[The following passage is a brief excerpt from the author's The Golden Age of Pantomime, which is reviewed on this site. —  Jacqueline Banerjee, Associate Editor of the Victorian Web.]

decorated initial 'A' s ]ohn Russell Stephens has shown, while it was possible for a playwright to earn a living from the theatre in the 1830s, this ceased to be true in the 18405 and 1850s when conditions in the theatre reflected the depressed economic state of the nation. For a writer, the money was to be made writing novels not plays. So Bulwer Lytton, who had been a highly successful playwright in the 1830s, gave up the stage and turned to novels in the 1840. Dickens, despite a life-long love of the theatre, did not seek a life in playwriting but made his fortune in writing novels. The situation changed in the 1870s and 1880s with the rise in status of the theatre and a change in the system of remuneration, pioneered by Dion Boucicault. Until Boucicault, playwrights were paid a flat fee. He developed a system of profit-sharing, with the writer getting a percentage of the box office take. This meant that long runs of plays and repeated touring of successes could provide a living wage. By the 1890s, playwrights like Oscar Wilde, Arthur Wing Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones could make a good living from playwriting. It was a far cry from the mid—century when several playwrights ended their lives destitute (Richard Brinsley Peake, George Dibdin Pitt, Westland Marston, C. L. Bennett) and there were stories of playwrights actually dying of starvation. [175-176]

Note on E. L. Blanchard, the Pantomime Writer

Edward Leman Blanchard, the prolific pantomime playwright. Source of caricature: Scott and Howard, facing p.445. {Click on the picture to enlarge it.]

Blanchard's career provides some evidence of the playwright's struggles, both financially and in other ways. Much of his life "was darkened by money worries" as he struggled to support his elderly mother as well as his improvident brother William and his family; Richards's accounts of his struggles are heart-rending (see 176-78). The smoke from Aladdin's lamp in this caricature reveals the words, "Drury Lane Pantomime by E. L. Blanchard 1875." It is mentioned in his diary as playing at that theatre, and he records his visit to a peformance of it with rather typical despair: "Then to Drury, Aladdin, which I think is very different from what I intended. I experience my usual disappointment. Comic business seems to be execrable" (Scott and Howard 445).


Richards, Jeffrey. The Golden Age of Pantomime: Slapstick, Spectacle and Subversion in Victorian England. London & New York: I. B. Tauris, 2015. [Review by Jacqueline Banerjee].

Scott, Clement, and Cecil Howard. The Life and Reminiscences of E. L. Blanchard. Vol. 2 of two volumes. London: Hutchinson, 1891. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 9 January 2015.

Created 9 January 2015