Elizabeth Inchbald arrived in London in 1780, after working for eight years as an actress in the provincial theatres. Garrick was gone. Richard Brinsley Sheridan had been managing Drury Lane since 1776, and Thomas Harris was in sole command of Covent Garden, since Colman’s decision to manage the Haymarket summer seasons.1 Mrs. Inchbald had a contract to perform some minor roles at Covent Garden as a member of Harris’s company. Harris, however, was getting more than he had bargained for. Tucked into her luggage were two manuscripts: one a novel, and the other a play
Mrs. Inchbald subsequently became one of the most prolific and successful playwrights of her time. Between 1780 and 1805, she wrote twenty plays, ten of which were adaptations, and ten of which were original. Of the twenty, seventeen were conspicuously successful onstage.2 She published two successful novels, and eventually became a prominent critic and anthologist of drama. Her career is unique in this study because it exposes gender hierarchies within theatre that might have otherwise gone unremarked. Hostilities that stayed covert when she was a playwright became manifest when she became a critic and anthologist, no doubt because these later career developments effectively put her in charge of shaping the contemporary canon.