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2. The Witchfinder

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4. Corinne

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11. Lady Clare

[Flowers of the Forest]

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13. Bachelors

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21. Partners

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29. Clarissa

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32. Sweet Nancy

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43. The Piper of Hamelin

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45. Dick Sheridan

46. A Society Butterfly

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49. The Romance of the Shopwalker

50. The Wanderer from Venus

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52. Two Little Maids from School

53. When Knights Were Bold

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ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THEATRE REVIEWS

29. Clarissa (1890)

 

Clarissa
by Robert Buchanan (adapted from the novel, Clarissa Harlowe; or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson).
London: Vaudeville Theatre. 6 February, 1890 (matinée).
London: Vaudeville Theatre. 8 February to 18 April, 1890

clarissapic

[Winifred Emery as Clarissa Harlowe.]

 

The Manchester Weekly Times (26 October, 1889 - p.3)

     The centenary of Samuel Richardson is not to pass away without an attempt on the part of English dramatists to adapt for the modern stage the story of his masterpiece, “Clarissa Harlowe.” Mr. W. G. Wills has written a play on the subject for Miss Isabel Bateman, and Mr. Robert Buchanan has had for some time in preparation a drama called “Clarissa,” commissioned expressly by Mr. Thomas Thorne. It is now probable that the reproduction of the “Old Home” at the Vaudeville will be postponed, and that the Richardsonian drama will re-open the regular Vaudeville season next month.

     In “Clarissa” Mr. Buchanan has departed considerably from the lines of the original story, and has introduced, as in the case of “Joseph’s Sweetheart,” new sets of characters. He has adhered, however, as was inevitable, to the tragic termination.

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The Academy (2 November, 1889 - No. 913, p.294)

     THE announcement is made that we are to have a stage version of Clarissa Harlowe, and that it is that arch-adapter, Mr. Buchanan, who is to furnish the same. Mr. Buchanan’s task will not be a light one, though we are reminded by the Daily News that it is by no means the first time it will have been undertaken. Clarissa has already, it appears, served the purposes of opera. That, however, is not much to the point—in the hands of a soprano we can imagine Clarissa’s woes might be effective. What is more noteworthy is the fact—of which our contemporary likewise reminds us—that in Paris (it was rather more than forty years ago) the story was to some extent drawn upon in a drama at the Gymnase, in which the Lovelace was impersonated by M. Bressant, and the Clarissa by Rose Cheri, the blameless and delightful actress who afterwards married M. Montigny, the manager. As we are upon the subject, it may be worth while to record what  is, however, not hidden from anybody who knows France—that Clarissa Harlowe is one of the two English classics which every literary Frenchman knows and takes to his heart. Balzac was never tired of implying his admiration of it. The other classic is, of course, Sterne’s Sentimental Journey.

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The Morning Post (4 November, 1889 - p.2)

     With reference to the projected Vaudeville production of a version of “Clarissa Harlowe,” by Mr. Robert Buchanan, at an early date, Mr. W. G. Wills wishes to have it known that his adaptation, about to be presented by Miss Isabel Bateman in the country, was completed six months ago.

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The Western Daily Press (30 November, 1889 - p.7)

     Mr Robert Buchanan read his new play on the subject of Richardson’s “Clarissa” to the Vaudeville company on Monday last. Mr Thomas Thorne, Mr Fred Thorne, Mr Cyril Maude, Mr Harbury, Mr Gillmore, and Mesdames Winifred Emery, Marian Lea, and Madge Bannister will all be in the cast.

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The Glasgow Herald (2 December, 1889 - p.4)

     The Vaudeville Theatre was re-opened on Thursday night with “Joseph’s Sweetheart.” The present arrangement, however, is only a temporary one, as Mr Robert Buchanan last Monday read to the company the new play he has written on the subject of Richardson’s “Clarissa Harlowe”; and the piece is now in rehearsal. One of the principal scenes is to be a life-like representation of Covent Garden Market 140 years ago. Mr Buchanan has invented a part for Mr Thorne not to be found in the novel. The character of Clarissa Harlowe herself will be entrusted to Miss Winifred Emery.

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The Stage (6 December, 1889 - p.9)

     Robert Buchanan’s adaptation of “Clarissa Harlowe,” is now being carefully rehearsed at the Vaudeville. Mr. Thomas Thorne will very wisely try his new venture first at a matinée, after his wont. In the cast I am pleased to see the name of Miss Lillie Hanbury, a clever little lady, who shows great promise.

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St. James’s Gazette (20 December, 1889 - p.5)

     The management of the Vaudeville Theatre, anxious to be in advance of the Christmas novelties, are doing their utmost to have Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, “Clarissa,” ready for production on Tuesday afternoon. Due to this circumstance, Mr. H. B. Conway, unable to reach London in time, will not, as originally intended, play the part of Lovelace, which has now been assigned to Mr. Thalberg, an actor who has been doing good work with Miss Hawthorne in the provinces. Messrs. Thomas and Fred Thorne, Mr. Cyril Maude, and Misses Emery, Banister, Hanbury, and Collette are also in the cast. In connection with this it may be mentioned that Mr. Wills’ version of Richardson’s novel was produced this week at Birmingham with a result which does not appear to have been wholly satisfactory.

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The Daily News (23 December, 1889 - p.3)

     Rumour has it that Mr. Robert Buchanan in writing his forthcoming version of “Clarissa Harlowe,” for the Vaudeville, has derived “much assistance” from the old French piece, of which we lately gave some account. We hope and believe that rumour will prove on this occasion to be mistaken. The French piece, though Bressant as Lovelace and Rose Chéri as the heroine were thought very charming in their day, was a dull and monotonous  production. A version in which Webster and Mrs. Honner were playing in London forty-three years ago follows this original pretty closely; but it would certainly be too absurd for modern tastes. It abounds in such passages as—“Clarissa (disengaging herself by a sudden effort, and with high majesty and authority. This is done by pressing her hand to her forehead, and him backward): Kneel, kneel, base renegade to the honour of man. Kneel, and ask forgiveness of her you have thus dared to insult! (Lovelace shrinks back, cowed as if in spite of himself.)” The repentant scoundrel, Macdonald, speaks of a “decent throb of feeling” that “crosses his mind;” and Lovelace is instructed by the stage directions to assume “a reckless and sardonic smile.” In the last scene Clarissa makes her will, and, apostrophising her absent father to the accompaniment of “soft music,” exclaims: “My mortal remains! Oh! father, listen to this earnest prayer—accord me a place in our family tomb!” This, and many other absurdities of the sort, are not, it is true, without Richardsonian suggestion; but such passages would be apt in these days to provoke ill-timed laughter. Mr. Buchanan’s scenes, which include Covent-garden Market in the Hogarthian time, and a quaint dairy farm of the period, take a wider range, and his dialogue is little likely to fall into this artificial vein. Miss Winifred Emery plays Clarissa; Mr. Thorne, Belton, an interpolated character; Mr. Thalberg, late a member of Mr. Benson’s company, Lovelace; Mr. Fred Thorne, Lovelace’s repentant abettor Macshane; and Miss Ella Banister, Hetty Bolton, another character introduced by the dramatist.

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The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (23 December, 1889 - p.8)

     Mr. Thomas Thorne has decided to produce “Clarissa” at the Vaudeville so early as next Tuesday afternoon. The part of Lovelace will be taken by Mr. Thalberg, a young actor new to London, of whose ability Mr. Buchanan has formed a very high opinion. Miss Winifred Emery will be the heroine, and Mr. Thorne himself will play Lovelace’s scapegrace friend Belton. There are several important characters not in Richardson’s cumbersome work.

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Pall Mall Gazette (31 December, 1889 - p.1)

     This pleasant balmy climate of ours has been doing its deadliest in theatrical circles during the last few days. Mr. Tom Thorne has been the victim of a severe cold and Mr. Robert Buchanan has also been laid up with some bronchial trouble. “Clarissa” is consequently shelved for the moment, though I doubt not that when author and actor are themselves again a very few days will suffice to complete the preparations for the young lady’s appearance.

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The Times (7 February, 1890 - p.6)

VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.

     The interminable prolixity of the novels of Richardson and the forbidding character of the epistolary style in which they are written have long relegated them to the upper shelf; but readers who search sufficiently will still find in these prototypes of the realistic novel a considerable vein of dramatic ore. More particularly may this be said of “Clarissa Harlowe,” of which a remarkably successful version by MM. Dumanoir, Léon Guillard, and Clairville was produced in Paris in 1846, affording the famous Rose Chéri the occasion for one of her earliest and greatest triumphs. The French Clarisse was readapted more than once to the English stage, but for some reason the story never attained a great degree of success in London, even when played by Mrs. Stirling and Charles Mathews. Nor does a recent American version by M. Dion Boucicault appear to have been more fortunate. Undeterred by the fate of the past English adaptations, however, both Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. W. G. Wills have recently dramatized Richardson’s masterpiece afresh; and the former author’s version was yesterday afternoon brought out at the Vaudeville, under circumstances of the most promising character. Indeed, the story as handled by Mr. Robert Buchanan and the Vaudeville company, more particularly by Miss Winifred Emery in the part of the martyred heroine, is not unlikely to attain the vogue of the old Gymnase play, which, of course, the adapter has carefully studied.
     It is easy to see what dangers beset the adapter of “Clarissa Harlowe.” The story is a painful one from the beginning, and has to be conducted to an appropriate conclusion, without regard to that dramatic bugbear, an unhappy ending. For a union between Clarissa and Lovelace—whose name, by the way, as a synonym for libertine has passed into French, as it would probably have done into English had it not been supplanted by Byron’s Don Juan—is out of the question and has never, we believe, been attempted even by the school of adapters who, in the last century, allowed Romeo and Juliet to “live happily ever afterwards.” As a pure-souled martyr to the “polluting hand of man,” Clarissa must accordingly be exhibited by author and actress both in a singularly angelic light; the tyranny which drives her forth from the paternal roof must be odious in the extreme, and all the measures resorted to by her abductor in order to compass her ruin must be correspondingly heartless. By such means alone can the public be brought to acquiesce in the apotheosis of a young lady who, prosaically speaking, only meets with the fate of the common and generally unregarded female “outcast” of melodrama. Mr. Buchanan has very skilfully done his work in this respect, and from Miss Winifred Emery he has received invaluable assistance. Upon the representative of the hapless Clarissa the whole sympathetic interest of the story depends; her virginal air and sweetness count for quite as much as the constructive art of the adapter, and, failing such adventitious aids, the play would be in imminent danger of falling to pieces. Miss Emery in this part is a worthy successor to the fascinating and talented Rose Chéri.
     The changes now imported into the story relate chiefly to the manner in which the death or expiation of Lovelace is brought about. In the French play the avenger was Clarissa’s uncle; in the novel he is her cousin. Mr. Buchanan, on the other hand, magnifies the character of Lovelace’s disreputable henchman, Philip Belford, and transforms him into the libertine’s executioner on the ground that his sister, like Clarissa, has also been betrayed. By this device a congenial and important part if provided for Mr. Thomas Thorne, who is allowed to figure in Lovelace’s conspiracy, instead of, like his French prototype, l’oncle terrible, merely swooping down at the last as a deus ex machinâ. Lovelace finds in Mr. Thalberg a very spirited and plausible representative. This young actor is, comparatively speaking, a newcomer at the Vaudeville, but his present performance will assuredly win him a high position in the handsome young profligate line of character. Some picturesque types are scattered over a not too numerous cast. Among these may be mentioned the Mr. Solmes of Mr. Cyril Maude, the old and decrepit suitor who is thrust upon Clarissa by her father and the Captain Macshane of Mr. Frederick Thorne. Of the former, as well as of Clarissa’s father, who is forcibly played by Mr. Harbury, we unfortunately get but a glimpse; and, indeed, Mr. Thomas Thorne is not so well served in this piece as in Sophia or Joseph Andrews. But for these drawbacks the winning performance of Miss Emery abundantly compensates. Clarissa is altogether an eminently enjoyable and wholesome play; and it will, of course, forthwith take, and no doubt long hold, a place in the evening bill.

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The Morning Post (7 February, 1890 - p.3)

VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.
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     Mr. Robert Buchanan’s long-promised drama, “Clarissa,” was produced yesterday afternoon, and was received with marked favour, the author and the principal performers being called for and greeted with hearty applause at the fall of the curtain. “Clarissa,” as the author frankly admits, departs widely from the novel of Richardson. Many of the scenes belong rather to the modern French school than to the simple prolix narrative style of the author of “Clarissa Harlowe.” Mr. Buchanan has, as he himself tells us, kept to the spirit and not to the letter of the original story. Therefore he has freely borrowed from other sources, and, in one act especially, makes use of the chief incident of the play by MM. Dumanoir, Gillard, et Clairville, produced at the Gymnase, Paris, as far back as 1842. In the earlier scenes there is the persecution of Clarissa by her father and brother, in order to induce her to marry the wealthy Mr. Solmes. Then follows the treacherous plot of Lovelace to entrap the poor girl into a false marriage, when she discovers that scandal is busy with her name. But to give a deeper dramatic motive, Mr. Buchanan makes one of the agents of Lovelace the avenger. Philip Belford, after having assisted the seducer in his scheme, discovers that his own sister has been the victim of Lovelace, and from that moment resolves to defend Clarissa. But when the heroine ascertains that she has been deceived, and Belford threatens Lovelace with punishment, he is tempted to drink some wine that has been drugged, and at the critical moment he loses all power to defend Clarissa, and at the end of the third act she is completely in the power of her betrayer. The fourth act is chiefly occupied with the agony and death of the heroine, who has found a shelter with Belford and his sister. Belford meanwhile sternly resolves if ever he meets Lovelace again to cross swords with him. In a half- repentant mood the seducer comes to the cottage where Clarissa is staying, and implores her to consent to a real marriage to atone for the wrong he has done her; but Clarissa is dying, and declares that she “gives her soul to God, leaving to earth the frame polluted by man.” But Nemesis is at hand. Belford has followed Lovelace, they fight, and the betrayer falls, forgiven in his dying moments by the heroine. There will be much discussion, some of it probably antagonistic, respecting this play, because of its sombre subject, and of the painful situation in which the heroine is seen, defenceless against the arts of triumphant vice. These are the present drawbacks upon a powerful and interesting drama, which secured the fullest attention of a large audience. Perhaps, also, the Scriptural tone of the entire last act might with advantage be modified. Great praise must be given to the acting. Miss Winifred Emery, as the heroine, was graceful and pathetic in the extreme. There were few dry eyes in the theatre during her final pathetic scene. Seldom has this charming actress been seen to such advantage. Miss Ella Banister, as the sister whose seduction leads to the catastrophe, acted with much force. Miss Mary Collette, as a simple country girl, was clever; and Miss Bryer and Miss Wemyss, as the pretended ladies of fashion, acquitted themselves well. Mr. Thomas Thorne, who was received throughout with great warmth, played with admirable skill. Mr. Thomas Thorne as an avenger is something quite novel. But none must suppose that he failed to do such a character justice. By genuine ability and earnestness Mr. Thorne succeeded in making the part of Philip Bedford one of the most interesting in the drama. Mr. Thalberg, who recently made his début in “The School for Scandal,” proved himself a capable young actor as Lovelace, although he has still something to learn. He spoke his lines effectively, and in many of the scenes fully realised the character of Lovelace, his worst fault being an excess of gesticulation. Mr. Fred Thorne was amusing as Captain Macshane, and Mr. Cyril Maude was excellent as the pompous elderly lover. Even if “Clarissa” should not enjoy such favour as some of the author’s previous dramas, owing to the sad theme he has chosen, there will be few playgoers who will not be curious to see how Mr. Buchanan has treated this novel of bygone days, and possibly both author and manager will perceive after this trial performance where some slight alterations may be judiciously made, thus adding to its chances of popularity.

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The Standard (7 February, 1890 - p.2)

VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.
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     Mr. Robert Buchanan has made an exceedingly effective play, or, at any rate, three acts of one, out of “Clarissa Harlowe.” The last act, which is unnecessarily diffuse and wide of the purpose, can easily be shortened and amended, and then there can be little doubt that Mr. Thorne will have achieved another decided success. Clarissa, as Mr. Buchanan calls his play, altogether departs in several respects from the novel. There is nothing like the Philip Belford of Clarissa in Richardson, and his sister Hettie is a new personage; and the reader who is familiar with the original will best understand what has been done from a sketch of the Vaudeville play. The action opens at the dairy near Harlowe Place, where Lovelace, disguised in rustic clothes, finds Jenny busy churning, and ready to sympathise with his love for her mistress. Mr. Solmes is persecuting Clarissa with his attentions, which are formidable, as her stern father and cold- hearted brother are bent on the match, and so Lovelace comes at a fortunate time, the more so as he has laid his plot well and has three unscrupulous friends to assist him, notably Captain Macshane, who plays parson at a pinch. Lovelace induces Clarissa to accept his escort to London, where he promises to place her under the protection of ladies of quality, his kinswomen; and the girl trusts herself to his guidance.
     The second act takes place at daybreak in Covent-garden Market. Already the business of the day has begun; girls are sorting their flowers, porters pass with their loads. At a coffee-stall a wretched worn-out girl sleeps—Hettie Belford, one of Lovelace’s former victims; and here presently he arrives, escorting Clarissa to the Bell Inn, till his “cousins” are ready to receive her. Belford—who as yet knows nothing of Lovelace’s share in his sister’s dishonour—is to enact the part of General Stephenson, an uncle of Clarissa’s, and to demand from Lovelace that he shall immediately marry the girl he has compromised; and, dressed in regimentals (very hastily procured for the occasion), the tragic farce is played, Clarissa consenting. Macshane is also now in borrowed plumes, as a minister of the Scotch Church; and so the girl is led to her doom, but not without a hope of escape, for she has appealed to Belford, who is deeply touched by her innocence and trust in him, and when he learns from Hettie, to whom Clarissa has spoken with womanly gentleness, that Lovelace was her betrayer, he determines to save the victim if it may yet be done. The third act, a remarkably strong and well- devised one, takes place in Lovelace’s handsomely- appointed house, which however, Clarissa believes to be a lodging procured for her by the “Ladies Bab and May Lawrence,” who are, of course, accomplices in the plot. They and some of Lovelace’s boon companions are drinking and jesting at the table when Lovelace and the false priest bring in the pretended bride, whose suspicions, however, are speedily awakened, to be confirmed when, the others having left the room, a servant prevents her from quitting the house, as in her terror she desires to do. Further confirmation of the evil stratagem reaches her by means of a letter fastened round a stone and flung into the window. The letter assures her that deliverance is at hand; and when Lovelace returns he finds her conscious of his treachery. Her prayer to him is that he will leave her till next day, and he pretends to acquiesce, but in fact sends drugged wine to her room by the faithful Jenny, who, however, suspects, and will not let it be drunk. At this moment Belford appears, bent on vengeance; but Lovelace’s drugs are more effective in his case, for he is persuaded to drink a fierce toast expressive of his hatred for his enemy, and is rendered helpless while endeavouring to snatch Clarissa from her fate. With Belford insensible on the ground, Lovelace is left alone with Clarissa. It is a pity that Mr. Buchanan wanders so much in the last act, the scene of which is a cottage at Hampstead. What he has to show is the death of Clarissa and also of Lovelace, but he begins with a scene for Hettie and an old woman, the purport of which might be more briefly given. Much that Hettie says is quite unnecessary, and Clarissa enters thrice in each case to do and say much the same things. Lovelace, called away to a duel with Belford, returns to die, after a reconciliation with Clarissa; but this act grows somewhat tedious, and author and manager may be advised to reconsider it.
     There is much excellent acting in Clarissa. Miss Winifred Emery plays the heroine with simplicity and tenderness. One understands that her innocence might well have had an effect on such a man as Belford, who is not a very hardened sinner from the first. Miss Ella Banister, though lacking somewhat in experience, showed genuine earnestness and sincerity as Hettie, and Miss Collette made a bright little Jenny. Mr. Thorne has rarely been seen to such advantage as in the third act, during the scene with Lovelace. He acted with force and grip of the situation. His comedy as the quasi General Stephenson was also amusing, and the quiet determination of the last episode well fulfilled the idea of the reformed man, purified by contact with a good woman. Mr. Cyril Maude, only seen in the first act, gives a very clever and diverting study of Solmes. Mr. Thalberg, though a little deficient in power, acquitted himself on the whole very well indeed as Lovelace. Mr. F. Thorne gave character to Macshane, and his fellow rascals were well played by Messrs. Grove and Gillmore. The costumes are picturesque, the scenery is well painted. The play was most cordially received, and deserved its reception.

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The Yorkshire Post (7 February, 1890 - p.4)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan has achieved another brilliant success in his exploitation of the old novelists, our London Correspondent writes. His dramatic version of Clarissa Harlowe, which was produced at the Vaudeville yesterday, was received with distinct approval by a very critical audience, and it bids fair to have a not less prosperous career than Joseph’s Sweetheart. The dialogue is clear-cut, crisp, and sparkling, and the interest is not allowed to flag for a moment. There are also some very striking situations, which are the more effective as they are led up to in masterly fashion. But the chief charm of the play is that it preserves intact the spirit of Richardson’s work. The Lovelace of the play is the same dissipated libertine whose memory has been execrated by generations of gentle readers, and the Clarissa is the same virtuous maiden whose persecutions have excited their pity, while the whole surroundings of the piece inevitably suggest the novel. Perhaps in one or two of the scenes Mr. Buchanan will find it expedient to tone down his dialogue a little, or modify a situation, especially in the third act, where a detail here and there appeared to jar on the audience, but these are minor considerations. As a whole the piece is undoubtedly a remarkably strong one, and will prove a very acceptable addition to the theatrical attractions of the period—the more so as it is admirably acted and staged.

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The Birmingham Daily Post (7 February, 1890 - p.4)

     The long-promised version of Richardson’s “Clarissa Harlowe,” which has from time to time been postponed owing to the illness of Mr. Thomas Thorne and Mr. Robert Buchanan, saw the light this afternoon at the Vaudeville Theatre, when a large and very friendly audience gave it an extremely favourable reception. Mr. Buchanan has called his adaptation “Clarissa,” and has compressed the many dramatic incidents in the story into four acts. Great things had been expected of the play, and it may be said at once that anticipation has been very largely borne out. The subject is unusually sombre and mournful for Vaudeville audiences; but the London public have accepted “Man’s Shadow” and “La Tosca,” and there is no reason why a good play with a serious ending should not succeed. Certain it is that “Clarissa” contains some of the best dramatic work Mr. Buchanan has given to the stage, and the whole of the artists concerned in the production may be congratulated on a well-earned success. The first three acts move briskly enough, and are full of interest; but in the last act, which contains a lot of mawkish sentiment, there will have to be a considerable amount of compression. The great bulk of the work fell upon the shoulders of Miss Winifred Emery, who proved herself perfectly equal to the occasion, and who by a thoroughly artistic rendering added greatly to her already high reputation; indeed, her realistic and genuinely pathetic acting in the last act made one almost forget its artificiality. Next to Miss Emery the honours were carried off by Mr. T. B. Thalberg, who confirmed the good opinions formed of him when he appeared a little time back as Charles Surface. As the scoundrelly man of fashion, Lovelace, young Mr. Thalberg got through a very difficult task with complete satisfaction, his gentlemanly bearing and clearness of delivery being alike admirable. Mr. Thomas Thorne gave a very careful and highly-popular rendering of Philip Belford, and smaller characters were creditably filled by Mr. Frederick Thorne and Miss Mary Collette. Miss Ella Banister was hardly equal to the unpleasant part of Hetty Belford, but will probably improve after a few representations. Mr. Cyril Maude’s undoubted talents were completely thrown away on the part of Mr. Solmes. The first three acts were enthusiastically received, and, although the last scene fell a little flat, Mr. Robert Buchanan was warmly cheered at the close. No public announcement was made, but in all probability we shall soon see “Clarissa” finding its way into the evening bill at the Vaudeville.

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The Era (8 February, 1890)

“CLARISSA.”
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Mr Harlowe           ... ...     Mr HARBURY
Captain Harlowe        ...     Mr OSWALD YORKE
Mr Solmes            ... ...    Mr CYRIL MAUDE
Stokes                   ... ...     Mr J. S. BLYTHE
Lovelace               ... ...    Mr T. B. THALBERG
Capt. Macshane         ...     Mr FRED THORNE
Sir Harry Tourville      ...     Mr F. GROVE
Aubrey                   ... ...     Mr FRANK GILLMORE
Watchman             ... ...    Mr WHEATMAN
Richards                 ... ...     Mr C. RAMSEY
Coffee-stall-keeper      ...   Mr BRAY
Drawer                   ... ...     Mr AUSTIN
Philip Belford         ... ...    Mr THOMAS THORNE
Clarissa Harlowe       ...    Miss WINIFRED EMERY
Hetty Belford        ... ...    Miss ELLA BANISTER
Jenny                    ... ...    Miss MARY COLLETTE
Mrs. Osborne       ... ...    Miss C. OWEN
Lady Bab Lawrence  ...    Miss L. BRYER
Lady May Lawrence  ...     Miss FLORENCE WEMYSS
Sally                      ... ...    Miss LILY HANBURY

     Have you ever read Richardson’s ‘Clarissa’? was a question often asked in the “intervals” on Thursday afternoon at the Vaudeville Theatre, where Mr Robert Buchanan’s dramatic version of the old bookseller’s immortal story was played for the first time. The answer in most cases was, “Yes; but a long time ago.” Mr Buchanan’s audience were thus in exactly the condition of mind to be wished for by the adaptor; not so firmly bound to preconceived ideas as to object to innovations, nor with such elevated and elaborate notions of the characters in Richardson’s “Clarissa” as to demand literal reproductions of them in Mr Buchanan’s. That gentleman has explained the course he has followed in his work in a note attached to the Vaudeville programme of Thursday afternoon. In the play of Clarissa, he says, “the same freedom of treatment has been adopted as in the author’s dramatic transcripts from Fielding, Sophia and Joseph’s Sweetheart. New incidents and new characters have been introduced, and while the spirit of the original has been preserved as far as possible, no attempt has been made to retain its letter. Free use has also been made, especially in act three, of the play on the same subject by MM. Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville, produced with extraordinary success at the Gymnase Theatre, Paris, in 1842. The leading episode, on which depends the whole motif of the story, has been in no particular tampered with in the present version.”
     In the first act of the play we are in the vicinity of Clarissa Harlowe’s home. Lovelace, disguised as a peasant, is lurking about the place in order to get an interview with her, and is assisted in his schemes by a dairymaid named Jenny. Clarissa’s parents are determined that she shall marry an elderly gentleman named Solmes, whom she detests; and, between her hatred for the match and her instinctive distrust of Lovelace and his protestations, the inexperienced girl is sadly beset. By the assistance of his friends and hangers-on, Captain Macshane, Sir Harry Tourville, and Aubrey, Lovelace works upon Clarissa’s fears, and hurries her off to a carriage, which bears her away to London, where she arrives at an inn in Covent-garden in the early morning.
     As Clarissa is still suspicious, Lovelace has to employ stratagem to gain his object; and to precipitate matters, bribes Philip Belford to impersonate an old relative whom Clarissa has never seen, and to insist on marriage taking place between her and her abductor at once. Whilst playing his part, Belford, who has been made a misogynist by the seduction of his sister Hetty by some person unknown to him, is so touched by the evident purity of Clarissa that he conceives a disgust for his dastardly task; and his resolve to save her is confirmed when he meets his sister, who tells him that the man for whom she left her home was Lovelace himself.
     A sham marriage takes place at Lovelace’s London residence, where Clarissa discovers that she is being deceived, and, her suspicions being aroused, begs her pretended husband to allow her to leave the house. This he refuses to do, and finally induces her to retire to rest, sending her by Jenny, whom he has summoned to town to wait upon her, a draught craftily qualified with a strong opiate. Jenny discovers this trick, and prevents Clarissa from taking the drugged liquor. Belford comes to kill Lovelace for the seduction of Hetty, and calls up the friends of the libertine—who arrive to serenade him—to be witness of the retribution. Lovelace pours some of the opiate into a glass of wine, which Belford drinks. Clarissa comes down from her room, and endeavours to escape from the house. She almost succeeds in doing so with the assistance of Belford, but faints at the critical moment; and Philip, after a vain attempt to carry her out, falls, overcome by the drug, Clarissa, unconscious, being borne away by Lovelace in unholy triumph.
     The last act is devoted to the death of the heroine and the punishment of her seducer, who is now desirous of marrying her, and who comes to the cottage near Hampstead Heath, where she is lying sick, to propose to what is vulgarly termed “make an honest woman of her.” Clarissa, whose loathing of her betrayer is intense, receives the proposal with noble scorn, and Lovelace is made to realise the gulf there is between him and her. Belford leads the repentant libertine away to a duel, in which Lovelace, in despair, allows himself to fall by his opponent’s sword, and comes in to die almost at the same time as Clarissa expires, returning in her delirium to the early days of her love, and fancying Lovelace is her true husband and that they have just been wedded.
     The acting was good all round. Mr T. B. Thalberg, if he did not quite realise the arch-libertine of our imagination, proved equal to a very difficult task, and sustained a long and trying part with commendable staunchness to the painful end. Mr Harbury was solid and dignified as Mr Harlowe, and Mr Oswald Yorke enacted the brother of Clarissa with creditable care and energy. Mr Cyril Maude made a marked impression during the brief period of his appearance as the sanctimonious Mr Solmes, and Mr J. S. Blythe gave a respectable representation of Stokes, a farm bailiff. Mr Fred. Thorne’s Captain Macshane was a companion picture to his Welsh parson in Joseph’s Sweetheart, and his Scotch led- captain deserved the same hearty praise which we accorded to his previous effort. Mr F. Grove and Mr Frank Gillmore gave creditable expositions of the small rôles of Sir Harry Tourville and Aubrey, and Mr Wheatman spoke his few lines well as the watchman, other small parts being well played by Messrs C. Ramsay, Bray, and Austin. Mr Thomas Thorne in that of Philip Belford had a very sympathetic and thankful part, and made a decided hit in it. The awakening of repentance in Belford’s breast, and his desperate but unsuccessful effort to rescue Clarissa out of Lovelace’s clutches were watched with keen interest by the audience. Miss Winifred Emery deserves warm and unstinted praise for the manner in which she sustained the part of Clarissa. Her delicacy of physique and style well suited her to the character, and the exquisite refinement with which she endowed her creation, joined with the expressive grace of her acting to banish all ideas of bathos, and to enlist the sympathy of the audience. Her Clarissa Harlowe was an achievement of as much merit as difficulty. Miss Ella Banister’s demonstrative Hetty Belford was a useful contrast to the maidenly reposefulness of Miss Winifred Emery’s heroine; and Miss Mary Collette was appropriately simple and natural as Jenny. Miss C. Owen in the short part of Mrs Osborne was careful and distinct; and Miss L. Bryer and Miss Florence Wemyss suggested without too distinctly affirming the class to which the Ladies Bab and May Lawrence belonged. Miss Lily Hanbury was acceptable as the market girl Sally. With pretty scenery by Messrs Perkins and Hemsley, costumes by Nathan, furniture by Maple, and the charming serenade in the third act expressly composed by Mr Robert H. Lyon, Mr Buchanan’s last “adaptation from the English” had every accessory assistance to the success which it achieved on Thursday afternoon. The piece is by no means too long as it stands for an evening’s entertainment; but it would be a decided improvement if, without unduly curtailing its length, some of the didactic lines in the last act could be removed, and a superfluous line or two taken out here and there in the first and second. The curtain was twice raised on Thursday upon the company assembled on the stage, amidst whom, on a third time of asking, Mr Buchanan appeared, and bowed his acknowledgment of the plaudits of the audience.

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The Dundee Advertiser (8 February, 1890 - p.5)

     Mr Robert Buchanan, if he has not scored such a great success with his “Clarissa” as with “Sophia” and “Joseph’s Sweetheart,” has manufactured out of Richardson’s ponderous novel a very interesting though not a lively play. There is a tone of sadness throughout the piece, which is seldom relieved by humour, and then the humour is of speech, and not of situation. The public is accustomed to witness the triumph of virtue and the punishment of vice on the stage, but at the Vaudeville all this is reversed. Lovelace succeeds in enticing Clarissa from home, he succeeds in putting her under the protection of a couple of painted harridans in London, he succeeds in duping her by a false marriage, and finally drives her to the grave. The villain, it is true, is run through in the last act by the brother of a woman he has ruined, but the stroke of vengeance has nothing to do with the fate of Clarissa. Following Richardson, Mr Buchanan has made Clarissa refuse in her dying moments Lovelace’s offered atonement by marriage, thus keeping up to the end the depressing tone in which the play is started. The merits of the new drama are that it is well written, contains several strong situations, plenty of action, and is free from all ambiguity.

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[Advert for Clarissa from The Times (8 February, 1890 - p.8).]

 

Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (9 February, 1890 - p.5)

PUBLIC AMUSEMENTS.
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VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.

     Thackeray wrote a novel without a hero, but it has been reserved for Mr. Buchanan to devise a play minus this important individual. Even he will not pretend that in Clarissa we have one male with any heroic qualifications. His chief personage, Lovelace, is a libertine of a very pronounced type, and his nearest approach to a man of honour is a drunken spendthrift, who preaches when he has lured a young girl to her ruin. Not that there are many fine points in the delineation of the latter character, but all the same, a middle-aged gentleman who washes his head in a trough in Covent-garden at sunrise is not a hero. Mr. Buchanan has drawn as much from a French play as from Richardson’s novel. His first three acts are quick and instinct with life, but in the fourth he is so anxious to moralise and seemingly to apologise for some of the free opinions of earlier scenes, that he descends to be dull and even dreary. The story is wholly occupied with the temptation of Clarissa Harlowe. She, poor girl, finding her parent firm in his determination to wed her against her will to a contemptible neighbour, listens to the suggestion of the handsome Richard Lovelace to fly with him and seek refuge with his relations. When first seen Lovelace is shorn of all his splendour, masquerading as a simple yokel in order to approach the woman he loves. He offers himself as the champion of beauty in distress. Clarissa accepts his aid as “a friend,” but once having got the girl to London, Lovelace is full of tricks and devices for her ruin. He foists on his credulous charge two very questionable ladies as relatives of his, and bribes a drunken man-about-town, Philip Belford, to enact the part of an unknown uncle of the girl. The latter’s part is to insist that a marriage with Lovelace is absolutely necessary, while knowing all the time that the marriage projected is only a mock ceremony. The drunkard’s remorse for urging a girl to her ruin, and his resolve to save her come too late. He breaks into the abode of Lovelace at the moment the mock marriage has been completed, but is drugged, and sinks helpless at the feet of the girl he would save. She falls in a dead faint, and the act closes on a scene of Lovelace gloating over the beautiful, senseless girl in the pale moonlight, while a serenade is heard without. In the last act Clarissa is in the retirement of a homely cottage at Hampstead, occupied by Philip Belford and his sister. She is sick of that illness which is of “the head and not the body.” Lovelace forces himself upon her loneliness to plead for forgiveness for the foul wrong he has done and to ask to be allowed to atone by making her his wife. The pure mind refuses his offer and she sinks and slowly dies. Lovelace, challenged to a duel by Belford, is mortally wounded, but struggles to the cottage and dies by the injured Clarissa. The scene is a strange mixture of bathos and pathos. In Philip Belford Mr. Thomas Thorne has fine opportunities for humour and sentiment. On Thursday afternoon we fancied him best in his comic side, though he played with real feeling in the more commanding situations. Mr. Thalberg was an earnest and effective Lovelace, and Miss Winifred Emery a tearful and winsome heroine. Her death scene was a wonderful piece of acting, and alone made the last act tolerable. Mr. Fred Thorne was very entertaining as a rascally Scotchman, a bumptious kind of individual who is everything by turns. A charming sketch of a somewhat naughty country lassie was given by Miss Mary Collette. The drama was warmly received, but this was in great measure due to the merit of the acting, particularly to the graceful and pathetic representation of Clarissa by Miss Emery. Mr. Thorne has placed the new play in his evening bill.

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Reynolds’s Newspaper (9 February, 1890)

VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.

     It may be safely affirmed that there are not many persons in the kingdom who have perused the unabridged edition of Samuel Richardson’s great work, “The History of Miss Clarissa Harlowe.” But an infinite number have read the sorrowful history of that young lady in a form less extensive than that which was acceptable to the belles of the last century, who had fewer distractions and more leisure. To those who have not even read the abridged edition, Mr. Robert Buchanan’s dramatic version of the book presented at this theatre on Thursday afternoon under the title of “Clarissa,” will prove highly attractive. Mr. Buchanan’s transcript is something more than a merely meritorious performance; it just falls short of being an exceptionally fine play. Richardson’s novel has been dramatized several times. It appears to have been first played at Paris in 1842, in a version for which several French playwrights were responsible. Four years afterwards it was produced in England, and recently Mr. W. G. Wills and Mr. Dion Boucicault have dramatized the work. Mr. Buchanan acknowledges his indebtedness to the French authors, especially in those parts of the play where they have departed most from the original. Clarissa Harlowe’s story is easily told. A young, beautiful, and virtuous country lady, in order to avoid marriage with Mr. Solmes, a mean, elderly man whom she loathes, is induced to flee from home by Richard Lovelace, a wealthy libertine, who promises to place her under the protection of some of his distinguished female relatives. Arrived in London, Lovelace goes through a mock marriage ceremony, and overcomes his victim. She, on discovering his fraud, retreats to a cottage at Hampstead, rejecting Lovelace’s repentant offers of marriage. Here she dies, and Lovelace is killed, according to the novel, in a duel with a friend of the family whose honour he has outraged, though here the Vaudeville presentation differs somewhat from the novel. Mr. Buchanan’s play is divided into four acts. The first is a country scene, the home which Clarissa is induced to abandon. In the second, we are taken to the Bell Tavern, Covent Garden, where the plot to inveigle the lady into a false marriage is concocted. The third act passes in Lovelace’s house, in which his infamous stipendiaries, of both sexes, have assembled to make merry over his pretended nuptials. Lastly, we have the cottage on Hampstead Heath, where Clarissa dies. After the first act, which—with the exception of the excellent acting of Mr. Cyril Maude, who made the small part of Mr. Solmes conspicuous—was a trifle tedious, the interest in the play developed remarkably. Clarissa, a very difficult part, was taken by Miss Winifred Emery, who throughout the piece gave unmistakable proof of the care with which she had studied, and at times rose to an expression of exceptional dramatic power. Lovelace was played with skill by Mr. T. B. Thalberg, of whom the only adverse criticism we feel called upon to make is that he should give us a little less effusiveness of posture and gesture, and beware of a provincial tendency to outdo nature in the commonplace matter of walking. One of the most conspicuous figures on the stage was Philip Belford, a reduced gentleman, who first aids in laying the trap into which Clarissa falls, and then befriends her. Mr. Thomas Thorne gave great force and intensity to this character. Captain Macshane, a Scotch hanger-on of Lovelace, was amusingly depicted by Mr. Frederick Thorne. More than a word of praise must be given to Miss Ella Banister for her touchingly natural characterization of Hetty Belford, especially as the outcast in the second scene, where we have a picturesque delineation of old Covent Garden Market, and the night life of the last century. Lovelace has ruined Hetty, and her brother brings about the final catastrophe by killing that audacious freeliver. In the third act, in a powerful scene, while Philip Belford, at the point of the sword, forbids Lovelace to enter the chamber of his assumed wife, a serenade is sung. The situation is trying and momentous. The serenade introduced here is not an inartistic artifice, but the result would be much more realistic if the song were half as short. The events were too exciting to be interrupted by a musical pause, unless very brief. A similar complaint must be made as to the dying scene in the last act. The spectator’s feelings are wrought up to a high tension. At the climax the curtain should drop, instead of which the scene is unduly prolonged, and the sympathy evoked has had time to cool. Had the curtain fallen a few minutes earlier, the close would have been infinitely more effective. Besides, it is quite inconsistent to have Clarissa expiring in the arms of a man whom she had repudiated in the most emphatic manner two or three minutes previously, and for whom all affection had died within her. In this scene Mr. Buchanan departs altogether from the original, and not with advantage. Richardson says of Lovelace’s last moments “He was delirious the two last hours, and several times cried out, as if he had seen some frightful spectre, ‘Take her away, take her away!’” The play was well mounted, and the costumes were superb. There was frequent applause, and both the actors and the author were called upon the stage.

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The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (10 February, 1890 - p.5)

ABOUT PLAYS AND PLAYERS.
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     In preparing “Clarissa,” which was successfully produced at the Vaudeville Theatre on Thursday afternoon, and has promptly taken its place in the evening programme, Mr. Robert Buchanan has relied more on a French dramatist’s work than on Richardson’s tedious novel, and more on his own dramatic instinct than upon either. Consequently we have a sound piece of workmanship; very gloomy, a trifle too preachy in parts, and not quite so artistically complete as an illustration of unsullied martyrdom as the author intends and imagines it to be; but an interesting drama of solid merit, nevertheless. I had made a futile attempt to wade through Richardson’s eight volumes in order to brace myself for the ordeal, and it was a welcome relief to find that whereas Miss Winifred Emery is fitted with a part which enables her to delineate the persecuted heroine with a fine, affecting strain of loving and suffering humanity, the author has rejected most of the dross while welding the pure gold into comely shape.

     Miss Emery realises the idea of embodied purity—a purity of soul which rises superior to the physical outrage of her libertine lover. Shortly before her protracted death scene she exclaims: “I leave to earth the form by man polluted; my soul I leave to God.” Difficult and delicate as is the task of pourtraying such a character and enforcing such a moral, the author and the actress between them have well earned the merit of strong though subtle achievement. It seems to me that the play should have ended sadly but sweetly, as with the cadence of the dying swan’s last melancholy note. But after Clarissa has taken pathetic leave of the world where she was so cruelly treated, and thrilled us to furtive tears by a dying dream of wondrous tenderness, the picture is marred by the intrusion of the wounded Lovelace, and by the final kiss of conciliation, out of harmony with the spiritual fading away from earth and its grossness.

     To intrude the coarse episode of Lovelace’s duel and death not only blurs the picture but suggests that we have had our finer feelings harrowed and been led away into unaccustomed paths of virtuous sentiment, by a set of characters who are but artificial puppets. It sets us thinking that, after all, Lovelace’s folly was as stupendous as his wickedness, and his reckless rascality an almost impossible quality. Why should he profane the sacred name of honour, commit himself to horrid blasphemy, and run risks which ordinary prudence could so easily avoid, merely to unlawfully and forcibly “possess” a beautiful and sweet-minded young heiress, who was willing to marry him, who would have been a treasure worth any man’s winning, and whom he loved as well as it was in his nature to love anything? And why could not Mr. Robert Buchanan let us go home in a melting mood of tenderness, instead of stirring up the instincts of querulous criticism by an ending which strikes us as needlessly materialistic and almost profane?

     To show that it is the perverse author and not the captious critic who has blurred the fair portrait with this film of misplaced materialism let me print a couple of the verses which Mr. Buchanan circulated as embodying his conception of “Clarissa:”

Symbol of Pureness, to this hour
     So frail and yet so strong—
With Death more sweet than life for dower,
Conquering by gentleness, not power,
     A world of lust and wrong.

Bruis’d in the hand of man, which fain
     Would crush it or control,
The chastity without a stain
Still dying ever lives again,
     Type of the woman soul!

     I prefer to postpone criticism of the acting generally until another opportunity, though in justice it should be said that the play is admirably staged, and that the first performance went with a smoothness highly creditable to all concerned. Mr. Thomas Thorne has found a notable opportunity of clenching his reputation as a strong character actor. As Belford, the broken gentleman, who from being a dissolute tool of the hero, becomes the only friend of Clarissa and her avenger, after learning that his own sister owed her moral downfall to the licentious Lovelace, Mr. Thorne faces difficulties only to conquer them, and becomes the most imposing figure in the most striking situations in the play. Dissolute recklessness, repentance, remorse, and a profound pity for the betrayed which leads inexorably up to the destruction of the betrayer—all these are depicted with an intensity which is impressive and sometimes enthralling, without being boisterous. The play had a very sympathetic and encouraging reception; the chief performers were recalled after each of the four acts, and at the finish they appeared with the author, in response to a very hearty call.

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Local Government Gazette (13 February, 1890)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. W. G. Wills have recently dramatised the French “Clarissa,” which has been readapted to the English stage more than once, and the former author’s version was on Thursday afternoon brought out at the Vaudeville, under circumstances of the most promising character. Indeed, the story as handled by Mr. Robert Buchanan and the Vaudeville company, more psrticularly by Miss Winifred Emery in the part of the martyred heroine, is not unlikely to attain the vogue of the old Gymnase play, which, of course, the adapter has carefully studied.

* * *

     “Clarissa Harlowe” is a painful story from the beginning, and has to be conducted to an appropriate conclusion, without regard to that dramatic bugbear, and unhappy ending. As a pure-souled martyr to the “polluting hand of man,” Clarissa must be exhibited by author and actress both in a singularly angelic light; the tyranny which drives her forth from the paternal roof must be odious in the extreme, and all the measures resorted to by her abductor in order to compass her ruin must be correspondingly heartless. By such means alone can the public be brought to acquiesce in the apotheosis of a young lady who, prosaically speaking, only meets with the fate of the common and generally unregarded female “outcast” of melodrama. Mr. Buchanan has very skilfully done his work in this respect, and from Miss Winifred Emery he has received invaluable assistance. Upon the representative of the hapless Clarissa the whole sympathetic interest of the story depends; her virginal air and sweetness count for quite as much as the constructive art of the adapter, and, failing such adventitious aids, the play would be in imminent danger of falling to pieces. Miss Emery in this part is a worthy successor to the fascinating and talented Rose Chéri.

* * *

     The changes now imported into the story relate chiefly to the manner in which the death or expiation of Lovelace is brought about. In the French play the avenger was Clarissa’s uncle; in the novel he is her cousin. Mr. Buchanan, on the other hand, magnifies the character of Lovelace’s disreputable henchman, Philip Belford, and transforms him into the libertine’s executioner on the ground that his sister, like Clarissa, has also been betrayed. By this device a congenial and important part is provided for Mr. Thomas Thorne. Lovelace finds in Mr. Thalberg a very spirited and plausible representative. Some picturesque types are scattered over a not too numerous cast. Among these may be mentioned the Mr. Solmes of Mr. Cyril Maude, the old and decrepit suitor who is thrust upon Clarissa by her father and the Captain Macshane of Mr. Frederick Thorne. Of the former, as well as of Clarissa’s father, who is forcibly played by Mr. Harbury, we unfortunately get but a glimpse. “Clarissa” is altogether an eminently enjoyable and wholesome play.

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The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (15 February, 1890)

[click picture for large version]

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The Graphic (15 February, 1890)

THEATRES.

     MR. BUCHANAN’S Clarissa, at the VAUDEVILLE, is necessarily a work of more sombre and less varied complexion than the same writer’s adaptations of “Tom Jones” and “Joseph Andrews.” Unless the whole spirit and moral of Richardson’s novel were to be falsified, it was inevitable that this “history of a young lady” should present a more or less monstrous picture of villany fertile in odious devices for undermining female honour. The tragic ending, with the death of one who, “though wrapped in a strange cloud of crime and shame,” lived, like Shelley’s heroine, “ever holy and unstained,” could not indeed by any effort of ingenuity be dispensed with. Mr. Buchanan has incurred censure for making Clarissa, at the last moment, embrace the dying Lovelace, and, no doubt, there is something offensive in the notion of her lips being polluted by contact with those of this coarse and brutal type of the man de bonnes fortunes of the Richardson period; but Mr. Buchanan has taken occasion to protest that this is only the act of one whose consciousness of what is passing around her has faded into a dream of death. The concession that has really been made to the supposed craving of playgoers for romantic endings lies in the notion of inspiring Lovelace at the last moment with a disinterested love for his victim which such a man could not possibly feel. This is a notion borrowed from the French piece, of which Mr. Buchanan acknowledges in the play bill that he has made “free use.” It is not Richardson, nor is it in Richardson’s vein, but the wonderful fact is that the adaptor has, after all, and in spite of the new incidents, and even new characters, he has introduced, given us a play that approaches so nearly to a faithful presentation both of the story and the spirit of the old novel. The stage management has been well thought out; and the performance generally is characterised by harmony and finish. The most disappointing item is the Lovelace of Mr. Thalberg, who, though physically well endowed for the part, puts on, like Rosalind, “a swashing and a martial outside,” and indulges in extravagant postures and wavings of the arms, which have nothing in common with the seductive fine gentleman of the period of wigs and swords. Miss Winifred Emery’s Clarissa is, on the other hand, perfect in its grace, tenderness, resignation, and strength of character. For the special behoof of Mr. Thomas Thorne the author has invented a character compounded of the attributes of Belford, Tomlinson, and Morden—a broken-down, dissipated tool of Lovelace, who, tempted at first to abet his cynical employer’s schemes, repents, protects and befriends the heroine, and finally runs Lovelace through the body in a duel. The part is full of fine opportunities, and it is played by Mr. Thorne with a sombre sort of power, for which few of his admirers would hitherto have been disposed to give him credit. Among the other performers Mr. Cyril Maude must be given credit for an admirable bit of character-acting in the part of the miserly old beau Solmes, Mr. Fred Thorne for a roughly spirited performance of Macshane (Tomlinson), while some less prominent, but more or less important parts are skilfully played by Miss E. Banister, Miss Mary Collette, Mr. Blythe, and Mr. Gillmore. A striking item in the scenery is Mr. Hemsley’s elaborate view of Covent Garden Market, after Nebot’s picture in the possession of the Duke of Bedford. Very favourably received at the matinée performance, Clarissa has since taken a place in the evening bill, which it is likely to hold for some time to come.

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The Athenæum (15 February, 1890 - No. 3251, p.221)

THE WEEK.

     VAUDEVILLE.—Afternoon Representation: ‘Clarissa Harlowe,’
a Drama in Four Acts, founded on Richardson’s Novel. By Robert Buchanan.

     NOT the least interesting dramas presented before the public are the adaptations of last century novels which are in fashion at the Vaudeville. Occupied necessarily with modern work, the critic finds the time he can devote to re-reading past masterpieces diminish from year to year. Heroic, indeed, or happily dowered with time, would be he who could sit down and read from cover to cover the seven volumes of Richardson’s masterpiece. It is pleasant, then, to see a version of ‘Clarissa Harlowe,’ both for what it presents and what it recalls; for the graces of Clarissa and the persecutions she withstood linger in the background of the memory, and are easily recalled. It is needless to stir the embers of controversy concerning Richardson. Diderot’s famous outburst: “On m’interroge sur ma santé, sur ma fortune, sur mes parents, sur mes amis. O mes amis! Paméla, Clarisse et Grandison sont trois grands drames!” the fact that his works were translated by men such as l’Abbé Prévost, and that ‘Clarissa Harlowe’ was abridged by Jules Janin (as it was in England by Dallas) are unanswerable pleas in his behalf. France, which produced a whole literature imitative of Richardson, was the first country to put ‘Clarissa Harlowe’ on the stage. “Clarisse Harlowe, drame en trois actes, mêlé de chant, par MM. Dumanoir, Clairville, et Guillard,” was produced at the Gymnase Dramatique on the 5th of August, 1846, with Bressant (subsequently of the Comédie Française) as an unsurpassable Lovelace, and Rose Chéri as a delightful Clarissa. This is an old-fashioned work, to which Mr. Buchanan admits his indebtedness. It has saved him some trouble, and though he has departed far from it, the scenes in which he follows it most closely are the most effective. An adaptation of this, with Mr. C. J. Mathews as Lovelace, and Mrs. Stirling as Clarissa, was given at the Princess’s, August 28th, 1846.
     Mr. Buchanan’s treatment does not wholly commend itself. One or two characters that he introduces are insincere and out of keeping, and his termination is clumsy and ineffective. None the less he has crowded into four acts very much of a huge plot, and has produced a work that is intellectually and emotionally stimulating. A first act serves for the escape of Clarissa in company with Lovelace from domestic persecution that loses something of its acerbity by the disappearance of Arabella, with whom goes Mrs. Harlowe. Col. Morden, the avenger of the heroine, is also banished, and his functions are assigned to Philip Belford, the correspondent of Lovelace, who is shown as his creature, and, rising in mutiny against his employer, constitutes himself an inefficient protector of the heroine and a thoroughly efficient instrument of vengeance on the hero. Against this there is little to be urged. When, however, in the closing act of apotheosis, Clarissa, endowed with prophetic inspiration, consecrates Belford to God, and he bows his head to receive the chrism, one is scarcely prepared to see him go out instanter to slay a man, however richly the victim may have merited his fate. Clarissa, moreover, in the last act, fine as this is, is too divine and not human enough to create her full effect. There is a suggestion of the teaching of Wilkie Collins in the ‘New Magdalen,’ that the removal of blemish is indispensable to the highest purity. In Clarissa’s case, of course, there is no moral taint. We should prefer her a little less sublimely perfect, and with the humanizing weaknesses Richardson is at the pains to depict.
     The characters generally are fairly played. Miss Winifred Emery shows with much sweetness and power the angelical character that Mr. Buchanan has developed, and in her rejection of Lovelace and her communing with Belford touches inspiration. Mr. Thorne, at all events, plays earnestly as Belford, Mr. Cyril Maude is clever as Mr. Solmes, and other characters are creditably presented. Mr. Thalberg is, however, not strong enough for Lovelace; and the character of Hetty Belford, played by Miss Banister, is out of keeping with the play. Mr. F. Thorne gives a clever sketch of character as Capt. Macshane. ‘Clarissa’ was warmly received, and seems likely to take a strong hold of the public.

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The Illustrated London News (15 February, 1890 - p.6)

THE PLAYHOUSES.

The other afternoon I was talking to a very charming and intelligent young lady, and, young as she was, pretty as she was, and enthusiastic as she might have been, she echoed the same monotonous complaint that we hear so often nowadays: “I want to laugh at the theatre, not to cry!” I had been urging her to go to the Vaudeville Theatre. I had been impressing on her the necessity of studying the “Clarissa” of Mr. Robert Buchanan. I had been dilating with some enthusiasm on the beautiful Clarissa of Miss Winifred Emery, and her death-scene, so infinitely pathetic, so exalted in tone, so illumined by art; but to all my comments she returned the same weary and careworn answer, “I want to laugh at the theatre, not to cry!” Now, had my fair friend been a grandmother and not a girl; had she seen Edmund Kean, and been able to criticise Macready; had she known Helen Faucit in her prime, and carefully differentiated between the methods of a Kate Terry and an Adelaide Neilson; had she in any sense been in a position of being a little bored—why, then one might have excused her. But she had no experience of acting whatever. She had never been astonished into delight by Aimée Desclée or thrilled by Favart or Bernhardt, she did not even allude to the exquisite nature of Miss Terry’s Olivia or Amber Heart, but she stuck to her original position that she loved laughter and hated tears. She went over the stale old ground that life was sad enough without any unnecessary tears at the playhouse. And she candidly owned—highly intelligent and well educated as she is—that the mental recreation that did her the most good was a Gaiety burlesque! Well, do not let us quarrel with the damsel. Each one to his own taste. Still, for all that, I regret, for her sake, the loss of such a mental stimulant, such an intellectual fillip as some win from so beautiful a rendering of a pure and exalted woman as that given us by Miss Winifred Emery in Mr. Buchanan’s new play. I go from the theatre happier from having come across such a woman—for I merge the actress in her personation. This is as it should be. Miss Emery is, no doubt, delightful off the stage as well as on it. Of that I know nothing; not, indeed, do I care to know it. To me she is Clarissa Harlowe, and that is enough for me. I do not want to destroy my illusions; and illusions must, in a measure, be destroyed when actors come away from the footlights.
     Perhaps I shall be considered to be saying a very daring thing when I urge that Mr. Robert Buchanan has suffered from producing this particular play at the Vaudeville. It requires just the finish, just the polish, just the sensitive nurturing that it might possibly obtain elsewhere, but which do not belong to the bourgeois style of the Vaudeville. “Clarissa” is a hothouse plant; not a mountain daisy. She would die on Mr. Buchanan’s Scotch moors; she would thrive in an artificial atmosphere. I can see “Clarissa” an immense success at the Lyceum. I can see her even more a success at the Garrick if Mr. Hare had been able to secure both the play and Miss Emery. I can see what Mr. Beerbohm Tree would have done with it at the Haymarket, what a labour of love it would have been to him, and how he would have covered it with an æsthetic halo—just the glow that it required to make it more attractive to the playgoers who shudder at what is sad. Not that by any means the beautiful subject has been neglected at the Vaudeville. Far from it. It is well done, but it wants to be better done. It is very fairly acted, but it requires illuminating power. No one could play Clarissa better than Miss Emery, but there are fine characters in the comedy, and they require to be finely handled. It is no good pouring the finest Chambertin into green hock glasses. It may not destroy the wine, but it destroys the flavour to the cultivated palate. The Vaudeville was not the playhouse for “Clarissa,” nor is the company, as a rule, strong enough to do it the justice it deserves. We keep continually saying to ourselves, “Ah! but if So-and-so had played that part!” This shows that the parts are good ones to play, does it not?
     I still think that Mr. Buchanan has made a mistake in reconciling Clarissa with the brutal Lovelace before death releases her; and I also think there was no use in drawing a halo of sanctity round gentle-hearted Philip if he was to go out five minutes afterwards and slaughter Lovelace. Mr. Buchanan very courteously reasons against my objection, and argues that I am wrong. But the intention of the dramatist is on e thing, the effect on the spectator is another. I contend that Mr. Buchanan has so advanced Clarissa on her way to heaven, has so sanctified and purified her, that her reconciliation to Lovelace—even in delirium—is shocking. She is in a state of exaltation. She has had heavenly visions. She has dreamed holy dreams. Her arguments against reconciliation with a repentant man are unanswerable. Why, then, contradict all she has said in delirium, and change from antechambers of heaven to mundane marriages and wedding-bells? That the sin Lovelace has committed is unpardonable on this side of the grave is, to my mind, the great moral of the play. Men may ruin, and are often forgiven by women who love them. But here there was no definite love on the part of Clarissa, and Lovelace betrayed her in the grossest and most unchivalrous manner. That a woman so destroyed is just as pure as a lily trampled under the foot of a clumsy gardener all must allow; but the kiss of a Lovelace to take with her to Paradise is, to my mind, a contamination. The act wants shortening; and the delirium may well be sacrificed. Again, Mr. Buchanan thinks to get over the difficulty of Philip’s revenge by saying that Lovelace “fell upon his sword.” Be this as it may, the effect is that a man who had been vowed to heaven by Clarissa’s prayer is still so earthly that he cannot forego vengeance! The charm that Clarissa has won for her friend by commending him to Heaven would surely teach him the divine knowledge of forgiveness. It strikes me that Mr. Buchanan, by his reconciliation in delirium, and in his accidental slaughter of Lovelace by the sword of a man vowed to God, is unconsciously pandering to the conventionality of happy endings. He knows that the ethical part of his story will not permit the reconciliation of Clarissa with her brutal betrayer, so he unites them in delirium. He knows that the reformed Philip cannot conscientiously be a duellist, so he allows Lovelace to fall upon his sword. But all this is mere special pleading. I maintain that Clarissa, in a beatific state, had no right to kiss Lovelace, and that Philip, converted to the principles of Christianity, should not fight a duel for the purpose of revenge. However, it is a fine play, and is well worth seeing. Miss Winifred Emery has never done anything better in the course of her interesting career. Mr. Thomas Thorne has never been seen to greater advantage than as Philip, one of the most effective characters in the range of modern drama. Mr. Thalberg and Miss Bannister have both physical advantages which should encourage them to go on and prosper. But they both want lessons in voice-production very badly. In a small character Mr. Cyril Maude is excellent; and “Clarissa” deserves encouragement, if the stage is not to be wholly given up to buffoonery.

clarissaemery2

[Winifred Emery as Clarissa Harlowe.]

 

The Theatre (1 March, 1890)

“CLARISSA.”

New drama, in four Acts, by ROBERT BUCHANAN, founded on Richardson’s world-famous novel.
First produced at the Vaudeville Theatre, Thursday afternoon, Feb. 6th, 1890, and placed in the
evening bill, Saturday, Feb. 8th, 1890.

Mr. Harlowe      ... ...    Mr. Harbury.
Captain Harlowe    ...    Mr. Oswald Yorke.
Mr. Solmes         ... ...     Mr. Cyril Maude.
Stokes               ... ...    Mr.J. S. Blythe.
Lovelace             ... ...     Mr. T. B. Thalberg.
Capt. Macshane     ...    Mr. Fred Thorne.
Sir Harry Tourville    ...   Mr. F. Grove.
Aubrey               ... ...    Mr. Frank Gillmore.
Watchman           ... ...     Mr. Wheatman.
Richards             ... ...    Mr. C. Ramsey.
Coffee-stall-keeper  ...     Mr. Bray.

Drawer                 ... ...    Mr. Austin.
Philip Belford         ... ...     Mr. Thomas Thorne.
Clarissa Harlowe       ...     Miss Winifred Emery.
Hetty Belford        ... ...    Miss Ella Banister.
Jenny                    ... ...    Miss Mary Collette.
Mrs. Osborne       ... ...    Miss C. Owen.
Lady Bab Lawrence  ...    Miss L. Bryer.
Lady May Lawrence  ...     Miss Florence Wemyss.
Sally                      ... ...    Miss Lily Hanbury.

     Mr. Buchanan’s version of “Clarissa Harlowe” is not the first by several that have been produced. He admits that he is much indebted to the French dramatisation by M.M. Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville, played “at the Gymnase in 1842.” Since then it was seen at the Princess’s in 1846, the adaptors being Messrs. T. H. Lacy and John Courtney, when Charles Matthews (an actor who we all know had not the faintest idea of sentiment or romance) was the Lovelace and Mrs. Stirling, Clarissa. Then there was Mr. Boucicault’s version, and latest Mr. W. G. Wills’s, produced at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham, December 16, 1889. Mr. Buchanan has given us a workmanlike and most interesting play; his language is appropriate, and the introduction of Hetty Belford adds to the strength of the drama. There are blemishes, however. There is something that is almost too horrible in the first act where Lovelace toys with one of his victims   (Jenny), and holds out as a reward to her that if she will aid him in his designs, he will get her the situation of waiting maid with Clarissa so that Jenny shall be near him. Again, that men of position like Sir Harry Tourville and Aubrey should pander so openly to Lovelace’s brutal instincts is brought too much in evidence, as is the scene where these men and a couple of infamous women drink success to their patron’s designs on the hapless heroine. Nor does it seem in accordance with the repentance of Belford (the Morden of the novel) that he should immediately after his promise to lead a new life slay Lovelace, who then dies at Clarissa’s feet, she having in a state of ecstatic delirium kissed and forgiven her betrayer as her soul departs. In the last act, too, there is an almost brutal disregard for the feelings of the repentant Hetty, whom by his past conduct he has actually driven to the streets, when in her very presence Lovelace offers marriage to Clarissa as some, though tardy, atonement for the evil he has wrought. Another blemish is the frequency with which the name of the Deity is invoked. Mr. Buchanan has given us an exquisite character in Clarissa, the soul of purity, defiled only in an earthly sense, but a sublime and spotless martyr in Heaven’s sight, and it is for this reason that I should have esteemed his work the more highly had he not so conspicuously brought out the sensuality and animal nature of some of his characters. Though in the first act I thought Miss Winifred Emery a little cold, scarce showing sufficiently the possession that Lovelace had taken of her heart, later she was near perfection; her death scene, though prolonged, was robbed of any sense of weariness to the beholder by its exquisite poetry and beauty. The actress appeared to be almost transfigured, and to be already a denizen of that happier world in which she was so soon to take her place for ever. Mr. Thalberg, though very good for so young an actor, was neither romantic nor passionate. Such a character as Lovelace, a man who can obtain such conquest over women of every grade, should be thoroughly captivating towards them; when he tires of his playthings of an hour he might be heartless but he should not be cynical. Miss Banister surprised me by her power as Hetty. Her elocution was very faulty and her bursts of emotion were undisciplined, but there was distinct evidence of a capability, that study and experience will develop into the accomplishment of great things. Mr. Thomas Thorne was earnest and sincere as Belford, a man who has lost faith in woman since his sister’s disgrace, but whose heart is moved at the innocence of Clarissa. His scene with Lovelace when taxing him with his treachery, and his endeavour to rescue the profligate’s fresh victim, was intense and vivid. Mr. Cyril Maude was excellent as Solmes, the old lover, intended by her father for Clarissa’s husband. Mr. Fred Thorne, Miss Mary Collette, and Miss Lily Hanbury also deserve very favourable mention. Mr. Hemsley has in the second act given us a capital reproduction of Covent Garden Market as it appeared in 1749, and the dresses by Nathan & Co., from designs by Karl, are handsome and correct. “Clarissa” was so well received tbat it was placed in the evening bill almost immediately.

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The Academy (1 March, 1890 - No. 930, p.158-159)

THE STAGE.

“CLARISSA” AT THE VAUDEVILLE.

     THE new “Clarissa” has distinct merits. It is interesting. I am glad to have seen it. But I cannot, in holding forth on piece or performance, emulate the hysterics of a certain daily newspaper. At the same time, one ortwo of the charges that have been brought against it by the less continuously gushing appear to me little deserved. The production is creditable to everybody who is concerned in it. But I doubt if, six months hence, we shall be found reckoning it among the triumphs of the Vaudeville management.
     As regards Mr. Buchanan’s part in the affair, it has, it seems to me, been one of greater difficulty than when it was his business to dramatise Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews. The interest of Tom Jones is, half of it, in action; the interest of Joseph Andrews is, half of it, in adventure. But the interest of Clarissa is psychological, and Mr. Buchanan’s play is not psychology. He is prevented, by the conditions of the theatre, from showing us the infinite and almost imperceptible stages by which the heroine is led to that which, in common parlance, is described politely as her “ruin.” Will she be seduced? Or will she never be seduced? Will Clarissa yield? Or will Clarissa elude the pursuer, charm he never so  wisely? We ask these questions through page after page of the romance—through sheet after sheet of that voluminous correspondence which the brain of Richardson imagined. At the theatre, this matter must be settled more promptly. And the elaborate analysis of motive and feeling which the eighteenth-century novelist permitted himself has perforce to be abandoned for a drama faithful enough, as Mr. Buchanan claims, to the main incidents—even to the main spirit; but from which, inevitably perhaps, something which was the source of the novel’s interest has, to a great extent, gone.
     But though many thoughtful readers must feel this to be the case, the dramatist may reasonably get credit for the judgment and dexterity with which—the conditions of stage representation being what they are—he has handled the theme. And, so far from blaming him for the very prominent introduction of Philip Belford and of his sister Hetty—who, as M. Zola and other novelists of l’hérédité will be glad to note, go to the devil each in his own way—we ought, I think, to see at once that Mr. Buchanan was right in conjecturing that the contest between Clarissa’s chastity and Lovelace’s persistence could not alone occupy the stage—that there was need of some other interest. And he has introduced this new interest with a great deal of skill. Philip Belford and Hetty are, to my mind, thoroughly sympathetic ne’er-do-wells. Philip, it is true, stooped low; but he stooped with genuine regret. Even in his cups, he is inoffensive. And you cannot be very hard on Hetty, wild and kind-hearted—nay, devoted at need. Without these characters, the play would have lacked much of value that it now possesses. Mr. Buchanan, when he chooses, can invent so well, is it not almost a pity that he should continue chiefly to adapt? To finish with his part in the present production, let it be said that the language of the drama is vigorous and direct; and, as a whole, sufficiently, without being obtrusively, old-fashioned. Here and there, there are lapses. I may, of course, be wrong; but, from the lips of Lovelace, the phrase “a coup de théâtre” sounds a little modern.
     In the dramatisation of what is not only intellectually a very great, but as regards mere bulk also, an immense novel, there are likely to figure a far larger number of characters than if it had been left to the dramatist to invent his own fable. And, as the drama proceeds, several of these characters are wont to be dropped upon the way. In “Clarissa,” after the first act, we see nothing more of three people not unimportant “in their day”—Clarissa’s father, Clarissa’s brother, and a wealthy neighbour, Mr. Solmes, who is a pertinacious suitor for Clarissa’s hand. Mr. Solmes, the most important and designedly the most entertaining of the three, is so well played by Mr. Cyril Maude that we are sorry to lose him. As a suitor, Mr. Solmes has nothing to recommend him but self-confident piety and a great estate; but as a person of the drama, the pungency and quaintness of Mr. Cyril Maude make him unquestionably welcome. Lovelace is enacted by  Mr. Thalberg—who is good, but not quite good. I mean that while his natural gifts, and a long and successful experience—as I hear—in the provinces, have removed him entirely from the ranks of the incapable—have made him to some extent an accomplished actor—he yet is hardly the ideal Lovelace. The ideal Lovelace would be even more fascinating, even more persuasive, even more forcible, and at need more violent. Mr. Blythe is amusing as a farm-bailiff, very accessible to argument when argument takes the form of cash; and—to name a tiny character part—the part of the watchman, in his momentary appearance, is well played and looked by Mr. Wheatman. But no character in the piece is more thoroughly filled out to the utmost of its narrow possibilities than is that of young Aubrey—a friend of Lovelace’s—looked and played by Mr. Frank Gillmore with admirable lightness and elegance. Next to Lovelace— whom I have already discussed—the two most important men’s parts are those played by the brothers Thorne. Mr. Thomas Thorne exhibits very skilfully and sympathetically the humours and the regrets of Philip Belford—the unwillingness with which a man whose moral force, whose power of resistance, is for the time gone joins in the plot against Clarissa; and, again, the tenderness and courage with which, at need—summoning back again the best that is in him—he prepares to defend her. The part offers to Mr. Thorne a large measure of variety; and the actor avoids monotony, and is earnest and convincing. A variety necessarily more obvious is attained by Mr. Fred Thorne, in a part that is wholly of comedy. Captain Macshane, a soldier from beyond the Border, assumes the garb of a divine in order that he may do Lovelace the service of performing a mock marriage. And, at the wedding feast, he lifts up his voice in a song which strikes Clarissa as not exactly suited to the ecclesiastical character. The low or the eccentric comedy of Mr. Fred Thorne is always acceptable; but he is seen to greatest advantage in a part that makes some demand upon feeling likewise.
     Mr. Buchanan’s “Clarissa” is anything in the world but a one-part piece; and Miss Winifred Emery, as the heroine, may be justified, perhaps, in being judicious and tender, rather than actually great. Her very visible intelligence, her real delicacy of perception, and some physical gifts which are as apparent, will carry her far; and her performance already is admirable, though it is not perfect. In what ought to be the great scene of the third act, I wanted her to be bigger. Here the climax of emotion was surely reached, but somehow I was not aware of it. That Miss Emery looks the character need hardly be said; and, as one would expect from her, she executes her conception generally with subtle touches. Nothing, for example, could be better than her first indications of definite suspicion when Clarissa is in reality in Lovelace’s house, while it pretends to be that of his imaginary kinswoman. And earlier than that—in the first act— Clarissa’s hesitation is well expressed by her. Very “maidenly”—if one must give her behaviour its usual phrase—is her behaviour to Lovelace. In the fourth act, Miss Emery is to be greatly commended for sparing us the worst of what Bacon speaks of as “the dolours of death.” For Clarissa, indeed, the sweetest canticle is “nunc dimittis.” And Miss Emery understands that there must be pathos rather than terror. Of the other ladies who are engaged in the piece, let it be mentioned that Miss Mary Collette is satisfactory in the small part of a young country woman; that Miss Hanbury—who is almost a débutante—acts a good-hearted, impulsive, Covent Garden market girl with naturalness, freshness, and happy assurance; and that in the really considerable character of Hetty Belford, Miss Banister is forcible as well as picturesque. Of scenic effect there is throughout the piece enough and not too much. The market scene is very prettily suggested, but the necessary business of the play never waits by reason of a superfluity of “supers.”

                                                                                                                                     FREDERICK WEDMORE.

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Pall Mall Gazette (4 March, 1890 - p.1)

AFTER “CLARISSA,” “THE RELAPSE.”

     The version of Sir John Vanbrugh’s comedy “The Relapse,” which is being prepared by Robert Buchanan for the Vaudeville, will see the light—at a matinée of course—as soon as it is ready. If successful, you may expect to see it oust “Clarissa” from her place in the evening bills, as this drama has not done all that the management anticipated. I should have liked to see so sound and artistic a play—for with all its faults it never lacks true art—become a really popular “triumph.” But the average theatre-goer is a strange creature. You may make him laugh in almost any way you please; but he is very particular as to the precise method in which you extract tears from his critical eyes. Presumably, he does not find sufficient enjoyment in weeping over the woes of the unfortunate Miss Harlowe.

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Time (April, 1890 - pp.435-439)

     An adaptation, a poem, and a note. Not content with giving us a four-act play cleverly built out of perhaps the most undramatic novel ever written, Mr. Buchanan gives us a little poem of his own among the dentifrice advertisements, and a note explaining that for the one dramatic fourth of the play he is indebted to the Gymnase drama of Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville. Undramatic as the subject is, and undramatic as much of the treatment almost of necessity must be, yet it is undeniable that “Clarissa” holds the attention of the same shop-keeping class that sees no pathos in Nora. Winifred Emery’s acting is really wonderful. It is questionable if anything short of actual genius could keep together that hour upon hour of dying in the fourth act. And yet the act and the piece are kept together by the work, almost unaided, of this young actress. Mr. Thalberg helps in the earlier acts, and if he had not quite such a fine figure and quite such good teeth he would be much more useful. Mr. Thomas Thorne is too old and clever a stager to make any mistake, and his Belford is a sterling, thorough piece of work whenever no pathos is required. Only two points of general criticism. Would not the end of the third act be better with “Clarissa” fainting on the sofa as she is a moment before that end, instead of the present finish? The latter is on this wise. Lovelace performs the excellent gymnastic feat of carrying “Clarissa” across the stage and half-way up the stairs to his bedroom, and then “imprints on her lips” an anything but chaste salute. We prefer the simpler ending. Not from any notions of prudery, but from the point of view of dramatic significance. And the ending of the play would be better, as we think, without so much rather ostentatious blessing on the part of “Clarissa,” because she has had a little trouble with Lovelace, and surely better if she did not embrace him lover-fashion at the finish. Either she is a weak girl, loves him still, and will yield to his offer of marriage, or she is a strong woman, loathes him for the wrong done to her, and to all womanhood, and then she would not kiss and embrace him, but go on blessing him as she has blessed all the rest.

The first-piece improvement mania – a very amiable form – has even infected the Vaudeville, that most conservative of theatres. “Meadow sweet” is necessarily as slight as a maiden of fifteen must be. But it is graceful and full of character as well, and it is very cleverly played by “all concerned,” with one exception. Miss Ella Banister is not the fresh and rose- milk country maiden of the author and the piece. She is not quite able to throw off the town airs she catches nightly outside the Bell Tavern in Covent Garden in the second act of “Clarissa.” All the others are admirable, and Cyril Maude’s living, not acting, of a country cad, turned town snob, is a piece of condensed genius. We have used that word twice already in this notice in respect to a husband and wife. For Winifred Emery is, as all the world knows, Mrs. Maude. In their art they are also one.

                                                                                                     Alec Nelson [pseudonym of Edward Aveling]

[This review appears on the Marxist Internet Archive in the Eleanor Marx Dramatic Notes section.]

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The Theatre (1 April, 1890)

[From ‘Our Omnibus-Box’.]

PUBLIUS TERENTIUS AFER, ESQ.
                                                                                                                                       20th March, 1890.

MY DEAR TERENCE,—
                   A young person I know told me the other day that Henry I. of England died of a surfeit of palfreys. This set me thinking (why?) of the villa near Puteoli, facing the blue Tyrrhene sea, where the secret of thy literary co-partnership with Lælius and the young Scipio formed many a jesting theme for conversation, maybe, over twinkling bumpers of Setian wine, heady enough to wash the throat clean through those long, strong revels of gluttony that hailed the fat Ambracian kid, and dropsical apple-snail, and perhaps the rich lamprey from distant Britain as rare bon-bouches. How we can picture the flushed cheeks and the fair chaplets of roses reeling over drunken brows, as the balmy wind steals in by way of fluted pillar and tessellated pavement, and cools its bosom against the tinkling fountain in the peristyle, and venturing further, flies again, let us hope, from the hot, lascivious atmosphere of the triclinium, to sob itself pure in the arms of Naples Bay. For the air of Puteoli villa was not good for the least of Nature’s chameleons, and the quips and quiddities that went round at its orgies would have proved strong meat, perhaps, even for a Lovelace. Ah, me! the merciless luxuries—which podgy Gibbon preferred to call refinements—of those ancient days! the heathen indulgence and brutal pursuit! the prurient beast in his exotic palace, and the helpless Miriam writhing, in her shame, or poor Nest from her northern eyrie standing with the blue of the sea in her eyes and death in her heart! I can have no sympathy with you here, Terence—now less than ever, for I have lately been to see “Clarissa” at our own little “Vaudeville,” and the cleansing fever of repentance is burning in me still. Lovelace! he was a Bayard to you all. If you would have chuckled richly over his fiendish intriguing, you would have sneered proportionately at his remorse; no dew of pity ever nourished green germs in your breasts. The tears of wretchedness fell thereon like rain on asphalt, finding no interstices to woo a single wandering seed. I can fancy sweet Clarissa done to moral death, in thy outrageous Rome, and no poignard for her betrayer’s bosom, and, worse, no angel’s comfort kissing her to her own young decline. Is not thine unhappy ghost, “blown along a wandering wind,” hounded ever on now remorselessly by the harpy presentments of such piteous, yellow-haired slaves from over the water as thou and thy kind so often and so cruelly wronged? I hear, methinks, a shadowy chuckle in the hollow of the sky! “Not from thy hand, libertine, this stone to our memories!” Alas! who am I to cast blame! Did not I once woo Billy Waghorn’s sister from the arms of Joe Pringle with lure of “brandysnaps” cunningly warmed in the breeches pocket to the consistency of toffee? I mind me also of Mary Earwaker, of the New Cut, formed for man to “waste his whole heart in one kiss upon her perfect lips,” but whom, nevertheless, I abandoned for that she developed a plebeian stye in one of her gem-like orbs. These things do not bear dwelling upon in the ecstasy of my late bitter reformation. For I have seen “Clarissa,” and am humbled. And who is Clarissa? you will ask. Ah! that I can tell you. She is Winifred Emery and no other, and Winifred Emery is Clarissa. Surely all is said here. But whose the play? say you, the cunning adaptor of old. Ah, Terence! she belongs to no play, but to fact. And yet was her piteous ladyship introduced to the too-little-thinking life of to-day by one who can run even you close in your peculiar line, my “dimidiate Menander.” Buchanan the playright is not uniformly true to his finer instincts; the author of “White Rose and Red” is not always to be depended upon for such a little thing as grammar; but Buchanan the adaptor has no equal in extracting the germ of beauty and truth from a bog of verbiage and prolixity. Prurience! I tell you never was play of pimps and harlots more pronounced and less indelicate. As old Richardson set his heroine in extenso, so has his latter-day interpreter in nuce—a jewel in a dunghill. A diamond never glitters as it does on black velvet; the darker the evil horrors surrounding, but never overwhelming, the outraged girl, the fairer her soul shines forth in contrast. It is a picture that most may weep over and all appreciate. We may find our eyes wet as the curtain falls, without shame; we may acknowledge the influence wrought in our natures and justify it in our after lives with no loss of manliness. Call it a play if you will; I, for one, shall always think of Winifred Emery as Clarissa, and whatever parts she may essay hereafter—and the Gods grant they may be many—the image of that dying heroine will colour and sanctify them all.

                                         Yours distantly,
                                     (Particularly so at present),
                                                        
THE CALL-BOY.

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The Strand Magazine (April, 1891 - p. 415)

strandclarissapage

From Playhouse Impressions by Arthur Bingham Walkley (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1892 - p 157-162):

ROBERT BUCHANAN.

“CLARISSA.”
(Vaudeville Theatre, February, 1890.)

AT the first performance of one of Voltaire’s tragedies, freely purloined from a Greek original, it is said that the author leant out of his box and shouted at the somnolent pit, “Applaud, you idiots; that’s Sophocles, not Voltaire!” At the Vaudeville I hid behind a fair neighbour’s monumental hat, in mortal terror lest the author, leaning out of his box, and catching me falling asleep in the wrong place, should shout, “Don’t yawn, you idiot; that’s Richardson, not Buchanan!” Which is which? The harassing question recurred with each fresh entry, each successive incident. Is it Buchanan, and may I yawn publicly? Or is it Richardson, and must I dodge behind my neighbour’s hat? Into such an abyss of doubt is one cast by respect for a British classic whom one has neglected to read. Neglected is hardly the word; it should be, refused. Despite the injunctions of my pastors and masters; despite the temptation of getting the whole set of eight volumes from a second-hand bookstall for fourpence, I have always refused to read “Clarissa Harlowe.” If any one asks why, let him be answered by this scrap of dialogue reported by Boswell:

“ERSKINE: Surely, sir, Richardson is very tedious?
JOHNSON: Why, sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself.”

Perhaps some rude person, who fails to perceive the true inwardness of Impressionist criticism, will say that he doesn’t care a straw whether I have read the book or not, that that is my affair, not his. Let such an objector just consider what would have happened if I had read Richardson’s book without going to see Buchanan’s play. Obviously my judgment would have been cut-and-dried in advance. It would, according to time-honoured practice in such cases, have been a string of lamentations over the shocking fashion in which the audacious modern had mangled the venerable ancient. The word sacrilege would have appeared at least a dozen times in my notice, and there would have been dark allusions to body-snatchers, resurrection men, ghouls and other such fearsome things. Now, my ignorance of the book has saved me from all this.
     Moreover, it enabled me at the Vaudeville to enjoy that pleasant sport known to the French code as
la récherche de la paternité. Where did Richardson come in? Where Buchanan? And where Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville? But who, you ask, are Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville? Mr. Buchanan himself answers this question in a note on the programme. They were the joint authors of a French dramatisation of Richardson’s novel, made famous by the acting of Bressant and Rose Chéri. Mr. Buchanan (or more probably the programme compiler—an accurate programme the eye of man hath not seen) says this play was produced at the Gymnase in 1842. The correct date is August, 1846. Jules Janin and Théophile Gautier went into ecstasies over this piece; and when a French dramatic critic of 1846 became ecstatic the air was thick with meteoric adjectives, I can tell you. But it is perhaps time that my own adjectives began to coruscate. Let them flash first upon Mr. Thomas Thorne. The first guess I hazard is that there is mighty little Richardson in this gentleman’s part. One may get at that à priori. A leading character, obviously, must be found for the manager, and the only leading characters in this novel (one may be permitted to know so much without having read the book) are Lovelace and Clarissa. Now, the wildest imagination refuses to conceive Mr. Thomas Thorne as Lovelace, and it is equally difficult to suppose him playing Clarissa. Hence I take the part of Philip Belford to be the joint invention of the English and French dramatists. Belford is a drunken ne’erdoweel, turned misogynist by the death of his wife and the ruin of his only sister, Hetty. Through the man’s sottishness glimpses of a better nature are perceived. Hardly has he helped Lovelace in the plot against Clarissa when he repents, and, finding that it is Lovelace who is his sister’s betrayer, resolves to save the woman and kill the man. In the first enterprise he fails, for the same drugged wine which makes Clarissa Lovelace’s helpless victim disables Philip Belford just as he is on the point of effecting her rescue. But it is Belford’s sword by which Clarissa is avenged. The actor overelaborates the part in his own well-known fashion, though apparently to the complete satisfaction of those play-goers who like their pathos sung—and sung adagio—and sung on one note. His quaint humour, which made the fortune of his Partridge and his Parson Adams, here gets no scope. We shall probably be safe in assuming that what Belfonl is belongs to Mr. Buchanan, what he does to our friends Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville. Hetty Belford, Philip’s fallen sister, is, one supposes, Buchanan du plus pur: she has that melodramatic air which betrays late nineteenth-century work. One may risk the same guess about Captain Macshane, a Sir Pandarus of Troy, with a broad Scotch accent, who masquerades as a clergyman and makes a happily frustrated attempt to sing “The Gowden Vanitee.” It is a droll part, and is “composed” with care by Mr. Fred Thorne. Clarissa’s heavy and unrelenting father becomes a terrible personage in the hands of Mr. Harbury. Fortunately he disappears after the first act. So—not so fortunately—does Mr. Solmes, Clarissa’s rich elderly suitor, a character very cleverly sketched by Mr. Cyril Maude. Miss Mary Collette plays a little rustic coquette prettily, and Messrs. F. Grove and Frank Gillmore both give the conventional stage picture of an eighteenth-century man of fashion, i.e., satin clothes, many flourishes of the hat, frequent “Fore Gads,” and a strut.
     Coming to the Lovelace, I find myself in a quandary. You see, my ignorance of Richardson’s book prevents me from knowing what sort of a Lovelace Richardson’s Lovelace was. Mr. Thalberg may be that man. If he be, why, so much the worse for Lovelace and Richardson and Mr. Thalberg. Whatever may be the case with the printed page (especially in Richardson’s epistolary form where there is room for the slow development of a psychological study) one cannot stand a character of this sort, a creature of unqualified moral turpitude, on the stage of to-day (outside sheer melodrama) unless one gets an intellectual impression. I cannot be interested in a mere well-dressed rake. No doubt the Don Juans of real life are often poor, empty creatures. Women have a strange taste. But if you bring Don Juan on the stage, you must make him a Don Juan that satisfies my imagination. There must be a magnificence about the fellow; he must be a virtuoso in the Fine Art of Don Juanism; must have
maestria; must be a philosopher like the Don Juan of Molière; a heroic figure that will not make Leporello’s catalogue sound ridiculous; a host not too puny to invite the statue of the commander to supper. How else will you satisfy a generation that (if it does not read “Clarissa Harlowe”) is very familiar with Feuillet’s M. de Camors and Daudet’s Due de Mora? I recognize the dramatist’s difficulty here. A character of this complexity is not easily rendered by the simple methods of the stage. It is something like the difficulty Lamb complained of in the representation of Shakespeare’s colossal villains. They lose their intellectual charm before the footlights, where, e.g., “the profound, the witty, the accomplished Richard” is apt to become a mere ogre. Now, this Lovelace is no virtuoso in Don Juanism. He is no seducer, even. He is a vulgar cheat, who flourishes his handkerchief, takes snuff with an air, uses foul drugs, and—one must put a brutal fact brutally—commits a rape upon his victim. Don’t ask me to be interested in this fellow. He is a poor, cheap, sawdust-stuffed creature, an eighteenth-century vibrion. And when Belford kills this vibrion, as Clarkson in Dumas’ play kills the other, the vibrion’s return to gasp out his dying repentance over his dead victim’s body only fills me with disgust. A Don Juan who cannot “see it through”—bah! All this is not to say that Mr. Thalberg fails to do his best with the part provided for him. But if that part be Richardson’s Lovelace I shall never regret my ignorance of Richardson. Of Miss Winifred Emery’s Clarissa one can only say that it is, in Mr. Ruskin’s pet phrase, “an entirely beautiful” performance. The reading of the poor artless little will in the final scene is tear-compelling. And, while you weep, you enjoy the pleasure of harmless speculation into the bargain. Is this a true Richardson tear? you wonder, as it trickles down your nose. Or is it a Buchanan drop? What if it should be only a spurious French tear, a tear of collaboration, the tear of Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville? Here are diverting  questions, the answers to which Miss Blanche Amory may write down in that little volume of hers, entitled “Mes Larmes.”

clarissaemery1

[Winifred Emery as Clarissa Harlowe.]

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