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Henry Arthur Jones Biography

(1851–1929), A Clerical Error, The Silver King, The Case of Rebellious Susan

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Tama Janowitz Biography to P(atrick) J(oseph Gregory) Kavanagh Biography

British dramatist, born in Grandborough, Buckinghamshire, the son of a farmer; he left school early to become a draper's assistant and a commercial traveller. In 1878 he gave up regular employment to try his luck as a writer, had A Clerical Error performed in London the following year, and scored a huge success with the melodrama The Silver King in 1882. Gradually, he established himself as a major figure in the late nineteenth-century theatre, second only to Pinero as an exponent of the well-made play. He wrote several lively comedies: among them, The Case of Rebellious Susan (1894); a satiric attack on provincial puritanism, The Triumph of the Philistines (1895); and the witty, cynical The Liars (1897). However, his reputation in his own era depended primarily on ‘problem plays’ which, like those of Pinero, and from a stance fundamentally as conventional, treated such subjects as the woman with a dubious past and double standards of sexual behaviour. Mrs Dane's Defence (1900) remains the most effective of these, but the same theme intrudes in Saints and Sinners (1884) and Michael and His Lost Angel (1895), two plays in which the protagonist is a clergyman afflicted by scandal. The latter was praised by Shaw, as much an admirer of Jones as he was hostile to Pinero, as ‘genuinely sincere and moving’; but posterity has judged the playwright's serious work more harshly.

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