Professional Female Characters

Introduction to Character Type | List of Plays | Up One Level

Introduction to Character Type

Professional women in this collection are divided into three groups: wealthy women who dabble in artistic professions, women who practice a profession in order to support themselves, and women who use professions to be united with their lovers. Because they are not reliant on a profession as a source of income, the members of the first group of women are allowed to continue to practice their professions after marriage, while women of the third group give up their professions immediately. In contrast, women of the second group tend not to be married at the plays' ends, a subtle judgment of professional women of this period.

The first group, comprising noblewomen who are professional artists as a hobby and who get married at the end of the play, includes the talented painter Laetitia Fairfax in Cumberland's The Choleric Man (1774; published 1775) and Lady Hortensia Horton, a female sculptor in Cowley's The Town Before You (1794; published 1795). These characters use their professions as artists to become better acquainted with their lovers (and their lovers' families), and presumably continue to practice their arts after their marriages. The third group of women includes Charlotte in Kemble's The Female Officer (1763) and Nancy in Sheridan's The Camp (1778; published 1795), who disguise themselves as soldiers to be united with their lovers; they are quickly exposed as women and revert to their former social status, allowing them to be quickly married.

In contrast, members of the second group, such as Lindamara in Cumberland's The Box-Lobby Challenge (1794), a female novelist whose laughably poetic language reflects her profession, Miss Pickle, a female poetess who frequently uses bad grammar in Bickerstaff's The Spoil'd Child (1787; published 1792), and Mrs. Hazard, a female playwright in Clive's The Rehearsal (1750; published 1753), remain unmarried at the plays' conclusions. This may be a form of social commentary on women who earn a living through their professions. Upper-class women are allowed to indulge in the arts to entertain themselves, as do the dramatist Lady Alton in Colman's 1767 comedy The English Merchant and the "gentlewoman-volunteer" in An Occasional Prelude (1772). However, middle- to lower-class women who practice professions out of necessity are less reflective of eighteenth-century conceptions of propriety and femininity, causing them to fail in achieving marriage, at that time the ultimate expression of female achievement.

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List of Plays

The Spoil'd Child (Bickerstaff)

The Rehearsal (Clive)

The Town Before You (Cowley)

The English Merchant (Colman)

An Occasional Prelude (Colman)

The Musical Lady (Colman)

The Choleric Man (Cumberland)

The Box-Lobby Challenge (Cumberland)

The Female Officer (Kemble)

The Camp (R.B. Sheridan)

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©2008 Arden Hegele