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Elizabeth Inchbald

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Novelist, dramatist, and actress; b. at Staningfield, near Bury St. Edmunds, 15 Oct., 1753; d. at Kensington, London, 1 Aug., 1821; daughter of John Simpson (d. 1761), a Catholic farmer of some social position. From an early age she wished to be an actress, but an impediment in her speech raised a difficulty. She visited London several times and then suddenly left her home in 1772 and went to town to seek her fortune as an actress. In the same year she married Joseph Inchbald, actor, artist and Catholic, whom she had met some months earlier. From that time her career was marked out. She began by playing Cordelia to her husband's Lear and continued to act in a large number of characters until she retired from the stage in 1789. She is said to have won warm praise from her audiences though she was not a great actress. Her husband died in 1779, and in 1782 she had her first play accepted. As a dramatist she produced more than a dozen plays (chiefly to be found in old dramatic collections), of which some, however, were translations or adaptations. None of her dramatic work takes a high rank, though the characters are fairly well drawn, and dialogue is vivid and witty. Her life during the time following her husband's death, and, indeed, before, was by no means an easy one, but she made good friends, amongst them Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble, and her wit, warmth of heart, and talent won for her a place in society which she greatly enjoyed. In 1791 she produced her first novel, "A Simple Story", which was successful at once. The story is one of much interest and pathos, and is simply and vivaciously told; it is one of the earliest specimens of the English novel of passion and has been very often reprinted (latest edition, London, 1908). Her second story, "Nature and Art", is not so good, but it won popularity and is still interesting to the student of the eighteenth-century novel. It contains in a mild form some of the revolutionary opinions concerning society which nearly all the young literary people of that time discussed in their work (a handy modern edition of it is that of Cassell, London, 1886). Though at times she grew lax in the practice of her faith, Mrs. Inchbald all her life was a sincere Catholic and at the close of her life turned fervently to the ways of piety. On the advice of Dr. Poynter, vicar Apostolic of the London district, she burnt her memoirs which she had prepared for publication. All her biographers agree as to her beauty and charm, her stainless life, and her generous charities.

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