Authors: Henry Arthur Jones

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


Hearts of Oak, pr. 1879 (also known as Honour Bright)

A Clerical Error, pr. 1879

The Silver King, pr. 1882 (with Henry Herman)

Saints and Sinners, pr. 1884

Wealth, pr. 1889

The Middleman, pr. 1889

Judah, pr. 1890

The Crusaders, pr. 1891

The Dancing Girl, pr. 1891

The Bauble Shop, pr. 1893

The Tempter, pr. 1893

The Masqueraders, pr. 1894

The Case of Rebellious Susan, pr. 1894

The Triumph of the Philistines, pr. 1895

Michael and His Lost Angel, pr., pb. 1896

The Liars, pr. 1897

The Physician, pr. 1897

Carnac Sahib, pr., pb. 1899

Mrs. Dane’s Defence, pr. 1900

The Lackey’s Carnival, pr., pb. 1900

The Princess’s Nose, pr., pb. 1902

Whitewashing Julia, pr. 1903

The Hypocrites, pr. 1906

The Evangelist, pr. 1907 (also known as The Galilean’s Victory)

The Lie, pr. 1914

Plays by Henry Arthur Jones, pb. 1982 (includes The Silver King, The Case of Rebellious Susan, and The Liars)


The Renascence of the English Drama, 1895

The Foundations of a National Drama, 1913

The Theatre of Ideas, 1915

Patriotism and Popular Education, 1919

My Dear Wells: A Manual for the Haters of England; Being a Series of Letters upon Bolshevism, Collectivism, Internationalism and the Distribution of Wealth, Addressed to Mr. H. G. Wells, 1921, 1922


Henry Arthur Jones was born on September 20, 1851, in Grandborough, Buckinghamshire. His background was Nonconformist; his father was a farmer, and his mother was a farmer’s daughter. Jones’s formal education seems to have stopped at the age of twelve, when he was sent to work for his uncle, who had a draper’s shop on the Kentish coast at Ramsgate. Jones stayed for three and a half years in Ramsgate before moving to Gravesend, which was nearer to London, and to another draper’s shop. In 1869, he moved into London, where he was to remain for most of his life. Self-educated, he read widely; his favorite authors were John Milton, Herbert Spencer, and Samuel Butler, and his favorite works were about scientific advancements. From Milton–a lifetime obsession–Jones learned verse drama techniques and the interweaving of biblical quotation into the texture of his plays. Scientists, explorers, and doctors often appear in his plays, and he makes frequent use of Spencerian and Butlerian ideas. In his first year in London, Jones wrote several unstaged one-act plays and an unpublished novel. Hearts of Oak, the first of his plays to be produced, premiered at the Theatre Royal, Exeter, on May 29, 1879, and the production encouraged Jones to devote his whole energies to drama. A Clerical Error, his first London play, was performed in October, 1879. Jones’s reputation was secured by The Silver King, which opened at the Princess’s Theatre on November 16, 1882. The success of this play provoked a dispute over its authorship, which Wilson Barrett, an actor-manager, claimed to share with Jones and Henry Herman. A 1905 legal settlement denied Barrett’s claim. The Silver King gave Jones some degree of financial security. His experience with Barrett soured Jones’s attitude toward the prevailing actor-manager theatrical hierarchy of his day, but The Crusaders, his self-financed effort, which was produced in November, 1891, proved to be a financial failure.{$I[AN]9810000552}{$I[A]Jones, Henry Arthur}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Jones, Henry Arthur}{$I[tim]1851;Jones, Henry Arthur}

In the 1890’s Jones’s work met with mixed fortune. The Masqueraders, The Tempter, The Bauble Shop, and The Liars succeeded, whereas The Triumph of the Philistines, Michael and His Lost Angel, Carnac Sahib, and The Lackey’s Carnival aroused controversy and lost money. Mrs. Dane’s Defence, first performed at Wyndham’s in October, 1900, was his last real theatrical success. George Bernard Shaw, writing in his regular Saturday Review column, denounced The Princess’s Nose as morally bankrupt, and another hostile critic, Arthur B. Walkley of The Times of London, was barred from attending the opening of Whitewashing Julia in 1903. The Hypocrites was warmly received in America, but Jones’s subsequent American theatrical venture, The Evangelist, failed. Deeply troubled by World War I, as were so many of his contemporaries, Jones wasted much energy in publicly feuding with H. G. Wells and Shaw. He opposed what he regarded as their lack of patriotism in their opposition to the war. The fledgling film industry purchased and produced several of Jones’s plays, but he disapproved of the end products. In 1923, he achieved a modest theatrical success in London with The Lie (originally produced nearly a decade before in the United States); this drama was prematurely replaced at Wyndham’s by Shaw’s Saint Joan.

Jones’s private life is an enigma. With failing health and lack of success in his late years, he retreated from the theatrical world he loved so much. Jones had married Jane Eliza Seeley, the daughter of an artificial flower manufacturer, in 1875; she died in 1924. They had seven children, three sons and four daughters, one of whom, Doris Arthur Jones, produced in 1930 the official biography of her father, The Life and Letters of Henry Arthur Jones. A recurring leitmotif in Jones’s drama is the conflict among sexual passion, social duty, and respectability. Such a conflict may well have had a foundation in the secrets of his own carefully guarded private life.

Jones is regarded as one of the most important English dramatists and men of the theater during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Silver King, hailed as a masterpiece of melodramatic stage craftsmanship, ran for 289 performances–a lengthy run by the standards of the time. In subsequent plays, Jones turned his attention to such serious themes as the exposure of hypocrisy and deceit and the depiction of the emerging “new woman.” At his best, Jones was a master craftsman, a superb manipulator of theatrical dialogue and writer of problem plays. After the turn of the century and the success of Mrs. Dane’s Defence in 1900, Jones, while continuing to write prolifically, began merely to rework well-tried formulas and melodramatic successes. Repetitious melodrama, social comedy, and problem plays limited his appeal. His energies turned to the attempt to influence the course of subsequent theatrical literature through the dissemination of his ideas in books, pamphlets, and lectures. The 1982 publication by the Cambridge University Press of three of Jones’s plays–The Silver King, The Case of Rebellious Susan, and The Liars–demonstrates that he is not an obscure late-Victorian dramatist of merely historical interest. Jones’s reputation as a consummate dramatist stands secure, as does his place in the English theatrical renaissance of the last decades of the nineteenth century.

BibliographyBooth, Michael R. Theatre in the Victorian Age. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Contains a discussion of Jones, one of the two most popular writers of melodrama (the other being Arthur Wing Pinero, with whom he is always linked). Examines his interest in the themes of the exploitation of the working class, the conflict between capital and labor, and the struggle between faith and doubt.Foulkes, Richard. Church and Stage in Victorian England. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1997. This examination of the relationship between the church and the theater in Victorian England examines, among other plays, Jones’s Michael and His Lost Angel.Griffin, Penny. Arthur Wing Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. A biographical work that examines the lives and literary output of Jones and Arthur Wing Pinero, along with the times in which they lived. Bibliography and index.Jones, Doris Arthur. Taking the Curtain Call: The Life and Letters of Henry Arthur Jones. New York: Macmillan, 1930. Originally published in England as The Life and Letters of Henry Arthur Jones. This authorized biography, written by the playwright’s daughter, consists of a compilation of letters to friends and family. It gives the reader a vivid picture of both the public and the private man, his kindness, his generosity, and his dedication to the theater. It also provides a vivid account of the London of his day, with a delightful introductory letter by critic-artist Max Beerbohm. Illustrations, chronology, appendices.Trewin, J. C. The Edwardian Theatre. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1976. Trewin views Jones as a playwright who never lost an opportunity to preach his messages; although skillful at dialogue, Jones lacked gloss and sophistication, and he continued throughout his career to use the same people and the same themes in his dramas. Contains an interesting account of his working methods and his aims at reaching his audience. Although interested in ideas, he rejected Henrik Ibsen’s dramas, finding them too radical for his taste.Wearing, J. P. “Henry Arthur Jones: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 22, no. 3 (1979): 160-228. A useful collection of critical reviews, ranging from an appreciation of Jones’s contributions to the theater to a dismissal of his work as hopelessly out of fashion. Some critics note that one or two of his plays, however, have enjoyed successful revivals.Wisenthal, J. L. “Henry Arthur Jones.” In Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945, edited by Stanley Weintraub. Vol. 10 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1982. A concise overview of the life and works of Jones.
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