Clemence Dane

Clemence Dane was the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton (21 February 1888 – 28 March 1965), an English novelist and playwright.

Winifred Ashton
Born21 February 1888
Blackheath, England
Died28 March 1965(1965-03-28) (aged 77)
London, England
Pen nameClemence Dane
OccupationNovelist, playwright
Notable worksRegiment of Women (1917)

Life and career

After completing her education, Dane went to Switzerland to work as a French tutor, but returned home after a year. She studied art in London and Germany. After the First World War, she taught at a girls' school and began writing. She took the pseudonym "Clemence Dane" from the church, St Clement Danes on the Strand, London.

Her first novel, Regiment of Women, written in 1917, was a study of life in a girls' school. [1] In 1919 she wrote Legend, the story of a group of acquaintances who debate the meaning of a dead friend's life and work. Dane's 1921 play, A Bill of Divorcement, tells the story of a daughter who cares for her deranged father and faces the fact that his mental illness may be hereditary. The smash hit play was adapted for the screen three times, using the same title as the play: a silent film in 1922, a 1932 film starring Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore, and a 1940 film starring Maureen O’Hara and Adolphe Menjou.

Dane began writing screenplays as well as novels. She co-wrote the screenplay for Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo. The pinnacle of Dane's success was winning an Academy Award with Anthony Pelissier for the film Vacation from Marriage, released in the United Kingdom as Perfect Strangers, starring Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr as a married couple transformed by their experiences in the Second World War.

Dane's 1931 novel Broome Stages followed the fortunes of an acting family from the time of Queen Anne to the present. Broome Stages became a surprise bestseller. [1] Dane and Helen de Guerry Simpson wrote three detective novels featuring their creation, Sir John Saumarez. Both were members of the Detection Club. The first novel, Enter Sir John, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1930 as Murder!. Dane contributed to the Club's serials The Scoop and The Floating Admiral. Dane's The Arrogant History of White Ben (1939) is a dystopian novel set in a politically unstable near future. [2]

Dane's last play, Eighty in the Shade (1959) was written for and starred her friend, Dame Sybil Thorndike. Dane is believed to be the template for the character Madame Arcati, the eccentric medium in her friend Noël Coward's play, Blithe Spirit. The National Portrait Gallery contains two works by Dane, both of Coward. One is an oil painting and the other is a bronze bust. The gallery also contains a portrait of Dane by Frederic Yates.

According to Arthur Marshall, she was famous for her indecent, though entirely innocent, remarks. "The physical side of life had passed her by, together with the words, slang and otherwise, that accompany it. Time and again she settled for an unfortunate word or phrase. Inviting Noël Coward to lunch during the war, when food was difficult, she boomed encouragement down the telephone; 'Do come! I've got such a lovely cock.' ('I do wish you'd call it a hen', Noel answered). To use correctly, in a literary sense, the words 'erection', 'tool' and 'spunk' was second nature to her. When wishing to describe herself as being full of life and creative energy, she chose, not really very wisely, the word 'randy'."[3]

In 1955, Dane edited the Novels of Tomorrow series for publisher Michael Joseph. This was a series of science fiction novels featuring such authors as John Wyndham, Robert Sheckley, and Cyril M. Kornbluth. [4]

Dane also wrote a book on the history of Covent Garden (where she lived for a number of years) titled London has a Garden and published in 1964.

By the time of her death in London, on 28 March 1965, Dane had written more than 30 plays and 16 novels.

Novels and plays

  • Regiment of Women (1917)
  • First the Blade: A Comedy of Growth (1918)
  • Legend (1919)
  • A Bill of Divorcement (1921)
  • Will Shakespeare: An Invention in Four Acts (1921)
  • Shivering Shocks or The Hiding Place (published in The Graphic Christmas Number, 1922) - a play for boys sometimes misattributed to Agatha Christie
  • Naboth's Vineyard: A Piece in Three Acts (1925)
  • Granite (1926)
  • The Women's Side (1926)
  • The Babyons (1927)
  • The Dearly Beloved of Benjamin Cobb (1927) - short story[5]
  • Mariners (1927)
  • Adam’s Opera: The Text of a Play (1928)
  • Enter Sir John (1928) (with Helen Simpson)
  • Third Person Singular (1928)
  • The King Waits (1929)
  • Printer's Devil, published in US as Author Unknown (1930) (with Helen Simpson)
  • Broome Stages (1931)
  • Theater Royale (1931)
  • Re-enter Sir John (1932) (with Helen Simpson)
  • Julia Newberry's Diary (1933)
  • Come of Age: The Text of a Play in Music and Words (1934) (with Richard Addinsell)
  • Moonlight is Silver: A Play in Three Acts (1934)
  • Wild Decembers: A Play in Three Acts (1932)
  • Edmond Rostand's L'aiglon (1934)
  • The Amateur Gentleman: From the Novel By Jeffery Farnol (1936)
  • The Moon Is Feminine (1938)
  • Hebbel's Herod and Mariamne (1938)
  • The Arrogant History of White Ben (1939)
  • The Lion and the Unicorn. A Play in Three Acts (1943)
  • He Brings Great News (1946)
  • Bonny Prince Charlie (1948) (with Dorothy Middleton)
  • The Flower Girls (1954)
  • Eighty in the Shade (1959)
  • The Godson: A Fantasy (1964)
  • Claude Houghton: Appreciations (with Hugh Walpole)


  1. Michael Cox and Jack Adrian, The Oxford Book of Historical Stories. Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 9780192142191 (p.436).
  2. Jenny Hartley "Clothes and Uniform and the Theatre of Fascism: Clemence Dane and Virginia Woolf" in Angela Smith (ed.), Gender and warfare in the twentieth century: textual representations. Manchester University Press, 2004 ISBN 0-7190-6574-7 (p. 97).
  3. Arthur Marshall, Life's Rich Pageant p 103-104 ISBN 0-241-11306-7
  4. Mark Rich, C.M. Kornbluth : the life and works of a science fiction visionary. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2010. ISBN 9780786443932 (p. 272).
  5. Classic English Short Stories, Oxford University Press, 1956


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