To Marry or Not to Marry. A Comedy in Five Acts
London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1805.
London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1805. First edition. Modern quarter cloth over patterned boards. Measuring 210 x 120mm and collating complete including half title and adverts to rear: , 85, . Light scattered foxing, but a largely clean, tall copy. Scarce institutionally and in trade, OCLC records 4 copies at libraries, with no examples listed in the modern auction record.
"Elizabeth Simpson Inchbald was one of the first leading literary figures of the late eighteenth century--an actress, a successful playwright and editor of several dramatic collections, a popular novelist, and a drama critic...Inchbald was involved in almost every aspect of the theatrical, literary, and publishing life of London" (Jenkins). Her stage career began at age eighteen, followed by extensive work in elocution to assist her with her childhood speech disorder (stuttering) which had made vocal performances challenging. Widowed by her actor husband at the age of twenty-six, Inchbald made a shift; capitalizing on her stage presence, she launched a literary career that would financially sustain her throughout her lifetime.
Across the genres in which she wrote, Inchbald was noted even in her own time for promoting a "distinctly feminist message" and expressing a "defiant stance toward social norms stressed by" many of her male contemporaries (who, notably, called her"unfeminine...for placing herself within the seat of judgement")" (Lott). Despite her well-documented feud with Mary Wollstonecraft, the two women shared a common mission of expanding women's independence through improved educational and employment opportunities. To Marry or Not to Marry, her final work, is an exemplar that builds on the questions of her early works (such as 1797's Wives as They Are, and Maids as They Were); pessimistic about the marriage market and about the legal and financial constraints placed upon women, she presents marriage "not as a question of personal preference...women do not expect to choose a husband based on affection of matching personalities, but strictly on economic considerations" (Women's Playhouse). Yet much had changed between this earlier play and her final one, and the core question of To Marry or Not to Marry takes women's increased options into account. (Item #5313)