Inchbald, Elizabeth (1753–1821)

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Inchbald, Elizabeth (1753–1821)

English novelist, playwright and actress. Born Elizabeth Simpson on October 15, 1753, near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England; died at Kensington House, a home for Roman Catholic women, on August 1, 1821; second youngest child of John Simpson (a Roman Catholic farmer at Stanningfield) and Mary (Rushbrook) Simpson; married Joseph Inchbald (an actor), on June 9, 1772 (died 1779).

Elizabeth Inchbald was born in 1753, near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England, the second youngest child of John Simpson, a Roman Catholic farmer at Stanningfield, and Mary Rushbrook Simpson . Elizabeth's father died when she was eight years old. She and her sisters never enjoyed the advantages of school or regular supervision in their studies, but they seem to have acquired refined tastes at an early age. Ambitious to become an actress, a career for which a speech impediment hardly seemed to qualify her, she applied in vain for an engagement; finally, in 1772, she abruptly left home to seek her fortune in London.

There, to avoid male advances, she impulsively married Joseph Inchbald, an actor more than twice her age, and on September 4 made her debut in Bristol, as Cordelia to his Lear. For several years, she continued to act with her husband in the provinces, eking out a meager existence. Her roles included Anne Boleyn, Jane Shore , Calista, Calpurnia , Lady Anne (Anne of Warwick ) in Richard III, Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage, Desdemona, Aspasia in Tamerlane, Juliet and Imogen.

Following the death of her husband in 1779, Inchbald continued for some time on the stage; making her first London appearance at Covent Garden as Bellario in Philaster on October 3, 1780. Though she remained there for nine years, despite her fair-haired beauty and natural ability for acting, her speech impediment, which had been somewhat cured, still prevented her from enjoying more than moderate success. Her triumph as an author, however, allowed her to retire from the theater in 1789.

Elizabeth Inchbald wrote or adapted 19 plays, and some of them, especially Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are (1797), were highly successful. She also wrote I'll Tell You What (translated into German, Leipzig, 1798); Such Things Are (1788); The Married Man; The Wedding Day; The Midnight Hour; Everyone has his Fault; and an adaptation of Kotzebue's Love's Vows. Her edited works include a collection from the British Theatre, with biographical and critical remarks (25 vols., 1806–09); a Collection of Farces (7 vols., 1809); and The Modern Theatre (10 vols., 1809). Inchbald's fame, however, rests chiefly on her two novels: A Simple Story (1791) and Nature and Art (1796). She died at Kensington House on August 1, 1821.

Elizabeth Inchbald had destroyed an autobiography for which she had been offered £1,000 by a publisher; but her Memoirs, compiled by J. Boaden, chiefly from her private journal, appeared in 1833 in two volumes. An interesting account of the actress is contained in Records of a Girlhood by Fanny Kemble (1878). Her portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

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