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Middle-aged Mrs. Warren is a madam, proprietress of a string of successful brothels. Her daughter, Vivie, is a modern young woman, but not so modern that she’s not shocked to discover the source of her mother’s wealth. The clash of these two strong-willed, but culturally constrained Victorian women, is the spark that ignites the ironic wit of one of George Bernard Shaw’s greatest plays, in a withering critique of male domination, sexual hypocrisy, and societal convention.
[Summer afternoon in a cottage garden on the eastern slope of a hill a little south of Haslemere in Surrey. Looking up the hill, the cottage is seen in the left hand corner of the garden, with its thatched roof and porch, and a large latticed window to the left of the porch. A paling completely shuts in the garden, except for a gate on the right. The common rises uphill beyond the paling to the sky line. Some folded canvas garden chairs are leaning against the side bench in the porch. A lady’s bicycle is propped against the wall, under the window. A little to the right of the porch a hammock is slung from two posts. A big canvas umbrella, stuck in the ground, keeps the sun off the hammock, in which a young lady is reading and making notes, her head towards the cottage and her feet towards the gate. In front of the hammock, and within reach of her hand, is a common kitchen chair, with a pile of serious-looking books and a supply of writing paper on it.]
[A gentleman walking on the common comes into sight from behind the cottage. He is hardly past middle age, with something of the artist about him, unconventionally but carefully dressed, and clean-shaven except for a moustache, with an eager susceptible face and very amiable and considerate manners. He has silky black hair, with waves of grey and white in it. His eyebrows are white, his moustache black. He seems not certain of his way. He looks over the palings; takes stock of the place; and sees the young lady.]
THE GENTLEMAN [taking off his hat] I beg your pardon. Can you direct me to Hindhead View–Mrs Alison’s?
THE YOUNG LADY [glancing up from her book] This is Mrs Alison’s. [She resumes her work].
THE GENTLEMAN. Indeed! Perhaps–may I ask are you Miss Vivie Warren?
THE YOUNG LADY [sharply, as she turns on her elbow to get a good look at him] Yes.
THE GENTLEMAN [daunted and conciliatory] I’m afraid I appear intrusive. My name is Praed. [Vivie at once throws her books upon the chair, and gets out of the hammock]. Oh, pray don’t let me disturb you.
VIVIE [striding to the gate and opening it for him] Come in, Mr Praed. [He comes in]. Glad to see you. [She proffers her hand and takes his with a resolute and hearty grip. She is an attractive specimen of the sensible, able, highly-educated young middle-class Englishwoman. Age 22. Prompt, strong, confident, self-possessed. Plain business-like dress, but not dowdy. She wears a chatelaine at her belt, with a fountain pen and a paper knife among its pendants].
PRAED. Very kind of you indeed, Miss Warren. [She shuts the gate with a vigorous slam. He passes in to the middle of the garden, exercising his fingers, which are slightly numbed by her greeting]. Has your mother arrived?
VIVIE [quickly, evidently scenting aggression] Is she coming?
PRAED [surprised] Didn’t you expect us?
PRAED. Now, goodness me, I hope I’ve not mistaken the day. That would be just like me, you know. Your mother arranged that she was to come down from London and that I was to come over from Horsham to be introduced to you.
VIVIE [not at all pleased] Did she? Hm! My mother has rather a trick of taking me by surprise–to see how I behave myself while she’s away, I suppose. I fancy I shall take my mother very much by surprise one of these days, if she makes arrangements that concern me without consulting me beforehand. She hasnt come.
PRAED [embarrassed] I’m really very sorry.
VIVIE [throwing off her displeasure] It’s not your fault, Mr Praed, is it? And I’m very glad you’ve come. You are the only one of my mother’s friends I have ever asked her to bring to see me.
PRAED [relieved and delighted] Oh, now this is really very good of you, Miss Warren!
VIVIE. Will you come indoors; or would you rather sit out here and talk?
PRAED. It will be nicer out here, don’t you think?
VIVIE. Then I’ll go and get you a chair. [She goes to the porch for a garden chair].
PRAED [following her] Oh, pray, pray! Allow me. [He lays hands on the chair].
VIVIE [letting him take it] Take care of your fingers; theyre rather dodgy things, those chairs. [She goes across to the chair with the books on it; pitches them into the hammock; and brings the chair forward with one swing].
PRAED [who has just unfolded his chair] Oh, now do let me take that hard chair. I like hard chairs.
VIVIE. So do I. Sit down, Mr Praed. [This invitation she gives with a genial peremptoriness, his anxiety to please her clearly striking her as a sign of weakness of character on his part. But he does not immediately obey].
PRAED. By the way, though, hadnt we better go to the station to meet your mother?
VIVIE [coolly] Why? She knows the way.
PRAED [disconcerted] Er–I suppose she does [he sits down].
VIVIE. Do you know, you are just like what I expected. I hope you are disposed to be friends with me.
PRAED [again beaming] Thank you, my dear Miss Warren; thank you. Dear me! I’m so glad your mother hasnt spoilt you!