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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918

§ 22. Successful Novels on the Stage

Until 1900 the modern American drama advanced by fashions; managers followed like sheep in the wake of a popular success until the vein was exhausted. The dramatized novel went through its many phases of popular taste, beginning with Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, Stanley Weyman’s Under the Red Robe, and Mrs. Burnett’s The Lady of Quality, and passing to Paul Leicester Ford’s Janice Meredith, which as a novel competed with S. Weir Mitchell’s Hugh Wynne.

The manager thought there was certainty in a play based on a book which had sold into the thousands. The book market was full of literary successes and was drawn upon for the stage. Mary Johnston’s To Have and To Hold and Audrey; Winston Churchill’s Richard Carvel and The Crisis; Charles Major’s When Knighthood was in Flower; George W. Cable’s The Cavalier; John Fox’s Trail of the Lonesome Pine; Richard Harding Davis’s Soldiers of Fortune—the list might be stretched to interminable length. Out of this type of playwriting the theatre gained certain striking successes. After the popularity of Monsieur Beaucaire, Booth Tarkington entered the dramatic ranks with his The Man from Home (in collaboration, Astor Theatre, 17 August, 1908), Cameo Kirby (Hackett Theatre, 20 December, 1909), Your Humble Servant (Garrick Theatre, 3 January, 1909), The Country Cousin (Gaiety Theatre, 3 September, 1917), Penrod (Globe Theatre, 2 September, 1918). Richard Harding Davis came from novel-writing to an occasional theatre piece like The Galloper (Garden Theatre, 22 February, 1906) and The Yankee Consul (Broadway Theatre, 22 February, 1904). Lorimer Stoddard, with his Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Miner’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, 2 March, 1897) and Langdon Mitchell with his Becky Sharp likewise came into the theatre fold. Many American writers rushed in because it was a lucrative venture when successful; and coming in thus crudely and without preparation, they learned their technique at the expense of a theatre-going public.

It is a nondescript position taken by the novelist in his attitude towards the theatre. Rex Beach has had his novels turned into plays by others, and has written moving-picture scenarios. Alice Hegan Rice met with as great success in the dramatization of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (3 September, 1904) as she did when the story ran into its million circulation as a book. Mrs. Kate Douglas Wiggin Riggs has tried time and time again to enter the magic realm, and did so with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Republic Theatre, 3 October, 1910). But the literary life of America has never, thus far, considered the theatre as anything more than a by-product of the novelist’s art. Writers have, to use George Ade’s phrase, “butted in” too easily, and they have had no appreciable influence on the craft.