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Elizabeth Griffith (1727–1793)

Author of Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists

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Elizabeth Griffith was born in Glamorgan, Wales, to Thomas Griffith, an Irish theater manager, and his wife Jane Foxcroft Griffith. Very few details about her early life are available. Her father died in 1744, when she was about 17, leaving the family in financial trouble. She began taking small provincial acting jobs and went on to become a professional actress. She made her theatrical debut in 1749, and over the next two years played leading roles such as Juliet, Cordelia, Sylvia in The Double Gallant, and Ismene in Phaedra and Hippolitus. In 1751, she secretly married Richard Griffith (no relation), against the wishes of his family, left the stage, and had two children. In 1756, his linen business went bankrupt and he was thrown into debt. Elizabeth began writing to support the family. She won fame with the publication of the first of six volumes of A Series of Genuine Letters Between Henry and Frances (1757), the correspondence of her courtship with her husband. Eventually she moved alone to London, leaving the children in the care of her mother, to earn more money by writing and producing plays. These included The Platonic Wife (1765), The School for Rakes, an adaption of Beaumarchais's Eugénie (1769), A Wife in the Right, also known as Patience the Best Remedy (1772), and The Times (1780). She also published novels such as The Delicate Distress (1769), The History of Lady Barton (1771) and The Story of Lady Juliana Harley (1776), and Amana (1764), a dramatic poem. She was also the author of two extremely successful nonfiction books, The Morality of Shakespeare's Drama Illustrated (1775), one of the earliest works of literary criticism by a woman; and Essays, Addressed to Young Married Women (1782), published posthumously in the USA as Letters Addressed to Young Married Women (1796). She also translated works by French writers such as The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette.
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