Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Mary Malone’s Actor in Exile: The Life of Ira Aldridge is an easy-to-read, sometimes meandering narrative of the nineteenth century actor’s unique career. While Malone does not eschew the personal facts or events of her subject’s life, the focus is clearly on his developing career and his gradual empowerment as an independent artist of international stature.

The book begins with a preface discussing the different names by which Aldridge was known at different points in his career and subsuming them under his lifelong identity as an actor. The body of the book is divided into twelve chapters, with titles reflecting the periods of Aldridge’s life. The story is told chronologically, beginning in 1820, when Aldridge was thirteen years old. It ends with his death, though the last chapter also relates his legacy and summarily traces his children’s lives.

In telling Aldridge’s story, Malone moves back and forth from events and details of the actor’s life to discussions of the historical, cultural, and social context in which he lived. As such, Actor in Exile is a rich tapestry of nineteenth century American, British, and Continental European societies. Such institutions as the African Free School, “tea gardens,” and the London theater scene receive attention beyond their effect on Aldridge’s life. The theater as a whole is explored in its myriad aspects: The book is replete with dramatic quotations, synopses of...

(The entire section is 521 words.)