Elizabeth Inchbald (née Simpson) (1753–1821) was an English novelist, actress, and dramatist. Her two novels, A Simple Story, and Nature and Art, have been frequently reprinted and are still read today. Her play Lovers’ Vows (1798) was featured as a focus of moral controversy by Jane Austen in her novel Mansfield Park.
Between 1784 and 1805, Elizabeth Inchbald had 19 of her comedies, sentimental dramas, and farces (many of them translations from the French) performed at London theatres. Her first play to be performed was A Mogul Tale, in which she played the leading feminine role of Selina. In 1780, she joined the Covent Garden Company and played a breeches role in Philaster as Bellarion. Eighteen of her plays were published, though she wrote several more; the exact number is in dispute though most recent scholars claim between 21 and 23. She also did considerable editorial and critical work. Inchbald destroyed her four-volume length autobigraphy upon the advice of her confessor, but she did leave some of her diaries. The latter are currently held at the Folger Shakespeare Library. and an edition was recently published.
A political radical and friend of William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft, Inchbald’s political beliefs can more easily be found in her novels than in her plays, due to the constrictive environment of the patent theatres of Georgian London. She died on 1 August 1821 in Kensington and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Abbots. On her gravestone it states, “Whose writings will be cherished while truth, simplicity, and feelings, command public admiration.” In 1833, a two-volume Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald by James Boaden was published by Richard Bentley.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. A Simple Story. Edited by J.M.S. Tompkins; introduction by Jane Spencer. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. Nature and Art. Edited by Shawn Lisa Maurer. Broadview Press, 2004.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. Selected Comedies. Edited by Roger Manvell. University Press of America, 1987.