‘Lovers’ Vows’ by Elizabeth Inchbald

Object name: First edition of Lovers’ Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald

Object number: CHWJA: JAHB37

Category: Book

Description: First edition of Lovers’ Vows, a play in five acts by Mrs Inchbald. Printed for G.G. and J Robinson, Paternoster Row, 1798. Price Two Shillings.

Made: 1798

Context: Lovers’ Vows by Mrs Inchbald  was one of a number of adaptations of August von Kotzebue‘s Das Kind der Liebe (which translates as ‘Love Child’) published between 1798 and 1800, but it was the only one to be staged. The play met with huge success when it was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, in October 1798.

As the original German title suggests, the play deals with the issue of extra-marital sex, seduction and illegitimacy. Contemporary critics expressed concern at the depiction of the lower-class characters as more morally upright and virtuous than the aristocratic characters, Baron Wildenhaim and Count Cassel, who had both seduced and abandoned young women from the poorer classes.

Lovers’ Vows features in Mansfield Park and contemporary readers would have needed no explanation of the play or of why Fanny and Edmund considered the play unsuitable for the Bertrams and friends to stage.

Jane Austen uses the characters and plots in the play to mirror the unfolding drama at Mansfield Park between the Crawfords and Bertrams. Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford for example, who play the parts of Agatha and her long-lost son Frederick, take every opportunity to practise their tender reunion scene again and again, which brings them into a ‘dangerous intimacy.’

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