Abstract

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.

Keywords

Europe Income Assure Expense Smoke 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Letter to Charles Boner, 5 September 1854, in Charles Boner, Memoirs and Letters of Charles Boner, with Letters of Mary Russell Mitford (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1871, 2 vols), Vol. 1, 282.Google Scholar
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  5. 9.
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    Famously so, in the case of the Victoria Theatre’s production in 1834 of the banned play Charles I; for accounts of the censorship of Mitford’s play, see Dominic Shellard and Stephen Nicholson, with Miriam Handley, The Lord Chamberlain Regrets … A History of British Theatre Censorship (London: British Library, 2004), 31–4, and my ‘Women and History on the Romantic Stage: More, Yearsley, Burney, and Mitford,’ in Burroughs (ed.), Women in British Romantic Theatre, 94–6.Google Scholar
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  26. 45.
    A. G. L’Estrange (ed.), The Life and Letters of Mary Russell Mitford, Related in a Selection from Her Letters to Her Friends, 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1870), Vol. 2, 161. Letter to Sir William Elford, 25 April 1823.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    Samuel Carter Hall, Book of Memories of Great Men and Women of the Age, From Personal Acquaintance (London: Virtue and Co., 1871), 438.Google Scholar
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    Mary Russell Mitford, Rienzi, in The Dramatic Works of Mary Russell Mitford, 2 vols (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1854), Vol. 1. All further references are to this edition.Google Scholar

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© Katherine Newey 2005

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  • Katherine Newey

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