Baillie, Joanna (Vol. 151)
Joanna Baillie 1762-1851
Scottish poet, playwright, and essayist.
The following entry presents criticism of Baillie from 1947 through 2003. See also Joanna Baillie Criticism (Volume 71).
Widely respected during her lifetime as a playwright, Baillie has only recently enjoyed a resurgence in readership after her poetry and dramas had been all but neglected for over a century. After moving to London from her native Scotland, Baillie became involved in the literary community that included some of the most important Romantic writers of the day, including Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. However, until the late twentieth century she was not considered part of the canon of British Romantic writers. Recent critics have sought to show how Baillie's works depict the standard subjects of Romantic literature, including tortured heroes, humble peasants, and the beauty of nature. Baillie's most ambitious and influential works are the three volumes titled A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind (1798-1812), each of which contains moral cautionary plays illustrating human passions and their consequences. Her “Introductory Discourse,” a preface to the first volume of these Series of Plays, is a detailed aesthetic treatise that criticizes tragedy's claim to represent a universal human nature and is considered a revolutionary work of critical theory, particularly since it was composed by a woman writer. A revival of interest in Baillie's plays and poems and her introduction into the canon of British Romantic authors has reestablished Baillie's reputation as a poet and dramatist of note, and she is now regarded by many as the most important female playwright of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Baillie was born on September 11, 1762 in Bothwell in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Her father, James, was a Presbyterian minister who claimed among his ancestors the nationalist Sir William Wallace, and her mother, Dorothea Hunter, was the sister of the poet Anne Hunter. Her maternal uncles were the noted surgeons William and John Hunter. As a young child, Baillie resisted learning to read, preferring to spend her time outdoors; she was known equally for her sense of humor and her sense of mischief. When she was six, her father moved to the town of Hamilton, and in 1772, when she was ten, Baillie was sent to boarding school in Glasgow, where she excelled in music, art, mathematics, and reading and where she took to entertaining friends by telling stories and organizing amateur theatrical shows. In 1776, Baillie's father was appointed Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow, but he died just two years later. Baillie, her mother, and her sister Agnes then moved to a small estate in Long Calderwood, Lanarkshire, where they remained for six years while Baillie's brother Matthew studied medicine in Oxford and London. During her years at Long Calderwood, Baillie pursued her own education, reading the major British poets and studying Shakespeare.
In 1784, Baillie moved with Agnes to London to live with Matthew, now a doctor. When Matthew married in 1791, the two sisters moved to Hampstead, on the outskirts of London, and lived off an inheritance from their uncle William Hunter. It was in London that Baillie began writing with the intent to publish. Her first works were published anonymously, and, while they were not popular, received a number of favorable reviews that encouraged her to continue writing. She began to see success in 1798 with the publication of her first plays in her Series of Plays about the passions. By the early 1800s, she had established herself as a respected poet and dramatist. Her plays were not often staged, but several of them had successful runs in Edinburgh and London, and Baillie always donated a large portion of the proceeds from her theatrical productions to charity. Baillie and her sister began to receive many visitors of distinction at their Hampstead house, which soon became the center of a literary circle that included Lady Annabella, Byron, Wordsworth, Maria Edgeworth, and Sir Walter Scott. Baillie enjoyed a close friendship and correspondence with Scott, visiting him in Scotland many times; several of her works were published under his patronage. Until her death in 1851 at the age of eighty-eight, Baillie continued writing and engaging in philanthropic pursuits: she sponsored new legislation on copyright laws, mentored young writers, fought for anti-slavery legislation, and supported the publication of England's first slave narrative.
Baillie began writing poetry at an early age, and by 1790 her first collection of verse appeared in print. Poems: Wherein It Is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners; And Also, To Point Out, In Some Instances, the Different Influence Which the Same Circumstances Produce on Different Characters, published anonymously, contains poems about the Scottish peasantry and describes its subjects' rustic manners with a combination of aesthetic distance and sympathetic identification. Baillie's love of the outdoors and her native Scotland are obvious in these poems, the best-known of which include “A Winter Day,” a portrayal of a family laboring on the land providing a picture of idealized bourgeois domesticity, and “Address to the Muses,” a meditation on poetry and nature. The same year her Poems appeared, Baillie decided to take up playwriting. Her first effort was the now lost Arnold, which took Baillie three months to write. In 1798, Baillie anonymously published the first volume of A Series of Plays. Baillie's plan in writing these Plays on the Passions was to trace the structure of each human passion in one tragedy and one comedy. Each play attempted to illustrate how a hero's actions are symptoms caused by an excessive passion, or emotion, of the mind. The seventy-two-page “Introductory Discourse” to the first volume of plays, a treatise arguing for simplicity and the unhurried development of dramatic passions, was hailed as a brilliant, revolutionary piece of writing on aesthetics—and so was quickly assumed to have been written by a man. Besides the “Discourse,” the volume contains three plays treating individual passions: Basil, a tragedy on love, De Monfort, a tragedy on hate, and The Tryal, a comedy on love. De Monfort, about the hatred De Monfort feels for his childhood friend Rezenvelt, remains Baillie's best-known play. The second volume in the series was published in 1802, and the third volume appeared in 1812. Baillie also published a number of plays individually and in a collection that appeared in 1804. In 1836, she published three more volumes of plays that also treated the passions. Of Baillie's twenty-seven plays, the most important are the three in her first volume of plays and The Family Legend (1810), a Scottish Highland drama for which Walter Scott wrote a prologue. Some of the characteristics of her dramatic work include the use of idiomatic language in portraying characters who belong to the lower classes, an interest in nature, and the representation of human psychology as it pertains to motives and desires that lead to tragedy.
In addition to her volumes of drama, Baillie published several collections of her poetry, edited a volume of verse by other writers, and wrote occasional essays. Her Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters (1821), a collection of verse that blends historical fact and poetic narrative, includes poems about Scottish folk heroes such as Lady Grisell Baillie and William Wallace. A Collection of Poems, Chiefly Manuscript, and from Living Authors (1823), edited by Baillie, was produced to raise money for several of her friends. Baillie's most important book of poetry, Fugitive Verses, appeared in 1840, when she was in her seventies. The volume includes her 1790 poems as well as poems exploring her complex feelings and attitudes toward her Protestant faith, particularly after the deaths of her loved ones. Also included are “Lines Written on the Death of Sir Walter Scott,” which praises her friend's purity of language. Baillie continued writing poetry to the end of her life, and new poems were included in The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie (1851), which was published several weeks before her death.
When the first volume of the three volumes of Series of Plays on the Passions appeared anonymously in 1798, it created a stir in London's literary circles. When Baillie came forward as the author of the collection, another sensation ensued, as no one had even considered she could have been its author. Afterward, Baillie quickly established herself as a writer of distinction. Her plays became popular in print in Britain and even the United States during the nineteenth century, and several of them were produced in London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Dublin. However, perhaps because of their psychological detail and lack of action, they were more often read than performed on stage. The most successful of her plays produced for stage was The Family Legend, which was received especially favorably in Edinburgh.
During her life, Baillie was highly respected as a poet and dramatist, counting Scott and Byron among her many admirers. Nevertheless, after her death Baillie's works fell into neglect, and by the early twentieth century she was all but unknown outside her native Scotland. It was not until the late twentieth century that critics began to look seriously again at her substantial body of writing. Many critics have conjectured that, had Baillie been a man, her works would have continued to be read and performed. Recent commentators have also found it remarkable that this unmarried, sheltered, daughter of a Presbyterian minister produced such a revolutionary theory of drama and portrayed dark, obsessive characters predating the appearance of the tortured Byronic hero. Critical commentary on Baillie has proliferated since the last decade of the twentieth century, and scholars have taken up a variety of issues in discussing her works, including her aesthetic theories; her use of Gothic conventions; her relationship with and attitude toward Byron; her views on gender, identity, and repression; her place in the tradition of private theatricals or “closet” dramas; her perspective on Scottish history; her use of Sturm and Drang techniques from German drama; her status as a Romantic writer; and her moral purpose in her plays, especially those depicting the passions. Her “Introductory Discourse” has been widely discussed and is seen as anticipating Wordsworth's landmark statement of Romantic theory in his 1800 preface to the Lyrical Ballads. Another important issue that critics have taken up is Baillie's status as a “closet playwright”—one who writes to be read rather than acted, since her letters reveal that she desired her plays to be performed on the stage. Critics generally agree that, despite the weaknesses in some of her plays, her writings show admirable powers of analysis and observation as well as a simple, energetic style. While some fault her attempt at depicting the individual passions in her plays as overly ambitious, she is admired for her bold vision and her attempt to handle works with a moral purpose using complex characterization and psychological insights.
Poems: Wherein It Is Attempted to Describe Certain Views of Nature and of Rustic Manners; And Also, To Point Out, In Some Instances, the Different Influence Which the Same Circumstances Produce on Different Characters [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. [anonymous] (plays) 1798-1812
“The Bonny Boat” (song) 1800
“Epilogue to the Theatrical Representation at Strawberry-Hill” (essay) 1800
†Miscellaneous Plays (plays) 1804
The Family Legend: A Tragedy (play) 1810
Basil: A Tragedy (play) 1811
The Election: A Comedy in Five Acts (play) 1811
The Beacon: A Serious Musical Drama, in Two Acts (play) 1812
The Dream: A Tragedy in Prose, in Three Acts (play) 1812
Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters (poetry) 1821
A Collection of Poems, Chiefly Manuscript, and from Living Authors [editor] (poetry) 1823
The Martyr: A Drama, in Three Acts (play) 1826
The Bride: a Drama in Three Acts (play) 1828
A View of the General Tenour of the New Testament Regarding the Nature and Dignity...
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SOURCE: Norton, M. “The Plays of Joanna Baillie.” Review of English Studies 23, no. 90 (April 1947): 131-43.
[In the following essay, Norton presents an overview of Baillie's dramatic works.]
The dramatists of the early nineteenth century have been condemned for their slavish imitation of Elizabethan traditions on the grounds that ‘every age, however fully it may be conscious of the beauties and virtues of the past, must work out its own methods, its own character and its own aims’.1 This is but a more emphatic statement of the case hinted at by one of the Romantics himself when reviewing his contemporaries' efforts to lead a dramatic revival: ‘I am convinced that the man who is to awaken the drama must be a bold trampling fellow—no reviver even, however good. Just now the drama is a haunted ruin’.2
That the plays written during the half century following the outbreak of the French Revolution are for the most part bloodless, unhuman things cannot be denied. Pale ghosts of the Elizabethans hover upon the stage, scarcely heard Shakespearean echoes reach the auditorium; but the Elizabethans have become attenuated during a visit to Germany, and the vastness of the Georgian theatres had turned inspired poetry into mere ranting. But while the Elizabethan tradition touches all the Romantic drama to a greater or less degree, to say that all the dramatists...
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SOURCE: Cox, Jeffrey N. “Introduction.” In Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789-1825, edited by Jeffrey N. Cox, pp. 1-78. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Cox examines Baillie's use of Gothic conventions in De Monfort. The critic focuses specifically on the depiction of women in Gothic literature as representative of their roles in society.]
From 1798 to 1851—for over half a century—Joanna Baillie was the most respected and arguably the most important playwright in England. She wrote twenty-six plays. Her first volume of 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 (usually referred to as the Plays on the Passions) went through five editions in the first six years following its publication in 1798. Seven of her plays were staged during her lifetime, the most important of them—De Monfort—being offered in London, Edinburgh, and New York. In 1851, the year of her death, she issued The Dramatic and Poetic Works of Joanna Baillie, Complete in One Volume, her “great monster book,” as she called it, running over 800 pages.
Baillie's Plays on the Passions were in many ways at the heart of the romantic project to remake the drama, embodying the kind of study of the psychology of passion that Wordsworth attempted in...
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SOURCE: Brewer, William D. “Joanna Baillie and Lord Byron.” Keats-Shelley Journal 44 (1995): 165-81.
[In the following essay, Brewer analyzes the relationship between Baillie and Lord Byron, discussing Byron's admiration for Baillie even when he dismissed other female writers; her influence on his plays, particularly his presentation of male characters; and her harsh judgments of his literary efforts and personal life.]
Although Joanna Baillie (1762-1851) and Lord Byron both spent their childhoods in Scotland and later achieved fame as writers, they seem to have had little else in common. While Byron was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, Baillie was largely self-educated, and Byron's famous wanderings contrast sharply with Baillie's quiet life in her home in Hampstead. When Byron wrote dramas he protested vehemently (almost too vehemently) that they were destined for the closet, but Baillie composed her numerous plays expressly for the stage. And perhaps their most significant difference has to do with their moral principles: Byron, although not without ethics, could sometimes write (and even act) like a nihilist, whereas Baillie, a devout Christian, hoped that her dramas would provide moral enlightenment. But despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they had little in common, Baillie and Byron made a strong impression on each other. To Baillie, Byron was initially a steadfast friend who tried...
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SOURCE: Burroughs, Catherine B. “‘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.
[In the following essay, Burroughs discusses Baillie's categorization of her plays as closet drama and considers questions about gender, identity, and repression in her works, particularly in the tragedy De Monfort.]
In 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote that “it scarcely seems necessary to consider again the influence of the tragedies of Joanna Baillie upon the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.”1 Yet more than sixty years later, discussions of Baillie's influence on writers who lived during or beyond the Romantic period are relatively rare.2 The author of twenty-six plays,3 pages of poetry, and a number of play prefaces in which she articulated her theory of theater and drama, Baillie has suffered the fate of nearly all of the remarkable women who wrote for and about the theater between 1798 and 1832: their contributions have, until recently, been forgotten, neglected, or dismissed. In Baillie's case, this fate is all the more striking given that a number of her contemporaries readily acknowledged her significance.4 Mary Berry, to whom a copy of Baillie's...
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SOURCE: Burroughs, Catherine B. “‘A Reasonable Woman's Desire’: The Private Theatrical and Joanna Baillie's The Tryal.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 38, nos. 3-4 (fall-winter 1996): 265-84.
[In the following essay, Burroughs examines Baillie's exploration in The Tryal of the “theatre of the closet,” or private theatricals performed by amateurs to invited audiences, showing that Baillie presents amateur acting as a means by which women could have temporary control of their domestic spaces.]
Designed primarily to amuse those who had enough money to buy off boredom, late eighteenth-century British private theatricals were often unabashedly elitist projects not only in the sense that many took place in exclusive environments but because they required—in addition to time—a great deal of money to arrange. Sybil Rosenfeld writes that Lord Barrymore's expenses for cake alone at the opening night reception of his private theater at Wargrave in 1789 were “rumoured” to be £20, small change after the £60,000 that was spent on the theater building itself.1 To overcome the luxury of boredom is the impetus behind the staging of Elizabeth Inchbald's 1798 translation of August von Kotzebue's Lovers' Vows (1791) in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814), perhaps the best-known work of literature that features the late eighteenth-century phenomenon of...
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SOURCE: Gilroy, Amanda. “From Here to Alterity: The Geography of Femininity in the Poetry of Joanna Baillie.” In A History of Scottish Women's Writing, edited by Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan, pp. 143-57. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Gilroy offers close readings of three poems by Baillie set outside her usual Scottish domestic milieu in order to show how the poet explores the limits imposed on women in life and literature.]
The course of Joanna Baillie's long poetic career, from the late 1790s to the middle of the nineteenth century, corresponds with an increasingly rigid gender ideology, grounded in the doctrine of separate spheres, an ideology by which she, like other women poets, is both constrained and empowered. She inhabits a dominant paradigm of the ‘poetess’, for she stays at home, literally and poetically, writing, as she puts it, about ‘homely subjects’.1 The author of the ‘Life’ that prefaces her Complete Works of 1851 tells us that ‘[s]he lived in retirement from the first hour to the last’ (Baillie, v). Neither her Scottish dialect nor her English poems normally stray outside the parameters of the domestic and the devotional. However, I want here to explore three poems in which the female figures move outside the British domestic circle. In order to place these poems in the...
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SOURCE: Scullion, Adrienne. “Some Women of the Nineteenth-century Scottish Theatre: Joanna Baillie, Frances Wright and Helen MacGregor.” In A History of Scottish Women's Writing, edited by Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan, pp. 158-78. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
[In the following excerpt, Scullion views Baillie as the most important playwright in Scotland in the 1800s and sees her works as having a form peculiar to the nineteenth century.]
John Any-Body would have stood higher with the critics than Joanna Baillie.1
The women of the nineteenth-century Scottish stage are varied, little known and undervalued. Yet it is, of course, the case that women populated all aspects of this vital phase in Scottish theatre history. As actresses, managers and playwrights they were most influential, but they also occupied the stage as singers, dancers, musicians and acrobats, as well as being engaged as historians and critics and they were, of course, consumers of theatre as members of the audience and as readers of plays. This chapter can only begin the process of recovering the particular influence effected by women on the Scottish theatre in the nineteenth century and, in the context of a study of Scottish women's writing, the focus must be on the playwright—although I will also consider some of the dominant representations of...
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SOURCE: Friedman-Romell, Beth H. “Duelling Citizenships: Scottish Patriotism v. British Nationalism in Joanna Baillie's The Family Legend.” Nineteenth Century Theatre 26, no. 1 (summer 1998): 25-49.
[In the following essay, Friedman-Romell contends that Baillie solidified her reputation as her country's most important playwright through her characterizations of Scottish heroes, her discourse on the civilizing forces of womanhood and Protestantism, and her rewriting of Scottish history in the patriotic drama The Family Legend.]
On the evening of January 29, 1810, the audience of the Edinburgh Theatre Royal was dazzled by the premier of a new play by one of their own countrywomen, the celebrated Joanna Baillie. The sellout crowd for the first night of The Family Legend sat in rapt admiration from the curtain's rise to the moment when actor/manager Henry Siddons announced that the play's run would continue throughout the week, news which, according to Walter Scott, “was received not only with a thunder of applause, but with cheering and throwing up of hats and handkerchiefs.”1 The piece was performed before enthusiastic capacity houses for fourteen nights, became a stock piece in the repertoire of the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, and played in many venues across Britain and the United States. However, nowhere did Baillie's “Highland play” meet with as warm a welcome, or as...
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SOURCE: Dowd, Maureen A. “‘By the Delicate Hand of a Female’: Melodramatic Mania and Joanna Baillie's Spectacular Tragedies.” European Romantic Review 9, no. 4 (fall 1998): 469-500.
[In the following essay, Dowd shows how and why Baillie distanced herself from German Sturm und Drang melodrama even while using its techniques—especially those of grand spectacle, the depiction of the lower and middle classes, and the use of moral pedagogy, The critic also notes the parallels between Baillie's works and those of Friedrich Schiller.]
Recent criticism of Joanna Baillie has traced the similarities between Baillie's comprehensive 1798 “Introductory Discourse” to the first volume of her Series of Plays on the Passions and Wordsworth's celebrated “Preface” to the Lyrical Ballads.1 Discussing Wordsworth's aesthetic theory in the context of popular German drama, David Simpson argues that the British critical debate over Kotzebue constructed Wordsworth as a “domesticated alternative to the same potential whose negative instance others had found in the theater, and in far more dangerous ways” (94). When applied to a female dramatist instead of a male poet, however, Simpson's provocative phrase “domesticated alternative” takes on a new, more highly charged significance, invoking questions of gender, as well as of genre and nationalism. Applied to Baillie,...
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SOURCE: Breen, Jennifer. “Introduction.” In The Selected Poems of Joanna Baillie, 1762-1851, edited by Jennifer Breen, pp. 1-25. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Breen presents an overview of Baillie's achievements in poetry, offering readings of a range of her work in order to show that she is a poet of high stature.]
JOANNA BAILLIE'S AUTHORSHIP AND THE CANON OF ROMANTIC POETRY
My Selected Poems of Joanna Baillie gives readers a modern edition of Baillie's poems with notes which explain historical and other allusions. I have included most of the poems in her first volume, Poems (1790),1 which she published anonymously, and five of the six poems that she contributed to the anthology that she edited, A Collection of Poems (1823),2 as well as a number of poems from her Fugitive Verses (1840),3 which she compiled after discovering that some of her earlier poems were being pirated in various anthologies without acknowledgement of her authorship. In addition, I have included a few more poems that Baillie, towards the end of her life, collected in her Dramatic and Poetical Works (1851).4 My concern in this book is with Baillie's lyric poetry, of which I have here selected fifty-two poems that are of literary merit and yet excluded from the received canon of Romantic...
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SOURCE: Gilbert, Deirdre. “Joanna Baillie, Passionate Anatomist: Basil and Its Masquerade.” Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theatre Research 16, no. 1 (2002): 42-54.
[In the following essay, Gilbert focuses on the use of the masquerade in Basil and argues that the device is used to comment on female visibility and invisibility as well as Baillie's own relationship to the theater.]
For the past decade or so, scholars of theatre history—Jeffrey Cox, Catherine Burroughs, Ellen Donkin, and, most recently, Peter Duthie—have attempted to secure a literary place for Joanna Baillie. Because of their efforts, we now recognize her centrality to a discussion of Gothic drama, her active part in shaping theatre history, and her importance as a theorist of theatre. Judith Slagle, Baillie's preeminent biographer, offers the playwright's letters as a record of “the development of a remarkable thinker and writer who knew from the beginning of her creative span that writing had become gendered” (1: ix). From Baillie's correspondence, furthermore, we learn of the range of her literary interests and of the energy, courage, and passion she devoted to her dramatic project, Plays on the Passions. Her letters stand as a record of her persistent attempts through her literary connections (primarily those of her strongest advocates, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott) to mount her work.1...
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SOURCE: Colón, Christine. “Christianity and Colonial Discourse in Joanna Baillie's The Bride.” Renascence 54, no. 3 (spring 2002): 163-76.
[In the following essay, Colón argues that Baillie's rhetorical strategy in The Bride transforms the imperial endeavor of converting the natives of Sri Lanka into a revolutionary discourse on equality by presenting the issue of polygamy in a complex manner.]
In the “Introductory Discourse” to her first volume of plays published in 1798, the British playwright Joanna Baillie carefully presents the project of reform that she was to continue for much of her career. She explains her plan to write a series of plays “in which the chief object should be to delineate the progress of the higher passions in the human breast” and deduces that “Tragedy, written upon this plan, is fitted to produce stronger moral effect than upon any other” (11).1 Baillie's unique theatrical project has placed her in an interesting position with regard to the subsequent criticism of her works. She has never been entirely forgotten, yet she has rarely been taken seriously. In 1909, for instance, when Florence MacCunn includes Baillie in her discussion of Sir Walter Scott's friends, she is caught between admiring Baillie's project and patronizing the woman who created it. She finds that “[e]ven to have conceived such a design shows a mind at once of high...
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SOURCE: Gilroy, Amanda, and Keith Hanley. “Introduction.” In Joanna Baillie: A Selection of Plays and Poems, edited by Amanda Gilroy and Keith Hanley, pp. ix-xxxvii. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2002.
[In the following essay, Gilroy and Hanley analyze Baillie's dramatic career, her ideas about human frailty, and her status as a Romantic writer.]
Joanna Baillie was born in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on 11th September, 1762, the daughter of James Baillie, a Presbyterian minister, whose family counted William Wallace amongst its ancestors, and Dorothea Hunter, who was descended from an old Ayrshire family. Her mother's sister, Anne, was a noted poet, and her two brothers, William and John Hunter, were the most famous medical men of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.1 Joanna had a sister, Agnes, born in 1760 and a brother, Matthew, born in 1761; her twin sister died a few hours after birth. The children spent their early years in the manse at Bothwell, which overlooked the Clyde valley, and in 1769 the family moved to Hamilton, where their father was appointed a minister of the collegiate church. Joanna learned to read at an unusually late age, but when she was ten she was sent with her sister to boarding school in Glasgow, where she excelled particularly at mathematics and drama. When, in 1776, Dr Baillie was appointed Professor of...
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SOURCE: Brigham, Linda. “Aristocratic Monstrosity and Sublime Femininity in De Monfort.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 43, no. 3 (summer 2003): 701-18.
[In the following essay, Brigham contrasts the views of Baillie and Edmund Burke on the subject of “the passions,” focusing on how De Monfort criticizes Burke's notions of the unreflective immediacy of the passionate response to beauty.]
“The theatre is a school in which much good or evil may be learned,” writes Joanna Baillie in the “Introductory Discourse” to the first volume of her Series of Plays.1 To tilt the balance toward the side of good, Baillie intends to transform the theater into a laboratory for the dissection of the strong passions. Such a project, she claims, makes good use of natural affinities. An individual possessed by strong passion naturally and universally attracts an intense “sympathetick curiosity,” even when “no outward circumstance connected with him either awakens our attention or our pity” (p. 9). “If invisible,” she continues further on, “would we not follow him into his lonely haunts, into his closet, into the midnight silence of his chamber?” (p. 11). In this sharp focus on the interest of the passions, Baillie sets her dramatic technique apart from the history of the art. Formerly, says Baillie, authors of tragedy “have made use of the passions to...
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Bennett, Susan. “Genre Trouble: Joanna Baillie, Elizabeth Polack—Tragic Subjects, Melodramatic Subjects.” In Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain, edited by Tracy C. Davis and Ellen Donkin, pp. 215-32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Argues that traditional genres are too confining for women playwrights of the nineteenth century, focusing specifically on Baillie's The Family Legend.
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.
Argues that a true understanding of what Baillie and other female playwrights of her era chose as subject matter will cause scholars to reevaluate traditional conceptions of Romantic theater theory.
———. “The English Romantic Closet: Women Theatre Artists, Joanna Baillie, and Basil.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 19, no. 2 (1995): 125-49.
Notes that a study of Basil raises the issue of the extent to which the private theatrical or “closet play” was suited to dramatize characters struggling with “unmentionable” problems, including those...
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