The Fergusonia File

Friday, November 24, 2006

Joanna Baillie's The Tryal (1798)

Appearing in the same red-letter year as Coleridge and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, Joanna Baillie's decidedly less influential collection of plays, Plays on the Passions, was nonetheless popular in its day. The Tryal is one of three plays in the volume, and it is the only comedy.

I enjoyed The Tryal for its clarity of plot, for its distinct characters, and its humour. There's something to be said for good character "ticks," that is, repetitive behavioural and/or speech patterns. Of course, other playwrights we've read have accomplished this, but I found that the characters in this comedy would be recognizable even if we read their lines in the absence of stage directions.

Miss Eston, Mr. Royston and Sir Loftus are good examples of this. Even if the stage directions in one scene were somehow lost, we would still know who was talking.

Generally, I found the play fun and humorous. Maybe I was just in the mood for silliness, but the tomfoolery of Agnes and Mariane made me laugh out loud at points. Though I was somewhat troubled by the lack of respect Withrington sometimes received, I couldn't help but think that his blustering at his nieces' impudence was only half-hearted. The young women do really love him, and they involve him in their fun, even when he's the butt of their jokes. I'm trying to think of an alternative for "heartwarming" to describe how they share their vitality with the old uncle, but no easy equivalents come to mind. I hope that when I'm old and grey that my young relations will keep me in the loop as Baillie's young heroines do.


Blogger Brenna said...

I actually kind of think the old guy got more respect in this play than many of the others we have read. I think Withrington (Withered though he may be) is at least human -- and that much of made of his love for his charges was interesting to me.

I agree, though -- fun play!

7:20 PM  
Blogger Kirstie said...

I love it when a writer's language or imagery is really striking. Some of Aggnes' opening lines this play really entertained me:

"As for your old wig indeed, there was so much curmudgeon-like austerity about it that young people fled from before it, as, I dare say, the birds do at present, for I am sure that it is stuck up some cherry orchard, by this time, to frighten the sparrows"

I definitly got the sense that the neices and their uncle were on loving terms and that any disruption of the houshold was temporary and meant in fun. In some ways, it almost feels as though the good will between the family members undercuts any concerns that I might have about gender roles and patriarchal attitudes. At least I don;t feel that there's a severe discipline being imposed on the house at the end.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Susie said...

Hmm, I'm glad that you all are opening up the possibility of real familial affection between Withrington and his nieces because I was sort of irritated with them.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I agree with all of you, and I can see a move toward 19th-c father-daughter relationships here (I know he's their uncle, but you know what I mean). None of Baillie's characters are perfect, which I think makes their interactions more enjoyable. They can be likeable or unlikeable, which seems more realistic than some of the plays we've read before.

8:48 AM  

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