Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) was an English novelist, dramatist, and famous actress. She was born to a Catholic “gentry-yeoman” in Standingfield, 1753. She longed for a life as an actor, and as a result, ran away to London to pursue this dream. There started her career as an actress but soon found her true vocations in composing dramas.
She married a fellow Catholic, the actor Joseph Inchbald (1735–1779) twice of her age. Inchbald’s first dramatic appearance was on September 4, 1772, as the lead character Cordelia opposite her husband’s King Lear in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Then they had travelled to Scotland with West Digger’s theatre company. After performing many plays, the couple then moved to France in 1776 hoping to settle there. But they became penniless and finally returned to London. After Joseph Inchbald’s sudden death in June 1779, Elizabeth continued to act for several years, in Dublin, London. Her acting career, whilst only moderately successful, spanned 17 years.
Inchbald first works were short farces titled “A Peep into a Planet,” “The Ancient Law,” and “Polygamy.” Her first play The Mogul Tale was staged in 1784 in Heymarket Theatre where she appeared in the role of Selina. This play was successful. I Will Tell You What (1785) was also staged and got prominent success, and her next play Such Things Are (1787) showed her achievement. Wives As They Were (1797) and Everyone Has His Fault (1793) showed that she understood some of the problems of marriage, but problems of any kind in her numerous plays had to be resolved into the sort of happy ending that brought tears to a sentimental generation. Her adaptation of one of Kotzebue’s plays makes an appearance in Jane Austen’s classic novel Mansfield Park.
In 1791, she wrote a novel called, A Simple Story and it became the most prominent work in that era. This novel shows the love story of Miss Milner and her guardian Dorriforth, a Roman Catholic priest. Her next novel was Nature and Art(1796).
Her collections of British Theatre (1806-9), twenty-five volumes, and The Modern Theatre (1809) are positive services to the English drama. She wrote dramas on William Godwin.
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