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Elizabeth Inchbald's Pocket Diaries as Embodied Archives with Dr Laura Engel

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"Rain and fog all day... I worked then read till dark": Elizabeth Inchbald's Pocket Diaries as Embodied Archives

The actress, playwright, novelist, and theatrical critic Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) destroyed her memoirs on the advice of a priest, but the pocket diaries she left behind provide significant traces of an embodied self in relation to its practices as a consumer and as a professional subject in the world.

Inchbald’s busy list of teas, play rehearsals, writing, walking, hairdressing, carriage rides, and visits convey a rich and hectic life, often full of anxiety and low spirits. In this lecture, I consider excerpts from Inchbald’s pocket diaries from 1781-1820 in order to theorize the significance of the pocket diary as an embodied archive – that is as an object and receptacle of information that is literally and figuratively tied to the body. The pocket diary can be seen as a prop left over from the scenes of Inchbald’s daily performances, and it can also be understood as an ongoing chronicle of the processes of her embodied actions. The diaries also contain a wealth of material about the workings of the theater in the 1780s, including details about the repertoire system, learning of roles or “copying parts,” competitiveness amongst actresses, and the experience of going to the theater whilst writing for the theater. I argue that the pocket diary falls some place in between the stability of a permanent record and the ephemerality of performance. It is important to understand the pocket diary as a dynamic archive, as a documentation of the processes of living, and as a paradoxically ontological object.

Laura Engel is an Associate Professor of English and Drama at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh PA. Recent publications include: Austen, Actresses, and Accessories: Much Ado About Muffs; Fashioning Celebrity: Eighteenth-Century Actresses and Strategies for Image Making; Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660-1830 (ed. with Elaine McGirr) and "The Secret Life of Archives: Sally Siddons, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and The Material of Memory," ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol. 4: Iss. 1, Article 2.


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Venue Location

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Eton Avenue
London NW3 3HY

Event dates

11 May 2015 - 6:30pm

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