Outfoxing “That Little Toad!” Edward Capell, Censor

September 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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There is nothing more delicious for an historical novelist than to run across a generally unknown figure in history who is a person to be thoroughly disliked, as with Edward Capell, an 18th c. play censor in the Crown of England’s Lord Chamberlain’s office.

From all accounts, he had a very high opinion of his own intellect–perhaps deservedly so, as he was considered an expert on the works of Shakespeare and was often asked to authenticate various manuscripts.  However, he held the lowest opinion imaginable of a mere woman attempting to earn her living by her pen.  Thus, any woman playwright trying to get one of her works past this disapproving bureaucrat and granted a license to be performed on a professional stage in London or elsewhere in the Kingdom faced frustration bordering on the urge-to-kill.

Edward Capell could end any writer’s career with a stroke of his pen, but he apparently took special delight in blindsiding “uppity women,” including a number of woman writers who ultimately took refuge in using male pseudonyms to try to get past his overt prejudice against them.

The “cameo” image on the left is highly flattering, for in life, he was an odd little man, with a penchant of eating foods only the color white!  He’d eat mashed potatoes or parsnips, but never orange carrots.  He’d consume white cheese, but never cheddar; white wine, but not claret.  Such was his odd phobia of foods of vibrant hues, that the lack of vitamins in his diet soon produced scrufulous skin disorders, making his appearance behind his desk at the Lord Chamberlain’s office quite a terrifying sight to behold.

Fortunately, there were a number of clever women writers who managed to get their works approved for production by one means or another, including Frances Sheridan, mother of the far more famous playwright, Richard Sheridan of  The Rivals and The School for Scandal fame.  Frances, seen here on your right, had a dreadful time running the gauntlet of the Lord Chamberlain’s office, though she managed to see her The Discovery and The Dupe produced under her own name at Drury Lane by David Garrick, the immortal actor and manager there whose fame continues to this day.

Garrick, as you will discover if you read my forth-coming Wicked Company was the best friend an 18th c. woman playwright would ever find, and chroncling his brilliant handling of the dreaded censor, Edward Capell, was one of the most delightful experiences I ever enjoyed as an historical novelist.

When my heroine, Sophie McGann, comes storming into his office shouting, “Oh, how I despise that little toad!”  having just learned that Capell has refused her latest play a license, Garrick kindly pats her on the arm and replies, “Well, my dear, we must then simply out fox him.  Now, here’s my idea…”

Wicked Companys publication date is October 1 and, hopefully, will be in the books stores a bit before that.  I hope you’ll love to “despise that little toad” Edward Capell as much as I did!

18th c. Actor-Manager David Garrick–A Feminist?

August 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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One of the great delights in researching my up-coming October release of Wicked Company from Sourcebooks Landmark was discovering that David Garrick, the fabled actor-manager of the eighteenth century London Theater Royal, Drury Lane, was what we surely would call in our own age, “a feminist.”

For the nearly thirty years of his sterling career, he championed women artists–not only actresses, but dancers, novelists and playwrights as well. Here on the left in a portrait by Hogarth, he is shown  at his desk, no doubt penning one of his own plays which competed with the immortal likes of She Stoops to Conquer and The School for Scandal.

Garrick was also known for another oddity of his age and ours:  an absolute devotion to his wife, Eva-Maria, pictured behind him as a kind of bright yellow “happy muse.”

In the eighteenth century, with no television or motion pictures to steal his audiences–Garrick changed the playbill every few days or so.  He also offered dancing, singing, and other divertissments in a bold attempt to keep his fickle patrons from heading over to his nearby arch rival, Theater Royal, Covent Garden. This constant revolving of “What’s on tonight at Drury Lane?” required, however, a never-ending need for new material.

With great respect for the professional life his wife had enjoyed as a premier dancer of her day, Garrick was only too happy to hire talent, whatever its gender, to keep the public’s interest in the kinds of entertainment offered at Drury Lane, and in fact, he  encouraged women writers by offering them his services as mentor and editor as they toiled on their plays.

Garrick launched a number of women in well-paid careers as “petticoat playwrights,” among them the actress, comedienne Kitty Clive (1711-1785), seen here on the right. He also served as cheerleader to one of the playwriting “Hannahs”–Hannah More .  (The other, Hannah Cowley ,and Hannah More  actually despised each other–but  you will have to read Wicked Company to learn more about that!).

When I was first researching this historical novel at the Huntington Library and Art Galleries in the late 1980’s–as seen here on the left–there was very little published about Garrick’s role in launching these women into professional writing careers.  But soon I was bumping into theater scholars from Ohio, Delaware, and Yale universities and elsewhere, hard at work on such nonfiction efforts as Curtain Call: British and American Women and the Theater 1660-1820, and The Plays of Frances  Sheridan (mother of Richard, of The School for Scandal and The Rivals fame). Garrick produced one of Frances Sheridan’s work, The Dupe, though, sadly, it found little favor with the sometimes riotous, badly-behaved audiences.

David Garrick died in 1779, and much later, a London social club was named in his honor.  When I was in London researching Wicked Company, I was taken there as a guest on the only day a woman could enter those portals because–of course, The Garrick Club was founded by men, and as far as can be determined, remains for men only.

Ah, the ironies of history…