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Starring Madame ModjeskaStarring Madame Modjeska

On Tour in Poland and America

Beth Holmgren

Winner, 2012 Heldt Prize; Honorable Mention, 2012 American Society for Theatre Research Barnard Hewitt Award; Winner, 2013 Kulczycki Book Prize for Polish Studies; ASEEES Winner, 2014 Polish American Historian Association's Halecki Award

Narrated by Sally Martin

Available from Audible

Book published by Indiana University Press

In 1876, Poland's leading actress, Helena Modrzejewska, accompanied by family and friends, emigrated to southern California to establish a utopian commune that soon failed. Within a year Modrzejewska made her debut in the title role of Adrienne Lecouvreur at San Francisco's California Theatre. She changed her name to Modjeska and quickly became a leading star on the American stage, where she reigned for the next 30 years. During this time, she established herself as America's most esteemed Shakespearean actress, playing opposite such celebrated actors as Edwin Booth and Maurice Barrymore. Starring Madame Modjeska traces Modjeska's fabulous life and career from her illegitimate birth in Krakow, to her successive reinventions of herself as a star in both Poland and America, and finally to her enduring legacy.

Beth Holmgren is Professor of Slavic and Eurasian Studies and Theater Studies at Duke University. She is author of Women's Works in Stalin's Time


Starring Madame Modjeska ... makes an important contribution to our understanding of Western theatre history. Scholars as well as theatre enthusiasts will surely benefit from this well-organized and meticulously researched study of a true international star of the nineteenth century.”


“While theater enthusiasts will enjoy the care and detail that Beth Holmgren took with Starring Madame Modjeska, readers of history will appreciate the role this woman played on the world's stage. It makes for great drama.”


“The breadth of Holmgren's research is impressive, as is her talent as a writer. Her achievement is to have put together from many disparate sources an immensely readable narrative.”

Women's Review of Books

Starring Madame Modjeska is based on very solid archival research, yet it is written with lightness and grace—qualities inspired by the character of the formidable protagonist of this excellent book.”

Slavic Review

“Through extensive research on two continents, Holmgren offers a richly contextualized account of how the Polish Modrzejewska successfully negotiated late nineteenth century ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies to become the American Modjeska, luminous star and self-styled aristocrat. This beautifully written biography contributes to the histories of both theatre and immigration with nuanced insight into a compelling case of binational cultural arbitration.”

—Kim Marra, author of Strange Duets: Impresarios and Actresses in the American Theatre, 1865Äì1914

“A fine piece of scholarship on Helena Modjeska, a major figure in American theatre in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.... The breadth of Holmgren’s research is impressive, as is the creativity of her approach.... I loved the book and learned a great deal from it.”

—Catherine Schuler, editor, Theatre Journal

Starring Madame Modjeska is a tour de force ... Modjeska's story is conveyed in clear, vivid, witty prose.”

—Bożena Shallcross, University of Chicago

“Holmgren’s study is a truly transnational biography, elegantly written and immaculately researched. Its real achievement is to make Modrzejewska whole, not just by bridging two national narratives but by integrating her public and private personae.... Starring Madame Modjeska will be of interest to scholars of nineteenth-century Poland, world theater, and American immigration.”

H-Poland H-Net Reviews

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University Press Audiobooks