Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 8. Mrs. Inchbald: A Simple Story, Nature and Art

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIII. The Growth of the Later Novel

§ 8. Mrs. Inchbald: A Simple Story, Nature and Art

Mrs. Inchbald, like Holcroft, was an intimate friend of Godwin; indeed, she was one of those rather numerous persons whom that most marriage-seeking of misogamists wished to marry before he fell into the clutches of Mrs. Clairmont. Pretty, clever, an accomplished actress, an industrious woman of letters, with an unblemished character in very queer society, but, very decidedly, a flirt—there was, perhaps, none of these rather heterogeneous qualities or accidents which, taken in connection with the others, was not useful to her as a novelist; and by her novels she has lived. A Simple Story has always been more or less popular: and the curiously “modern” novel Nature and Art, in which a judge sentences to death a woman whom he has formerly seduced, from time to time receives attention. In both, her dramatic experience—for she was playwright as well as actress—enabled her to hit upon strong situations and not contemptibly constructed character; while her purely literary gift enabled her to clothe them in good form. But the criticism passed on her—that prevalent ideas on education and social convention spoil the work of a real artist—is true, except that a real artist would not have allowed the spoiling. Mrs. Inchbald stands apart from Godwin and Holcroft, on the one side, and from Bage, on the other, in the fact that, as some, though not many, other people have done, she combined sincere religious belief (she was a lifelong Roman catholic) with revolutionary political notions; and this saved her, in books as in life, from some blemishes which appear in others of the group. But the demon of extra-literary purpose left the marks of his claws on her.