Mathews, Frances Aymar

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MATHEWS, Frances Aymar

Born circa 1855, New York, New York; died 13 January 1923, New York, New York

Daughter of Daniel A. and Sara Eayres Webb Mathews

Frances Aymar Mathews, the daughter of a New York City art dealer, was privately educated. In the 1880s, she began publishing feature articles, playlets, and short stories in periodicals. Mathews's first professionally staged work was Bigamy (1881), "a society play in five acts." Her next full-length play, Joan (1898), was written as a result of a letter from actress Fanny Davenport: "I have seen some of your short stories and believe you are the person to write a play for me.… I want a play on Joan of Arc." Mathews spent two years doing research in the Astor Library, but took dramatic license in giving "Joan Darc" some love interest.

Mathews's most successful play was Pretty Peggy (1902), in which Grace George starred. This comedy was based upon 18th-century actress Peg Woffington's early career and romance with David Garrick. Audiences were most delighted by the novelty of a scene in Act 4 in which costumed actors suddenly appeared among the audience in every part of the theater, voicing their opinions of Peg's on-stage performance as Rosalind in As You Like It.

My Lady Peggy Goes to Town (1901) is a rambling pseudo-18th-century novel about a well-born country lass who travels to London to visit her twin brother and, she hopes, to be reconciled with Sir Percy, with whom she has had a lover's quarrel. Forced by circumstances to dress as a young man and to pass for a rival suitor for her own hand, Peggy careers from one adventure to another. After improbably becoming a protégé of Beau Brummell, she is frequently thrust into company with the unsuspecting Sir Percy, whose jealous dislike of his rival prevents her from unmasking. The dialogue prickles with period interjections, while the narrative bristles with typical turn-of-the-century rhetorical devices. One of Mathews' last published works was a sequel, My Lady Peggy Leaves Town (1913).

For a time, Mathews published and edited The Havana (New York) Journal. In January 1923, Mathews' scantily clad body was found frozen in a snowdrift not far from her home. It was reported in the New York Times that she, a pharmacist's assistant, may have been "stricken with a fit of insanity. "

Mathews' favorite subjects for narrative fiction as well as for her plays were courtship and marriage in an elegant social milieu. Her usual working procedure was to write her plots out first in the form of novels and then to dramatize them. Mathews' strength as a dramatist lay in her ability to write graceful, witty dialogue. However, her plots are contrived, and she provided little depth of characterization.

Other Works:

To-night at Eight; Comedies and Comediettas (1889). The Scapegrace (1890). Six to One (1890). The Bracelet (1895). Wooing a Widow (1895). His Way and Her Will (1900).The New Yorkers and Other People (1900). The New Professor (1903). Little Tragedy of Tien-Tsin (1904). Pamela Congreve (1904). Billy Duane (1905). Finding a Father for Flossie (1905). The Marquise's Millions (1905). The Staircase of Surprise (1905). Up Yonder (1905). Undefiled (1906). All for Sweet Charity (1907). Allee Same (1907). American Hearts (1907). The Apartment (1907). At the Grand Central (1907). Both Sides of the Counter (1907). A Charming Conversationalist (1907). The Courier (1907). En Voyage (1907). The Honeymoon (1907). A Knight of the Quill (1907). On the Staircase (1907). Paying the Piper (1907). War to the Knife (1907). A Woman's Forever (1907). Flame Dancer (1908). If David Knew (1910). A Finished Coquette (1911). Christmas Honeymoon (1912). Fanny of the Forty Frocks (1916).

Bibliography:

NYT (23 Jan. 1920, 14 Jan. 1923). Theatre Magazine (Oct. 1906).

—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ

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