The Strategic Writing and Life of Elizabeth Inchbald

The Strategic Writing and Life of Elizabeth Inchbald

"I don't say it was likely -- I only say it is true." -Elizabeth Inchbald, Lover's Vows 

Ms. Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) was raised reading and attending plays alongside her mother and sisters. (Wikimedia Commons) 

Before the Success 

Ms. Elizabeth Inchbald, daughter of John and Mary Simpson was born in 1753 in Standingfield, England. Inchbald was not born into a life of luxury and her road to success can be accredited to her intelligence and determination. Growing up, her father was a farmer, and her mother encouraged her and her sisters to read plays and romances as well as go to Norwich to watch them. Her father passed away when Inchbald was about 7, leaving her mother alone to raise her and her siblings. (Jenkins 8). Being raised this way, it is evident where Inchbald adopted her love of theater and potentially why male figures did not play a particularly important part in her life or writing. 

An April morning after her father's death Elizabeth Simpson packed her bags, hopped on a stagecoach, and began a new life thirty miles away from her home in Suffolk to find jobs as an actress. Venturing into London, a brand new city to her, the only actor she knew was James Dodd, whom did not possess a great reputation. Although Inchbald was a woman of utmost respect, she looked past the reputation and continued to audition for roles to keep her connection to the acting world. When Dodd tried to take advantage of Inchbald, she threw boiling water in his face and was back to square one. A beautiful, young girl in a new city by herself away from her family, no prior acting experience, a newly cut tie with her connection to the acting world and a speech impediment to potentially hinder her aspiring career. (Jenkins 2). 

Diary of Elizabeth Inchbald (SHU Blogs Media Library )


Author: Camryn Layne


Mrs. Elizabeth Simpson Inchbald circa 1796. (SHU Blogs Media Library) 

About the Exhibit 

This exhibit serves to go through the life of Ms. Elizabeth Simpson Inchbald connect her personal life with the themes in her writing. Starting with her life before success, we will look into life events that may have shaped her writing into what became extremely popular plays. A topic that she often avoids or sheds a negative light on is the subject of marriage, and in her personal diaries she avoids the topic of religion. Taking a closer look into her life, we will examine why Inchbald may have preferred to write about certain topics over others. 


Personal Aspects 

What readers know of Inchbald for sure is that she was Catholic, and raised by a single mother for most of her life whom pushed her and her sisters to read, therefore raising educated women (Jenkins 8). We also know that Inchbald "could not satisfy her constant hunger for "admiration and attention" ingrained in her nature" (Unknown; Sex & Sensibility 261). Having said this of Inchbald, it is evident to readers that she included characters such as Fanny in Mogul Tale and Milner in A Simple Story to give women a voice while negatively depicting relationships and marriage. She brings light to a woman's sexuality, which at this time was kept under wraps. It is almost as if Inchbald wanted women to know that it was okay to not have the "perfect" relationship, and that a woman within herself should be satisfying enough. 

"[Inchbald] could not satisfy her constant hunger for "admiration and attention" ingrained in her nature" (Unknown; Sex & Sensibility 261). 

Joseph Inchbald and Marriage 

One year prior to leaving her home in Suffolk, Elizabeth Simpson met Joseph Inchbald, a fellow Catholic actor. It is believed the two stayed in contact until Simpson moved to London, where weeks after her move the two wed. 

Mr. Inchbald himself was twice Elizabeth Inchbald's age, had two illegitimate sons and was not yet a well-known actor himself. Many believe that Mrs. Inchbald agreed to this marriage as a form of security in her aspiring career, rather than from passion and true love. During their honeymoon phase Elizabeth Inchbald took advantage of the fact that her new husband was a part of the theater industry, and had him teach her 'tricks of the trade'(Unknown; Sex & Sensibility 261). The timing of Mr. and Mrs. Inchbald's marriage was extremely strategic on Elizabeth Inchbald's end. She remained in contact with an older man whom possessed connections within the acting world, and married him just weeks after moving to a new city. At this time many assumed Elizabeth Inchbald was a young naive woman marrying an older man for the sake of having a husband, and they would be wrong. Inchbald knew what she was doing becoming involved with Joseph Inchbald, and had ulterior motives in order to get her career on the move. Most of her childhood she watched her single mother raise her and her siblings, therefore she probably never felt like she needed a significant other.  

It is reported that the Inchbald's marriage was far from perfect, and many are surprised that their marriage lasted as long as seven years before his sudden death. Since her marriage may not have been a positive aspect of her life, it is not surprising that Inchbald rarely alludes to it in any of her writings. However, when she does mention it, love and marriage is seen as a complicated battle between the two parties involved. 

Inchbald never remarried after her husband's death, and due to her success never had to financially rely on a man. Therefore, since her marriage was only seven years out of her sixty-eight years of life, it may not have been a topic of particular importance to her. While Inchbald did not have a particularly favorite topic to write about, marriage seemed to be the one she tried to convey a message with. The lack of including it, or shedding negative light may have been a message from Inchbald. She never felt as if she needed a man's presence to feel whole, and that is how she wanted her readers to feel as well. 

Fine and very warm read till dolly came to a baked dinner &c_ she read my essay in the "Artist". -Elizabeth Inchbald, The Diaries of Elizabeth Inchbald 

Popular Works of Elizabeth Inchbald 

Diary of Elizabeth Inchbald: Within her diary entries is nothing more than the everyday life of Elizabeth Inchbald herself. She speaks of her social outings, her success of being a published author, the weather, etc. However- two common themes we see that are missing are religion and marriage. She does not mention attending church on Sunday's, and does not even acknowledge her seven year marriage to the late Joseph Inchbald. This work in general shows us that Inchbald holds herself in high regard, and believes she is important enough that people would want to read about her daily life. 

A Simple StoryThis play in particular can be seen as a potential reflection of Inchbald's own life and marriage. While she was a married woman, unlike Milner for most of the play, she does defy social norms and have an uneasy marriage as well. Inchbald defied social norms in a different way, and wrote this in order to put a woman's sexuality into light. As a respectable woman of power herself, she believed that a woman's sexual rights were just as important as that of a man. She wanted her female audience to know that it was okay to be single, and not settle for an awful, dull marriage. 

A Mogul TaleInchbald writes of relationships in A Mogul Tale however yet again depicts it in a negative light. She shows three individuals who are lost on a hot air balloon adventure and end up meeting the Mogul. When the Mogul wants to keep Johnny's wife for himself, at first he barley fights for her. Fanny then begs her husband to stay with him, when he then lies to convince the Mogul Fanny is a sinful nun. This scene then goes on to speak of Johnny and Fanny's past domestic violence and abuse. This negative light, and knowledge of domestic disputes may allude to the fact that Inchbald unfortunately experienced this herself within her own marriage. 

Lover's Vow: While Inchbald does speak of relationships and marriage in Lover's Vow, it is once again seen in a negative light much like in A Mogul Tale. Agatha, a young woman, becomes pregnant with the Baron's son and is promised marriage and love. However, the Baron breaks his promise, leaves Agatha, and goes to have a child with a prettier and wealthier woman. Although they make amends at the end of the play, things have to get bad before they are resolved. This may be how Inchbald viewed her own marriage, being great in the beginning, and turning negative before her husband's sudden death. She exemplifies that no vow is certain although it may be promised, and she does not possess a a typical view on romance as a woman writer of her time. 

Lovers Vows is one of Inchbald's writings that exemplifies marriage in a negative light. Written in 1796, it talks about broken vows and damaged relationships. (Wikimedia Commons)

Personal Endeavors

In her personal diaries, we learn a lot about what is of value to Ms. Inchbald. Two topics missing from The Diary of Elizabeth Inchbald are religion and marriage, which are spoken about within this page. 

A topic that is included in every journal entry is the weather, and it seems that it decided the type of day Elizabeth Inchbald had. A sunny day lead to a better day, and a rainy day may have been when she partook in less social outings. She also speaks in high regard about all of the people and friends she has, and that she quite often goes out to social events with them. She seems to write as if she is disappointed if people leave town and do not say goodbye to her, or if she cannot attend events.  

As a single woman with a known reputation of independence this writing allows that to shine through. She writes about herself, her feelings, her daily occurrences, and nobody else. Inchbald was a poised woman who loved herself and did not need a man to feel complete. She writes of her published works, her friends, the weather, and remains very honest with her readers about her roller coaster of emotions. She prides herself enough to publish a work solely about her life, and the things that she does. She holds herself at a very high regard in the public eye. 


Relationships and Marriage

Almost every writing on Inchbald states that her marriage was dysfunctional and it was shocking it lasted as long as seven years. One article that summarized the list Inchbald herself wrote about her feelings regarding her marriage wrote, "domestic arguing became their daily indoor sport until he died in June 1779," (Unknown; Sex & Sexuality 262). 

It is my assumption that Inchbald avoids the topic of relationships or puts it into negative light as a way to express it is unimportant to her. She does not credit her husband or her marriage to any of her success, therefore she does not feel it is important to put into her writing, essentially. While Mr. Inchbald taught her a thing or two about being on stage, her career took off as an author instead. She was an intelligent woman with a strong upbringing, whom does not have to credit her success to any man. Only having her father in her life for a short period of time, and only being married for a small fraction of her life left her with a small importance for men. 

In A Simple Story she writes of Milner, a woman who defies all social norms and lives her life as she pleases although it is frowned upon. This character was written by Inchbald to express that a woman is enough in herself, and how she wishes to express her sexuality is her choosing. Women did not have to settle down to a marriage if they did not want, and she did not see it as a crucial part of a woman's life. 


Inchbald rarely alludes to religion in a personal context. However, Mogul Tale expresses what she truly thinks of people who are anti-Catholic. Johnny pretends to be the pope, and begins to spew out ridiculous facts that are untrue, and is seen as somewhat of a buffoon. 

She exemplifies Johnny this way and has him state "yes, yes, all the world knows of the devil and the pope" (Inchbald 10) in order for readers to know that he in fact is against Catholicism. She does not out right come out to say that individuals who possess these thoughts are dumb, but she uses Johnny as a tool to convey this message. 

Raised Catholic and with her razor sharp edge and opinionated nature, she wants people to know what she truly believes of individuals such as Johnny. However, in her more personal writing there is no mention of her Catholic beliefs or attending church on Sundays. Not including this aspect may mean that it was second nature to Inchbald, and could be assumed that she went to church each Sunday without mention because it was characteristic of her weeks. 

Works Cited 

Inchbald, Elizabeth. The Mogul Tale. 1788. She writes this piece in order to negatively depict anti-Catholics and marriage. Used as evidence to back up both of these points. 

Inchbald , Elizabeth. The Diaries of Elizabeth Inchbald . 1807. Inchbald summarizes her life and daily events. She speaks a lot about the weather, her friends and social outings, and her material items that are important to her.

Inchbald , Elizabeth. Lover's Vow . 1798. Using this piece allowed for me to make yet another connection to Inchbald's other works, and how she portrays relationships in a negative light and as extremely complicated.

Jenkins, Annibel. I'll Tell You What: The Life of Elizabeth Inchbald. Lexington: U of Kentucky, 2003. 147,153,161,166, 256-257. Print. Jenkins writes about Elizabeth Inchbald's journey to becoming a popular playwright of her time. In one of the only known biographies of Inchbald, this work was used to give the large portion of background knowledge on Elizabeth Inchbald needed for this blog. 

Media. Inchbald , Elizabeth. Title Page of Elizabeth Inchbald's Lover's Vow . 1796. Used this image to show what an older looking pamphlet of a play/story would look like. 

Media. “Elizabeth Inchbald .” Wikimedia Commons , 0AD, This seemed to be one of the more popular drawings of Inchbald, therefore it felt necessary to include. 

Media. Inchbald , Elizabeth. “Diary Entries of Elizabeth Inchbald .” SHU Blogs Media Library , 1807, Used this image to show one of the works talked about by Inchbald. 

Media. “Portrait of Elizabeth Inchbald .” SHU Blogs Media Library , I selected this photo because it was also one of the more popular/commonly used photos of Inchbald. 

Unknown. Elizabeth Inchbald: Sex & Sensibility.” Wordsworth Circle, no. 3, 2014, p. 261. Edsglr, EBSCOhost, Throughout Inchbald's life she kept a running list of her feelings, and this document summarizes those feelings. She ranges from "very happy" to "very sad" quite often.