The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Dion Boucicault

Dion Boucicault

The Irish actor, playwright and theatre manager Dion Boucicault (1820-1890) enjoyed enormous success on both sides of the Atlantic. He married, and often appeared with, the actress Agnes Robertson (1833-1916), the adopted daughter of Charles Kean.

Born Dionysius Lardner Boucicault, his first success came early when London Assurance was staged at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, in 1841. A series of hastily written but clever versions of French plays, including The Corsican Brothers (1852) and The Vampire (1852), in which he made his first appearance as an actor, established him as a leading dramatist before his emigration to the United States in 1853. There he continued his success career in melodramas, particularly The Poor of New York (1857), Jessie Brown, or The Relief of Lucknow (1858) and The Octaroon (1859). Returning to England he produced Colleen Bawn, one of the most successful plays of its time, which was performed in almost every city of the United States and the United Kingdom, earning its author a handsome fortune, which he lost in the management of various London theatres.

His success in Arrah-na-Pogue (1864) and The Shaughraun (1874) won him the reputation of being the best stage Irishman of his day and confirmed his position at the head of the dramatic profession. It was a position that did not survive him. Boucicault wrote too much – nearly 200 plays have been ascribed to him – and too opportunistically, but he had the facility to disguise imitation as innovation and was, at his best, a superb theatrical storyteller.

In 1875 he returned to New York City and made his home there, finally separating from Agnes shortly after. He paid occasional visits to London, where he made his last stage appearance in 1886. He was touring Australia and New Zealand when he married another member of the cast, the 21-year-old Louise Thorndyke, in Sidney on 9 September 1885. He countered charges of bigamy by denying the legality of his marriage to Agnes, thus burdening his children with the rumour of illegitimacy. He died in New York on 18 September 1890.

Photographed by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company.


Code: 124460
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