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from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the London Library

Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) was one of the most important women writers of the 18th century.

Despite a pronounced stammer, she first gained notice as an actress.  Following her marriage to Joseph Inchbald she played major roles in London and the provinces and became friends with Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble, whom she loved.

Her career as a playwright came after the death of her husband and she wrote over a dozen plays for the London stage between 1784 (A Mogul Tale) and 1805 (To Marry, or Not to Marry).  These ranged from farces such as I'll Tell You What (1785), to complex works based on Rousseau such as The Child of Nature (1788).  Perhaps her most famous work was Lover's Vows (adapted from Kotzebue), which so affected Fanny Price in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

Inchbald's success as a dramatist led to the publication of two novels - A Simple Story (1791), about Faith and faithfulness, and Nature and Art (1796), a tale of two brothers.  Finally she achieved recognition from her peers as the author of c125 biographical and critical prefaces for The British Theatre (1806-1808, 25v) and other key works on the English stage.

Sources for her life and works are rare, but the Folger Library possesses 11 of her diaries, a bundle of her letters and a copy of A Case of Conscience.  These sources will be of interest to all those studying 18th and 19th century theatre, women writers, social history and Romanticism.

"Self-tutored and remarkably successful, Inchbald achieved an unusual degree of recognition for a professional woman writer of her period."
Catherine S Green

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