Her most ambitious works were her <i>Plays on the Passions</i>- a series of tragedies and comedies on human nature – published between 1798 and 1836. Although her plays met with mixed criticism, they were admired by Sir Walter Scott, with whom she kept up a regular correspondence.
When these plays seized the public imagination, as much for their anonymous authorship as for their content, readers speculated at length about the playwright's gender. Some thought she had to be female "because no man could or would draw such noble, such dignified representations of the female mind"; others judged them a "masculine performance" and the product of a "learned man". But public reception shifted the moment Baillie's identity--and sex--became public. When both were revealed the day after her tragedy <i>De Monfort</i> opened at Drury Lane, box office receipts immediately sank--as did sales of print copies--and the play closed after eleven nights.
Recent commentators have also found it remarkable that this unmarried, sheltered, daughter of a Presbyterian minister produced such a revolutionary theory of drama and portrayed dark, obsessive characters predating the appearance of the tortured Byronic hero. Critical commentary on Baillie has proliferated since the last decade of the twentieth century, and scholars have taken up a variety of issues in discussing her works, including her aesthetic theories; her use of Gothic conventions; her relationship with and attitude toward Byron; her views on gender, identity, and repression; her place in the tradition of private theatricals or “closet” dramas; her perspective on Scottish history; her use of <i>Sturm and Drang</i> techniques from German drama; her status as a Romantic writer; and her moral purpose in her plays, especially those depicting the passions.
"The construction 'female author' is a point of departure for an understanding of gender oppression insofar as the two terms of the phrase operate as an inhibition to reproduction - to emulation- by canceling out the woman writer as a productive example to either me or to women"
Over the span of her career, Baillie wrote 27 plays. She earned early acclaim with the publication of the first volume of <i>A Series of Plays</i>(1798). Baillie was also the author of <i>Miscellaneous Plays</i> (1804), <i>Family Legend</i> (1810), and <i>Dramas</i> (1836). Shortly before her death, her complete works, <i>The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie</i> (1851), was published. Baillie has enjoyed renewed attention by scholars who focus on her relationship to Romanticism, politics, and literary theory.
"Joanna Baillie was the leading playwright of the romantic era; she was hailed by her peers as the most original and successful of all contemporary dramatists. Sir Walter Scott claimed that Baillie was 'certainly the best dramatic writer whom Britain has produced since the days of Shakespeare and Massinger.'"
Settling in Hampstead, her home became the centre of a brilliant literary circle and counted the likes of author Sir Walter Scott, and poets William Wordsworth and Lord Byron among her friends.
In 1772, when she was ten, Baillie was sent to boarding school in Glasgow, where she excelled in music, art, mathematics, and reading and where she took to entertaining friends by telling stories and organizing amateur theatrical shows.
Poet and dramatist. Baillie was born in Bothwell (South Lanarkshire), daughter of the Parish Minister. Her maternal uncles were the noted surgeons Dr. William Hunter and Dr. John Hunter. In 1775, Baillie moved with her family to Glasgow when her father accepted the Chair of Divinity at the university there. Following the death of their father, Baillie moved with her sister to London to keep house for their brother, Matthew Baillie, a young doctor.
"'Tis often thus.
I would have left him many years ago,
But that with all his faults there sometimes come
Such bursts of natural goodness from his heart,
As might engage a harder churl than I
To serve him still.---And then his sister too;
A noble dame, who should have been a queen:
The meanest of her hinds, at her command,
Had fought like lions for her, and the poor,
E'en o'er their bread of poverty, had bless'd her---
She would have griev'd if I had left my lord."