Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ Helena Saville Faucit
(1817 - 98)


Helena Saville Faucit (1817 - 1898)

1.    A portrait of the actress Helena Faucit as Pauline Deschappelles in the play 'The Lady of Lyons' 1839, a romantic drama by Edward Bulwer-Lytton., painted by the artist Miss Rosa Myra Drummond.  Oil on canvas, 238.8 x 146.1 cm. Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum.  The work may be viewed at the Glasgow Resource Centre. [Image in the public domain..]

Helena Faucit posed for this full-length portrait in January 1839. This illustration is taken from a photogravure of the original painting.  

Although Faucit had first appeared as Juliet at a small theatre in Richmond in 1833, when her performance was praised by critics of The Athenaeum, her mentor Percy Farren, delayed her professional debut to give her further training.  Her first appearance in London was on 5 January 1836 at Covent Garden as Julia in James Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback.  She was hailed as a worthy successor to Fanny Kemble.

By the 1843 season her appearances with Macready were found wanting by the actor/manager and she was passed over for Rosalind in favour Louisa Cranstoun Nisbett.  But, subsequently, this role was to become one of the most famous attempted by Faucit. 

When Macready left for America in 1843, Faucit emerged as an even greater celebrity. In the mid-1840s she toured in Scotland and Ireland. Her most celebrated roles included Pauline in Lady of Lyons at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, Antigone at Dublin, and various Shakespearean roles, including a revamped and now-successful Lady Macbeth.  Her last appearance with Macready was in 1845, in Paris where she received so much applause that Macready was jealous, and the two did not act together again.

Faucit occasionally returned to London, but her main activity for the remainder of her career was touring, especially in Manchester and in Sheffield, where her brother owned a theatre. In 1846 she returned to Dublin to perform in Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, which proved as popular as her Antigone had been the previous year. She also acted as Iolanthe in Theodore Martin's King Rene's Daughter. In October 1846 she took the part of Juliet to the Romeo of Gustavus Brooke at Dublin.

Following her marriage to Theodore Martin, in 1851, she retired from the professional stage but acted occasionally for charity. (Martin was later knighted, making her Lady Martin).  One of her last appearances was as Beatrice, on the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon in April 1879.

In 1881 there appeared in Blackwood's Magazine the first of her Letters on some of Shakespeare's Heroines, later published in book form as On Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters (1885)

Lady Martin died at her home near Llangollen in 1898, aged 82. There is a tablet dedicated to her in the church of St Tysilio. There is also a tablet to her in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre with a portrait figure, and the marble pulpit in the Shakespeare church with her portrait as Saint Helena was given in her memory by her husband. She is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

[Text based on material in the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography.]


2.   Wageman

Helena Saville Faucit (1817 - 1898)

2.   Helen Faucit (Helena (née Faucit Saville), Lady Martin) circa 1838 by Thomas Charles Wageman.  watercolour, 413 mm x 298 mm.  Gift of Joseph Klein, 1974.  Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Helena Faucit, as she was known, made her debut at Covent Garden in 1836 as Julia in Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback. She went on to become Macready's leading lady in the plays of Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Duchess de la Vallière (1837), The Lady of Lyons (1838), Richelieu (1839) and Money (1840).

Helen Faucit (Lady Martin).

Helen Faucit occupies a peculiar position among the players of the present day.

Though she is herself emphatically an actress of this generation, with all the culture and general breadth of mind which the great artists of to-day must possess to be in sympathy with the development of the age, Helen Faucit's is yet a classical name as certainly as John Kemble's or Mrs. Siddons's. In her, students of acting have found a standard by which to try all her successors: a model with which to compare them. No higher praise can be given to a Rosalind, a Juliet, or a Lady Macbeth, than to say that it suggests Helen Faucit's. Why she occupies this unique position is intelligible to those who have studied her acting: still clearer to those who have studied her writings as well as herself.

If her book on 'Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters' had been the work of a mere student of the stage, it would have been a delightful and valuable one: being as it is, a revelation of a great artist's method of work, as well as an exposition of her theories, it is of unusual interest. Its value for future time can only be gauged by considering how much wider would be our knowledge, had we such a book written by Betterton, or any of the great ones who have been.

The quality which, above all others, made Helen Faucit famous, and to which all others were subordinate, was the vividness with which she realized her characters. To her, Juliet, Rosalind, Desdemona were real personages: she was not satisfied with the study of their emotions, as they were stirred in the play, she sought, in every line of their speech, in every thought they gave utterance to, in every allusion to them by others, clues to enable her to understand their previous history and the influences that had moulded their character. She was not an actress, playing a part, so much as a woman, realizing in the abstract the joys and sufferings of her sex.

Juliet's horror of the tomb was a most real terror to Helen Faucit; Desdemona's death under a cloud of dishonour was an acute agony, as if it had been her own; while, on the other hand, Rosalind's joyousness of successful love thrilled her with keenest transport. She worked from the soul outwards, as all great artists must; and her strong realization of her characters, and her own belief in their reality, impressed her audience as no merely technical ability could have done. To clear understanding and vivid power of realization she added unwearied study.   .  .  .  Thus, in the 'Lady of Lyons' she was never without flowers, because she felt that Pauline loved them passionately; and in 'Romeo and Juliet' she attached so much importance to the effect of the Prologue on the audience, that, when playing Juliet at Drury Lane, in 1869, she used to speak it herself, with a silk domino thrown over her dress, no one else being inclined to undertake the task.

[From Actors and Actresses from the days of David Garrick to the present time edited by Brander Matthews and Laurence Hutton, Cassell and Company, New York 1886.]

Helena Faucit Anecdotes

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