Emma takes to the West End stage

An exploration of the first London stage production of Jane Austen’s Emma

The novels of Jane Austen have been the basis of many dramatic performances from the first home theatrical extracts arranged by Rosina Filippi and published by J M Dent in 1895, to the modern adaptations of the novels for the movie and television industries. The first full play to appear as a dramatic adaptation was a version of Pride and Prejudice published in 1906, and several more adaptations of this novel have continued to appear over the subsequent 100 years, including, in 1936, Miss Elizabeth Bennet by A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie-the-pooh.

Dramatic versions of Emma

The first full dramatic version of Emma to be published was Romances by Emma by DeWitt Bodeen in 1938, which was first performed in Pasadena, California. This was followed by Emma by Marion Morse MacKaye; the play was written in 1937 but the author died before its first publication by Macmillan and first performance at the North Dakota Agricultural College, both occurring in 1941. The first English dramatisation of Emma was a three act play called Emma, written by John Lindsey and Ronald Russell, which was published by the theatrical script publisher Samuel French in 1943 and first produced at The Little Theatre in Bristol in March of the same year.

The first London production of Emma

The first production of Emma to appear in a theatre in London was a three act play, Emma, written by Gordon Glennon and published by Macmillan in 1945. Before coming to St James’s Theatre in London, the play had a successful regional tour, opening with performances in Rugby in August 1943 and including a popular and critically acclaimed season in Manchester before the first London performance on 7th February 1945. The play was produced by the popular film star Robert Donat, who worked as a theatrical promotor during the Second World War. The play had a cast of 12 actors, led by Anna Neagle, (1904-1986), a popular starlet who had started as a stage dancer but who had achieved recent film successes in the title roles of films about Nell Gwyn (1935), Queen Victoria (1937 and 1938) and Edith Cavell (1939). As well as a very good copy of the first Macmillan edition of Emma (1945) in dust jacket, I also have a copy of the program for the London season of the play, which was only moderately successful at around 60 performances.

The play, which ran in London from February to April 1945 was in competition with air raids from Hitler’s Vengeance weapons, the V1 “Doodlebug” and the V2 rocket designed by Wernher von Braun. A V2 exploded very close to the theatre during one evening performance. There is interesting advice in the program to the theatre patrons on how to react to an air raid, which I have reproduced below.

Emma the play

The play is structured into three acts, with Act 1 consisting of a single scene and Acts 2 and 3 both arranged as two scenes each. The program tells us that the events take place in 1815. All of the action of the play occurs on the same set, which represents the Woodhouse’s drawing room at Hartfield. This means that we hear about events that occur elsewhere, such as Harriet’s encounter with the gypsies, and the Weston’s ball, all during conversations in the drawing room, and that Mr. Elton’s attempted proposal to Emma, Frank Churchill’s misapprehended conversation to Emma about Jane Fairfax and Emma’s insulting remark to Miss Bates all are arranged to occur within the Woodhouse’s drawing room.

The dialogue of the play is sometimes close to the original words of the novel and at other times diverges quite considerably. For instance, here from Act 2 Scene 2 of the play is Glennon’s version of the remark by Miss Bates which provokes Emma’s insult, followed by Emma’s unfortunate response:

Miss Bates: Oh, that will not be difficult. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as I open my mouth.

Emma: (unable to resist) Ah, madam, but you will be limited as to the number – only three at once.

Emma Act 2 Scene 2.

This is a considerable contraction of the original dialogue from Chapter 43 of Emma, which takes place during the outing to Box Hill. It diminishes the prolix nature of Miss Bates’ conversation. Here is the original as written by Jane Austen:

“Oh! very well,” exclaimed Miss Bates; “then I need not be uneasy. ‘Three things very dull indeed.’ That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan’t I?” looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on everyone’s assent. “Do you not all think I shall ?”

Emma could not resist.

Ah, ma’am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to the number – only three at once.

Emma, Chapter XLIII

I leave the reader to judge how well or otherwise Mr. Glennon has done with this famous passage.

Images from the play

Both the program and the book of the play give the original cast list. I have reproduced the version from the program below. I am not aware of any changes to the cast during the play’s short London run. I assume that this program, which cost 6d, was held by a woman, as the red smudge, seen alongside Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton, appears to be lipstick!

I had wondered what the set and actors looked like and how authentic the costumes were. I have recently been fortunate enough to gain some insight into this. I have just received a copy of an edition of Emma published in 1890 by George Routledge and Sons Ltd. The Irish dealer who I bought it from had described the book as having “some newspaper cuttings stuck to the front prelims”. Imagine my delight to discover that these cuttings were pictures taken from a magazine of the London production of Gordon Glennon’s Emma, with Anna Neagle and the rest of the cast as listed above. Photos of Mr. Elton’s proposal to Emma, Frank Churchill’s non-proposal to Emma and Mr. Knightley’s proposal to Emma are shown below.

Left: Mr Elton and Emma. Centre: Frank Churchill and Emma. Right: Mr. Knightley and Emma

The play ends with the whole ensemble on stage, with everyone asked to toast the three future brides, Jane Fairfax, Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse in turn. Note that Glennon has decreed that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax will marry. Also note that Robert Martin does not get an appearance in this version of Emma. Below is the picture of that final final toasting scene.

From the left we can see:

Miss Bates; Frank and Jane; Mr. Woodhouse; Mrs. Weston; Emma; Mr. Weston; Harriet; Serle; Mr. Knightley; Mrs. and Mr. Elton

For more information on the representations of Emma on stage, I suggest that you view the entertaining video presentation by Professor Devoney Looser at the 2020 Virtual JaneCom which can be viewed on You Tube.

More about interesting books relating to Jane Austen will be posted shortly.

Robinson Crusoe for Younger readers

Note: In this and linked posts, I have recrafted some material from earlier posts to improve navigation.

Robinson Crusoe as a book for Juveniles

Defoe intended his book to be a moral tale that showed how a rather reckless youth can become a thoughtful, religious and worthy man, by application to work and devotion to the scriptures. The original text by Defoe contains many sections of religious or philosophical ruminations, that can make the book quite heavy going for the younger or indeed the modern reader. It was first recognised by a German writer that Robinson Crusoe contained the kernel of an exciting story for younger people. Accordingly, in 1779, Joachim Heinrich Campe translated and edited Defoe’s work to produce Robinson der Jüngere (Robinson the Younger). Campe followed this with a similar treatment of The Farther Adventures published as a second volume in 1780.

These two books came to the attention of the London publisher John Stockdale, who translated them back into English, and then published them in two volumes as The New Robinson Crusoe An Instructive and Entertainment History for the Use of Children of Both Sexes (1788). Stockdale claimed to have translated the book from a French text, but it was clearly a translation of Campe’s German texts. In the following year, Stockdale published a simplified single volume version of this treatment of Robinson Crusoe as a book for children as An Abridgement of The New Robinson Crusoe An Instructive and Entertainment History for the Use of Children of Both Sexes (1789). This was the real start in English of Robinson Crusoe as an adventure book for the younger reader. It is interesting that these two publications by Stockdale predate by one and two years his famous two volume illustrated edition of Robinson Crusoe for adult readers.

Here follows a link to a posting about my copy of An Abridgement of The New Robinson Crusoe An Instructive and Entertainment History for the Use of Children of Both Sexes (1789) and here is a link to a post about my copy of a related reprint published by George Routledge called Robinson the Younger or the New Crusoe (1856).

Since then, there have been many versions of Robinson Crusoe that have been specifically published for the juvenile market. There are editions in simplified language, indeed a couple written in words of one syllable, excluding the personal names. There also continues to be many illustrated editions published for the younger reader, and some more deluxe illustrated editions that were probably intended for the children and adults of wealthy families. The story has also been translated into many different languages over the years.

All of these juvenile editions are based on the first volume of Robinson Crusoe as written by Defoe, which culminates with Crusoe’s escape from the island and his return to England. Some editions may also contain material taken from “The Farther Adventures” that made up the original second volume written by Defoe, particularly the sections describing the return of Crusoe to the island. None of the juvenile editions that I have seen contain material from the more rarefied and philosophical volume 3 of Defoe.

Robinson the Younger 1856

Robinson the Younger or the New Crusoe published in 1856

This version of Robinson Crusoe from my collection was specifically produced for the juvenile reader as Robinson the Younger, and was published by George Routledge & Co. in London in 1856. The upper board, which is the original gilt-decorated cloth binding, and both the engraved and the printed title pages are shown below.

The printed title page reveals that this is an English translation of Robinson der Jüngere (1779) by Joachim Heinrich Campe, the first juvenile version of the story of Robinson Crusoe ever published, which was discussed in a previous Robinson Crusoe blog. My copy is the second Routledge edition of 1856, the first edition having appeared in 1855. There seems also to have been a third edition published in 1859. All three editions are scarce, but the text is available in electronic form in several libraries.

The book has two prefaces; a translator’s preface and some extracts from an unattributed author’s preface, which is presumably a translation of part of a preface written in German by Campe in 1779. The translator R. Hick explained how he came to translate Campe’s book as follows:

The original work of which the following is a translation, fell accidentally into my hands when looking for an entertaining German reading book. I was presently struck with its admirable adaptation for the use of children, and once resolved to translate it for my own little boys; during the progress of my agreeable task I now and then read what I had written, sometimes to my wife, sometimes to friends, who one and all strongly recommended my offering it for publication.

Translator’s Preface, Robinson the Younger, George Routledge & Co. London 1856

He finished by writing:

I have endeavoured as much as possible to render it simply what it professes to be, a faithful image of the admirable original, the worth of which has been emphatically stamped by the German public having demanded upwards of forty large editions of it.

R.Hick Woodhouse Hill, Near Leeds, 1855.

The image on the engraved title page in the central panel above shows a man reading from a book to his family grouped around him. This is how Robinson der Jüngere  and Robinson the Younger are both structured, with the story being read out to the children by the father as a narrative interrupted by frequent questions from the children. I give an example of this below, with the famous incident of the discovery by Robinson of the footprint. This is from the chapter headed “Fourteenth Evening.”

“He had not gone far when he reached the most southerly part of the island. Here the ground in some parts was sandy, and just as he reached the most prominent point, he was struck almost as with a thunderbolt, became as white as a sheet, and trembled all over.

John.- Why?

Papa.- He saw what he never dreamed of seeing here, the footprints of one or more men in the sand.

Nicholas.- And did that frighten him so? Why, it should have delighted him!

Papa.- The cause of his terror was this : he concluded at once that the man of whose foot this was the print, was not a brother or a friend, who would be ready to help and serve him; but a cruel creature, who would fall upon him in a fury, and would kill and eat him. In a word, he saw in this, not the trace of a polished European, but of a savage cannibal, like those of whom you have heard in the Caribbee Islands.

George.- Ah! That I believe, and so he must have been frightened.”

from Robinson the Younger, George Routledge & Co. London, 1856, pp 117-118.

My copy of the book has no illustrations other than its frontispiece, shown below. The Robinson Crusoe depicted seems decidedly older than the young man described in the text.

Frontispiece from Robinson the Younger, George Routledge and Co. London, second edition 1856

In the next blog postings, I will discuss some other 19th century editions of Robinson Crusoe that I have in my collection.