Malone’s purpose in Actor in Exile is to give a factual and informative biography that also points out the lingering bigotry of Western social systems and offers a positive role model for young people of all colors.
To achieve these goals, she adopts a tone that is direct and upbeat, criticizing without condemning. At only one point, in a discussion of Aldridge’s final acceptance by fashionable London society, does a hint of sarcasm creep in. Otherwise, facts are related and societies profiled without comment, and young readers are left to judge for themselves. While Malone’s sympathies are apparent, she successfully avoids propagandizing or moralizing. As a result, the bigotry reflected subtly in social institutions and personal anecdotes forms an underlying thread through the text; when the politics of racism surfaces through Aldridge’s experience, it is neither overpowering nor inappropriate. Specific incidents, such as the outrage of the racist actress Madame Celeste in Dublin or the acceptance accorded Aldridge’s interracial marriages, are included to maintain and guide the reader’s awareness of race as it affected Aldridge directly.
In Aldridge, Malone presents an imaginative and determined individual who achieved success and fame through ambition, hard work, ingenuity, and courage. He is portrayed with a total sympathy that tends toward adulation; the only possible characteristic for which he might be faulted is a...
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The biographical literature on Ira Aldridge has been relatively sparse, a fact that is no doubt attributable to both his race and his exile. Malone’s biography thus filled a near-vacuum when it appeared in 1969. A career librarian in Trenton, New Jersey, Malone was familiar with the range of children’s literature. She also authored biographies on a number of other notable American figures who are out of the mainstream of American history, including hospital founder Dorothea Dix, teacher Annie Sullivan, chocolate magnate Milton Hershey, and Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani.
The critical response to Actor in Exile was warm, though not overwhelming. A review in Commonweal magazine commended Malone’s ability to render a complex story in simple terms, making it available to the young reader without sacrificing any of its salient aspects. Booklist recommended it as straightforward and factual. Library Journal predicted that Actor in Exile would contribute to the awareness and appreciation among young people of such figures as Aldridge and to an understanding of the loss that his exile caused in the American theater and in African-American culture.