Reprieve changes the way we think about A Streetcar Named Desire and offers its characters new possibilities,” said Abbott, “it challenges academia to think about citation differently. Rather than thinking about Streetcar as the ‘original” and Belle Reprieve as the ‘parody,’ I challenge my readers to consider the two as in conversation with each other.”
Abbott, who also completed a concentration in gender and sexuality studies, completed her thesis under Assistant Professor of English and VCAM Faculty Fellow Lindsay Reckson.
“It has been an absolute pleasure working with her,” said Abbott of Reckson. “Almost every conversation we had, I walked out feeling inspired and ready to write. She particularly helped me, because I was dealing with theory, personal experience, and performance, put all of these components together into a strong argument.”
What did you learn working on your thesis?
I think on a simple level, writing this thesis really made me fall in love with the art and study of performance. Part of what I argue in my thesis is that a performance has the power to radically change the way we understand the past, and finding that power and potential in Belle Reprieve made me even more fascinated with the art form as a whole. In addition to that, because my thesis thinks so much about time and temporality, I’ve been constantly thinking about and rethinking my relationship to the past—the more I think and write about time and memory, the more I realize how complex our relationship to it is.
What are your plans for the future?
Next year I am teaching middle and upper school English at Thaden School in Bentonville, Arkansas. I learned so many lessons from writing my thesis that I look forward to bringing to my teaching career, but the one that stands out most concerns the writing and brainstorming process. One of the biggest breakthrough moments of writing my thesis was realizing that my personal experiences of Streetcar and Belle Reprieve actually mattered to my argument and that it was worth including personal narrative in my thesis project. I want to create a space as a teacher that empowers my students to honor their own personal experiences in their learning. Whether or not direct personal narrative is included in a project, some reflection on one’s own position, perspective, and experience is always valid and in fact crucial for forming a strong argument.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.
Photo: Lois Weaver as Stella, Peggy Shaw as Stanley, Precious Pearl (nee Paul) as Mitch, and Bette Bourne (recumbent) as Blanche in Belle Reprieve.