LADY IN THE GLASS: Chicago Novelist’s Play Finally in Print

Herrick_Robert_The Lady in The Glass has existed in fragments, hand-written notes, and typed pages until now. The Lady in the Glass by Robert Herrick (1907) is now the only available play by the great American turn-of the-century novelist, revealing his unconventional and unpopular views on medicine, high society, women, and social-climbing.

Get it here: LADY IN THE GLASS

Robert Herrick (1868-1938), acclaimed novelist and first professor of composition and literature at the University of Chicago, was born into, and educated in, the post-Civil War gentility of Cambridge, Massachusetts. While still an undergraduate, he published the first English translation of Henrik Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea in a Harvard magazine, beginning a life-long interest in modern European authors, like Tolstoy, Turgenev, Flaubert, and de Maupassant.

Part of a rising generation of American realists, Herrick’s works dramatized contemporary social questions. His novels and plays were often thinly disguised autobiographical accounts of life in Chicago. Throughout Herrick’s writing career, he continually returned to his favorite theme – the curse of egoism and pride, especially of the intellectual variety. His works reveal the disastrous effects of extreme individualism, the clashes of spiritual and material interests, and the warping power of illusion. An ardent foe of determinism, Herrick believed and illustrated how an individual can will himself to rise above the conditions of heredity and environment. Unlike his contemporaries, Herrick blamed only the individual for his conduct. In addition, he insisted that life had an important spiritual dimension, absent in his contemporaries’ fiction. Outrage and controversy were familiar receptions to Herrick’s novels. Literary historians consider his 1908 novel Together, “the Lolita of its day.”

Around 1905 Herrick developed an interest in the theater, due to his great friendship with the American playwright Clyde Fitch, and the success of his University of Chicago contemporary, William Vaughn Moody. In the spring of 1906 he helped Arthur Aldus organize a New Theater for Chicago which would offer the newest European drama. In 1907 Herrick employed the skills he learned from Harvard’s George Pierce Baker, America’s first teacher of playwriting, to write The Lady in the Glass, but was unable to secure either a production or publication for the work. In 1911, The Maternal Instinct, a play he co-authored with ex-Chicagoan Harrison Rhodes, played at Chicago’s Lyric Theater. The Tribune’s Percy Hammond reported, first, that the play “was good; second, the audience thought it good. The polite and, perhaps, servile plaudits Moliere, Ibsen, and minor-Pinero gave way to enthusiasm for Herrick-Rhodes.” However, when the play closed, no further productions materialized, and the text itself vanished, despite a fifty-five year search by theater historians.

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