Barbara Darby

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The position Frances Burney (1752-1840) holds as a novelist, journalist, and letter-writer is now undisputed, thanks to reevaluations of the canon in recent years. Yet Burney was always intrigued by, and wrote for, the stage. Though only one of Burney’s dramas was performed in her lifetime, Barbara Darby places the plays in the context of performance and feminist theory, challenging past assertions about Burney that were based entirely on her novels and journals. Darby maintains that in exposing the failure of such practices and institutions as courtship, marriage, family, government, and the church, Burney’s dramas often exceed her novels in the depth of their social commentary.

In her four comedies and four tragedies, Burney uses stage space, dialogue, blocking, and gesture to highlight the ways power is distributed among society’s members. According to Darby, these plays show that the eighteenth-century female experience was dominated by physical, psychic, and emotional regulation that included bodily punishment and the limitation of personal choice.

Placing Burney alongside other prominent female playwrights of the period, Darby brings to light a substantial body of work, revealing that Burney’s drama was not a casual sideline to her novel writing. Frances Burney, Dramatist, expands our appreciation of the extent to which eighteenth-century women playwrights used the stage as a forum.

Barbara Darby received her Ph.D. from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"Darby finds Burney exposing not only gender ideology but familial ideology as oppressive to women. . . . A lucid, careful, well-researched book."—Choice

"Discusses fully and convincingly the importance of these plays, both to Burney's career and to the history of women's writing and women's cultural position in the eighteenth century."—Janice Farrar Thaddeus

"Original . . . has the merit of balancing theatrical with literary perspectives."—La Questione Romantica

"A coherent, detailed account of the plays and a welcome addition to the growing bibliography of Burney studies."—Notes and Queries

"Reading the plays as both literary texts and as texts for performance, and grounding her critical practice in materialist feminism, Darby finds Burney exposing not only gender ideology, but familial ideology as oppressive to women."—Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900

"Original, challenging and intellectually rigorous; her take on Burney as a writer is nuanced and provocative."—The Burney Letter

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Fanny Burney, English theater, Feminism and literature, Women playwrights


Literature in English, British Isles

Frances Burney, Dramatist: Gender, Performance, and the Late Eighteenth-Century Stage
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