Friday, 14 May 2010

Mrs Pitt and Congreve's The Way of the World

When I jokingly said to my partner, who was at a loose end in London yesterday, 'look for something 18th-century that I can blog about' I didn't expect that he'd come back with this lovely engraving. It shows Mrs Pitt as Lady Wishfort in Congreve's The Way of the World and was printed on October 26th 1776. As you can see from the label, it's an original, not a reproduction (and the lady in the shop was at pains to back this up apparently).

It comes from a line of print/bookshops in Cecil Court, off St Martin's Lane, which Mr Woffington stumbled on entirely by chance. The shop was a bit of an Aladdin's cave and had a large selection of theatrical prints from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mrs Pitt appears to be lost in the mists of time, but The Way of the World still survives: a comedy about the lovers Mirabell and Millamant whose union is opposed by Millamant's dreadful aunt, Lady Wishfort. There are some extracts from the play (including the scene depicted on my engraving) on an excellent CD called An 18th-century Comedy Album with Dame Edith Evans playing the imperious Lady Wishfort. If you can track it down it's well worth a listen.

Photograph © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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