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'The Conflict': Hannah Brand and Theatre Politics in the 1790s

  • David Chandler

…plus d’informations

  • David Chandler
    Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Diffusion numérique : 24 septembre 2009

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Un article de la revue Romanticism on the Net 

Numéro 12, November, 1998, p. 0
British Women Playwrights around 1800: New Paradigms and Recoveries

Copyright © Michael Eberle-Sinatra 1996-2002 — All rights reserved

Corps de l’article

'It is our St[o]urbritch Fair time and the Norwich Company are theatricalizing [sic]', Coleridge wrote to Southey on 26 September 1794. 'They are the first provincial Actors in the Kingdom'.  [1] He was disposed to be generous, having just contracted a friendship with the family of John Brunton (1741-1822), the Norwich Company's manager, and discovered an attraction to Brunton's daughter Elizabeth (?1772-99),  [2] an actress in the company. Nevertheless, Coleridge's assessment is probably accurate. In the 1790s the Norwich Company toured with great success, had good relations with the London theatres, and undoubtedly enjoyed a very high reputation. Much of this was due to Brunton himself. In 1700 Norwich had been the largest, most prosperous provincial city in England. Nevertheless, dominated as it was by business interests, it was several decades before its citizens took much interest in the arts. Indeed, it is striking that it was only after its 'Golden Age' of commercial prosperity, conventionally given as c.1740-80,  [3] that Norwich emerged as an important cultural centre. A theatre was built there in 1758, 'the second oldest provincial theatre built as such in England',  [4] which increased steadily in prestige until a royal patent was obtained in 1768 and it became the Theatre Royal. By this time the builder and proprietor, Thomas Ivory (1709-79), had built a second theatre at Colchester and made Norwich 'the centre of a strong and prosperous Circuit in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex' (Eshleman 17). In the 1760s he also 'encrease[d] the emoluments to the performers by making it, from a sharing, to a Salary Company' (Eshleman 72), thereby attracting more talented actors from London. However a more than East Anglian reputation was not obtained in Ivory's lifetime due to his employment of very undistinguished managers.  [5] Wider fame came in the Brunton era.

Brunton was a great local success story.  [6] Born in Norwich, the son of a soapmaker, he served a seven-year apprenticeship as a grocer before going to London, where he was 'discovered' as an actor. Having played Hamlet at Covent Garden, his return to Norwich was a triumph, Brunton being acclaimed the finest actor ever to have appeared on the Norwich stage. After several years of acting in London, Bristol and Bath, he settled in his home city in 1785, and became manager of the Theatre Royal in November 1788. As a manager, he was thus confronted almost immediately with the political issues raised by what Gillian Russell has called the 'Bastille war'.  [7] As in London, theatrical representations of the Fall of the Bastille were given in Norwich in temporary, unlicensed theatres, with great success.  [8] Brunton's response to those issues is a major theme of this article. It is worth remarking here that for this and other reasons there is an instructive parallel to be drawn between Brunton and William Enfield (1741-97). Born the same year as Brunton, Enfield similarly settled in Norwich in 1785, replacing George Cadogan Morgan (the nephew of Richard Price) as minister at the Unitarian 'Octagon' Chapel (also, interestingly, designed by Ivory). Over the following decade, two groups of literary men and women emerged in Norwich, one centred on Brunton, the other on Enfield. Although literary historians have paid little attention to Norwich at this period (contrast the increasing interest shown in Bristol), the leftist emphasis of such studies as E. P. Thompson's Making of the English Working Class (1963) has created a myth of Norwich as a Dissenting, 'Jacobin' city, most of its working men attached to various 'Revolution Societies', and the Enfield 'Circle' has accordingly been found representative of the 'spirit' of the place. But this leftist emphasis has been fundamentally misleading, tending to obscure the fact that - like almost everywhere else - the vast majority of the Norwich population - perhaps 80%  [9] - was (at least nominally) Anglican and loyalist. The local newspapers - the Norwich Mercury and the Norfolk Chronicle - spoke for this majority, as did the theatrical fare provided by Brunton. Brunton needs to be recognised as the centre of a distinct cultural matrix.

Brunton's desire to support and foster local literary talent must reflect, in part, the fact that he was a self-made man. However it may also reflect his awareness of occupying a position in respect of the theatres he managed quite different from that of earlier Norwich managers. In 1784 the proprietors of the theatres had decided to lease them (Eshleman 19-20). Thus instead of being salaried at the discretion of the proprietors, Brunton paid an annual rental of £300 and took his chance on profits. This is likely to have encouraged the 'patronal' style of management that Ellen Donkin has suggested several London managers adopted in the wake of Garrick.  [10] Certainly there was a marked increase in the production of locally written material after 1788, some of it anonymous, though Brunton played an important role in furthering the writing careers of several identifiable authors, among them Hannah Brand (1754-1821), John Henry Colls (1764-1802), Elizabeth Edmead (dates unknown), Benjamin Lindoe (?1768-1810), James Plumptre (1770-1832) and Edward Stanley (dates unknown). The present article is principally concerned with Brand, but as my interest in her work is primarily political, it will be useful to say something about Stanley first. He is remarkable in that his one known play, Elmira, was not performed. An edition of 750 copies was published in Norwich on 17 April 1790,  [11] with an 'Advertisement' claiming that it was 'never intended for representation' (p. 14). This claim is literally unbelievable, though. Stanley was one of Brunton's actors, the play is perfectly stage-worthy, and some Thoughts on Tragedy that Stanley published with it emphasised that 'tragedies, written for publick representation, are the only objects of the author's consideration' (inserted page, facing p. 104). By the time of its publication local interest in Elmira was clearly considerable, and I suggest this was because it was known Brunton had refused to stage it (other eighteenth-century plays, most famously Henry Brooke's Gustavus Vasa [1739], gained a published celebrity for comparable reasons). The play would undoubtedly have been censored, for it is perhaps the most 'radical' play of its period, being concerned with a rebellion against a tyrant, who, in the conclusion, is summarily executed. The fact that one of his actors wrote such a play, presumably in late 1789 or early 1790, may point to Brunton's thinking then that his theatre could support the Revolution and offer straightforward competition to the Bastille extravaganzas. But Stanley was too enthusiastic, and Elmira represents a parting of the ways. It was subscribed for by several members of the Enfield 'Circle', who thereafter appear to have had almost nothing to do with the works of Brunton's writers.  [12] Stanley himself left Brunton's company about a year later, symbolically moving to France.  [13]

Hannah Brand thus became the first local writer to have a substantial stage work performed by Brunton's company. Her Huniades, or, The Siege of Belgrade [14] was licensed on 26 March 1791, and the following week the Norwich Mercury noted that 'A TRAGEDY written by a lady of this city is in rehearsal at our Theatre'. On 9 April the same paper reported:

On Thursday last [7 April] Huniades, or The Siege of Belgrade, a new tragedy, the production of Miss H. BRAND, of this city, was performed at our Theatre to a genteel audience. It was well received and given out for this evening.

Culturally and politically 1791 is an interesting year, suspended between the revolutionary euphoria of 1789-90 and the reaction that set in soon afterwards. It was a year of fierce and astonishingly widespread debate about Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. One of the premises of this article is that theatregoers did not simply forget about that debate when they entered the theatre, nor did theatre managers always expect them to. They are particularly unlikely to have done so in Norwich, indeed, where political feeling was acute.  [15] Moreover the local prominence of the Elmira incident, and the wide dispersion, with that play, of Stanley's politically-charged Thoughts on Tragedy, must have made many people curious about the politics of the first 'Norwich' play that Brunton was prepared to stage. Huniades does not, in fact, highlight its own political commitments, but it does, I suggest, respond positively to Burke. In this sense it is an 'antirevolutionary' play, one of many that might suggest Jeffrey N. Cox's definition of that genre is too limited.  [16] But were these 'antirevolutionary' sentiments Brand's or Brunton's? The question can be suspended while some account of Brand and her play is given.

Little is known about Brand's early life. None of the existing biographical accounts give her date of birth, but this can be stated as 1754 with some confidence.  [17] For many years she kept a school in Norwich with her elder sister Mary; a 1783 Norwich Directory lists their 'young Ladies Boarding School, No. 18, St. Giles's Broad-street' (p. 10). William Beloe later recorded that the Brands' school 'promised something of refinement, beyond the ordinary level of provincial schools, [and was] ... for a time very successful'.  [18] By the 1780s, if not before, Brand had begun writing poetry, but none of this appears to have been published prior to the appearance of her Plays and Poems in 1798. On the evidence of that collection her most substantial piece of writing before Huniades was a long sentimental ballad, 'The Monk of La Trappe; A Tale', dated 1787.  [19] This appears to have been inspired in part by Guèrin de Tencin's romantic novel, Mémoires du Comte de Comminge (1735), evidencing Brand's interest in French literature. A prose introduction published with the poem suggests a certain amount of historical research on Brand's part, and in this respect there is a parallel with Huniades.  [20] The poem itself, with a plot developed around the cruelty of a tyrannical father, would have been judged 'radical' in the 1790s, in the wake of such definitive works as Charlotte Smith's Celestina (1791); in 1787, however, its romance motifs were too stereotypical for anything very definite to be said about Brand's political views then. Altogether, Brand's emergence as a playwright and actress in the early 1790s, when she was well into her thirties, must be considered a remarkable piece of self-reinvention - one that required all the astonishing self-assurance contemporaries remarked in her (Beloe i.150-1).  [21] But it also points to the importance of Brunton's support.

For several years after the Norwich premiere of Huniades Brand's life revolved around the play, mirroring its lack of wider success. Huniades opened at the Haymarket on 18 January 1792, with John Kemble playing Huniades, and Brand herself as Agmunda, the principal female part. One must assume this was the result of Brunton's making use of his London contacts; it seems likely, too, that he gave Brand advice on acting, for there is no evidence that she acted professionally before her appearance at the Haymarket. What the audience made of the thirty-seven year old author playing a young girl is not clear; her performance was later recalled as being 'marked by force and discrimination; though with the drawbacks of a provincial pronunciation, and a deportment not to be greatly admired' (Biographia Dramatica i.59). The play's Norwich success was not repeated, and it was judged too long. Brand hastily revised, cutting the part of Huniades altogether, and retitling the play Agmunda. The revisions were submitted for licensing on 1 February, with a covering note from Kemble,  [22] and Agmunda was staged later the same month. Shortened, the play was performed with minor success on this and subsequent occasions, but Brand later wrote the part of Huniades in again. She continued to act for several years in various provincial centres, appearing as Agmunda whenever she could get her play accepted (generally, one assumes, on her own benefit nights). During these years she probably wrote, or rather adapted, her two other plays, to be considered below. Neither of these appears to have been performed. Brand met with little success as an actress, and in the mid-1790s she retired from the stage and literary pursuits, returning to Norwich to work as a governess. She collected together her Plays and Poems; this volume, Brand's only publication, was published in Norwich, by subscription, in 1798.

In Plays and Poems the play for which Brand was chiefly known appears as Huniades; this must be considered, roughly-speaking, the third version of the work, and a sort of artistic compromise between the original 'long' play and the shortened Agmunda. From a historical perspective a case can be made for the superior interest of the original play, the manuscript of which is among the Larpent plays in the Huntington Library (Larpent MS. 896), and this is certainly true if one wishes to read the play politically. Given the date of the original Norwich production one would naturally infer that the play was written, or at least completed, in late 1790 or early 1791. A long play in blank verse may have taken Brand a considerable period of time to write, but the argument for Burke's influence need only suppose that it was completed some time after 1 November 1790. As the debt to Burke centres on his famous, widely-discussed lament for Marie Antoinette, this may point to Agmunda's becoming increasingly central in the dramatic conception - a process that eventually, as noted above, allowed Brand to cut the eponymous hero's role altogether. Agmunda, significantly, is an unhistorical character in a 'historical' play, but to decode the play's politics some knowledge of the historical relationships between the other characters is required.

The play's historical background is supplied by a striking episode from Hungarian history. To the published play Brand added an elaborate 'Introduction', detailing the relevant history, although this is not strictly necessary for an appreciation of Huniades, and is misleading in so far as the reader is led to infer that the play is a reasonably accurate portrayal of actual events. She might have said, as William Hawkins said of his play, The Siege of Aleppo, 'the Construction of it, excepting the Reality of the Siege is purely fictitious'.  [23] Her main source for this 'Introduction', and (probably) by extension the play's background, appears from her own citations to have been what she calls the 'New Universal History', and which can be identified, from her page referencing, as the sixty-four volume Universal History published in London between 1747 and 1766. The relevant episode is there given thus:

[In 1456], Mahomet II. elated with the conquest of Constantinople, marched with an army of one hundred and fifty thousand men to besiege Belgrade; upon the news of which, Ladislaus [the young king of Hungary], who was then at Buda with his uncle [Ulrich von Cilley, or Cilli], desparing [sic] of the success of his arms against so great a force, quitted Hungary, and, under a pretence of hunting, fled to Vienna. In the mean time John Corvin [János Hunyadi, or Huniades], having defeated the Turkish fleet on the Dauube [sic], threw himself into Belgrade with a strong reinforcement, and was joined by Capistran, a Franciscan; who, having preached a crusade in Germany against the Turks, was followed by forty thousand men. After having continued a month before the town, Mahomet gave orders for a general assault; but, though his troops had penetrated into the market-place, he was repulsed with the loss of forty thousand men, and most of his artillery, he himself being carried half-dead into his camp, which obliged the Turks immediately to quit the siege.

vol. 32, pp. 149-50

Brand used other information gleaned from the Universal History and (probably) supplementary sources, but the play is mainly shaped by her 'Construction of ... [the] purely fictitious', even down to the details of the fighting. A plot summary follows. Cilley, rather than being at Vienna, is in Belgrade itself, where he functions as the villain (his traditional role in Hungarian history). Agmunda, sister of the absent King Ladislaus and Cilley's niece, is also there, as are Corvinus, the son of Huniades, Zilugo, the governor, and Campestran (i.e. Capistran). Huniades himself is absent until the final act. The central dramatic situation is Mahomet's offer to raise the siege if he is given Agmunda as a bride. Agmunda and Corvinus, in love, are hastily married by Campestran in an attempt to avert the crisis, but Cilley has Agmunda seized and sent to Mahomet anyway. Zilugo kills Cilley; Corvinus and Campestran lead out an army in an attempt to release Agmunda. They are joined by Huniades, and successfully rout the Turks, but not before Mahomet has had Agmunda poisoned. Huniades discovers her as she is dying.

Huniades was conceived and written in a recognisably eighteenth-century idiom and stands in the tradition of such plays as Rowe's Tamerlane (1702) and Addison's Cato (1713). By 1790 there was a well-established tradition of 'siege' plays, which proved particularly popular in the last decade of the century, perhaps partly as a reflection of the national mood.  [24] The situation of a siege, with its two, essentially static centres of interest was well suited to dramatic display. Technically, it encouraged a shell-form structure in which the theme of 'besiegement' could be reproduced in a number of ways. Brand's play has one of the most formally satisfying structures of works in the genre, for Agmunda is at the centre of the siege in every sense. This structure was not an original one, as I show in my account of the literary genetics of Huniades in an appendix to this article. This account also proves that there is little in Huniades that has to be given a politically topical interpretation. Nevertheless, there was a well-established tradition of searching for political comment in 'historical' plays (again the celebrated Gustavus Vasa episode is exemplary) and only a very unsuggestible audience could miss the Burkean parallels in Brand's play. This is particularly true because those parallels relate to the lament for Marie Antoinette, the best-known section of the Reflections, the substance of which must have been known to almost every theatregoer by April 1791:

... little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. - But the age of chivalry is gone. - That of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.  [25]

In Huniades a Burkean chivalry returns. At the dramatic epicentre of the play, when the debate over whether Agmunda should be sacrificed for the people reaches its crisis point, both nobles and populace draw their swords to protect her. This must have been visually one of the most arresting scenes on stage.  [26] The implicit allusion to the Reflections is reinforced by the fact that the immediate prelude to these swords leiping from their scabbards is a thoroughly, immediately recognisable, Burkean argument. Agmunda turns the tide of popular feeling and wins support for the (undoubtedly feeble) King by making the crown an index to all security of property:

People, and peers! be guardians of his throne,
As ye would wish your children should possess,
In peace their just hereditary rights.  [27]

p. 68

The whole scene is in fact thoroughly and profoundly Burkean, for Agmunda does not simply make a property argument, she is a property argument. Cilley, and the people too initially, would turn her into currency to buy their safety. But, paradoxically, that currency's exchange value is secured on something - Agmunda's royalty - that the Cilley party have themselves rendered insecure, and which Mahomet will certainly not respect (as the audience knows). This is precisely the grand paradox that Burke found in the French Revolution: 'to crown all', he wrote with massive sarcasm:

... the paper securities of new, precarious, tottering power, the discredited paper securities of impoverished fraud, and beggared rapine, [are] held out as a currency for the support of an empire, in lieu of the two great recognised species that represent the lasting conventional credit of mankind, which disappeared and hid themselves in the earth from whence they came, when the principle of property, whose creatures and representatives they are, was systematically subverted.

Burke viii. 90

As commentators have recognised, this is the central crime of which Burke accused the revolutionaries. Thus the 'leaping swords' scene in Huniades tellingly maps Burke's reflections on Marie Antoinette onto his larger argument about 'the principle of property'. As there can be no question about where audience sympathies were meant to be, Huniades appears to be a thoroughly, accessibly, Burkean work - a political statement recognisable to theatregoers both at a superficial and a more considered level.

But the question we inevitably return to is whose political statement? Complicating straightforward assumptions about authorship is Beloe's account of Brand's character: 'of the Wolstoncraft [sic] school, a great stickler for the dignity of the sex, and the rights of women' (Beloe i.147-8). Although she can hardly have been of 'the Wolstoncraft school' in 1790, there is nothing in the surviving accounts of Brand to suggest she would be a sympathetic reader of Burke. On the other hand, Brunton, who was soon afterwards producing vehemently anti-Revolutionary material, surely would have been. In other words, this may well be evidence for the sort of assertive 'mentoring' that Ellen Donkin has shown 'patronal' managers to tend towards. Particularly striking in regard to Brand is Donkin's suggestion that:

The only escape for a woman in this situation [dependency on a manager] was to survive the first stage of mandatory mentoring by having a play produced successfully, and then to begin building a more independent career based on her own reputation.

Donkin 27

This fits the shape of Brand's career as we know it, for the non-production of her later plays tells its own story, and is bound up with political issues, as I shall argue below. Brunton undoubtedly did a great deal for her, and however much Brand may have stickled for the rights of women it would be idealistic to suppose that his assistance was unconditional. The earlier Stanley incident may have been in both their minds. And what is striking about the key-note Burkean scene in Huniades is that although it is central, it is also strangely superfluous. Cilley could, clearly, have simply seized Agmunda without attempting to win public support. And without this scene, or with a different version of this scene, it would be easy to imagine the play sounding quite different political notes. At the least, then, one might suppose the inclusion of this scene to represent something of a compromise between the political views of the writer and those of the manager.

I would argue, however, that the scene is itself a compromise, and that its surface Burkeanism begins to look a little problematic if probed. This is not, of course, to suggest that the play would have been politically ambiguous in the theatre. Rather, with the benefit of hindsight, and with some knowledge of Brand's character and other plays, we can uncover a principle of resistance at work, as, say, in much of Shostakovich's officially-sanctioned music. First of all, Agmunda's Burkean property argument carries the day only because of Cilley's very evident villainy. Cilley initially tells her she must marry Mahomet because 'The people, council, and I, Princess, will it' (p. 53). Other members of the council take up Cilley's appeal, insisting that if she does not go willingly the people will force her from Belgrade. Cilley then brings in a group of soldiers and ordinary citizens, and an 'Old Officer' attempts to persuade her to be their 'Ransom', provocatively asking 'Will thy own woes be less, if thousands share them?' (p. 59). Brand reveals an artistic honesty here, seeking to be fair to both the dignified 'Old Officer' and the threatened Princess. The situation is an impasse until Agmunda's surrender becomes firmly associated with Cilley's ambition. When this is revealed, she can, in terms that would soon become familiar outside the theatre, dismiss Cilley as one who 'loudly bawls sedition, / Excites revolt, and tempts to foulest murder' (p. 65). One can find something of a parallel tension in Burke, who conceded 'the faults and defects of the subverted government of France' (Burke viii. 175) but effectively negated the charge by the vigour of his assault on the Revolutionaries' motives.

Secondly, Agmunda is significantly different from Burke's Marie Antoinette. She is not a 'persecuted woman' bearing 'the whole weight of her accumulated wrongs, with a serene patience' (Burke viii. 121, 126), nor, clearly, is she a beautiful, regal princess inspiring instinctive homage. She is, rather, a princess who adapts to changed circumstances with alacrity and plays an active role in determining her own fate. She does not run from her persecutors but stands and argues with them. She appeals to the people not just as a threatened woman but as a representative of a monarchical system that can demonstrate itself as in their best interests. In other words, something of the response to Burke is written back into this essentially Burkean play. It would be going too far to suggest that Huniades contains a critique of the Reflections, but it touches on weaknesses and limitations in Burke's arguments, thus creating a subtly subversive undercurrent in which Brand's own more Wollstonecraftian views are revealed. Presumably she always intended the role of Agmunda for herself, and everything we know about her suggests that she would have rebelled at the idea of appearing as a merely passive, suffering heroine.

Any suspicion of a subversive undercurrent in Huniades is supported by a consideration of her other dramatic works - adaptations of plays by Corneille and Destouches, neither of which was performed (at least professionally), though they appear intended for the stage. As such they are of less interest than Huniades, but they do offer further insights into Brand's political commitments. Dating them is problematic, and all that can be said for certain is that they were written before May 1796.  [28] It seems probable, however, that they are later than Huniades, so representing the bulk of Brand's literary activity between 1791 and 1796.

The first of these plays, in their final published order, was adapted from Corneille's Don Sanche d'Aragon (1650).  [29] Entitled The Conflict; or Love, Honour, and Pride, and described as 'A Heroic Comedy' (following Corneille's designation of his play as a 'Comédie Héroïque'), it follows Don Sanche closely in most respects, and can almost be considered the first (apparently only) English translation of that play. Set in an imaginary Spain, the plot of Don Sanche centres on the enigmatic figure of Carlos, a soldier whose heroic exploits win him the love of both Isabella, Queen of Castile, and Elvire, daughter of the Queen of Aragon. His apparent lack of aristocratic blood makes a connection with either impossible until it is discovered he is Don Sanche, the long lost brother of Elvire; thus Carlos / Don Sanche is able to marry Isabella and put a satisfactory end to the crisis among the Castilian aristocracy as to who should marry the Queen. Brand only departed from Corneille's narrative outline in two particulars: first, she chose to have Don Sanche (hidden soon after his birth, as endangered by war) raised by a shepherd, rather than, as in the French play, a fisherman (perhaps out of respect for the English tradition of The Winter's Tale); secondly, she anticipated the dénouement, and made the plot a little less contrived, by having Carlos confess his love for Isabella in the fourth act, whereas in Corneille he stoically refrains from indulging tender feelings towards either Queen or Princess.

Isabella is the dramatic centre of the play; hers is the 'Conflict' of Brand's title. This 'Conflict', between 'natural'  [30] inclinations (her love for Carlos) and the demands of rank, was voguish in the early 1790s. Holcroft's pioneering 'Jacobin' novel, Anna St. Ives (1792), for example, contains just such a 'conflict' enacted in a domestic sphere. Holcroft vindicates his heroine's feelings for impossibly virtuous Frank Henley, son of her father's steward, and exposes family prejudice. Taking this novel as a political index, it would be natural to assume that Brand's play tells the opposite story of the essential difference of the aristocrat (Carlos, of course, is not akin to Holcroft's Coke Clifton anyway). Indeed the political conceit of this sort of folkloric story is that nobility always resides in the blood, not in the nurturing. What is intriguing, though, is that Brand made several alterations to the dialogue that, without changing the plot as such, introduce a radical emphasis Holcroft would have approved. These thicken towards the end, after an old peasant has come to court claiming to be Carlos' father (being really his surrogate father). In Corneille this inspires Isabella to lament a fact that seems to disgrace Carlos despite all his exploits,  [31] but in Brand's adaptation her response is significantly modified: 'Is this great soul and virtue so sublime, / Sprung from a beggar's race? - What then is blood?' (p. 227).  [32] That question, radical enough, is taken up by Elvire in a statement Corneille would have been surprised by: 'Men should take rank, not from their birth, but virtue' (p. 228); Frank Henley could hardly have been more succinct. Even the haughty Manrique (who in Don Sanche is incredulous of the truth of the peasant's claim), is made to admit: 'The man, whose deeds merit a princely rank, / Though in a cottage born, that rank should grace' (p. 232). Carlos himself, merely proud of his achievements in Don Sanche, in Brand's adaptation seizes this moment to assail the unjust values of society:

... learn what mind and courage can achieve,
And contemplate the building they have rear'd. -
That want of birth must raze this goodly fabric,
Is an unwholesome maxim in the state
Which saps its vigour, and enslaves its people

p. 233

Again, it is the sort of claim that Henley makes. Brand injects a 'Jacobin' lesson into the episode that is certainly not deliberately ironised by the revelation of Carlos' royal birth, whatever the paradoxical incompatibility of the literary topos with 1790s liberal politics. There is not sufficient space here to detail all Brand's minor alterations to Corneille's play, but suffice it to say that they mostly confirm the tendency noted above and carry a radical bias. This does, naturally, lead to anachronism. Isabella, for example, is made to believe in a popular monarchy, and that she is answerable to the will of her people.  [33] Her view of her state is thus bottom-up, rather than, as in Corneille, top-down. These 'Jacobin' nudges are doubtless sufficient to explain why The Conflict was not performed in the 1790s.  [34]

Brand's second adaptation was of Philippe Néricault Destouches' comedy La Force du Naturel (1750); entitled Adelinda, it is, once again, the nearest approximation to a translation into English of this French play. Destouches' plot hinges on a substitution of babies engineered many years previous to the represented action by Mathurine, a farming woman. Mathurine's own child, known as Julie, is brought up as the daughter of a Marquis, while the Marquis' daughter, known as Babet, is brought up by Mathurine. Both girls are ill at ease in their surroundings. Julie is vulgar despite efforts to teach her refinement;  [35] while Babet is well-mannered and refined above her station. Julie secretly marries Guérault, her father's steward, while the Count of Osonville, who she is meant to be marrying, falls in love with Babet. Mathurine confesses her crime, putting everything to rights. This play too is concerned with a nobility that is more than cultural.

In adapting this as Adelinda, Brand changed all the names and made several structural alterations. The important one, from the perspective of the present study, is that Dorcas (Mathurine) does not reveal her secret; Adelinda (Julie) learns it from her uncle. This allowed Brand to add an odd scene (V.i) in which Dorcas, afraid of the shame of being thought dishonest, is dissuaded by Adelinda from committing suicide. Here a harsher morality intrudes into Destouches' ancien régime frivolity. It intrudes again in another added scene where the Marquis, having learned of the marriage of Adelinda and Strasbourg (Guèrault), confesses to having been a 'pitiless libertine' and wonders whether his (apparent) daughter's actions are a punishment by God:

A man of errors have I been; - and is this dishonour a visitation for my sins? - Heaven's judgment now inflicts those pangs on me which I, pitiless libertine! have given to many a father's heart. My Rank alone screened me from vengeance. - But, ah! that Rank cannot protect me now

p. 360

Dorcas and the Count are thus aligned, for both transgress class boundaries and those transgressions return to haunt them. Brand's point would appear to be not that society is essentially stratified, as in La Force du Naturel, but the opposite: that stratification promotes false values. As in her adaptation of Don Sanche, the play as a whole seems to maintain a social ethos that is blatantly assaulted in her local revisions.

Brand's dramatic adaptations thus acquire something of a dialogic quality. Yet this dialogism does not pertain to the dramatic action, on which Bakhtin is particularly apropos:

In drama the world must be made from a single piece. Any weakening of this monolithic quality leads to a weakening of dramatic effect.... The whole concept of a dramatic action, as that which resolves all dialogic oppositions, is purely monologic.  [36]

In these terms, certainly, it must be owned that Brand's alterations do weaken the plays as dramas. That very weakening, however, draws the plays 'monolithic' governing ideology into a debate with contradictory ideas: in essence, into the 'Revolution debate' inspired by Burke. Brand's adaptations are thus politically dialogic; they contain their own political critique, quite undramatic, and awkwardly incorporated, yet a bold gesture of protest, surely. These critiques were, after all, inserted at the expense of the plays being performable, a very considerable sacrifice for a writer practically involved with the theatre. They are best understood as acts of sabotage that highlight, in the manner of graffiti, the institutionalised tendency of the whole range of drama - tragedy, comedy, farce, pantomime - to adopt a politically conservative stance at this period. This tendency was, needless to say, facilitated by that monologism that Bakhtin found endemic to all dramatic works.

In the course of the same discussion, Bakhtin suggests that monologism does not simply reside in the dramatist's manuscript, though; rather 'The characters come together dialogically in the unified field of vision of author, director, and audience, against the clearly defined background of a single-tiered world' (Bakhtin 17). Brand's one performed play, Huniades, was accommodated to this 'unified field of vision', and it is significantly free of the 'levelling' sentiments that are introduced into the adaptations. Indeed its explicit political sentiments are all of a piece, and are, as I have argued above, Burkean. The contradiction here must mean that either Brand's politics underwent a volte-face sometime between 1791 and 1796, which seems highly unlikely given the direction that supposes her turning in, or Huniades was written up to a political agenda supplied by Brunton. Politically speaking, I would certainly argue that Huniades was Brunton's play, and that this accordingly legitimates the sort of reading against the grain that I have attempted here. After all, Brand herself, as her adaptations evidence, was an advocate of this sort of reading.

The more one reflects on Brand's 'career' as a dramatist, I suggest, the more one realises that it was essentially shaped not only by the 'Revolution debate', but by the related debate about women. Brand moved from being an 'insider' of the theatrical establishment, what Donkin would call a submissive 'daughter' of Brunton (and through him of London managers, and, in a different sense, Burke), to being an 'outsider', an independent writer with Wollstonecraftian sympathies who (with difficulty) published unactable plays, before finally settling down as a governess and (apparently) abandoning her writing. In this context it is impossible not to read considerable significance into her changing the title of Don Sanche to The Conflict. Implicitly moving the centre of interest from the male hero to Isabella's dilemma, it points to Brand's sympathy with the latter. While Isabella experiences a conflict between 'natural' feelings and the demands of rank, Brand clearly experienced a parallel 'conflict' between a 'natural' (revolutionary) politics and the demands of the theatre. Understanding what was at stake in that 'conflict' for her, as well as for dozens of other forgotten dramatists, may well prove the key to renewed interest in their work.

Parties annexes


The Literary Genetics of Huniades

As Brand's only wholly 'original' play, there is some interest in the dramatic provenance of Huniades. Its 'siege' structure, described above, derives from one of the earliest English siege plays, William Cartwright's The Siege (written 1630s, published 1651). In Cartwright's play Byzantium is besieged by Misander, who offers to lift the siege if he is given Leucasia, the daughter of one of the leading citizens. The play opens with the citizens discussing this offer, which most of them are inclined to accept, though Leucasia's father warns against 'purchas[ing] a short liberty' (11): 'I could urge Freedom, Charters, Country, Laws, / Gods, and Religion, and such precious names...' (89-90).  [37] Leucasia eventually goes to Misander's camp insisting that she is to be 'Conducted like a Sacrifice': 'It is my Death, / But given to my Countrey' (741-3). Later she takes what is thought to be poison. All these elements find their way into Brand's play, though The Siege ends happily with Leucasia and Misander falling in love. Brand may have known The Siege, but it is more likely that she encountered the elements of Cartwright's plot in one or more of the eighteenth-century siege plays.

Onto the plot of Cartwright's Siege Brand fused elements of Dryden's Troilus and Cressida (1679). One of Dryden's principal alterations to the Troilus and Cressida story was the inclusion of an argument between Hector and Troilus over whether Cressida should be surrendered to the Greeks; although treated in a more summary fashion, this directly anticipates the dramatic crux of Huniades, discussed above:

Hect. If parting from a Mistriss can procure
A Nation's happiness, show me that Prince
Who dares to trust his future fame so farr
To stand the shock of Annals, blotted thus,
He sold his Country for a womans love!
Troil. O, she's my life, my being, and my Soul!
Hect. Suppose she were, which yet I will not grant,
You ought to give her up.
Troil. For whom?
Hect. The publick.
Troil. And what are they that I shou'd give up her
To make them happy? let me tell you Brother,
The publick, is the Lees of vulgar slaves:
Slaves, with the mind of slaves ...  [38]


As the scene develops, Hector becomes more menacing : 'bring her out, / Or ... / ... I'le force her thence'. As such he is a model for Brand's Cilley, who tells Corvinus 'not to risk / Belgrade, and slaughter thousands for one woman' (p. 23). Troilus' position is not quite that of Brand's Corvinus, but it is close; Corvinus' opinion of the 'publick' is not so intrinsically low, but it does sink enormously after he finds them willing to sacrifice Agmunda. In this case direct influence is more likely because of the high esteem Dryden enjoyed throughout the eighteenth century.  [39]


  1. [1]

    The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs, 6 vols. (Oxford 1956-71) vol. I, p. 109.

  2. [2]

    Griggs' notes and index confuse Elizabeth with her elder sister Anne (1769-1808).

  3. [3]

    J. K. Edwards, 'The Decline of the Norwich Textiles Industry', Yorkshire Bulletin of Economic and Social Research XVI (1964): 41; hereafter abbreviated as Edwards.

  4. [4]

    Dorothy H. Eshleman, The Committee Books of the Theatre Royal Norwich 1768-1825 (London, 1970) p. 11; hereafter abbreviated as Eshleman. There is no standard history of the Theatre Royal, Norwich, but Eshleman's introduction is a succinct and well-documented account of its early establishment.

  5. [5]

    Richard Hurst (d. 1805) was manager between 1758 and 1766 before resuming a career as a minor actor. Richard Griffith (c.1730-1804) managed between 1766 and 1780 and stayed in the company as an actor, and later prompter.

  6. [6]

    A fuller account of Brunton can be found in Philip H. Highfill, Jr., Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, 20 vols. (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1973-93) vol. II, pp. 376-8.

  7. [7]

    Gillian Russell, The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society, 1783-1815 (Oxford, 1995) pp. 67-70.

  8. [8]

    C. B. Jewson, The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution (Glasgow and London, 1975) p. 16.

  9. [9]

    A figure ventured on the basis of statistics given in my D. Phil thesis, 'Norwich Literature 1788-97: A Critical Survey' (Oxford, 1997) pp. 4-5.

  10. [10]

    Ellen Donkin, Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights in London 1776-1829 (London and New York, 1995) p. 26; hereafter abbreviated as Donkin.

  11. [11]

    Elmira; a Dramatick Poem; With Thoughts on Tragedy was advertised in the Norwich papers that day. Page references in text.

  12. [12]

    Stanley's subscribers included Amelia Alderson (later Opie), Charles Marsh, Frank Sayers and William Taylor. A good indication of how much opinion could shift in these years is given by the fact that Lumley St George Skeffington, subsequently a playwright himself, subscribed for two copies of Elmira in 1790 and less than three years later penned a violently 'anti-Jacobin' prologue to James Plumptre's The Coventry Act.

  13. [13]

    Norfolk Chronicle, 23 July 1791.

  14. [14]

    Not to be confused with James Cobb's opera, The Siege of Belgrade, and an anonymous novel, The Siege of Belgrade, both of 1791. Beyond the Belgrade location, there is no connection between the three texts.

  15. [15]

    There were various reasons for this, perhaps the most striking being that Norwich had exceptionally unified commercial interests. As early as 1700, Ursula Priestley has estimated, 'the number of inhabitants involved with textiles in one way or another exceeded those in all other occupations put together' (The Fabric of Stuffs (Norwich, 1990) p. 27). This proportion steadily increased as the textile industry expanded dramatically in the new century, so that by 1780 around 100,000 people were 'directly or indirectly' employed in it (Edwards, p. 31). This created something of a unified political sensibility, events and policy that might effect the trade being closely observed, reported on, and discussed. It might also be mentioned that a century of wealth meant numerous schools and high literacy levels, that by 1791 Norwich had witnessed several high-profile contested elections, and that the dominance of the merchant classes had allowed several Dissenters into the Corporation.

  16. [16]

    Jeffrey N. Cox, 'Ideology and Genre in the British Antirevolutionary Drama of the 1790s', ELH LVIII (1991): 579-610. Cox suggests that the first 'antirevolutionary drama' was written in 1792 (p. 581), a fact only correct if his very narrow definition is accepted.

  17. [17]

    She was christened in Norwich on 25 November 1754 (International Genealogical Index).

  18. [18]

    William Beloe, The Sexagenerian, 2 vols. (London, 1817) vol. I, p. 147; hereafter abbreviated as Beloe.

  19. [19]

    Plays and Poems (Norwich, 1798) pp. 381-416.

  20. [20]

    Brand appears to have been acquainted with Dom. Armand Gervaise's Jugement critique mais équitable des vies de feu M. l'abbé de Rancé reformayeur de l'abbaye de la Trappe (1742; the place of publication is given as London, though this is almost certainly false). This was the main source of information respecting La Trappe. I have been unable to see Gervaise's book, but am indebted to Stephen Brown for examining this and other early accounts of La Trappe in the Bibliothèque Nationale.

  21. [21]

    See, beside Beloe, David Erskine Baker, Isaac Reed and Stephen Jones, Biographia Dramatica; Or, A Companion to the Playhouse, 3rd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1812) vol. I, pp. 59-62; hereafter abbreviated as Biographia Dramatica.

  22. [22]

    Huntington Library, Larpent MS. 932, title-page. This manuscript of 'the alterations in the Tragedy of Huniades' corresponds to pp. 110-129 of the original 'Huniades' MS. (Larpent MS. 896), and shows that Brand managed to reduce over nineteen pages of handwriting to just three and a half. She sacrificed some effective drama: Mahomet's being brought in wounded, his clash with his guards, the entrance of the wounded Huniades, Huniades' discovery of Agmunda and their long interview (seven and a half pages), Huniades' attempts to prevent Agmunda learning that Corvinus is still alive.

  23. [23]

    Dramatic and other Poems, Letters, Essays, &c., 3 vols. (Oxford, 1758) vol. II, p. 143.

  24. [24]

    In the 'Hand-list of Plays, 1750-1800' in the History of English Drama 1660-1900 (Oxford, 1923-59) Allardyce Nicoll lists the following dramatic works with 'siege' in their title: Frances Brooke's The Siege of Sinope (1781), James Cobb's The Siege of Belgrade (1791), George Cockings' The Conquest of Canada; or, The Siege of Quebec (1766), Charles Denis' The Siege of Calais (translation; 1765), George Gregory's The Siege of Jerusalem, William Hawkins' The Siege of Aleppo (1758), William Hilton's The Siege of Palmyra (1776), John Home's The Siege of Aquileia (1760), Gorges Edmond Howard's The Siege of Tamar (1773), John Jackson's Geralda; or, The Siege of Harlech (1778) and Sir William Wallace ... or, The Siege of Dumbarton Castle (1780), Edward Jerningham's The Siege of Berwick (1793), Archibald McLaren's The Siege of Perth; or, Sir William Wallace the Scots Champion (1792), William Julius Mickle's The Siege of Marseilles (1794), John O'Keeffe's The Siege of Troy (1795), Frederick Pilon's The Siege of Gibraltar (1780), William Preston's The Siege of Ismail (1794), Henry James Pye's The Siege of Meaux (1794), William Sotheby's The Siege of Cuzco (1800), and (all anonymous) The Honours of War; or, The Siege of Valenciennes (1793), The Siege of Quebec; or, Harlequin Engineer (1760), The Siege of Quebec (1784), The Siege of the Castle of Aesculapius (1768), The Siege of Troy (1795), The Siege of Valenciennes (1793), Tippoo Sahib, or, The Siege of Bangalore (1792), The Siege of Warsaw (1794). Obviously many other dramatic works were based on a siege, even if the fact was not advertised in the title: indeed the most successful 'siege' play of all was George Colman the Younger's Surrender of Calais (1791).

  25. [25]

    The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford, 9 vols. (Oxford, 1981-1991) vol. VIII, pp. 126-7; hereafter abbreviated as Burke.

  26. [26]

    This striking scene is dramatically balanced in the final act when the wounded Mahomet attempts to return to the battlefield, and his attendants draw their swords against him: 'Our Sabres reason with thy mad temerity' (p. 113).

  27. [27]

    All quotations from Huniades are from Larpent MS. 896, which has pagination.

  28. [28]

    The Norfolk Chronicle for 7 May 1796 published 'Proposals for Publishing by Subscription ... Plays and Poems by Hannah Brand'. This noted 'The work is ready for the Press'.

  29. [29]

    I am indebted to Laurent Langlade for assistance with the French texts of Don Sanche and La Force du Naturel.

  30. [30]

    I place quotation marks around 'natural', accepting, with Clifford Siskin, that such categories need to be treated as artifacts. See Siskin's The Historicity of Romantic Discourse (New York and Oxford, 1988).

  31. [31]

    Elvire exclaims 'Que le ciel est injuste!', to which Isabella replies 'Il l'est, et nous fait voir, / Par cet injuste effet, son absolu pouvoir, / Qui du sang le plus vil tire une âme si belle, / Et forme une vertu qui n'a lustre que d'elle' (ll. 1563-66). Text from Théatre Complet de Corneille, ed. Maurice Rat, 3 vols. (Paris, 1942) vol. II, pp. 664-5.

  32. [32]

    Page references for The Conflict and Adelinda refer to the texts in Brand's Plays and Poems (Norwich, 1798).

  33. [33]

    She hopes the people will elect Carlos for her husband, so she can side-step the prejudice of the court: 'Inspire my people! let them name Don Carlos' (p. 198).

  34. [34]

    Audiences in this decade, it hardly need be added, were extraordinarily sensitive to political suggestion. When Matthew 'Monk' Lewis included the statement 'The Coquette fishes for hearts which are worthless; the Courtier, for titles which are absurd' in his Castle Spectre (1797), he found that, 'On the strength of this single sentence, it was boldly asserted on the morning after the first performance, that the whole Play was written to support the Cause of Equality; and that I said in it all distinctions of rank ought to be abolished ...' (The Castle Spectre [London, 1798] p. 47).

  35. [35]

    In a significant statement, Julie says '…tre ce que l'on est, jamais ne se contraindre, / C'est la seule grandeur où je brûlois d'atteindre' (V.i.19-20). Quoted from Oeuvres Dramatiques De N. Destouches, 6 vols. (Paris, 1821) vol. IV, p. 577.

  36. [36]

    M. M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson (Manchester, 1984) p. 17; hereafter abbreviated as Bakhtin.

  37. [37]

    Line references are to the text in The Plays and Poems of William Cartwright, edited by G. Blakemore Evans (Madison, 1951) pp. 353-438.

  38. [38]

    Text from The Works of John Dryden, ed. Edward Niles Hooker and H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., 20 vols. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1956-1989) vol. XIII, pp. 304-5.

  39. [39]

    The comparison between the plays might be extended further. In Dryden's Troilus and Cressida, when Troilus is finally persuaded to surrender Cressida, his main fear is that she will be seduced; but in Dryden's second major alteration, Cressida resists Diomedes' attempts to seduce her, just as Agmunda resists Mahomet's. Troilus still believing her unfaithful, however, she commits suicide on the play's final battlefield.

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Chandler, David. « 'The Conflict': Hannah Brand and Theatre Politics in the 1790s. » Romanticism on the Net, numéro 12, november 1998, p. 0–0.
Chandler, D. (1998). 'The Conflict': Hannah Brand and Theatre Politics in the 1790s. Romanticism on the Net, (12), 0–0.
Chandler, David « 'The Conflict': Hannah Brand and Theatre Politics in the 1790s ». Romanticism on the Net no 12 (1998) : 0–0.

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