Dane, Clemence (1888–1965)

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Dane, Clemence (1888–1965)

English novelist and playwright. Name variations: also wrote under real name Winifred Ashton; acted under Diana Cortis. Born Winifred Ashton on February 21, 1888, in Greenwich, London; died on March 28, 1965, in London; daughter of Arthur Charles (a commission merchant) and Florence (Bentley) Ashton; educated in England, Germany, and Switzerland; studied art in Dresden and at the Slade School, London.

Selected writings:

Regiment of Women (1917); Legend (1919); Broome Stages (1931); (collection of feminist essays) The Woman's Side (1926); Tradition and Hugh Walpole (1929); (detective story written with Helen Simpson) Sir John (1930); (with Helen Simpson) Enter Sir John (1932); (biography ofMary Kingsley ) A Woman Among Wild Men (1938); London Has a Garden (1964).


A Bill of Divorcement (1921); Will Shakespeare (1921); Naboth's Vineyard (1926); Granite (1926); Adam's Opera (1928); Wild Decembers (1932); Come of Age (1933); Mariners (1927); Eighty in the Shade (1959).

Clemence Dane began writing after ill health cut short an acting career. Born Winifred Ashton, she took her pseudonym from the Church of St. Clement Danes in the Strand, in the area of London where she lived for most of her life. Her first novel, Regiment of Women (1917), about life at a girls' school, met with critical acclaim, as did Legend (1919), about a woman writer, and Broome Stages (1931), the story of a theatrical family. Dane teamed with the Australian-born novelist Helen Simpson to write several detective stories that featured an actor-manager as the main character. Her last book, London Has a Garden (1964), is a history of Covent Garden that also contains some of her reminiscences.

Dane's first play, A Bill of Divorcement (1921), dealt with the issues of divorce on the grounds of insanity. The play had a long run in London and in New York where it provided Katharine Cornell with one of her first major roles on Broadway. It also provided Katharine Hepburn her first role in film. However, Dane's subsequent plays were not as well received. Three of her plays were based on literary lives: Will Shakespeare (1921), Wild Decembers (1932, about the Brontës), and Come of Age (1933, based on the life of Thomas Chatterton). In 1934, she adapted Rostand's L'Aiglon for the stage, followed by adaptations of Max Beerbohm's The Happy Hypocrite (1936) and Friedrich Hebbel's Herodes and Mariamne (1938). Her last play, Eighty in the Shade (1958), was written especially for Sybil Thorndike. Dane also produced seven film scripts, including the screenplay for Anna Karenina (1935).

In addition to writing, Dane, who had studied art as a girl, was known as an excellent sculptor. Her bust of the famed actor Ivor Novello stands in the foyer of the Theater Royal in Drury Lane. She received the CBE in 1953.