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I'll Tell You What

I'll Tell You What: The Life of Elizabeth Inchbald

Annibel Jenkins
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 608
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  • Book Info
    I'll Tell You What
    Book Description:

    Elizabeth Simpson Inchbald (1753--1821) was one of the leading literary figures of the late eighteenth century -- an actress, a successful playwright and editor of several collections of plays, a popular novelist, and a drama critic. Considered a beautiful, independent woman, Inchbald was much involved in the theatrical, literary, and publishing life of London.

    Elizabeth Simpson ran away from home at age eighteen to seek fame as an actress in London and quickly married Joseph Inchbald, an actor twice her age. They toured the stage together until his sudden death in 1779. She made her London stage debut a year later, and her writing debut came in 1784 with the playThe Mogul Tale; Or, The Descent of the Balloon. Over the next two decades she wrote or adapted twenty-one plays: comedies, farces, and works from French and German, including the version of Kotzebue'sLovers' Vows,later used in Jane Austen'sMansfield Park. Inchbald's acclaimed first novel,A Simple Story,prefigured the work of later women writers such as Austen.

    Using material from Inchbald's own pocket books detailing her daily life (she destroyed most of her letters and journals late in her life at the advice of her Catholic confessor) as well as a wealth of other sources, Annibel Jenkins tells for the first time not only the full story of Mrs. Inchbald's life but also provides a fascinating look at the society and politics, both public and private, of London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5964-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. ONE In London to Find a Fortune
    (pp. 1-14)

    On April 10, 1772, Elizabeth Simpson packed up her things, left her mother a note, walked some two miles to the turnpike, and took the stagecoach to London. Only about thirty miles from her home in Standingfield, it was a journey she had made before. Four of her sisters lived in London with their husbands, and the year before she had spent some weeks with them enjoying London life, especially her visits to the theatres. This time, however, she had come on her own to find a place as an actress. Independent and determined, she would not leave until she...

  5. TWO Scotland and the Perils of Travel
    (pp. 15-36)

    Bye the fall of 1772, when the Inchbalds joined his company, West Digges had already had a great deal of experience on stage as an actor and as a manager. He was the son of Thomas Digges, his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of John West, sixth baron De La Warr, and his sister was married to the first earl of De La Warr. The Digges family did not entirely approve of West’s profession. Moreover, he was much gossiped about: his private life was hardly private, since everyone knew that he had had a series of amours and that he...

  6. THREE Wilkinson and the York Company
    (pp. 37-77)

    When the Inchbalds joined the York circuit, they found many of their friends there, and in the months to follow they made new ones who were to remain their friends for the rest of their careers. Again their experience reaffirms the idea that the companies operated as organized entities, not as showcases for individual performers. The Inchbalds fit neatly into Wilkinson’s schemes, and by 1777 Wilkinson had a very profitable circuit with competent players. In 1769 he had obtained a royal patent for York and Hull—the only other patents that had been granted outside of London were for Bath...

  7. FOUR London at Last
    (pp. 78-125)

    On her first day in London, a Thursday, Mrs. Inchbald wrote, “A fine day—unpacked then dressed and dined below with my Landlady talked of Mr. Davis c&c, then laid down and was dull—at dark walked with my Landlady to many shops—found there was a play at Covent Garden—supped with her and read the paper.” The next day she “had [her] hair dressed and liked the hair dresser much.” She saw William Thomas Lewis and Richard Griffith, and she had hoped to see Thomas Hull, but she “was disappointed by Mr. Hull’s not calling me”; Mr. Harris...

  8. FIVE To Ireland with Hitchcock
    (pp. 126-150)

    The entries in Mrs. Inchbald’s pocket-book for this summer of 1782 are filled with her frequent conversations with the Hitchcocks, good friends whom she had known in York, and sometime during the summer Harris kept one of her farces that she had sent him and gave her an advance of twenty pounds. Now finally there was some reason for her to continue to write. And at the end of the Haymarket season, with a contract Hitchcock had arranged for her, she prepared to go to Ireland, to Dublin, to Smock Alley. In November Hitchcock himself accompanied her there, and on...

  9. SIX 1784
    (pp. 151-183)

    Inchbald had represented the manuscript that she gave to Colman as being by a Mrs. Woodley; he very soon discovered that it was her work, though he kept her secret until she gave him permission to acknowledge that it was hers. Colman’s attention to revising her piece and her willingness to work with him attest to the skill of Colman’s writing and his understanding of the necessary elements for a piece to be successful; Inchbald’s working to understand and please him shows her willingness to learn the ingredients of a successful piece. Each accepted the other in professional terms. He...

  10. SEVEN New Plays and a Publisher
    (pp. 184-230)

    Appearance Is against Them,a farce, was already in Colman’s hands, but when he refused it, Harris promptly accepted it. Harris seems to have been delighted to have it, for he called on Inchbald himself the day after he received it; it was rehearsed on October 4 and played on October 22, 1785. It, too, was a success—the king commanded it and the Prince of Wales went to see it. Very fond of the theatre, the king’s and queen could command a performance at Drury Lane, Covent Garden, or the Haymarket. The lord chamberlain made known the king’s wishes...

  11. EIGHT 1788–1789
    (pp. 231-299)

    The years 1787–1788 were the years of Inchbald’s great success, and in 1789, when she left the theatre as an actress, she continued that success. She acted very little during the 1788–1789 season, spending her time on writing or translating plays for Harris and Texier. Her pocket-book for the year 1788 documents her busy professional and social life. She sees friends she has known since before she came to London and Covent Garden, and she records those friends she has made after her successes. The entries about the theatre and her work on plays and translations not only...

  12. NINE A New Chapter
    (pp. 300-371)

    Without having the constant attention to the theatre after the close of the season at the Haymarket in the summer and the conclusion of the work on the second edition ofA Simple Story,Mrs. Inchbald could arrange her social appointments at her own pleasure; she continued to live in Frith Street and to see the Whitfields; Robinson, her publisher; and the Stephen Kembles, and she continued to be grateful to Dr. Warren, her physician—indeed, she almost revered him. Her continuing “crush” on Dr. Warren makes that part of her story as “physical” as Miss Milner’s story.

    Her new...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. TEN Nature and Art, a Second Novel, and New Plays
    (pp. 372-443)

    Nature and Artis a short novel of some fifty thousand words. Robinson paid her £150, and he brought it out on January 11, 1796; a second edition was called for in May. In his account Boaden remarks, “To be sure this branch of literature was then greatly underrated; and this would be felt by no one so sensibly as thedramaticwriter; to whom, a lucky farce, (a fortnight’s labour perhaps,) by the humour of the times, or the rage for some favourite actor or actress, would produce considerably more than a long-meditated work, the epitome of the author’s...

  15. ELEVEN A New Century
    (pp. 444-492)

    The year 1801 was a kind of sabbatical for Mrs. Inchbald: she spent much time in visiting, she walked in the enclosed part of the garden that belonged to Leicester House, she played with her landlord’s baby, and she attended the theatre. She had no new play presented during the year, and her suggestion to translate one Harris turned down. Her domestic life had its problems; the maid she shared with Mrs. Brookes was withdrawn, since Mrs. Brookes needed her full time. Mrs. Inchbald attempted to use her sister Dolly for help, but Dolly refused, and Inchbald was left to...

  16. TWELVE The Last Years
    (pp. 493-521)

    After the new Covent Garden theatre opened and the OP riots were over, Kemble finished the season, but the changes that had already begun when he became the manager became more and more marked. Mrs. Inchbald’s life in 1809 continued to include seeing friends, working on various projects, and reading. Having refused to be a part of theQuarterly Review,when the Longmans came to her in January and proposed that she should select the plays for an edition of “modern” farces, she agreed to take the list she was given and make the selections; the selections were for the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 522-558)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 559-565)
  19. Index
    (pp. 566-598)