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The 1822 edition of Pigot's Directory for Tiverton lists Hannah Cowley as a poet and the implication of the listing is that she was still alive at this time. In fact, she had died in 1809 and was far better known as a playwright. She was a woman of distinction evenin her own day but it is the application of hindsight that has brought appreciation and evaluation of her work to our own times.

Born 14 March 1743, she was the daughter of Philip Parkhouse who was a bookseller and stationer in Tiverton - a man who had been educated at the famous Blundell's School in the town and whose scholarship was highly respected. He had overseen the education, not only of his sons, but that of his two daughters - Hannah and Mary. His wife, also named Hannah, took over the successful running of the book business when Philip died, passing it on to their daughter Mary when she could no longer continue herself.

Hannah, meanwhile had married Thomas Cowley who was also the son of a bookseller and they had moved away from Tiverton. One night, after a visit to the theatre, she casually remarked that she could have written a better play than the one she had just seen. Somebody took her up on this and, astonishingly, three weeks later, the great actor/ impressario David Garrick had produced her first play at Drury Lane. There is an interesting article about her life from that point on in the Literary Encyclopedia:


Choose SEARCH then PEOPLE (listed alphabetically). Go to page 17 of the C listing.

Most of Hannah's life was hard and she experienced much sorrow. She returned to Tiverton to live with her sister Mary towards the end of her life, dying there on 20 November 1809.

There are several excellent books about her work as a dramatist and one or two of her best plays are now in print - e.g.18th CENTURY WOMEN DRAMATISTS - edited by Melinda Finberg and published by Oxford University Press.


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