According to writer Mary Shelley, when Elizabeth Inchbald would enter a room, every man present turned his attention to her, ignoring all other women in the room. This beautiful actress and author was born Elizabeth Simpson at Standingfield, Suffolk, on October 15, 1753, the eighth child and sixth daughter of the Catholic farmer John Simpson and his wife, the former Mary Rushbrook.
At an early age she fell in love with the stage. When she was seventeen, she tried to join the theater in Norwich, where her brother George was acting. She received encouragement but no engagement. On April 11, 1772, she boarded the Norwich Fly, bound for London’s playhouses forty miles away. Here, too, she could not gain a foothold. On June 9, 1772, she married the actor Joseph Inchbald, whom she had met the previous year when she visited her married sisters in the English capital. Joseph Inchbald was twice Elizabeth’s age, but he had theatrical experience and connections. Their seven-year marriage would be tempestuous, in large part because Elizabeth’s beauty gained her many admirers and her independent spirit caused her to reject subservience to her husband. The rebellious Miss Milner of A Simple Story is largely a self-portrait.
Through her husband’s connections and her own good looks, Inchbald secured positions in various provincial theaters, where she performed such leading roles as Cordelia to her husband’s Lear, Desdemona to her...
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