Joanna Baillie (1762-1851) A Scottish poet and playwright, she was born at Bothwell, Lanarkshire, the third of three children of Dorothea (Hunter) and James Baillie, a junior minister at Hamilton, who later became Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University, a distant, undemonstrative father. As a child she was said to have been a tomboy, who loved outdoor sports, and though not studious, was known for her ability to make up stories and poems. She was later sent to boarding-school in Glasgow where she wrote plays and stage-managed theatricals. After her father’s death, her uncle, Dr George Hunter, became the children’s guardian and on Hunter’s death, Joanna’s brother Matthew, who had also trained as a doctor, inherited a house in London, requiring the family to move south to Hampstead. Joanna is now recognized as an influence on her literary contemporaries such as Byron, Wordsworth, Scott and Shelley. She published Fugitive Verses in 1790 and in 1798 the first volume of A Series of Plays, anonymously. They were well-received, the majority of reviewers assuming the author was a man. De Monfort was produced at Drury Lane where it ran for only 8 performances. It was recently revived at The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, England in May, 2008. “Joanna Baillie’s 1798 tragedy was a big hit in its day and a starring vehicle for both John Philip Kemble and Edmund Kean, and you can see why. Its central character gets to suffer and then rise above his suffering in an attempt to be honourable and then sink into madness and then be overwhelmed by guilt … And even if such melodramatic excess is not to most modern tastes, and … (despite what I assume is extensive cutting) it all goes on a bit too long, still we once again must thank the Orange Tree for rediscovering a lost play and re-introducing us to a lost playwright of unquestionable power.”
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