Saturday, 29 July 2017

Lovers' Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald + Free book

Lovers' Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald
First published in German in Germany as Das Kind der Liebe by August von Kotzebue in 1780. English language adaptation by Elizabeth Inchbald published in the UK in 1798.

Free edition available to read via Project Gutenberg

How I got this book:
Play text included in my copy of Mansfield Park

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Agatha is thrown out on the street, sick and destitute, on the very day that her son, Frederick, returns from five years away in the Army. Both stigmatised by the circumstances of his illegitimate birth, Agatha devoted her life to providing for her son and now he is desperate to repay her self-sacrifice by begging the money to save her life. However fate instead sees him imprisoned when a chance meeting with Baron Wilderheim turns into armed robbery.

In her Preface, Mrs Inchbald relates the changes and cuts she made to von Kotzebue's original Das Kind der Liebe which is why I have reviewed Lovers' Vows in her name rather than as a translation of his work. I understand that much of the essential narrative is the same, but deep multi-page German speeches were condensed to just three or four English lines and the ending was changed so I suspect that reading Lovers' Vows is much like watching a film version of a great novel - this is the drastically abridged version!

Lovers' Vows is now most famous I think for being the play rehearsed by characters in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. My copy of that novel had the text of Lovers' Vows as an addition and I found reading it interesting as it gave a more rounded understanding of relevant Mansfield Park scenes. As a play in its own right though, it is pretty dire! Taken in its historical context I suppose this tale of pre-marital sex, illegitimate children and daylight robbery must have been thrillingly shocking to its audiences, but it is such a short work that, to modern eyes at least, so much overwrought angst from shallow undeveloped characters is laughable. I also frequently cringed at the 'humour' spoken by the patronised commonfolk characters and at the butler's terrible poetry. As a historical curiosity or alongside a group reading of Mansfield Park, I think the play might be fun to perform and perhaps even to watch, but otherwise I would be happy never to revisit it again!

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