Baillie, Joanna (1762 - 1851)

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(1762 - 1851)

Scottish poet, playwright, editor, and critic.

Although Baillie was well recognized and respected among the literati during her life-time, her works fell into neglect soon after her death and have only resurfaced in literary scholarship within the last several decades. She is now recognized for her significant influence on such writers as William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and is considered by many critics to have served as a model for later women writers. Baillie's works, which include twenty-six plays and several volumes of poetry, provide insight into the history of dramatic theory and criticism as well as into the history of women's roles in theatre.


Baillie was born in 1762 in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland to James Baillie, a pastor, and his wife, Dorothea Hunter. Baillie was born a premature twin; her unnamed sister died within hours of delivery. Her parents already had two children, Agnes and Matthew. In the late 1760s, Baillie's father was promoted to a higher position at the collegiate church at Hamilton, a country setting that allowed Baillie the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities. Though her brother attended school, Baillie did not, relying instead on her father for her education. James Baillie, as was typical for the time, stressed to his daughter the importance of developing her moral faculties over her intellectual skills, and emphasized that one should not give into one's emotions. Baillie was not fond of her studies and did not learn to read until, as she stated, she was nine years old. In the early 1770s, both Baillie sisters were sent to a Glasgow boarding school, and it was there that Joanna first developed an interest in books, writing and adapting stories to entertain her classmates. Baillie also became interested and quite proficient in the study of mathematics, abstract theorizing, problem solving, and philosophy. In 1778, when James Baillie died, the family became dependent on Dorothea's brother, William Hunter, a well-known anatomist who provided them with financial security as well as residence at his estate in Long Calderwood. Upon Hunter's death in 1783, Matthew inherited his uncle's medical school and London home, and the Baillie family moved to London to manage the new household. In 1790, while living in this London home, Baillie anonymously published Poems: Wherein It Is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners. The small volume did not receive sufficient notice or circulation to satisfy Baillie, and she reprinted much of it, along with other poems written while she was in her seventies, in an expanded version entitled Fugitive Verses, in 1840. Upon Mat-thew's marriage, the Baillie women moved to Hampstead, where they remained for the rest of their lives. In 1798, Baillie published, again anonymously, the first of what would eventually be three volumes of plays (the second and third volumes were published in 1802 and 1812, respectively). These volumes were entitled A Series of Plays: In Which It Is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind—Each Passion Being the Subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy, but were more commonly known as Plays on the Passions. The first volume contained, among others, Basil, a tragedy on love; The Tryal, a comedy on love; and possibly Baillie's most famous play, De Monfort, a tragedy on hatred. Baillie died in 1851.


Baillie's first publication, Poems: Wherein It Is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners, received little attention until after she had established a literary career. The first volume of Plays on the Passions, however, which Baillie published anonymously, quickly became the focus for discussion in literary circles, making this her first critically acclaimed work. Previously, success on the stage had been a prerequisite for the publication of a drama, but Baillie's publication of plays that had never been performed piqued the interest of many readers. In the preface, Baillie revealed her intent to trace the passions "in their rise and progress in the heart." She stated further that "a complete exhibition of passion, with its varieties and progress in the breast of man, has, I believe, scarcely ever been attempted in Comedy." The prevailing assumption of critics was that the anonymous author of Plays on the Passions was a man, until it was pointed out that there were more heroines in the dramas than heroes, and speculation began that the writer might be a woman. Baillie's authorship of the work was not revealed until 1800, when the third edition was published with her name on the title page. Sir Walter Scott, who some critics suspected had authored Plays on the Passions, became friends with Baillie and encouraged her to write more dramas. The second volume of Plays on the Passions, published in 1802, was well received by the public. Another collection entitled Miscellaneous Plays was published in 1804. In 1812, Baillie's last volume of Plays on the Passions was published, and was assessed as representing a departure from her earlier theories. Baillie noted that the second and last volume of the series had not received as much praise as had the first, and she retired from active publishing for a number of years.

Many of Baillie's tragedies, De Monfort and Orra (1812; included in Volume 3 of Plays on the Passions) in particular, have been discussed as examples of Gothic fiction. The plays' eerie settings have been compared to those of Ann Radcliffe's novels, but Baillie's haunting plots and tortured characters are often regarded as more direct than Radcliffe's. In addition, her plays are noted for their strong female characters and social commentary. De Monfort centers on a love triangle devoid of romantic intentions, which leads to a murder, while Orra tells the tale of a young, independent heiress who refuses to wed and ultimately is driven mad by a fake haunting designed to trick her into marriage. The title character in Count Basil struggles to reconcile his desire for love and honor. The Tryal offers opposing perspectives on love, and Witchcraft (1836; included in Dramas) focuses on three women identified as witches, one of whom narrowly escapes being burned at the stake.


Critics comment on the depiction of the effects of the intense emotions expressed by many of Baillie's characters, an approach that E. J. Clery refers to as "interiorized Gothic." Clery credits Baillie's style with inspiring later Gothic writers such as Charlotte Dacre, Charles Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe. Several critics point to Baillie's use of the Gothic to critique the morals and values of her time, especially with regard to traditional views of women. Peter Duthis asserts that several of Baillie's plays, Count Basil and De Monfort in particular, portray the tension wrought by upheavals in aristocratic society and the threat such upheavals posed to traditional gender roles. After Baillie's death, her works were gradually forgotten, and it was not until the late twentieth century that Baillie's writings again garnered scholarly interest. Drama historians and feminist commentators in particular recognize the historical importance of Baillie's complex and pyschologically insightful portrayals and her commentary on gender dynamics and social mores.


Poems: Wherein It Is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners [anonymous] (poetry) 1790

A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind—Each Passion Being the Subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy. 3 vols. (plays) 1798, 1802, and 1812
Miscellaneous Plays (plays) 1804
Rayner (play) 1804
The Family Legend: A Tragedy (play) 1810
Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters (poetry) 1821
A Collection of Poems. Chiefly Manuscript, and from Living Authors [editor] (poetry) 1823
A View of the General Tenour of the New Testament Regarding the Nature and Dignity of Jesus Christ: Including a Collection of the Various Passages in the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles Which Relate to That Subject (essay) 1831
Dramas. 3 vols. (plays) 1836
Fugitive Verses (poetry) 1840
Ahalya Baee: A Poem (poetry) 1849
Lines to Agnes Baillie on Her Birthday (poetry) 1849

∗ The first volume was published anonymously in 1798, with the author identifying herself for the second and third volumes, in 1802 and 1812, respectively. Volume 1 includes De Monfort, Basil, and The Tryal. Volume 3 includes Orra: A Tragedy, in Five Acts.

† This collection includes the plays Witchcraft, The Separation, and Henriquez, among others.



SOURCE: Baillie, Joanna. "Introductory Discourse." In A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind—Each Passion Being the Subject of a Tragedy and a Comedy. Vol. 1, 1798. Second edition, pp. 1-11. London, 1799.

In the following excerpt from her "Introductory Discourse" to Volume 1 of her Plays on the Passions, first published in 1798, Baillie comments upon the universal human preoccupation with emotion, the spiritual, and the unknown.

It is natural for a writer, who is about to submit his works to the Publick, to feel a strong inclination, by some Preliminary Address, to conciliate the favour of his reader, and dispose him, if possible, to peruse them with a favourable eye. I am well aware, however, that his endeavours are generally fruitless: in his situation our hearts revolt from all appearance of confidence, and we consider his diffidence as hypocrisy. Our own word is frequently taken for what we say of ourselves, but very rarely for what we say of our works. Were these three plays, which this small volume contains, detached pieces only, and unconnected with others that do not yet appear, I should have suppressed this inclination altogether; and have allowed my reader to begin what is before him, and to form what opinion of it his taste or his humour might direct, without any previous trespass upon his time or his patience. But they are part of an extensive design: of one which, as far as my information goes, has nothing exactly similar to it in any language: of one which a whole life's time will be limited enough to accomplish; and which has, therefore, a considerable chance of being cut short by that hand which nothing can resist.

Before I explain the plan of this work, I must make a demand upon the patience of my reader, whilst I endeavour to communicate to him those ideas regarding human nature, as they in some degree affect almost every species of moral writings, but particularly the Dramatic, that induced me to attempt it; and, as far as my judgment enabled me to apply them, has directed me in the execution of it.

From that strong sympathy which most creatures, but the human above all, feel for others of their kind, nothing has become so much an object of man's curiosity as man himself. We are all conscious of this within ourselves, and so constantly do we meet with it in others, that like every circumstance of continually repeated occurrence, it thereby escapes observation. Every person who is not deficient in intellect, is more or less occupied in tracing amongst the individuals he converses with, the varieties of understanding and temper which constitute the characters of men; and receives great pleasure from every stroke of nature that points out to him those varieties. This is, much more than we are aware of, the occupation of children, and of grown people also, whose penetration is but lightly esteemed; and that conversation which degenerates with them into trivial and mischievous tattling, takes its rise not unfrequently from the same source that supplies the rich vein of the satirist and the wit. That eagerness so universally shewn for the conversation of the latter, plainly enough indicates how many people have been occupied in the same way with themselves. Let any one, in a large company, do or say what is strongly expressive of his peculiar character, or of some passion or humour of the moment, and it will be detected by almost every person present. How often may we see a very stupid countenance animated with a smile, when the learned and the wise have betrayed some native feature of their own minds! and how often will this be the case when they have supposed it to be concealed under a very sufficient disguise! From this constant employment of their minds, most people, I believe, without being conscious of it, have stored up in idea the greater part of those strong marked varieties of human character, which may be said to divide it into classes; and in one of those classes they involuntarily place every new person they become acquainted with.

I will readily allow that the dress and the manners of men, rather than their characters and disposition are the subjects of our common conversation, and seem chiefly to occupy the multitude. But let it be remembered that it is much easier to express our observations upon these. It is easier to communicate to another how a man wears his wig and cane, what kind of house he inhabits, and what kind of table he keeps, than from what slight traits in his words and actions we have been led to conceive certain impressions of his character: traits that will often escape the memory, when the opinions that were founded upon them remain. Besides, in communicating our ideas of the characters of others, we are often called upon to support them with more expence of reasoning than we can well afford, but our observations on the dress and appearance of men, seldom involve us in such difficulties. For these, and other reasons too tedious to mention, the generality of people appear to us more trifling than they are: and I may venture to say that, but for this sympathetick curiosity towards others of our kind, which is so strongly implanted within us, the attention we pay to the dress and the manners of men would dwindle into an employment as insipid, as examining the varieties of plants and minerals, is to one who understands not natural history.

In our ordinary intercourse with society, this sympathetick propensity of our minds is exercised upon men, under the common occurrences of life, in which we have often observed them. Here vanity and weakness put themselves forward to view, more conspicuously than the virtues: here men encounter those smaller trials, from which they are not apt to come of victorious, and here, consequently, that which is marked with the whimsical and ludicrous will strike us most forcibly, and make the strongest impression on our memory. To this sympathetick propensity of our minds, so exercised, the genuine and pure comick of every composition, whether drama, fable, story, or satire is addressed.

If man is an object of so much attention to man, engaged in the ordinary occurrences of life, how much more does he excite his curiosity and interest when placed in extraordinary situations of difficulty and distress? It cannot be any pleasure we receive from the sufferings of a fellow-creature which attracts such multitudes of people to a publick execution, though it is the horrour we conceive for such a spectacle that keeps so many more away. To see a human being bearing himself up under such circumstances, or struggling with the terrible apprehensions which such a situation impresses, must be the powerful incentive, which makes us press forward to behold what we shrink from, and wait with trembling expectation for what we dread.1 For though few at such a spectacle can get near enough to distinguish the expression of face, or the minuter parts of a criminal's behaviour, yet from a considerable distance will they eagerly mark whether he steps firmly; whether the motions of his body denote agitation or calmness; and if the wind does but ruffle his garment, they will, even from that change upon the outline of his distant figure, read some expression connected with his dreadful situation. Though there is a greater proportion of people in whom this strong curiosity will be overcome by other dispositions and motives; though there are many more who will stay away from such a sight than will go to it; yet there are very few who will not be eager to converse with a person who has beheld it; and to learn, very minutely, every circumstance connected with it, except the very act itself of inflicting death. To lift up the roof of his dungeon, like the Diable boiteux, and look upon a criminal the night before he suffers, in his still hours of privacy, when all that disguise, which respect for the opinion of others, the strong motive by which even the lowest and wickedest of men still continue to be moved, would present an object to the mind of every person, not withheld from it by great timidity of character, more powerfully attractive than almost any other.

Revenge, no doubt, first began amongst the savages of America that dreadful custom of sacrificing their prisoners of war. But the perpetration of such hideous cruelty could never have become a permanent national custom, but for this universal desire in the human mind to behold man in every situation, putting forth his strength against the current of adversity, scorning all bodily anguish, or struggling with those feelings of nature, which, like a beating stream, will oft'times burst through the artificial barriers of pride. Before they began those terrible rites they treat their prisoners kindly; and it cannot be supposed that men, alternately enemies and friends to so many neighbouring tribes, in manners and appearance like themselves, should so strongly be actuated by a spirit of publick revenge. This custom, therefore, must be considered as a grand and terrible game, which every tribe plays against another; where they try not the strength of the arm, the swiftness of the feet, nor the acuteness of the eye, but the fortitude of the soul. Considered in this light, the excess of cruelty exercised upon their miserable victim, in which every hand is described as ready to inflict its portion of pain, and every head ingenious in the contrivance of it, is no longer to be wondered at. To put into his measure of misery one agony less, would be, in some degree, betraying the honour of their nation, would be doing a species of injustice to every hero of their own tribe who had already sustained it, and to those who might be called upon to do so; amongst whom each of these savage tormentors has his chance of being one, and has prepared himself for it from his childhood. Nay, it would be a species of injustice to the haughty victim himself, who would scorn to purchase his place amongst the heroes of his nation, at an easier price than his undaunted predecessors.

Amongst the many trials to which the human mind is subjected, that of holding intercourse, real or imaginary, with the world of spirits: of finding itself alone with a being terrifick and awful, whose nature and power are unknown, has been justly considered as one of the most severe. The workings of nature in this situation, we all know, have ever been the object of our most eager inquiry. No man wishes to see the Ghost himself, which would certainly procure him the best information on the subject, but every man wishes to see one who believes that he sees it, in all the agitation and wildness of that species of terrour. To gratify this curiosity how many people have dressed up hideous apparitions to frighten the timid and superstitious! and have done it at the risk of destroying their happiness or understanding for ever. For the instances of intellect being destroyed by this kind of trial are more numerous, perhaps, in proportion to the few who have undergone it, than by any other.

How sensible are we of this strong propensity within us, when we behold any person under the pressure of great and uncommon calamity! Delicacy and respect for the afflicted will, indeed, make us turn ourselves aside from observing him, and cast down our eyes in his presence; but the first glance we direct to him will involuntarily be one of the keenest observation, how hastily so-ever it may be checked; and often will a returning look of inquiry mix itself by stealth with our sympathy and reserve.

But it is not in situations of difficulty and distress alone, that man becomes the object of this sympathetick curiosity; he is no less so when the evil he contends with arises in his own breast, and no outward circumstance connected with him either awakens our attention or our pity. What human creature is there, who can behold a being like himself under the violent agitation of those passions which all have, in some degree, experienced, without feeling himself most powerfully excited by the sight? I say, all have experienced; for the bravest man on earth knows what fear is as well as the coward; and will not refuse to be interested for one under the dominion of this passion, provided there be nothing in the circumstances attending it to create contempt. Anger is a passion that attracts less sympathy than any other, yet the unpleasing and distorted features of an angry man will be more eagerly gazed upon, by those who are no wise concerned with his fury or the objects of it, than the most amiable placid countenance in the world. Every eye is directed to him; every voice hushed to silence in his presence; even children will leave off their gambols as he passes, and gaze after him more eagerly than the gaudiest equipage. The wild tossings of despair; the gnashing of hatred and revenge; the yearnings of affection, and the softened mien of love; all the language of the agitated soul, which every age and nation understands, is never addressed to the dull nor inattentive.

It is not merely under the violent agitations of passion, that man so rouses and interests us; even the smallest indications of an unquiet mind, the restless eye, the muttering lip, the half-checked exclamation, and the hasty start, will set our attention as anxiously upon the watch, as the first distant flashes of a gathering storm. When some great explosion of passion bursts forth, and some consequent catastrophe happens, if we are at all acquainted with the unhappy perpetrator, how minutely will we endeavour to remember every circumstance of his past behaviour! and with what avidity will we seize upon every recollected word or gesture, that is in the smallest degree indicative of the supposed state of his mind, at the time when they took place. If we are not acquainted with him, how eagerly will we listen to similar recollections from another! Let us understand, from observation or report, that any person harbours in his breast, concealed from the world's eye, some powerful rankling passion of what kind soever it may be, we will observe every word, every motion, every look, even the distant gait of such a man, with a constancy and attention bestowed upon no other. Nay, should we meet him unexpectedly on our way, a feeling will pass across our minds as though we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of some secret and fearful thing. If invisible, would we not follow him into his lonely haunts, into his closet, into the midnight silence of his chamber? There is, perhaps, no employment which the human mind will with so much avidity pursue, as the discovery of concealed passion, as the tracing the varieties and progress of a perturbed soul.

It is to this sympathetick curiosity of our nature, exercised upon mankind in great and trying occasions, and under the influence of the stronger passions, when the grand, the generous, and the terrible attract our attention far more than the base and depraved, that the high and powerfully tragick, of every composition, is addressed.


1. In confirmation of this opinion I may venture to say, that of the great numbers who go to see a publick execution, there are but very few who would not run away from, and avoid it, if they happened to meet with it unexpectedly. We find people stopping to look at a procession, or any other uncommon sight, they may have fallen in with accidentally, but almost never an execution. No one goes there who has not made up his mind for the occasion; which would not be the case, if any natural love of cruelty were the cause of such assemblies.



SOURCE: Clery, E. J. "Joanna Baillie and Charlotte Dacre." In Women's Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley, pp. 85-116. Devon, United Kingdom: Northcote House in Association with the British Council, 2000.

In the following excerpt, Clery surveys Baillie's Gothic dramas, particularly De Monfort and Orra.

In 1798, the year after Radcliffe bowed out of the literary scene, a volume was published anonymously with the arresting title A Series of Plays: In Which It Is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind. The contents did not disappoint. There was an 'Introductory Discourse' outlining not only a grandiose scheme for the analysis of each passion in a paired tragedy and comedy, but also a radical theory for regenerating dramatic writing. The three plays themselves were judged to be masterly; particularly the tragedies, De Monfort and Basil, focused respectively on the antithetical passions of hate and love (those posited by the philosopher Malebranche as the root passions). The plots had a simplicity and the language a poetic resonance that had long been missing from British drama.

The volume soon aroused intense interest and speculation. Who was the author? The first reviews, in the New Monthly Magazine and the Critical Review, praised the strength and originality of the writing while assuming that the author was a man. Some thought it might be Walter Scott. Back in Bath, Hester Piozzi recorded that 'a knot of Literary Characters [including Sarah Siddons] met at Miss [Sophia] Lee's House … deciding—contrary to my own judgment—that a learned man must have been the author; and I, chiefly to put the Company in a good humour, maintained it was a woman. Merely, said I, because the heroines are Dames Passées, and a man has no notion of mentioning a female after she is five and twenty.'1 The dramatist Mary Berry had received the book incognito from the author, and had stayed up all night reading it, noting in her diary the following year that 'The first question on every one's lips is, "Have you read the series of plays?" Every body talks in the raptures I always thought they deserved of the tragedies, and of the introduction as of a new and admirable piece of criticism'.2 She too was of the opinion that the author was a woman, 'only because, no man could or would draw such noble and dignified representations of the female mind as Countess Albini and Jane de Monfort. They often make us clever, captivating, heroic, but never rationally superior.'3 The opinion grew that Ann Radcliffe was the author, trying her powers in a new genre. Mrs Piozzi reported it as fact to one correspondent. A Mrs Jackson spread the rumour, with a detailed list of stylistic evidence; Radcliffe apparently tried and failed to contact her and put a stop to it.

The play De Monfort went into production at Drury Lane, with Sarah Siddons and her brother John Philip Kemble in the lead parts, and still the author did not come forward to claim credit and payment. The playbills were silent on the matter. But some time before its theatrical unveiling, Joanna Baillie disclosed her name, and on opening night, 29 April 1800, she attended with a party of friends and relations. One critic described in retrospect the astonishment caused by the revelation of her authorship:

The curiosity excited in the literary circle, which was then much more narrow and concentrated than at present; the incredulity, with which the first rumour that these vigorous and original compositions came from a female hand, was received; and the astonishment, when, after all the ladies who then enjoyed any literary celebrity had been tried and found totally wanting in the splendid faculties developed in those dramas, they were acknowledged by a gentle, quiet and retiring young woman, whose most intimate friends, we believe, had never suspected her extraordinary powers.4

It is a literary Cinderella story, in which the heroine goes to the ball and lives happily ever after. In spite of recent misguided attempts by some feminist critics to represent Baillie as an oppressed and marginal writer, the fact is that she went on to a highly productive publishing career, a career met with continuous acclaim, and crowned by the appearance of her collected poems and plays in 1851, just before her death aged 88.5 She had a large circle of friends including some of the most prominent cultural figures of the day. Maria Edgeworth, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Walter Scott, Lord and Lady Byron, Wordsworth, and Southey, were among her ardent admirers. If her work came under attack from the notoriously severe pen of Francis Jeffrey at the Edinburgh Review, assassin of Lyrical Ballads, then it has to be said she was in excellent company.6 Her sex was neither a barrier to success and celebrity, nor a shield against serious criticism. Her exceptional literary status, transcending conventions of gender, rested on a tradition which by now included the outstanding examples of Siddons and Radcliffe: women who displayed genius through rule-breaking and the imaginative flights characteristic of Gothic.

Joanna Baillie was born in 1762. Her father was a Presbyterian minister who became professor of divinity at the University of Glasgow before dying in 1783. The Baillies were descendants of the Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace. Her mother was the sister of the famous surgeon Dr William Hunter, who at his death left his London practice and property to Joanna's brother, Matthew. In 1784 Joanna travelled south to join him with her mother and elder sister Agnes. When Matthew married, the Baillie women set up independently in Hampstead, where Joanna and Agnes were to remain until the end of their long lives.


Joanna Baillie, the most illustrious of the female poets of England, unless that place be assigned to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, notwithstanding her many affectations and great inequalities, died at Hampstead, on the 23d of February, at the age of 90 years, within a few weeks. She is best known by her Plays on the Passions, in which she made a bold and successful attempt to delineate the stronger passions of the mind by making each of them the subject of a tragedy and a comedy…. Her dramas are wrought wholly out from her own conceptions, and exhibit great originality and invention. Her power of portraying the darker and sterner passions of the human heart has rarely been surpassed. Scott eulogized "Basil's love and Montfort's hate" as a revival of something of the old Shaksperean strain in our later and more prosaic days. But her dramas have little in common with those of Shakspeare, so full of life, action, and vivacity. Their spirit is more akin to the stern and solemn repose of the Greek dramas. They have little of the form and pressure of real life. The catastrophe springs rather from the characters themselves than from the action of the drama. The end is seen from the beginning. Over all broods a fate as gloomy as that which overhung the doomed House of Atreus. Her female characters are delineated with great elevation and purity. Jane de Montfort—with her stately form which seems gigantic, till nearer approach shows that it scarcely exceeds middle stature; her queenly bearing, and calm, solemn smile; her "weeds of high habitual state"—is one of the noblest conceptions of poetry.

SOURCE: "Monthly Record of Current Events." Harper's New Monthly Magazine 2, no. 11 (April 1851): 709.

As a child at boarding school Joanna had excelled in music, drawing, mathematics and theatrical improvisations. A birthday poem addressed to Agnes recalls how she discovered her skill for story-telling through the pleasure of evoking fear and wonder in her sister, an eager auditor:

    Thy love of tale and story was the stroke
    At which my dormant fancy first awoke,
    And ghosts and witches in my busy brain

    Arose in sombre show, and motley train.
    This new-found path attempting, proud was I,
    Lurking approval on thy face to spy,
    Or hear thee say, as grew thy roused attention,
    'What! is this story all thine own invention?'


Her first publication was a book of poetry which appeared in 1790 but went almost unnoticed. Already, though, it showed her interest in the study of human nature and the influence on the mind of contrasting passions. The subtitle explains that the poems will illustrate 'the Different Influence Which the Same Circumstances Produce on Different Characters' and there is a series of 'Addresses to the Night' by 'A Fearful Mind', 'A Discontented Mind', 'A Sorrowful Mind' and 'A Joyful Mind'.8

Passion in the Present Tense

Baillie's tragedies, particularly De Monfort and Orra, have been discussed as examples of Gothic writing in a number of critical studies.9 Some of the settings are indeed strongly reminiscent of Radcliffe: the woods by night in De Monfort, with a requiem sounding faintly from an isolated convent; the castle in Orra, the haunt of outlaws under cover of strange legends, riddled with secret passages, its chambers furnished with locks on the outside. But in terms of plot, they represent an inversion of Reeve and Radcliffe's technique of encrypting homicidal passion in the distant past, and a decisive rejection of the tragicomic structure which permitted the redemption of evil. The contrast should perhaps even be understood as polemical. The trappings of Radcliffe-romance are included by Baillie only to emphasize their essential irrelevance: the real drama is all in the mind. Baillie refuses to buffer the tortured scenes she represents. This is passion in the present tense, as it had also appeared in Lee's The Recess, but in Baillie it is simplified and refined to achieve the transparency of a theorum. The remarks of Joseph Donohue regarding Baillie's conception of dramatic character are especially resonant: 'Gothic drama, beginning with Home's Douglas, placed special emphasis on an event that took place years before and continues to exert its effects thereafter. De Monfort internalizes this convention by redefining it as a mental process in which an evil passion inexplicably takes root in the fallow soul of man and slowly chokes away his life force.'10

This experiment bears some relation to Lewis's The Monk, as an illustration of the corrosive effect of lust on the character of Ambrosio. The Plays on the Passions, as they are generally called, made an important contribution towards the opening up of new possibilities within Gothic writing, as a now-familiarized audience looked for ever-stronger sensations. Future Gothic writers—Charlotte Dacre, Charles Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe—would follow this direction of interiorized Gothic.

Baillie's 'Introductory Discourse' from the 1798 volume of plays provides a theoretical basis for the externalized spectacle of inner passions. Wittily, she frames the discussion in terms of the ruling passion of the reader. We are all, she claims, driven to poetry and fiction by curiosity about human nature. We want to go beyond the official accounts of history writing, penetrate the private space of the home and, further, to enter into the minds of others and rummage among their secret desires and motives. We can be diverted for a while by images of the marvellous in romance, or the artifices of sentimental fiction, or the pleasures of epic and pastoral verse, but the 'great master-propensity' for authentic pictures of nature will always reassert itself. Our curiosity about 'beings like ourselves' must be fed if we are to lend a work of literature our 'sympathetick interest'. Nowhere is this rule more applicable than in drama: pared down as it is to dialogue, if the characters do not speak from nature, then the author can offer no compensating distractions. The study of human nature and the persuasive depiction of character—which Baillie terms 'characteristick truth'—are crucial to the dramatist's art.

Baillie represents the taste for tragedy as something universal and primitive. Tragedy is the 'first-born' of dramatic genres, for a number of reasons. In addition to catering to the 'natural inclination' for 'scenes of horrour and distress, of passion and heroick exertion', tragedy permits the maximum exercise of curiosity and sympathy. In tragedy we are permitted behind the scenes into the lives and minds of 'heroes and great men', normally only glimpsed from afar. And in tragedy we see those extremes of conflict and suffering which most powerfully engage our feelings. At this point Baillie introduces the ultimate purpose of tragedy (now personified as a female muse), which doubles as a sketch of her own innovative theatrical practice:

to her only it belongs to unveil to us the human mind under the dominion of those strong and fixed passions, which seemingly unprovoked by outward circumstances, will from small beginnings brood within the breast, till all the better dispositions, all the fair gifts of nature are borne down before them. Those passions which conceal themselves even to the dearest friend; and can, often times, only give their fulness vent in the lonely desert, or in the darkness of midnight. For who hath followed the great man into his secret closet, or stood by the side of his nightly couch, and heard those exclamations of the soul which heaven alone may hear, that the historian should be able to inform us? and what form of story, what mode of rehearsed speech will communicate to us those feelings whose irregular bursts, abrupt transitions, sudden pauses, and half-uttered suggestions, scorn all harmony of measured verse, all method and order of relation?

No wonder Baillie's contemporaries were riveted by her vision. It is both alluring and intensely sinister. The passions are constructed as an inexplicable fatality, divorced from social context, unfolding with an irresistible autonomous force, pent up within an individual life which it will parasitically devour. And the audience is to be made privy to this horrible spectacle of a soul eaten alive, will eavesdrop on exclamations of isolated torture which only heaven should hear,11 will be initiated into the language of the unspeakable. The workings of the soul are represented as absolutely private and secret, precisely in order to enhance the pleasure of violation and absolute public exposure in the name of 'sympathy' and knowledge.

In a study of this length, it is not possible to explore very far the social resonances of Baillie's poetics, though it is easy enough to identify certain ideological affinities. Baillie brilliantly refashions tragedy along Gothic lines for an age of possessive individualism and state surveillance. Her theatre most closely resembles Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, the ideal prison, in which the perfect visibility of the prisoners by an unseen eye stands, according to Michel Foucault's well-known account, as a general model for relations of power in the modern liberal state. But the baleful cast of her ideas has been obscured in recent criticism, by a determination to take the stress on sympathetic identification as a cosy, feminine alternative to 'patriarchal' tragic practice. Attempting to set up Baillie as a feminist sacred cow does her no favours. There is nothing cosy about her tragedies nor the response to them demanded of the viewer. Like the other writers discussed in this book, she was determined above all to make her mark in the literary world, and was willing to use the most powerful—the most ideologically arresting—means to do so. Issues of gender play a part in this ambition. But Baillie was intent on demonstrating her ability as a woman to rival men in the display of genius, not on defining an alternative feminine aesthetic. Harriet Martineau spoke of cherishing Baillie's memory for the 'invulnerable justification which she set up for intellectual superiority in women'.12

In the 'Introductory Discourse', there is an interesting shift in the gender of personal pronouns relating to dramatic writing. At first, when Baillie discusses the primary concerns of the dramatist, she refers to 'him' and 'his' works. At a later stage, as she warms to her argument, tragedy (it has already been noted) is personified as a 'she', who puts into effect 'her' various techniques, including the innovations cited above. Personification is a common enough device in aesthetic discussion of the time, but here, given the sex of the author which would be revealed in the third edition of 1800, there is a fortuitous merging of art and artist, equivalent to Sarah Siddons's representation as the Tragic Muse. There is a subliminal message asserting women's capacity for representing and embodying tragic passion, reinforced by a statement in a footnote:

I have said nothing here with regard to female character, though in many tragedies it is brought forward as the principal one of the piece, because what I have said of the above characters is likewise applicable to it. I believe there is no man that ever lived, who has behaved in a certain manner, on a certain occasion, who has not had amongst women some corresponding spirit, who on the like occasion, and every way similarly circumstanced, would have behaved in the like manner.

But Baillie goes much further than simply claiming her place among tragedians. The overall purpose of the 'Discourse' is a critique of the entire dramatic inheritance in tragedy and comedy, condemnation of tired imitation in contemporary practice, and a call for bards possessing 'strong original genius' to point the way back to truth and nature. It goes without saying that the author herself must be numbered among this elite. While she is appropriately modest as a neophyte, she also has the courage of her convictions: 'I am emboldened by the confidence I feel in that can-dour and indulgence, with which the good and enlightened do ever regard the experimental efforts of those, who wish in any degree to enlarge the sources of pleasure and instruction amongst men'. Innovation is her raison d'être. Her manifesto is not bolstered by didacticism. Indeed, she rebukes tragic poets who have been led away from analysis of the passions by 'a desire to communicate more perfect moral instruction'. The benefit of tragedy should derive from 'the enlargement of our ideas in regard to human nature': a knowledge of the self, which may indirectly lead to moral improvement.

The project Baillie outlined publicly at the age of 36 lasted almost a lifetime. In the course of her prolific career she produced three volumes of Plays on the Passions —ten plays in all—and thirteen other plays, not to mention numerous poems. Bertrand Evans has proposed that ten of the tragedies can be categorized as Gothic drama: Orra, The Dream, Henriquez, Romiero, Ethwald (in two parts), De Monfort, Rayner, The Family Legend, The Separation, and Witchcraft. 13 I will be discussing only two of them, already mentioned: De Monfort (1798), by far the best known of her works then and now, and Orra (1812), which Evans claims best illustrates 'Miss Baillie's "Gothicity"'.14

Kemble's rapid determination to bring De Monfort to the stage of Drury Lane, in spite of the play's anonymity, has already been mentioned. It is unsurprising, given the fact that the play might have been written as a vehicle for himself and Siddons. Baillie's nephew suggested that the characters of De Monfort and his elder sister Jane were indeed intended as portraits of the two actors.15 For Kemble, the role of a man of fine qualities driven to murder by an irrational hatred presumably reflected his talents as an interpreter rather than his actual personality. But in the case of Jane De Monfort, a woman who has nobly sacrificed her life to the duty of caring for her orphaned siblings, but who is still capable of enthralling every man she meets with her beauty and bearing, the terms in which she is praised in the play unquestionably echo descriptions of Siddons.16 She is 'A noble dame, who should have been a queen' (DM I. i. 5); 'So stately and so graceful is her form', comments a servant, 'I thought at first her stature was gigantic' (DM II. i. 10-11): the awe she inspires is almost supernatural, as is her ability to turn all around her into willing slaves. It is understandable that Siddons requested Baillie to 'write me more Jane De Monforts'. The production only lasted for eleven performances and there are mixed reports of its reception,17 but Siddons chose it for her benefit on 5 May 1800, acted the role again in Edinburgh in 1810 with her son Henry as De Monfort, and continued to use the play in recitations.18

The plot takes the novel form of a perverse love triangle, without romantic love. De Monfort is monomaniacally attached to Rezenfelt through his hatred, and there are homoerotic undercurrents in their interaction. Jane, De Monfort's sister, who raised him after the death of their mother, attempts to draw him away from this hate by appealing to their mutual love, which itself has a focused intensity verging on the incestuous. The addition of a third current, an unfounded rumour mentioned in passing that Rezenfelt and Jane are secretly in love, produces a short-circuit in De Monfort's mind that leads to murder. He waylays Rezenfelt in the woods outside the town and savagely stabs him to death.

The context for the drama is deliberately vague. The initial stage direction sets the scene as simply 'a town in Germany'. At the outset we learn that De Monfort has left his home to return to the town where he once lived. He is moody and irascible, yet his servants are loyal, and a friend, Count Freberg, who hurries to greet him, bears witness to his previously amiable nature. A first aside from De Monfort to the audience, however, signals a radical disaffection from his surroundings. The second scene develops suspense, as indications of De Monfort's pathology emerge, through symptom (he wrecks a room at the very mention of Rezenvelt), and the image of an incommunicable interiority. He taunts Freberg for his attachment to social surfaces and inability to penetrate the depths of human nature:

    That man was never born whose secret soul,
    With all its motley treasure of dark thoughts,
    Foul fantasies, vain musings, and wild dreams,
    Was ever open'd to another's scan.
                                    (DM I. ii. 96-8)

The play's concern with the distance between workable social conduct and the tangled depths of selfhood is shown thematically through numerous references to clothing and masks. Flimsy, changeable garments, often inappropriately worn, metaphorize the thin layer of public seeming, a fragile membrane that if severed, would enable the passions to pass freely from subjective confinement into violent reality. The anxiety provoked by this idea finds relief only in the figure of Jane, who represents an ideal of transparent meaning, a seamless union of nature and apperance. And yet Jane is chiefly responsible for the disastrous release of De Monfort's hatred.

In a key episode in the second scene of Act II, Jane forces her brother to confess his feelings. Impervious to his attempted defence of his 'secret troubles', his 'secret weakness', she applies every weapon of emotional blackmail. De Monfort agrees at last to 'tell thee all—but, oh! thou wilt despise me. / For in my breast a raging passion burns, / To which thy soul no sympathy will own—' (DM II. ii. 8-10). And so it transpires: Jane is horrified and uncomprehending. Threatened with rejection, De Monfort agrees to meet Rezenfelt and be reconciled with him, an action which will only result in an escalation of their animosity. The problem is that De Monfort did not—could not—'tell all'. The intensity of his hatred is not proportionate to the identifiable cause: Rezenfelt's habit of covertly goading him while pretending friendship. It is the nature of a ruling passion to be monstrous, autogenic, incommunicable. In De Monfort's case it grows to overpower one of his other prime characteristics, pity.

The audience is called upon to wonder as they witness the hero's deterioration, rather than to understand it in logical terms. As a bridge, there is the more homely yet comparable spectacle of the Countess Freberg's envy of Jane, exacerbated by the latter's kindly condescension. But from the final scene of Act IV through the final Act, as the drama grows wilder it is shifted to the appropriate setting of a wood where 'Foul murders have been done, and ravens scream; / And things unearthly, stalking through the night, / Have scar'd the lonely trav'ller from his wits' (IV. ii. 223-5), and to a lonely convent which stands in it. The 'thicklytangled boughs' provide the obvious correlative for De Monfort's state of mind as he stalks his victim, and the old Gothic convent where he is brought, frozen with horror, after committing the act, is a monument to isolation. Jane arrives, once again shattering his solitude, and endeavouring to fix his mind on prayer and redemption. But the failure of communication—Jane: 'What means this heavy groan?' De Monfort: 'It has a meaning'—sums up the strange confusion of the scene as he, shackled by officers of justice, quickly expires of an internal haemorrhage. In Baillie's original version the peculiar non-event of De Monfort's death occurs off-stage, as if this reverse of a coup de théâtre were designed to taunt the audience, with its penchant for predictable shock-tactics. When Edmund Kean restaged the play in 1821, at the urgent request of Byron,19 at least two important revisions were introduced. De Monfort's hatred was motivated by a love rivalry with Rezenfelt, and De Monfort was brought onstage to die. These changes help to indicate the originality, the troubling strangeness, of the original version.20

'A Midnight in the Breast'

De Monfort's collapse and death are brought about partly by remorse, partly by sheer horror at the nature of the act he has committed, and specifically, superstitious fear at being left alone with the corpse of his victim. An early poem, 'The Ghost of Edward', dealt with the fanciful horrors that attack the mind. There is 'a midnight in the breast': in this instance also, fear is exacerbated by guilt.21 Fear of the supernatural—in isolation from any causal factors—was the passion Baillie determined to explore at full length in a tragedy from her last volume of Plays on the Passions published in 1812, Orra. Set in the late fourteenth century in Switzerland, it concerns the machinations in the household of Count Hughobert, where his ward, the heiress Orra, is being pressured to marry Hughobert's son, Glottenbal, while also being wooed by a young nobleman of reduced fortunes, Theobald. The plot may sound conventional but the heroine is not. She wants to marry no one and live independently (there is some slight mention of charitable works), and manages to persuade Theobold to be her friend rather than her lover. She is not especially beautiful (Theobold: 'to speak honestly, / I've fairer seen', I. i. 129-30), and her character is a composite of mirth and dread, as if Annette, Emily's servant from The Mysteries of Udolpho, had usurped the lead role. Romantic love is displaced, as it was in De Monfort and in many of Baillie's other plays, with the result that expectations are disrupted and it becomes possible to create more interesting and varied parts for women.

Orra adores ghost stories, and this is her downfall. She is not only highly susceptible to fear but also addicted to the sensation:

     Yea, when the cold blood shoots through every vein:
     When every pore upon my shrunken skin
     A knotted knoll becomes, and to mine ears
     Strange inward sounds awake, and to mine eyes
     Rush stranger tears, there is a joy in fear.
                                            (II. i. 170-75)

Her chief resource to feed her passion is Cathrina, one of her attendants, who has an inexhaustible supply of supernatural legends. But Cathrina is in the power of Rudigere, an illegitimate relation of the count's who plots to marry Orra in order to improve his fortunes. Cathrina has been his mistress and borne his child, and, to save her reputation, she enters into Rudigere's plot to have Orra removed to an ancient castle rumoured to be haunted. There he will use Orra's fear to blackmail her into a union with Glottenbal (he tells the count), but in fact with himself. Theobold learns of the conspiracy, and plans to rescue her by impersonating the spirit of the place, a spectre huntsman. But a message forewarning her goes astray, and terror at his ghostly appearance drives her into a state of derangement, from which, it seems, she will not recover. A repentant Hugh-obert arrives on the scene with his family, and the villainous Rudigere kills both himself and his rival, the obtuse Glottenbal.

As in the case of De Monfort, the relation of Orra to an emergent Gothic genre is not straightforward. The play is a medley of familiar tropes: the haunted castle with a story of murder attached to it, riddled with secret passages (cf. almost any Gothic novel from Castle of Otranto onwards); the band of outlaws who use the castle as a hide-out under cover of supernatural rumour (cf. The Mysteries of Udolpho, Charlotte Smith's The Old Manor House, and many others); the noble outlaw chief (a childhood friend of Theobald, who lends his assistance; cf. Schiller, and Dacre's Zofloya); the heroine kept in a bedchamber with locks on the outside only (Mysteries of Udolpho etc.); the ballad tradition of elopement with a phantom lover (Bürger's 'Lenore', and its variants); the rescue involving impersonation of a phantom lover which ends in disaster (cf. the Bleeding Nun episode from The Monk). Indeed, the play's generic knowingness might lead one to imagine that its purpose was solely critical, even satirical. It is worth bearing in mind that two of the best-known burlesques of Gothic were published soon after: E. Stannard Barrett's The Heroine in 1813 and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey in 1818. Certainly it is true to say that the devices included by Baillie are more or less stripped of affect: the supernatural is explained so far in advance that the audience is in no danger of falling in with Orra's delusions. But on the other hand, neither is the viewer permitted the security of detached criticism. Baillie maintains sympathetic identification with the heroine throughout the play by showing her insight into her own situation, her courageous resistance to oppression, and her inner struggle against fear. The catharsis of terror for the audience comes with the final scene, and the pitiful spectacle of Orra surrounded by mind-forged monsters.

Orra's passion for fear is not blamed. Like De Monfort's hatred it is something inexplicable and irresistible, an inner sublime. Baillie clearly indicates in her characterizations that possession of a powerful ruling passion is an index of greatness of soul; but it also creates an imbalance which is ultimately self-destructive. It opens De Monfort to criminality, and Orra to victimage. The audience is not called upon to judge and condemn, but rather to lend their understanding and, at the same time, to wonder at these human meteors and derive a vicarious thrill from their disastrous fates. As in all Gothic writing, the purpose of instruction is a fig-leaf; the fundamental pleasure is amoral. Baillie's methods reflected and faciliated the shift of Gothic away from the conventions which had been associated with the earlier phase of experimental supernaturalism and were thus becoming redundant, to the surer foundations of an inner landscape. Passion itself becomes the plot, but unmotivated, reified, an object of fascination in its own right. It would be inappropriate as well as anachronistic to call this psychological drama. The diseases of the mind are not submitted to logic. The increase of knowledge may be Baillie's expressed aim, but it is knowledge of an unabashedly corrupt and disingenuous kind, combining the pleasure of unveiling with the retention of some ultimate mystery.

Discussion of Baillie's drama has almost always excluded mention of her poetry, but she was a well-regarded and frequently anthologized poet as well. Her choice of subject matter and form was wide-ranging, but includes a number of supernatural ballads which Orra would have appreciated. Her Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters was said to have brought her £1,000 from the publishers Longman,22 and went through two editions in the year of publication, 1821. 'The Ghost of Fadon', from this volume, is based on a legend concerning William Wallace, a distant ancestor of Baillie.23 Here, in contrast to the plays, the supernatural is manifestly public. Not only does the ghost appear to a whole company of soldiers, but he challenges Wallace to a duel, and physically blocks him when he tries to escape, eventually presiding over the burning of the castle where the company had attempted to find shelter after military defeat by the English. He is public, too, in his historical significance. He is the spectre of Fadon, a follower killed by Wallace under suspicion of spying. The haunting suggests that he was wrongfully killed, an omen of bad luck for the nation.

    Day rose; but silent, sad, and pale,
      Stood the bravest of the Scottish race;
    And each warrior's heart began to quail,
      When he look'd in his leader's face.

There were a variety of Gothic modes current—several forms of fiction, tragic drama, ballads, odes, prose poems in the manner of Ossian—and Baillie felt no inhibition about testing her powers in more than one. In this poem she flaunts her ability to play on the superstition of her readers, while also signalling her personal investment in nationalist politics.


1. Cit. Margaret S. Carhart, The Life and Works of Joanna Baillie, Yale Studies in English, 64 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1923), 15. See also Norton, Mistress of Udolpho, 185-7.

2. Cit. Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 17.

3. Cit. Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 15.

4. Quarterly Review, cit. Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 17.

5. Ellen Donkin's chapter on Baillie in Getting Into the Act (London: Routledge, 1995) is the prime example; she lays great emphasis on Piozzi's statements that by revealing her identity and therefore her sex Baillie opened herself to spiteful criticism, but fails to provide any persuasive evidence. The current dominant reading of Baillie by critics such as Anne Mellor and Catherine Burroughs suggests that she was self-marginalized, that is, writing from a position of conscious subordination and gendered critique; with this interpretation, too, I would disagree. Gender politics is not the beginning and end of Baillie's audacious challenge to theatrical orthodoxy. She was simply the most visionary and influential dramatist of her day.

6. See Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 47-52, which counters Donkin's very partial version.

7. 'Lines to Agnes Baillie on Her Birthday', The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1851), 811.

8. Some of the poems were later included in revised form in Fugitive Verses (1740). See Roger Lonsdale's remarks in Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 429-30.

9. Notably Bertrand Evans, Gothic Drama from Walpole to Shelley (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1947); Paul Ranger, Terror and Pity; and Jeffrey N. Cox (ed.), Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789–1825 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992), which contains the text of De Monfort.

10. Joseph W. Donohue, Dramatic Character in the English Romantic Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 81.

11. A formulation repeated by Baillie in De Monfort, IV. ii. 26-7.

12. Cit. Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 64-5; Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, ed. M. W. Chapman (Beston, 1877), vol. I, p. 270.

13. Evans, Gothic Drama, 201.

14. Evans, Gothic Drama, 201.

15. Cit. Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 116.

16. See Campbell, Mrs Siddons: 'Joanna Baillie has left a perfect picture of Mrs Siddons, in her description of Jane de Monfort' (p. 303).

17. See Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 121-2.

18. See Carhart, Joanna Baillie (pp. 128-42), on the stage history of De Monfort after the original Drury Lane production. Cox, Seven Gothic Dramas (pp. 55-7), has an interesting discussion of Siddons as a dramatic interpreter of Gothic, but sees her acting style as typically passive, in contrast to Paula Backscheider, and myself. Baillie returned the compliment in an ode addressed 'To Mrs Siddons', 'our tragic queen', praising especially the subtlety and variety of her depictions of the passions.

19. At the time, Byron was a member of the management committee at Drury Lane.

20. Another strategy of containment in the first performed version was the Epilogue, written by the Duchess of Devonshire. In the most conventional terms, it urges the audience to 'bid the scene's dread horror cease / And hail the blessing of domestic peace'. It is included in Cox, Seven Gothic Dramas, 313-14.

21. From Poems (1790), reproduced in Lonsdale, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets.

22. Carhart, Joanna Baillie, 29.

23. The poem is included in Jerome M. McGann (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).


Joanna Baillie, De Monfort: A Tragedy, in Seven Gothic Dramas 1789–1825, ed. Jeffrey N. Cox (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1992).


Plays on the Passions

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SOURCE: Purinton, Marjean D. "Socialized and Medicalized Hysteria in Joanna Baillie's Witchcraft." Prism(s): Essays in Romanticism 9 (2001): 139-56.

In the following essay, Purinton analyzes Baillie's portrayal of what was often medically and scientifically sanctioned persecution of women in her drama Witchcraft.

Because many Romantic-period dramas are engaged with political frenzy following the French Revolution and are shaped by psychosocial issues associated with the Gothic, it is not unusual for us to see "madness," in various manifestations, playing a significant part on the stage. The physiology of excessive emotions had also become, by the end of the eighteenth century, a significant focus of scientific inquiry and discourse. By the early nineteenth-century, the prevailing medical opinion had gendered emotions so that women who exhibited excessive feelings and unconventional behaviors were "hysterical," a physiological effect of their inferior biology, the symptom of their anatomical reproductive capacity.1

As I have argued elsewhere, the intertextuality of science and medicine in Romantic drama may explain the predominance of gothic and melodrama during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.2 Numerous Romantic dramas stage physicality in gothic forms that are significantly redefined by discursive and cultural inter-ests in science. Science did, in fact, take form in the theatre, where production strategies were shaped by the machinery of staging and dramatic content was manifestly and latently concerned with medical discoveries and practices.3 Conversely, the theatre was appropriated by science as the actual site for staging its experiments. Since the seventeenth century, Robert Boyle's demonstrations for students were staged as anatomical theatres of medicine with formalized and regularized performances.4 Staged dissections functioned in spectacularly pedagogical ways in science's institutional training. Scientific and medical interests were theatricalized in other public but non-dramatic forms, such as traveling shows, itinerant lectures with demonstrations, extravagant displays or exhibitions, and forums at the Royal College of Surgeons.5 Social controversies connected to medical sciences were also frequently staged for public display in non-dramatic settings such as courtrooms and executions.6

Seemingly natural elements associated with science and medicine were staged as gothic and technologically designed and manipulated to create a world of illusions and phantasmagoria.7 Both gothic and science were discursive fields upon which anxieties about social identity and physicality could be displaced, and the gothic conventions of drama were particularly convenient for playwrights' use in negotiating the influences of science and medicine upon culture. The strategy for performing the discourses of science and practices of medicine, I call the "techno-gothic," an ideologically charged and melodramatic structure in which disturbing issues and forbidden topics are recontextualized by the intersecting fields of the supernatural and science—or gothic and technology. The techno-gothic relies upon a set of readily available and easily recognized dramatic conventions (gothic) that function as interpretation of scientific discourses (technology) within theatricalized contexts of social critiques and cultural changes. Techno-gothic drama is, in fact, a product of the Romantic revolution in science, as its forms mediate post-Enlightenment dualisms such as biochemistry and magic, romance and gothic, medicine and quackery, bodies and spirits. The techno-gothic came to be expressed in two popular and powerful performance modes: grotesques and ghosts.


In the "Introductory Discourse," which abounds in imagery, the author has exhibited much knowledge of the human mind, and has displayed his information and discernment in such a style, as convinces the reader, at the outset, that he is not incompetent to the arduous task he has undertaken. He treats at great length, and with much ingenuity, on the construction of the drama; in which,… he has not adhered to his own rules. He expresses his approbation of those styles of writing which apply more forcibly to the heart than to the fancy, and thinks the drama the most approved vehicle….

The Tragedy of De Monfort is still superior to Basil. The hero is a more original character, and more forcibly drawn; but it is too diffuse. The last act might be omitted altogether with advantage, adding a little only at the end of the fourth. With these improvements it would make an excellent play, and one which, we have no doubt, would be received with the greatest pleasure by an English audience….

It is with great pleasure that we notice a publication, in which so much original genius for dramatic poetry is evidently displayed. May we not hope that, in the unknown author of these Dramas, exists the long wished-for talent, which is to remove the present opprobrium of our theatres, and supply them with productions of native growth, calculated not for the destruction of idle time, but, for the amusement of ages? We are willing, in some degree, to cherish the expectation.

SOURCE: A review of A Series of Plays In Which It Is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind, Vol. 1, by Joanna Baillie. The British Critic and Quarterly Theological Review 13 (March 1799): 284-90.

Techno-gothic grotesques embody discursively constructed and spectacularly displayed monsters or aberrations. Historically, monsters had been exhibited in public places, but it is the beginning of the nineteenth-century when teratology began to decipher in scientific terms the grotesque bodies theatrically displayed.8 Physicality offered a way of performing scientific preoccupations with the body, its anatomy, is physiology, its potential for disease and deformity, its propensity for physical disabilities and socio-sexual transgressions. The techno-gothic grotesque makes visible the threatening "other," simultaneously disturbing and appealing, terrifying and pleasurable.9 Science and stage engendered new perceptions of physicality, transforming the body into a text that could be read and interpreted by both the trained medical gaze and the curious theatergoer. Physiognomy and phrenology comprised scientific disciplines intent on reading the body, but reading a performing body, and one that was physically grotesque, was especially tricky as it was legitimately artificial and fictive, disguised and costumed.10 While the malformed, hybrid, and at times carnivalesque, monstrous, and sick body of the techno-gothic grotesque excited contradictory responses of sympathy and abomination, it also destabilized cultural norms.11 Its physical physicality was, on the one hand, a spectacular body of gothic terror and curiosity; and, on the other hand, a politicized text placed on display at the anatomical "clinic" where theatergoers or readers could participate in the culture's scientific interpretations and medical diagnoses.

If the techno-gothic grotesque created a performing body that could not be easily read, the techno-gothic ghost challenged legibility in its performance of disembodiment. In their unstable and myriad forms, techno-gothic ghosts resist spatial limitations and discernable significations. Technologically designed special effects of the stage and the culture's preoccupation with hysteria stimulated the imagination to contemplate the absence of substance, religious and pagan spirits, inchoate psychology and neurology—areas which science sought to explain with empirical evidence. By manipulating the ways light bounced from a polished and curved plane, for example, production managers could create optical effects. Spectators looking into a mirror could be terrified by the appearance floating upon its surface, a phantom signifying fictions generated by both superstition and science.12 By manipulating characters' responses and plot developments, playwrights could create discursive and dramatic phantasmagoria that pricked spectators' and readers' imaginative participation in the culture's craze over mental and physical matters. Ghosts were, of course, a gothic convention at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but they were also the way in which Romantic-period playwrights could theatricalize the scientific scrutiny and speculation of mental disorders—hallucinations, hysteria, deliria, madness, mania—that were charged with new medical significations.

For women playwrights, especially, technogothic grotesques and ghosts provided a way for them to participate in the scientific revolution of the early nineteenth century in a speaking position rather than as an object. For women writers, it was particularly complicated to portray a body scientifically sexed as female and culturally gendered as feminine, for, by some medical accounts, female bodies were already grotesque. It was similarly tricky for women playwrights to portray "mad" or hysterical women in their dramas, characters that seemed to confirm scientific interpretations of women as victims of their own bodies, always with the propensity for excessive and uncontrollable emotions. One way for women to challenge the biological limits placed on them by science was to stage madness as a deliberate and calculated strategy used by female characters, a "staged" guise or costume put on to deceive male characters who assume that they are truly mad. We see this strategy, for example in Sophia Lee's 1794 tragedy Almeyda; Queen of Granada. Joanna Baillie's drama Witchcraft (1836), however, exposes the theoretical and fictive nature of medical science in characterizing male but especially female characters as techno-gothic grotesques possessed by techno-gothic ghosts. At a metadramtic level, furthermore, Witchcraft stages a society haunted by a techno-gothic ghost in its depiction of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century witch hunts as conceptual analogues to early nineteenth-century medical practices intent on dominating, controlling and persecuting women by naming them as techno-gothic grotesques, witches marginalized as "others" whose diseased presence must be purged from the social body.13

Baillie writes her play at the apex of literary and scientific discussions about monstrosity and phantasmagoria, and these discourses, no doubt, informed her thinking about women persecuted by social conventions based on superstition and fiction but legitimized by religion and medicine. Even by the middle of the nineteenth century and following prolific scientific activity, the unknown, superstition, and spectral still created fear and terror. Charles Lamb asserts in "Witches and Other Night-Fears" (1823) that the most cruel, tormenting devil to humankind is "the simple idea of a spirit unembodied" (80). In Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), Walter Scott diagnoses those who claimed to see apparitions as "mad," pathologically unbalanced, deceived by a "lively dream, a waking reverie, the excitation of a powerful imagination, or the misrepresentation of a diseased organ of sight" (344). It was also in 1830 that John Herschel offers a scientific explanation for seemingly intangible phenomena by identifying the optical necessity of something between the eye and the thing seen. What the "thing" is, he concedes, has been variously conjectured. Some imagine that "all visible objects are constantly throwing out from them, in all directions, some sort of resemblances or spectral forms of themselves, when received by the eyes, produce an impression of objects" (249-50). One of the definitions of "spectral," Anne Williams reminds us, is "produced merely by the action of light on the eye or on a sensitive medium" (114). Optical illusions, whether reflected by the human eye, the magic lantern shows, or the theatre's curved mirrors, generated medical and popular interest.14

Baillie explicitly acknowledges in her note to Witchcraft that the subject of the drama was suggested to her by her reading of Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) and its concern with witch-craft trials that she found curious but unsatisfactorily developed. In a journal entry dated 22 July 1827, Walter Scott notes Baillie's tragedy and ponders: "Will it be real Witch craft—the Ipsissimus Diabolus [the very devil himself]—or an imposter—or the half crazed being who believes herself an ally of condemned spirits and desires to be so? That last is a sublime subject" (Journal 331). Baillie's note to her drama reveals how the suspicion of being a witch powerfully convinces the accused that she is a witch. Baillie's reading public would have been familiar with the powerful and electrifying influence of staged science as itinerant lecturers and "doctors" performed electrocutions of torpedo fish, intoxications by nitrous oxide as well as extravagant displays of magneticism and galvanization. At the end of the eighteenth century, Franz Anton Mesmer had made famous showy and popular demonstrations in magnetic healing, hypnosis, and somnambulism.15 Surgeons, such as John Hunter, maintained anatomical collections that included skulls, feral children, dissected appendages, and colonized specimens, all with a variety of physical deformities. More commercialized "freak" shows featured giants, midgets, bearded ladies, hermaphrodites, and mad women.16 These variously displayed techno-gothic grotesques constituted Romantic-period analogues to public trials and executions of seventeenth-century witches—monsters, dehumanized "others" displayed and purged from a "normative" social body.

Baillie's thinking about witchcraft might have been influenced by a specific seventeenth-century witchcraft case involving a Scottish midwife, Margaret Lang, whose dangerous mixture of medical skill and spiritual gifts made her the perfect target of a witch hunt in Erskine, near Paisley, the setting of Baillie's play, and whose plight was chronicled in A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire. In 1696, Christian Shaw, the eleven-year old daughter of a Scottish lord, accused Margaret and two dozen others of bewitching her and conspiring with the devil to kill her. Once "Pinched Maggie," as she came to be called, was named, others came forward with accusations of having seen her at nocturnal "witch" gatherings at Kilmalcolm at which magic was practiced. Margaret was sentenced to be hanged and then burned.17 Baillie would have probably recognized the theatricality of accused witches public examinations, trials, and executions during the seventeenth century as well as the spectacle such a re-staging of witchcraft would create for early nineteenth-century spectators. In an 1827 letter to Walter Scott, Baillie proclaims: "Renfrew Witches upon a polite stage! Will such a thing ever be endorsed!" (Letters 1.441). Witch-hunts in Scotland, as Baillie's reading would have revealed, endorsed beliefs in diabolical conspiracies—a notion dramatized in Baillie's play—and amassed over 1,337 executions plus additional deaths from suicides, torture, and neglect. The Presbyterian Church ordered its Calvinist ministers to seek out witches, and all women, especially those who challenged patriarchal society, were potential witches.18

Ecclesiastical condemnation of independent women had, during the course of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, been replaced with an equally powerful check on female liberation—scientific and medical "discoveries" that pronounced women inferior in anatomy and in mind. Baillie, of course, grew up in a household of physicians; her uncle, Dr. William Hunter, and her brother, Dr. Matthew Baillie, were renowned anatomists whose medical theatres were, in fact, the sites of medical instruction.19 Baillie's medical knowledge would have recognized the historical associations of female healers and midwives with witchery—a connection that reclassified "wise" women as "evil" and "melancholic" and helped to legitimize the male medical profession of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.20 It was during this time that uterine theories of hysteria were reintroduced into medical discourses. Inspired by botanical and zoological taxonomies of naturalists Carolus Lin-naeus and the Comte de Buffon, physicians linked hysteria causally to female sexuality.21 With shadows of the earlier religious theories about witchcraft still lingering in the social unconscious, medical discourses re-eroticized madness as a distinctly female disorder and recontextualized witches as neurotic, hysterical, psychotic, and emotionally disturbed women. What had been attributed to witchcraft was now attributed to the weaker female constitution. In short, women who did not perform the roles assigned by patriarchal culture were diagnosed as mad—techno-gothic grotesques outside the boundaries of "normative" society as classified by the period's scientific revolution.

It is in the context of these cultural changes that Baillie's drama portrays male figures of legal and ecclesiastical authority in collusion against any woman, regardless of class or circumstances, believed to be involved in witchery.22 From the beginning of the play, Grizeld Bane, Mary Macmurren, and Elspy Low are reputed witches whose nocturnal activities on the moor and economic hardships cast suspicion on them. The Sheriff reifies these local stereotypes in his question: "Are not witches always old and poor?" (3.2.630). These three hags routinely meet at "Warlock's Den," a deserted cave in the woods; during a stormy night, they have been seen dancing with a man presumed dead for three years, a techno-gothic ghost that figures significantly in rendering the women techno-gothic grotesques. Furthermore, Mary Macmurren's son Wilkin is an idiot, a mental derangement popularly believed to be the result of her intercourse with the devil. By all accounts of the play's characters, these women are techno-gothic grotesques, monsters and human aberrations to be feared and avoided or eliminated. Of course, any contact with them makes even healthy innocents guilty by association.

All three witches have cleverly eluded arrest until Mary Macmurren is found in the custody of constables in Act Four, but she is saved from being burned at the stake by a decree from the King and Parliament declaring that "the law punishing what has been called the crime of witchcraft as a felonious offense be repealed…. Henceforth there shall no person be prosecuted at law as a wizard or witch, throughout these realms" (5.2.641). While Mary is not proven innocent of witchcraft, the law that would condemn her is unmasked as unjust. Other means of marginalizing threatening women are nonetheless devised, and the revelation about Grizeld Bane at the end of the play points to the ways in which post-Enlightenment medicine names women insane, a techno-gothic grotesque, a strategy for containing women that will not be declared unlawful.

We learn that Grizeld is "a miserable woman whose husband was hanged for murder, at Inverness, some years ago, and who thereupon became distracted … [and] was … kept in close custody. But she has, no doubt," Fatheringham reports, "escaped from her keepers, who may not be very anxious to reclaim her" (5.2.642). Ironically, it is not witchcraft but mental illness that afflicts Grizeld, a nineteenth-century diagnosis of female behavior when it does not conform to social standards. Matthew Baillie's own account in his third Gulstonian Lecture of 1794 medically explains Grizeld's abilities to overpower her keepers and how her various actions throughout the play might be attributable to her nerves' excitement of her muscles into motion: "Muscles are capable of being thrown into a much greater degree of contraction by emotions of the mind than perhaps by any other cause; and it is this circumstance which gives the astonishing strength sometimes exerted by maniacs" (147). Here physiological interpretations make legitimate observations of behaviors attributed to those with mental and emotional disorders—techno-gothic grotesques termed "witches" by the culture depicted in Baillie's drama.

While these techno-gothic grotesques have done no harm to anyone, the drama unmasks the dangerous techno-gothic grotesque of Refrewshire, a woman whose appearances and economic station betray her monstrous heart and the witchery she attempts to effect in order to realize personal revenge for unrequited love. Annablla Gordon seizes upon the cultural disposition in which suspicion of women breeds unreasonable, hysterical responses and repression. Eleven-year-old Jessie Dungarren has not been well, and the prevailing church and medical interpretation of her infirmity of sleeplessness, fever, erratic behavior—babbling and convulsions—is that she has been bewitched. Her nervous disease, as Thomas Trotter characterizes it in his 1807 A View of the Nervous Temperament, arises from the mind that, under the influence of this malady, can conjure up "blue devils, ghosts, hobgoblins" (185). While Trotter attributes nervous temperament to various female mental and bodily functions, in Baillie's drama, it is suspected that Grizeld Bane, Mary Macmurren, and Elspy Low are somehow involved. This situation is perfect for Annabella's own little drama of witchcraft to implicate Violet Murrey as a witch. Violet is in love with Robert Dungarren, the man Annabella believes she would have if Violet were not in her way, a fictive situation that modifies the 1696 Margaret Lang witch-hunt with elements of gothic romance.

An additional ingredient to Annabella's brew is the reporting of Rutherford, the parish minister, of having seen, or at least of having believed to have seen, Violet with the ghost of a dead man on the moor. Violet has already been discredited as a healthy member of society through the actions of her father, a man who had been convicted of murder and who was believed to have died following his escape from prison. We know that the techno-gothic ghost she meets on the moor during the stormy night is none other than her father, very much alive but in hiding until he can prove his innocence. Violet is unwilling to betray her father, who must remain apparitional to everyone else. With Violet's character already tainted, Annabella realizes that it will not take much contrived evidence to cast her as a witch, and with the help of Black Bawldy, a gullible herdboy, Annabella seals Violet's fate. During one of Jessie's fits, she reportedly tears the garment of the witch with whom she wrestles. Annabella pays Bawldy to secure one of Violet's gowns so that she may tear it, matching the tear with that Jessie has snatched from her ghostly visitor. This is the evidence that convinces even the skeptical citizens that Violet is guilty of witchcraft. Annabella has convinced herself that Violet will not be allowed to be executed, for as she assures Bawldy, "Mary Macmurren will be burnt, for an example to all other witches and warlocks, but a respite and pardon will be given to Violet Murrey; it is only her disgrace, not her death, that is intended" (4.2.633). She is, however, playing with the fire of societal ignorance and fear.

We come to realize that Annabella is delusional, a state of mind, along with delirium, that was of immense interest to the medical professionals of the Romantic period. In An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement (1798), Alexander Crichton maintains: "All delirious people, no matter whether they be maniacs or hypochondriacs, or people in the delirium of fever, or of hysteria, differ from those of a sound mind in this respect, that they have certain diseased perceptions and notions in the reality of which they firmly believe, and which consequently become motives of many actions and expressions which appear unreasonable to the rest of mankind" (1.137-38). Annabella suffers from what Crichton refers to as one kind of diseased notion entertained by delirious people: "They are diseased abstract notions, referable to the qualities and conditions of persons and things, and [her] relation to them; as when [she] imagines that [her] friends have conspired to kill [her]" (1.141), or in Annabella's case, imagines that Violet will rob her of the man she loves. As we have seen, however, Annabella has to persuade herself that "revenge is sweet; revenge is noble; revenge is nature" (5.1.637), as she is tormented by conflicted mental commotions.

Grizeld accurately assesses Annabella's character when she tells her that she is the "best" of Satan's queens and princesses, for "there is both wit and wickedness in thee to perfection" (4.2.633). Grizeld alarms Annabella with a rhetoric that would brand her the very techno-gothic grotesque that Annabella would declare of others, and Grizeld emphasizes: "There is not a cloven foot, nor a horned head of them all wickeder and bolder than thou art" (5.1.638). Annabella scornfully dismisses Grizeld's accusations: "She is but raving: the fumes of her posset have been working in her brain" (4.2.634). Although each woman characterizes the other as a techno-gothic grotesque, it is only Grizeld that is marked by religion and medicine as witch, as hysterical who must, therefore, be extracted from society. These dramatically enhanced character analyses direct our attention to the importance of perspective in perception. Just as Annabella cannot see the techno-gothic ghost to which Grizeld points in the corner of the room as the "Master" they both serve, the good people of Renfrewshire cannot see Annabella for the techno-gothic grotesque she is. It is only when Anabella's strangled corpse is laid before the crowd gathered for the witches' execution that she is unmasked as techno-gothic grotesque. Like the crowd in Baillie's drama, we read the spectacular body of Annabella differently; we come to see her as a woman complicit in using the fear of witchcraft to serve her own selfish goals and to deflect attention from her own neurotic behaviors.

Madness serves post-Enlightenment medicine in a similar way to that of seventeenth-century religion's deployment of witch-hunting—as a check on female power and independence. Baillie's play explores the roots of early nineteenth-century's psycho-medical treatment of women and its continued perversion of the magic-healer-witch into the hysteric by male physicians who linked hysteria causally with female sexuality. Medical science is exposed as interpretative and inexact as "witchcraft" itself, as the bewitching effects of cultural hysteria are staged. Metadra-matically, witchcraft functions as a metaphor and commentary on madness as a cultural signifier and as a kind of cultural ghost haunting the medical and scientific practices of Baillie's day. In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault describes a pedagogical technique used to treat mad patients during the Romantic period that replicates the metadramatic cure for social madness staged in Baillie's Witchcraft. According to Foucault, "the cure by theatrical representation" was often successful with patients who had come to see illusion as reality (187). Staged illusions and images presented an alternative reality to that created by patients, and they sometimes came to recognize that their perceptions of reality were fictions of their own making. The patients, like Baillie's readers, are forced to confront what Foucault describes as "a crisis which is, in a very ambiguous manner, both medical and theatrical" (180).

Witchcraft offers us a theatrical illusion of social reality, a pedagogical strategy adopted from medical practices, encouraging us to reevaluate medical perceptions of hysteria offered in the scientific revolution of her day that continue to inform our perspectives on madness. In this way, Baillie's Witchcraft anticipates twentieth-century arguments by American psychological feminists like those of Juliet Mitchell and Phyllis Chesler, who point out that female behavior is termed "mad" by a social and medical culture that requires repressed female sexuality and rejects attempts to reconnect mind and body from its post-Enlightenment divisive taxonomies and as well as twentieth-century positions by American feminist spiritualists like those of Starhawk and Carol Christ who seek to reclaim witchcraft and goddess religions as enabling discourses and practices for female identity.23


1. In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault notes that until the end of the eighteenth century "the uterus and the womb remained present in the pathology of hysteria" (144), informing notions at the beginning of the nineteenth century identifying "hysteria and hypochondria as mental diseases" (158). Laurinda S. Dixon explains that the ancient notion of the capricious womb, capable of extensive sympathy with the rest of the body, remained a fixture of eighteenth-century medical theory, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, women's susceptibility to illness was based on their "proper" function in society and their "peculiar" anatomy. According to Dixon, medical theorists used "the authority of biology to justify maintaining the cultural and political differences between the sexes that were thought to be crucial to social stability" (Perilous Chastity 236). Mark S. Micale points out that nineteenth-century notions of hysteria were defined by a set of highly negative character traits in women: "eccentricity, impulsiveness, emotionality, coquettishness, deceitfulness, and hypersexuality" (Approaching Hysteria 24). Peter Melville Logan discusses the transition of female hysteria from a physical to a psychological ailment (Nerves and Narratives 93-107).

2. See my essays "Science Fiction and Techno-Gothic Drama: Romantic Playwrights Joanna Baillie and Jane Scott," Romanticism on the Net 21 (February 2001); "Byron's Disability and the Techno-Gothic Grotesque" in The Deformed Transformed, European Romantic Review, forthcoming; "Theatricalized Bodies and Spirits: Techno-Gothic as Performance in Romantic Drama," Gothic Studies, forthcoming.

3. Barbara Marie Stafford (Body Criticism 366-75) and Paul Ranger ("Terror and Pity Reign in Every Breast" 70-119) delineate various scientific and stage devices popular during the Romantic period.

4. See Roy S. Porter ("Medical Science and Human Science in the Enlightenment" 64-66) for a discussion of Thomas Beddoes's and Humphry Davy's experiments in pneumatic medicine and their lectures on chemistry in theatres built specifically for scientific studies. According to Margaret S. Carhart, Joanna Baillie's uncle, William Hunter, maintained the Hunter School of Anatomy on Windmill Street in London. The medical school included an anatomical theatre and museum, and Joanna's brother, Matthew Baillie, inherited it in 1783 (The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie 9-11). Matthew Baillie was named Physician Extraordinary to King George III in 1810.

5. See Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite (Creations of Fire 151-211); Edwin Clarke and L. S. Jacyna (Nineteenth-Century Orgins of Neuroscientific Concepts 160-211); Gloria Flaherty ("The Non-Normal Sciences: Survivals of Renaissance Thought in the Eighteenth Century" 71-91); Lindsay Wilson (Women and Medicine in the French Enlightenment 104-24); Ludmilla Jordanova ("Gender, Generation and Science: William Hunter's Obstetrical Atlas" 385-412); Christopher Fox ("Introduction: How to Prepare a Noble Savage: The Spectacle of Human Science" 11-12); Robert Bogdan (Freak Show 106-11 and "The Social Construction of Freaks" 23-37); Elizabeth Grosz ("Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit" 55-66) for discussions of various non-dramatic shows and displays featuring aberrant bodies.

6. In Romantic Theatricality, Judith Pascoe characterizes the theatricality of the 1794 Treason Trials and the public spectacle of Marie Antoinette, for example (33-67 and 95-129). My essay "Women's Sovereignty on Trial: Joanna Baillie's Comedy 'The Tryal' as Metatheatrics" analyzes the public's fascination with theatricalized litigation and ritualized courtship/marriage staged in Baillie's 1798 comedy as a pedagogical strategy for women (132-57). In her Introductory Discourse to the 1798 Plays on the Passions, Baillie points out the pedagogical function of public processions and hangings that, like drama, can generate "sympathetic curiosity" between actor and spectator (2). Foucault notes how, in the nineteenth century, madness was a public spectacle with organized performances in which madmen sometimes played the roles of actors and sometimes played the role of spectators (Madness and Civilization 68-70). Madness was a thing to be looked at, Foucault explains, and "madmen remained monsters—that is, etymologically, beings or things to be shown" (70).

7. See Paul Ranger ("Terror and Pity Reign in Every Breast" 19-41), Richard Leacroft (The Development of the English Playhouse 119-238), and Terry Castle (The Female Thermometer 140-67) for explanations about how science affected theatrical staging devices and special effects.

8. Robert Bogdan's describes exotic exhibitions of "freaks" accompanied by scientific discourses and teratological taxonomies. According to Bogdan, showmen often asked scientists to authenticate monsters, for "linking freak exhibits with science made the attractions more interesting, more believable, and less frivolous …" ("The Social Construction of Freaks" 29; see also Freak Show 1-21).

9. Mariana Warner has shown how the grotesque paradoxically presents terror and mockery in its "parodic harshness, sick humour, shivery manipulation of fear and pleasure in the monstrous" (No Go the Bogeyman 67). See also Lucie Armitt's distinction between grotesque and caricature (Theorising the Fantastic 68-70).

10. Deidre Lynch points out that a performer's face provided spectacular evidence of how passions "stamped" the muscles of the face. Spectators were expected to look at the sentiment written across the performer's body ("Overloaded Portraits: The Excess of Character and Countenance" 137). According to E. J. Clery, David Garrick's technique of acting was dependent on the audience's knowledge of the body, a taxonomy of the passions registered by facial expressions and bodily gestures (The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762–1800 42-49).

11. Freddie Rokem acknowledges that a staged body functions as a "sign" of "cultural and aesthetic codes of bodily behavior" for audiences ("Slapping Women: Ibsen's Nora, Strindberg's Julie, and Freud's Dora" 222). Veronica Kelly and Dorothea von Mucke maintain that the body stands in a multiple complex relations to culturally produced meanings. In the production of dominant cultural codes, the body "regulate[s] the excesses of signifying practice and define[s] the subjectivity of agents in the semiotic transaction" ("Introduction: Body and Text in the Eighteenth Century" 9).

12. Terry Castle points to the ways in which non-dramatic but staged science excited audiences to question the reality of optical illusions in magic lantern shows, which "developed as mock exercises in scientific demystification, complete with preliminary lectures on the fallacy of ghost-belief" ("Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie" 30). See also Terry Castle (The Female Thermometer 168-89) and Barbara Marie Stafford (Body Criticism 366-75).

13. Foucault describes how the social fear, a fear formulated in medical terms but animated by a moral myth, arose throughout the Romantic period that madness was a mysterious disease, contagious and corrupting (Madness and Civilization 199-220).

14. In the Introductory Discourse to the 1798 Plays on the Passions, Baillie remarks about the compelling nature of the world of spirits, our interest in finding ourselves "alone with a being terrific and awful, whose nature and power are unknown." Baillie adds that we prefer vicarious explorations of the supernatural as an object of inquiry: "No man wishes to see the Ghost himself, which would certainly procure him the best information on the subject; but every man wishes to see one who believes that he sees it, in all the agitation and wildness of that species of terror" (3).

15. Interestingly, Franz Anton Mesmer argued that medicine had ignored a majority of chronic illnesses, including epilepsy, mania, melancholy, so-called "illnesses of the nerves," often confusing crisis with disease ("Dissertation by F. A. Mesmer, Doctor of Medicine, on His Discoveries" 105).

16. Dennis Todd details the celebrated case of Mary Toft, the illiterate wife of a poor journeyman cloth-worker, who purportedly gave birth to her first rabbit in October 1726, an incident that excited medical and public attention (Imaginary Monsters 1-37). Rosi Braidotti notes that the medical profession benefited by examining human exhibits in raree shows (Nomadic Subjects 91-92). Scientists who examined "freaks," explains Bogdan, frequently presented their commentaries in newspapers and pamphlets, and some exhibits were presented to medical societies (Freak Show 106-111). See Also Richard D. Altick (The Shows of London 217-20).

17. A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire 151-52. The Renfrew Witches incident is discussed by Anne Llewellyn Barstow (Witchcraze 124-25).

18. Christina Larner (Enemies of God 63). Mary Daly notes that a 1563 Scottish witch-law dropped the distinction between "good" and "bad" witch (Gyn/Ecology 193), and so in the case Renfrew Witches, any witch-craft would have been persecuted. The English Parliament made accusations of witchcraft and sorcery illegal in 1736.

19. "Life of Joanna Baillie" ix. See also Margaret Carhart (Life and Work of Joanna Baillie 9-11).

20. See, for example, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English (Witches, Midwives, and Nurses 6-20); Mary Daly (Gyn/Ecology 183-213).

21. Mark S. Micale (Approaching Hysteria 22-23). For a developed analysis of the causal links of hysteria to female sexuality, see Ilza Veith's Hysteria: The History of a Disease.

22. Elizabeth A. Fay includes a brief mention of Baillie's Witchcraft, which, she maintains, "explores how real social restrictions on women's behavior or their imaginations can lead them literally into life-threatening situations that are historically plausible, such as accusations of witchcraft" (A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism 117).

23. See, for example, Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Phyllis Chesler's Women and Madness, Starhawk's "Witchcraft as Goddess Religion" (394-400), and Carol P. Christ's "Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, and Political Reflections" (345-58).

Works Cited

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――――――. Introductory Discourse to Plays on the Passions. 1798. The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie, Complete in One Volume. 2nd ed. London: Longman, 1851. 1-18.

――――――. Witchcraft: A Tragedy in Prose, in Five Acts in Miscellaneous Plays. 1836. The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie, Complete in One Volume. 2nd ed. London: Longman, 1851. 613-43.

Baillie, Matthew. "The Gulstonian Lectures, Read at the College of Physicians, May 1794: Lecture III." Lectures and Observations on Medicine. London: Taylor, 1825. 140-60.

Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. London: Pandora, 1994.

Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

――――――. "The Social Construction of Freaks." Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson. New York: New York UP, 1996.

Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.

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――――――. "Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie." Critical Inquiry 15.1 (1988): 26-61.

Chesler, Phyllis. Women and Madness. New York: Doubleday, 1972.

Christ, Carol P. "Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, and Political Reflections." All American Women: Lives that Divide, Ties that Bind. New York: Macmillan, 1986. 345-58.

Clarke, Edwin, and L. S. Jacyna. Nineteenth-Century Origins of Neuroscientific Concepts. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987.

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――――――. "Science Fiction and Techno-Gothic Drama: Romantic Playwrights Joanna Baillie and Jane Scott." Romanticism on the Net 21 (Feb. 2001).

――――――. "Theatricalized Bodies and Spirits: Techno-Gothic as Performance in Romantic Drama." Gothic Studies, forthcoming.

――――――. "Women's Sovereignty on Trial: Joanna Baillie's Comedy The Tryal as Metatheatrics." Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790–1840. Ed. Catherine Burroughs. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. 132-57.

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Carhart, Margaret Sprague. The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1923, 215 p.

Comprehensive, authoritative biography and overview of Baillie's works.


Brigham, Linda. "Aristocratic Monstrosity and Sublime Femininity in De Monfort." SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 43, no. 3 (summer 2003): 701-18.

Examines Baillie's theories regarding the emotions, as stated in her "Introductory Discourse" to the first volume of Plays on the Passions, and compares them to the theories of Edmund Burke to illustrate how "they relate to political and feminist topics in the 1790s and early nineteenth century."

Burroughs, Catherine B. "English Romantic Women Writers and Theatre Theory: Joanna Baillie's Prefaces to the Plays on the Passions." In Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776–1837, edited by Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner, pp. 274-96. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Studies Baillie's prefaces to her Plays on the Passions as examples of "theatre theory" and "locates them within a tradition of women writing about the stage."

――――――. "'Out of the Pale of Social Kindred Cast': Conflicted Performance Styles in Joanna Baillie's De Monfort." In Romantic Women Writers: Voices and Countervoices, edited by Paula R. Feldman and Theresa M. Kelley, pp. 223-35. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1995.

Argues that the "dramaturgical tension that results from" De Monfort's "conflicting acting modes" ("statuesque stasis" vs. "emotive school") indicates that Baillie was ambivalent "about prescribing a particular style of performance for characters navigating her fictionalized social settings."

Dowd, Maureen A. "'By the Delicate Hand of a Female': Melodramatic Mania and Johanna Baillie's Spectacular Tragedies." European Romantic Review 9, no. 4 (fall 1998): 469-500.

Compares Baillie's dramatic works to those of Friedrich von Schiller and maintains that "the gaps between Baillie's prefatory rhetoric and her dramatic productions operate as a cultural performance that usefully illuminates the intersection of commercial concerns, national interest, and gender issues in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British theater."

Forbes, Aileen. "'Sympathetic Curiosity' in Joanna Baillie's Theater of the Passions." European Romantic Review 14, no. 1 (March 2003): 31-48.

Discusses Baillie's theory of "sympathetic curiosity," as evidenced in her plays, and asserts that "Baillie innova-tively combines the two concepts [of 'sympathy' and 'curiosity'] in a dramatic tension that aims to delineate the human passions."

Gamer, Michael. "National Supernaturalism: Joanna Baillie, Germany, and the Gothic Drama." Theatre Survey 38, no. 2 (November 1997): 49-88.

Discusses the debate over Gothic drama's legitimacy and examines how Baillie produced engaging plays which managed to avoid the stigma afforded other Gothic works.

Harness, William. "Celebrated Female Writers: Joanna Baillie." Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 16, no. 91 (August 1824): 162-78.

Highly laudatory overview of Baillie's career.

Jeffrey, Francis. A review of A Series of Plays In Which It Is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind, Vol. II, by Joanna Baillie. The Edinburgh Review 11, no. 4 (July 1803): 269-86.

Mixed review of the second volume of Plays on the Passions.

――――――. A review of A Series of Plays: In Which It Is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind, Vol. III, by Joanna Baillie. The Edinburgh Review 19, no. 38 (February 1812): 261-90.

Assesses the third volume of Plays on the Passions as "decidedly inferior to any of her former volumes" but declares that "at the same time … it contains indications of talent that ought not to be overlooked, and specimens of excellence, which make it a duty to examine into the causes of its general failure."

Meyers, Victoria. "Joanna Baillie's Theatre of Cruelty." In Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays, compiled by Thomas C. Crochunis, pp. 87-107. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

Examines Baillie's treatment of human psychology and morality in Plays on the Passions, particularly in terms of her presentation of violence and cruelty.

Purinton, Marjean D. "Joanna Baillie's Count Basil and De Monfort: The Unveiling of Gender Issues." In Romantic Ideology Unmasked: The Mentally Constructed Tyrannies in Dramas of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Joanna Baillie, pp. 125-62. Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

Places Baillie's works within the context of works by other women writers of her time and examines the overlap of political and gender issues in Count Basil and De Monfort.

Watkins, Daniel P. "Class, Gender, and Social Motion in Joanna Baillie's De Monfort." Wordsworth Circle 23, no. 2 (spring 1992): 109-17.

Stresses the historical value of De Monfort's depictions of social conditions and class conflicts.


Additional coverage of Baillie's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 93; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 71, 151; and Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2.