Blurring boundaries: The works of Elizabeth Inchbald

Sharon L Decker, Fordham University


In this dissertation, I explore Elizabeth Inchbald's works with the intention of revealing her intricate belief system. Inchbald was highly responsive to the political and literary complexities of her time. Through a close analysis of A Simple Story and six plays, I argue that her theatricality and her knowledge of political and social issues produce a body of work revealing Inchbald to be much more of a progressive thinker than critics allow. In the introduction, I present three sketches—Inchbald's biography, an historical review and a literary overview—with the intention of situating Inchbald within the larger framework of eighteenth-century thought. I begin with the assumption that Inchbald's works are embodied histories; these sketches enable me to show her ideological origins. The second chapter concentrates on A Simple Story, and demonstrates Inchbald's critique of contemporary education. I compare the novel to Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and then assert that Inchbald furthers Wollstonecraft's call for a rational education in insisting that a balanced education demands an understanding of one's sexual desires. The third chapter focuses on Inchbald's argument for a positive form of female sexuality. In three of her marriage plays, Inchbald attacks the institution of marriage on the grounds that it suppresses female desire and legally enslaves women. I also argue that Inchbald's contention that marriage should be based upon reason, choice and sexual desire is new and provocative, and does not become popularized until Jane Austen's later works. My fourth chapter looks at Inchbald's colonial dramas, and shows how Inchbald challenges the English “right” to colonization. She blurs lines between cultures, genders and classes, ultimately arguing that cultural lines are fictitious, and that women of all cultures are in a tenuous position with regard to patriarchy. In the conclusion, I look ahead to the critical work that needs to be done. Overall I believe Inchbald is a master strategist, and a writer who has influenced many others, a point that critics have yet to recognize.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Theater|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Decker, Sharon L, "Blurring boundaries: The works of Elizabeth Inchbald" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3045122.