The Sarah Siddons Audio Files

Romanticism and the Lost Voice
Judith Pascoe
Winner of the Barnard Hewitt Award and a Joe A. Callaway Award Honorable Mention


During her lifetime (1755-1831), English actress Sarah Siddons was an international celebrity acclaimed for her performances of tragic heroines. We know what she looked like—an endless number of artists asked her to sit for portraits and sculptures—but what of her famous voice, reported to cause audiences to hyperventilate or faint? In The Sarah Siddons Audio Files , Judith Pascoe takes readers on a journey to discover how the actor's voice actually sounded. In lively and engaging prose, Pascoe retraces her quixotic search, which leads her to enroll in a "Voice for Actors" class, to collect Lady Macbeth voice prints, and to listen more carefully to the soundscape of her life.

Bringing together archival discoveries, sound recording history, and media theory, Pascoe shows how romantic poets' preoccupation with voices is linked to a larger cultural anxiety about the voice's ephemerality. The Sarah Siddons Audio Files contributes to a growing body of work on the fascinating history of sound and will engage a broad audience interested in how recording technology has altered human experience.

Judith Pascoe is Professor in the Department of English at the University of Iowa.

Praise / Awards

  • "The theatre scholar's daunting but irresistible quest to recover some echoes of performance of the past has never been more engaging presented than in Pascoe's account of tracing the long-silenced voice of Sarah Siddons. Her report is a warm, witty and highly informative exploration of the methodology and the pleasures of historical research."
    —Marvin Carlson, author of The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine

  • "Along the way, the author aptly developed her own voice—her gift for felicitous, first-person writing, still a skeptically viewed undertaking in academic monographs. . . . Pascoe succeeds in creating an account, personal and learned, of her quest . . . She spices The Sarah Siddons Audio Files with lively writing . . . a literary counterpart to Siddons's riveting voice.”
    The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • "Judith Pascoe, in her new book, The Sarah Siddons Audio Files: Romanticism and the Lost Voice, writes engagingly and humorously about the process of historical recovery."
    —Daniel Cavicchi, The Ardent Audience

  • "Richly informed by archival research and theories of new media supplemented by first-hand experimentation, and written in a lively, first-person voice, The Sarah Siddons Audio Files is a vibrant and sure-to-be-influential work of scholarship."
    —Amy Muse, Comparative Drama

  • "...a truly inredisciplinary study that is about much more than recovering Siddons's lost voice. In her multifaceted investigations, Pascoe asks us to consider what it means to think about historical evidence in the absence of tangible documentation, an issue that theater historians have been tackling for many years, but ehich have just recently become a central interest of literary scholars." 
    —Laura Engel, Women's Writing
  • "The zeal with which Pascoe pursues the mystery of Sarah Siddons’s voice proves the power with which the human voice can enrapture and enthrall, and Pascoe’s enthusiasm is undeniable. In short, the most interesting character in the book is not Siddons but Pascoe herself. Her attempt to capture the ephemeral mirrors the Romantics whom she studies, and one cannot help but get swept up in the captivating earnestness of her impossible dream."

    -Abigail Taylor-Sansom, Voice and Speech Review
  • Honorable Mention: New York University (NYU) 2012 Joe A. Callaway Prize for the Best Book on Drama or Theatre

  • Winner: American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) 2012 Barnard Hewitt Award

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Review Voice and Speech Review | May 23, 2019
Read: Review Chronicle of Higher Education | May 16, 2011

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 176pp.
  • 17 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11766-6

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  • $64.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03569-4

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  • $27.95 U.S.

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  • English actress, English drama, English theater, English theater history, romantic era theater, romantic period, romantic poetry, history of sound recording, phonograph recording, recording technology, theater acoustics, voice, actors' voice, recorded voice, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Sarah Bernhardt, Drury Lane theater, David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Lady Macbeth, Charles Lamb