Felicia Hemans and Mary Russell Mitford were two of those ‘exceptional’ women playwrights whose personal artistic ambitions and desires became entangled in the travails of the National Drama, and the conflict between the ideals of the legitimate drama, and the practices of the commercial London theatre. It was in the 1820s and 1830s, under the influence of Romantic aesthetic ideology, that these two conceptions of the theatre drew apart. As Mary Russell Mitford reflected at the end of her life on her career as a playwright in the 1820s, ‘The fact was that, by the terrible uncertainty of the acted drama, and other circumstances, I was driven to a trade when I longed to devote myself to an art.’1 My interest here is to track the way that Hemans’ and Mitford’s playwriting was caught within the conflicts between high cultural notions of the tradition of the English drama, and the commercial and professional realities of the theatre as an industry. To use Thomas Crochunis’ concept of ‘passionate ambivalence’ as he applied it to Joanna Baillie,2 each woman was positioned ambivalently between page and stage, vitally concerned with both forms of communication, but troubled by difficulties — both aesthetic and material — in their commitment to either. While Crochunis is primarily concerned with the literary implications of this ambivalence, particularly in relation to critical theories of Romanticism, I will be pursuing a close study of the processes of writing and production of women’s tragedies: that most ‘high’ and ‘legitimate’ of high cultural forms.


Cultural Capital Gender Ideology Legitimate Theatre Woman Writer Dialectical Tension 
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© Katherine Newey 2005

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  • Katherine Newey

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