Joanna Baillie Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Though Joanna Baillie is known primarily for her dramas, her first publication was Poems, which appeared as an anonymous work in 1790. Some of the poems in this volume were reprinted in Baillie’s Fugitive Verses (1840). During her lifetime, Baillie was much admired for her lyrics, many of which appeared in the collections of Scottish, Irish, and Welsh songs brought out periodically by her friend, the music publisher and historian George Thomson. Her poetic narratives included those in the Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters (1821) and Ahalya Baee: A Poem (1849). Baillie’s prose works consisted primarily of literary criticism, though she did publish a book on religious dogma. Shortly before her death, Baillie oversaw the publication of her collected works.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Joanna Baillie defied literary convention by publishing her plays before they were staged, she did not intend them to be closet dramas. It was a disappointment to her that only seven of them were ever professionally produced. However, all major theaters in England, Scotland, Ireland, or the United States staged a play by Baillie at one time or another; in addition, almost all the important theater actors portrayed one or more of her characters.

Baillie’s popularity could also be measured by the demands for new editions of her works. Critics were not always as enthusiastic about her works as the public seemed to be; however, Baillie always believed that her gender accounted for many of those unfavorable reviews. Baillie counted among her admirers some of the most important writers of her day, including Sir Walter Scott, who became one of her closest friends. Baillie’s achievements won her a signal honor: election as an honorary member of the Whittington Club, a prestigious London society dedicated to the advancement of culture.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)


Burroughs, Catherine B. Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Burroughs, an actor herself as well as a student of theatrical history, contends that because Baillie’s purpose was to teach audiences compassion for others by expanding their imaginative powers, her plays and her theoretical writings are still relevant. Extensive analyses of the plays and of the prefaces. Includes portrait, voluminous notes, appendix, extensive bibliography, and index.

Burroughs, Catherine B., ed. Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Four of the essays in this volume deal with Baillie’s works. In her introduction, the editor explains why the works of women writers such as Baillie deserve to be re-examined. Bibliography and index.

Carhart, Margaret S. The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie. Yale Studies in English 64. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1923. The standard biography. Includes a chapter on stage history. Bibliography lists reviews by Baillie’s contemporaries.

Carswell, Donald. Scott and His Circle, with Four Portrait Studies. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1930. Carswell’s section on Joanna Baillie continues to be a primary source of biographical information. Incisive and very readable. Illustrated. Bibliography, though dated, may be useful.

Crochunis, Thomas C., ed. Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist: Critical Essays. London: Routledge, 2004. Collection of critical essays, including interpretations of Baillie’s work and examinations of the historical context in which she wrote. Includes bibliography and index.

Donkin, Ellen. Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights in London, 1776-1829. London: Routledge, 1995. Points out how the double standard of the male-dominated literary establishment made it difficult for Baillie and others to gain the acceptance they merited. Illustrated, bibliography, index.

Slagle, Judith Bailey. “Joanna Baillie Through Her Letters.” In The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie, edited by Judith Bailey Slagle. 2 vols. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999. An excellent biographical sketch of Baillie, including numerous excerpts from the letters, is followed by a chronology. This important scholarly work has an up-to-date bibliography and is thoroughly indexed.

Watkins, Daniel P. A Materialist Critique of English Romantic Drama. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993. Insists that Baillie should be ranked as a major Romantic writer because of her insights into the “radical transformation” taking place in her society. A detailed analysis of De Monfort supports this view. Bibliography and index.