The Romantic History of David Garrick
As far as romance novels go, if you are looking for an excellent romantic comedy — and both romantic and comedy are emphasized — you can’t do much better than to check out David Garrick:
The year is 1742, and David Garrick is the biggest celebrity in London, performing Romeo and Hamlet every night at the Drury Lane playhouse. He is admired by all… but the tables are turned one evening when he catches sight of a beautiful girl in the audience. He cannot forget her, and searches the city in vain trying to find her.
Then one day, a wealthy old man contacts Garrick, complaining that his daughter has developed a crush on him so strong that she is refusing to be wed to a handsome, up-and-coming nobleman. Will Garrick assist in making her forget her foolish attraction to a play-actor?
Imagine the horror, of Garrick and the father alike, when it is discovered – the girl is the very girl that Garrick loves!
‘David Garrick‘ is not the best-known romance novel — and that is our loss, for the piece is fantastic. Unlike most romance novels and in comparison to the new romantic comedies, this old fashioned story tells the plot in the mode of all the great romances: two people in love, kept separate by outside conditions. Where ‘Garrick’ differs is in the use of comedy, not tragedy, to portray the scene.
The romance of Garrick began its life as a popular theatrical play. According to multiple sources, Robertson originally fashioned the story as a romance novel, David Garrick: A Love Story, which was first printed in 1864 as a serial in the magazine The Young Englishwoman. However, when the serial was reprinted in 1865 as a regular romantic novel, Robertson says in his preface that it was the other way around, and his novel was adapted from his play. Co-author and original performer of the title role, Edward A. Sothern relates: “In the course of a conversation one day [author T. W. Robertson] mentioned incidentally that many years ago he had translated a German comedy entitled ‘Doctor Davy,’ and recited the plot to me. It was so slight and thread-like, however, that an ordinary page of note paper would have sufficed to describe the whole thing. Notwithstanding this, I was struck by the simplicity of the story, and saw at a glance that it contained the elements of success… and when it was finally produced under the name of ‘David Garrick,’ it met with a reception as flattering as the success was unequivocal. That’s the history of ‘David Garrick.’”
While the plots between both versions are virtually identical, the tone of the romance novel is much more sentimental and somber. Although much of the humor was removed in the novelization, a great deal of exposition was added, and the romance novel actually begins on the day Garrick and Ada first set eyes on each other.
When the love story David Garrick first premiered, it became one of the most popular romantic comedies on the stage. Sothern continued to play the character till he was well too old to be doing so, and no less than three film adaptations were made within ten years of each other. The classic romance story concerns Ada, a young theater fan who falls in love with the great Garrick after seeing him perform. Garrick is in turn enamored, much to the horror of Ada’s father, who (being educated in nothing but business) attempts to pay the actor to give up his affection. Garrick is too much a gentleman to accept such an offer; but also too much a gentleman to risk alienating Ada from her father. In an effort to set things right, Garrick cooks up some of the best comedy in history as he (pretends to) reveal his true colors to Ada as a drunken gambler and bully.
Of course, what makes this comedy romantic is the true devotion Garrick and Ada hold for each other — not like so many low-brow comic romances one finds today where the characters merely insult each other till inexplicably determining it’s love. Even when Garrick’s antics provoke Ada’s ire to the breaking point, she never resorts to insulting the object of her love: true tears of disappointment are all she can manage.
The original play premiered at the Prince of Wales Theater in Birmingham in 1864, where it was successful enough to be moved to the Haymarket Theatre in London. It was a major success for the actor Edward Askew Sothern, who played the title role, but came later to be associated with another famous actor, Charles Wyndham, who often played the romantic Garrick with his real-life wife performing as Ada. A 1923 book, Public Speaking Today, recommends it for performance by high school students alongside The Importance of Being Earnest and The Rivals. In 1922, the play was adapted as a comic opera by Reginald Somerville and played at the Queen’s Theatre. The play was designed as a star vehicle, since the leading man has to portray the famous 18th century actor David Garrick himself as an actor giving a performance.
The play was T. W. Robertson’s first major commercial success and was frequently revived throughout the Victorian era and beyond. Several silent films of the romance genre were made based on David Garrick, including versions in 1913, 1914 and 1916.
You can buy David Garrick: The Play and the Novel from Amazon.com and other retailers.
Talia Felix is an author and editor from Santa Fe New Mexico.
Related Romantic Stories Articles