Henry Arthur Jones

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Henry Arthur Jones
Jones HenryArthur-001.jpg
Born(1851-09-20)20 September 1851
Died7 January 1929(1929-01-07) (aged 77)
Occupation Dramatist
Henry Arthur Jones Signature.jpg

Henry Arthur Jones (20 September 1851 – 7 January 1929) was an English dramatist, who was first noted for his melodrama The Silver King (1882), and went on to write prolifically, often appearing to mirror Ibsen from the opposite (conservative) viewpoint. As a right-winger, he engaged in extensive debates with left-wing writers such as George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells.



Jones was born at Granborough, Buckinghamshire, to Silvanus Jones, a farmer. [1] Until he was 13, he attended Grace's Classical and Commercial Academy in Winslow, where he inherited property on his father's death in 1914. [2] He began to earn his living early, his spare time being given to literary pursuits.

Career overview

He was twenty-seven before his first piece, It's Only Round the Corner, was produced at the Exeter Theatre, but within four years of his debut as a dramatist he scored a great success with The Silver King (November 1882), written with Henry Herman, a melodrama produced by Wilson Barrett at the Princess's Theatre, London. Its financial success enabled the author to write a play "to please himself".

Saints and Sinners (1884), which ran for two hundred nights, placed on the stage a picture of middle-class life and religion in a country town, and the introduction of the religious element raised considerable outcry. The author defended himself in an article published in the Nineteenth Century (January 1885), [3] taking for his starting-point a quotation from the preface to Molière's Tartuffe . His next serious pieces, The Middleman (1889) and Judah (1890), established his reputation.

His plays have been given a total of 28 productions on Broadway, the most recent in 1928 ( Mrs Dane's Defence ). [4]

A uniform edition of his plays began to be issued in 1891. His views of dramatic art were expressed from time to time in lectures and essays, collected in 1895 as The Renaissance of the English Drama .


Criticism of his plays

In his lifetime

"There are three rules for writing plays," said Oscar Wilde. "The first rule is not to write like Henry Arthur Jones; the second and third rules are the same." [8] This comic belittling is prompted by Wilde's aloof attitude in distancing himself from the foibles of the middle and higher classes, as opposed to Jones' method of realistic observations (from his viewpoint) on the way ordinary people act, though mainly emphasizing faults and weaknesses.[ citation needed ]


"Author-Manager". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1892. Henry Arthur Jones, Vanity Fair, 1892-04-02.jpg
"Author-Manager". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1892.

Although often treating similar subjects and with a similar realistic style as Henrik Ibsen, Jones is much less well known. One reason is his lack of deep psychological insight characteristic of the Norwegian master. Jones' dramatic characters are mostly one-sided. Another factor is Jones' conservative-minded attitude, as opposed to the liberal-minded Ibsen. Jones' comedies such as The Liars and Joseph Entangled have a slack construction, both tediously drawn out from a premise whereby a non-adulterous couple is caught in a compromising situation. In contrast, his dramas such as The Hypocrites , The Lie , and Mrs Dane's Defence have a tight construction with some striking scenes. The action in either style mostly represents ordinary people in conflict over amorous relations. Men often appear selfish, narrow-minded, and brutish, but sometimes uncompromising and brave. Women often appear frightened, especially whenever threatened to be exposed to social ostracism, but most often loyal and sensitive. Either sex often loses their heads whenever in the throes of love. There is often a male authoritative figure who sums up the situation in the final act, whose views are rarely or never challenged, such as Sir Daniel in Mrs Dane's Defence and Sir Richard in The Case of Rebellious Susan . The latter advises in this way a feminist who has incited female workers to strike: "At her own fireside, there is an immense future for women as wives and mothers, and a very limited future for them in any other capacity. While you ladies without passions — or with distorted and defeated passions — are raving and trumpeting all over the country, that wise, grim, old grandmother of us all, Dame Nature, is simply laughing up her sleeve and snapping her fingers at you and your new epochs and new movements. Go home!" Occasionally, there is a character who defies the views of most of the rest, such as Mr Linnell, the curate in The Hypocrites , which concerns the conflict between religious principles and money.

His criticisms of other people's plays

In his old age, Jones remarked that A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen should have ended with Helmer 'pouring himself a stiff glass of whisky and water and lifting it reverently toward Heaven exclaiming "Thank God I'm well rid of her"'. [9]

Political writings

Later in his life Henry Arthur Jones wrote a series of non-fiction articles "arguing from the right against H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw". [10] Jones' non-fiction also expressed his opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union. [11]

One such work was My Dear Wells: a Manual for Haters of England (1921), a collection of open letters to H.G. Wells originally published in The New York Times . A sample of this work: "You unreservedly condemn and ridicule the cardinal Marxian doctrines. In this matter I congratulate you upon being in the company of thinkers of a higher cast than your usual associates and disciples. You tell us that although Marxian communism is stupidly, blindly wrong and mischievous, you have an admiration and friendship for the men who have imposed it upon the Russian people to the infinite misery and impoverishment of the land." [12]

Wells repeatedly declined to respond, as in this letter to The New York Times, in 1921: "I do not believe that Mr. Jones has ever read a line that I have written. But he goes on unquenchably, a sort of endless hooting. I would as soon argue with some tiresome, remote and inattentive foghorn"; [13] and later, in 1926, in the preface to Mr Belloc Objects: "For years I have failed to respond to Mr. Henry Arthur Jones, who long ago invented a set of opinions for me and invited me to defend them with an enviable persistence and vigour. Occasionally I may have corrected some too gross public mis-statement about me — too often I fear with the acerbity of the inexperienced." [14]

Another sample of Henry Arthur Jones' political writing is his response to George Bernard Shaw's anti-war manifesto Common Sense About the War: "The hag Sedition was your mother, and Perversity begot you. Mischief was your midwife and Misrule your nurse, and Unreason brought you up at her feet – no other ancestry and rearing had you, you freakish homunculus, germinated outside of lawful procreation." [15]

Personal life

On 2 September 1875 Henry Arthur Jones married Jane Eliza Seeley (1855–1924) at St. Andrews Church, Holborn. They had six children: [2]

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  1. "JONES, Henry Arthur". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 951.
  2. 1 2 "Winslow History – Silvanus Jones (1827–1914) and Henry Arthur Jones the playwright (1851–1929)" . Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  3. The twentieth century. Robarts - University of Toronto. [London]. 1877.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. "Henry Arthur Jones – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved 16 September 2022.
  5. "Review of Heart of Hearts by H. A. Jones". The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art. 64 (1672): 659–660. 12 November 1887.
  6. Hazell's Annual (Hazell, Watson, and Viney, 1912), p. 498
  7. "Theatre review: Mary Goes First at Orange Tree, Richmond" . Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  8. "Taking The Curtain Call: The Life and Letters of Henry Arthur Jones" by Doris Arthur Jones
  9. Quoted in Anthony Jenkins, The Making of Victorian Drama, 1991, Page 278
  10. The Henry Arthur Jones Collection at the University of London Archived 5 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  11. John S. Partington, "The Pen as Sword: George Orwell, H.G. Wells and Journalistic Parricide" Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 45.
  12. Henry Arthur Jones, Gentle Advice To "My Dear Wells", New York Times, Sunday 5 December 1920, query.nytimes.com
  13. H.G. Wells Mr. Wells on His Critics, 6 January 1921 New York Times, query.nytimes.com
  14. H.G. Wells, Mr. Belloc Objects, gutenberg.net.au, September 1926
  15. quoted by Margot Peters, The Playwright as Terrorist New York Times, 17 September 1989, query.nytimes.com
  16. Walker, Lynne (11 July 2019), "Albery, Jessica Mary (1908–1990), architect and town planner", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.112259, ISBN   978-0-19-861412-8 , retrieved 2 October 2021

Further reading