San Francisco politics “through the curtain”

427.4 San Fran CW cvr.inddMonika Trobits’ tidy little book ends with a great quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, – “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players”. Indeed, after reading Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco: a western theater for northern & southern politics, one wonders how Shakespeare could have been so prescient.

Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco consists of thirteen chapters that in a linear and concise fashion outline the political maneuverings and major events that lead up to and culminate with the Civil War. As even the phrase “political maneuverings” may elicit snores, let me assure you, this is not a dull book. Trobits’ humor leaps from the page and her experience as a walking tour leader shines as she ably makes even the trickiest of political situations, palpable, and relevant to the contemporary reader.

In her introduction, Trobits explains that the book developed out of her interest in politics and the Booth family and how the times affected them. The Booth clan, headed by the hot-blooded Junius Brutus Booth, produced some of the finest and most notorious actors of the era including Edwin, a foremost Shakespearean, and the less talented but now infamous John Wilkes – yes, the one who assassinated President Lincoln.

third_jenny_lind_theatre_thumbThe chance to view contemporary politics “through the curtain” of theater, is an exciting premise; one that Trobits valiantly attempts to fulfill. While she adeptly folds into the narrative accounts of Booth productions and the travails of theater owners such as Tom Maguire – the proprietor of the Jenny Lind – the reader is left hungering for more in this vein.

I wish she had provided richer examples of how San Francisco’s rambunctious political climate affected the popular culture and further analysis of how the theater, song, and literature of the day reflected life.

I also wish she had explored more fully the growing role of the Daily Dramatic Chronicle. The Chronicle initially served as the critical organ of the contemporary theater, but with its publication of the news surrounding the assassination of President Lincoln, found itself reporting the politics of the day. This sea change in mission may be fascinating or not – at any rate, Trobits has the writing chops to describe it and I think her book, if a second edition is possible, will be that much richer.

As a whole however, Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco compresses a great deal of material into a highly readable 144 pages which makes it a strong addition to anyone’s book shelf. It has marvelous illustrations and if read in concert with the companion walking tours Trobits has developed, Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco will make a marvelous, interactive and one-of-a-kind experience for the adventurous history buff.

For more information on the companion walking tours, see sanfranciscojourneys.com.

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