A couple of my friends have urged me to bring back the hottie of the month feature, which was my rather tongue-in-cheek discussion of eighteenth-century writers. The feature tended to focus on someone I was teaching or writing about. Past hotties included Henry Fielding, Richard Cumberland, Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, Phillis Wheatley, and William Beckford.

In order to appease the overwhelming clamor for eighteenth-century hotties, I have decided to re-institute this monthly column starting with this month’s hottie … Thomas Holcroft.

The son of a cobbler, Holcroft was born in London on December 10, 1745. He worked at a number of jobs before becoming a travelling actor. After settling in London, Holcroft began writing novels, poetry, and plays. His initial works were not well received, but the years between 1782 and 1794 were generally successful and culminated in the production of three of his most significant works: two novels, Anna St. Ives (1792) and The Adventures of Hugh Trevor (1794), and his most successful play, The Road to Ruin (1792).

1794, however, changed his career forever. Holcroft had become a champion of radical thinking and was widely associated with political reform movements. He and three others were arrested and charged with treason for his membership in the Society for Constitutional Information. When two of his associates were tried and acquitted, Holcroft was released without a trial and thus without a public forum to defend himself. We was thus known as an “acquitted felon,” in the words of William Windham, the War Secretary. This reputation hurt his standing with London audiences and his subsequent works did not receive their support.

Holcroft’s later lack of success was only alleviated by the partial acclaim of Deaf and Dumb (1801) and A Tale of Mystery (1802), two melodramas. He is credited with helping to popularize melodrama in this period.

Holcroft was received relatively little critical attention in the past couple of decades, garnering only about ten articles in the last twenty years. I first came across his work this past spring quarter, when I was looking for a larger list of late eighteenth-century playwrights (beyond Goldsmith and Sheridan) for my honors students to read. No one ended up reading a Holcroft play, but he started to pique my interest.

This interest gained critical mass, so to speak, when I saw a call for papers for a panel on Holcroft and his neglect by scholars for the next meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Clearly, the fates were telling me to take the next step. So I did.

It turns out that at least two of his dramatic works, The Road to Ruin and The Vindictive Man (1806), directly relate to my current book project. And they’re just really interesting plays! When I finished reading them, I was immediately inspired to write a chapter on Holcroft and Richard Cumberland — I had been wondering what exactly to do with the latter playwright. Suddenly, everything became clear.

So, I’ll be writing about Holcroft in the coming months. I’m really excited by how he fits into my work and I’m looking forward to hearing the papers in the session. Consequently, Thomas Holcroft is my hottie of the month!

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