Wednesday, January 17, 2007


The only historical romance novels that interest me are the ones set in England during the late eighteenth century and the Regency period. I'm attracted to the stories because they're so completely different from what I write, and I enjoy the similarities in morals and manners and conversation to what's depicted in Jane Austen's novels.

I've always liked Richard Sheridan's play The Rivals for those same reasons and for its laugh-out-loud humor, so I was pleased to see it mentioned at Today in Literature:

On this day in 1775, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals premiered. This was Sheridan's first play; below is the first entrance and first malapropism of his most famous character, at this point walking in on and then all over niece Lydia's choice in books and beaus:

LYDIA: Here, my dear Lucy, hide these books -- Quick, quick -- Fling Peregrine Pickle under the toilet--throw Roderick Random into the closet -- put The Innocent Adultery into The Whole Duty of Man -- thrust Lord Aimworth under the sofa -- cram Ovid behind the bolster -- there -- put The Man of Feeling into your pocket -- so, so, now lay Mrs. Chapone in sight, and leave Fordyce's Sermons open on the table.
LUCY: O burn it, Ma'am, the hair-dresser has torn away as far as Proper Pride.
LYDIA: Never mind--open at Sobriety -- Fling me Lord Chesterfield's Letters -- Now for 'em.


MRS. MALAPROP: There, Sir Anthony, there sits the deliberate Simpleton, who wants to disgrace her family, and lavish herself on a fellow not worth a shilling!
LYDIA: Madam, I thought you once--
MRS. MALAPROP: You thought, Miss! -- I don't know any business you have to think at all -- thought does not become a young woman; the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow -- to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory. . . .

Just in case you were absent from school the day your English teacher explained this, malapropism, a noun describing the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase; especially the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context (thank you, Merriam-Webster) was coined after the character in this play.

Does anybody read The Rivals anymore? I'm sure it's been years and years since I've heard any mention of it. But my friends, it's great fun, and I'm hoping to sit down and enjoy it sometime this week. If you'd like to give it a look, the entire text can be found here, at Bibliomania.

Here's more on Richard Sheridan from Wikipedia:

The Rivals was Sheridan's first commercially produced play. At the time, he was a young newlywed living in Bath. At Sheridan’s insistence, upon marriage his wife Eliza (née Elizabeth Linley) had agreed to give up performing in public as a singer. This was a proper course for the wife of a “gentleman,” but it was a difficult one because Eliza was able to earn a substantial living as a performer. Instead, they lived beyond their means as they entertained the gentry and nobility with Eliza’s singing (in private parties) and Richard’s wit. Finally, in need of funds, Richard turned to the only craft that could gain him the remuneration he desired in a short time: he began writing a play. He had over the years written and published essays and poems and among his papers were numerous unfinished plays, essays and political tracts, but never had he undertaken an ambitious project such as this. In a short time, however, he completed The Rivals. He was all of 23 years old.

The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden on January 17, 1775. It was roundly vilified by both the public and the critics for its length, bawdiness and the character of Sir Lucius O’Trigger, a meanly written role played very badly. The actor, Lee, after being hit with an apple during the performance, stopped and addressed the audience, asking “By the pow'rs, is it personal? — is it me, or the matter?” Apparently, it was both....

Sheridan did some massive rewriting, replaced the awful actor, and presented the play again just eleven days later. It was a huge hit. Not only did it become a favorite of the royal family (the Wikipedia article says it garnered five command performances in ten years), but it became the favorite play of an American fellow by the name of George Washington. Click over to read more and to see a synopsis of the play.

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Susan Kaye said...

Sheridan's life reads like a Regency; Miss Linley ran away from her family, to France, under his protection. In France, sheridan faught two duels over her with a Captain Matthews. The second one nearly copped him.

I've never read The Rivals, but The School for Scandal is great. It's a bird's eye view of the shenanigans of the Devonshire Set. And though he was her friend, he didn't give the Duchess of Devonshire any quarter at all. With friends like that...

If you writer Regency, these period plays are great for getting the cadance of their speech.

Brenda Coulter said...

If you write Regency, these period plays are great for getting the cadance of their speech.

You're so right. Too often, I see Regency writers copying the errors of other Regency writers rather than doing their own research. And when so much of this stuff is online and available at the touch of a few keys, there's just no excuse for that!