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Hutchinson & Co
Mrs Lloyd-Evans, Mrs Ballantyne and Mrs Akers, the local Welfare Committee, are meeting, with Miss Miller the secretary present. It is winter 1917 and the scene is a cold and dreary committee room. Prosperous-looking Mrs Ballantyne arrives; the meeting has been called by Mrs Lloyd-Evans, but neither she nor Miss Miller know what it is about. The other two women arrive, shake hands with Mrs Ballantyne and nod at Miss Miller. Miss Ballantyne complains about their accommodation, and the members agree that what people need is more work; to talk of unemployment is Bolshevism and strike leaders should be sent to Russia to experience it first-hand. Mrs Ballantyne has not brought her daughter, feeling that the subject under discussion should be kept from an unmarried woman; the ladies agree that a young girl ought to be treated as something sacred. After some prevarication, Mrs Lloyd-Evans confirms that a girl is known to be pregnant. Miss Miller covers her face briefly with her hands. The ladies discuss the case with animated enjoyment, and then realise they should send Miss Miller out. She objects, but they insist. The girl in question, Fanny Smith, is fifteen, and claims not to have known she was pregnant, but is now six months along. Her mother has moved down from London, and the ladies try to work out whether conception occurred there or in their locality. Fanny, her mother and grandmother won't say who the father is, and her family would prefer to keep her at home. The Welfare Committee thinks she should be sent away to have the baby which would then be sent to an orphanage. Mrs Akers suggests telling them that the police will have to be called if Fanny does not agree to go, suggesting that her mother will have no knowledge of the law. Mrs Lloyd-Evans doubts that Fanny was seduced, and suggests she is promiscuous, even though her grandmother suggested that she might have been assaulted. The Committee agrees to write to a mother-and-baby home that evening. Mrs Ballantyne congratulates herself on having kept her daughter completely ignorant of sex. Mrs Lloyd-Evans opens the door and finds Miss Miller has been listening at it. Miss Miller comes in, angrily locks the door behind her and compels them to listen to her. She throws the door key out of the window. In a long speech, she criticises them for their gloating enjoyment of Fanny's circumstances, for their gossip and their hypocrisy. Finally she says that she is also pregnant and jumps out of the window.
Published in Messalina of the Suburbs, pp269-288. Online version at Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/messalinaofsubur00delauoft. Also available in an ebook collecting many of EMD’s works from Delphi Classics (https://www.delphiclassics.com/shop/e-m-delafield/)
French’s Acting Editions
1930-31: Ambassador’s Theatre, London 1932: Palace Pier, Brighton; Rusholme Theatre, Manchester; Liverpool Playhouse 4 August 1932: Radio broadcast, London Regional channel at 9pm (Daily Mail Thursday, August 04, 1932; pg. 14) 4 October 1932: Repertory Players, Phoenix Theatre, London July 1933: His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, Australia 26 and 28 February 1934: Rudolf Steiner Hall, London, at 9 p.m., in aid of the Society of Our Lady of Good Counsel. April-May 1935: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York. May 1937: Sheffield Repertory Company 1952: revival, Arts Theatre London, with Thomas Heathcote
Act 1. Caroline and Freddie are ten years married, Caroline late 30s, Freddie late 40s. They have two children who do not appear in the play. They live in a small country house in South Devon. Caroline is clearly short of attention from Freddie, and attempts to engage him in conversation, but her remains glued to the newspaper. Eventually he tells her that there may be trouble at the family business, a paper mill; the men are unsettled by the new Welsh manager and a strike is possible. This excites Caroline's imagination and she wonders if she will be able to help in the event of trouble. Jill, Caroline's sister and her admirer Owen come in. They are in their late twenties and demonstrably more modern than Caroline. They attempt to encourage Caroline to make more of her life: to go abroad, travel to London; but she presents Freddie and family obligations as obstacles. Caroline leaves them as she must deal with the fish delivery. Jill and Owen discuss their possible marriage. Jill is dispassionate and modern; her fear of a life like Caroline's puts her off marriage, but she refuses to be Owen's mistress. She suggests that Owen fall in love "a little bit" with Caroline, to take her sister's mind off things. Freddie and Caroline discuss Jill and Owen's possible marriage; Caroline becomes emotional but Freddie cannot give her any caring reassurance. Alone, Caroline imagines herself talking to the paper mill workers, and quelling the strike. She is surprised in this by Owen, and deeply embarrassed. As dinner is announced, a phone call suggests that the strike is imminent. Caroline and Jill are excite and Caroline suggests to Freddie that she might say something to the men. He suggests that she go and lie down instead. Jill and Freddie leave in Jill's car to see what is happening at the mill. Act II Scene 1: left alone, Owen and Caroline have dinner. They discuss Caroline's romantic life and decide to pretend that they are young and about to fall in love. They flirt, and Owen encourages her to be the "real Caroline". They kiss, and Caroline is upset and dismayed. Owen hopes it will give her the strength to rebel. Jill and Freddie return; the strike is averted. Owen tells Jill what has happened; she understands but is also angry. Freddie enters, orders champagne to celebrate his success at the mill, and talks volubly of what has happened. Nobody really listens. Caroline, who is starting a cold, interrupts him by sneezing. Scene II: Caroline is getting ready for bed and begins to tell Freddie that her life is not sufficient for her. She gets his attention by suggesting she might fall in love, although he counters this with the lack of available suitors in the area. She asks whether Freddie would give her a divorce; he suggests that such things are for the younger generation. Remembering her scene with Owen, she reassures Freddie that anything like that would just be pretence - but this precipitates a collapse, and Caroline sobs that she cannot go on - even counting her blessings makes this worse. Act III: Some days later. Caroline has been ill and is in bed. Jill talks to Freddie about Caroline's unhappiness and tries to get him to admit his emotions and change in small ways to please her, perhaps by picking her flowers. Freddie admits that he does care for Caroline but is uncomfortable about admitting it. Caroline comes downstairs for the first time since her illness and she and Jill discuss marriage and women's lives. They conclude that women are beginning to know that romance cannot be all of everyday life, and that life must be accepted as it really is. They discuss Owen, and Jill's fears about marriage. Caroline asserts that their marriage will be founded on facts and not daydreams - and that they are very different from her and Freddie. Jill and Owen discuss their marriage again, and agree that Owen has enough imagination, and that Jill is rational enough, for their marriage to be a success. Owen says goodbye to Caroline, who confirms that she does not have the courage to rebel - but that Jill has helped her to try to reconcile her life's realities. Owen and Jill leave, and Freddy suggests, to Caroline's astonishment, that they take a holiday abroad in the Spring - but he suggests the Eiffel Tower by moonlight, rather than the Alhambra Jill and Caroline have referred to so often.
Gilbert Wakefield in Saturday Review, 20 December 1930, p822 The West Australian, 24 July 1933, p10 Brooks Atkinson in New York Times 1 May 1935, p25
Victor Gollancz Ltd
February 1933: Embassy Theatre, London
Act 1 Scene 1: Reverend Mother’s room at a Convent. The Reverend Mother, an intelligent woman of strong personality, discusses taking two of the children to the dentist with the younger Sister Dominic. Father Perry appears and they discuss some of the pupils: Agnes Sullivan, who thinks she might have a vocation but has been told to see a bit of the world first, and Stella Mordaunt. Her mother is Catholic, her father Morris Protestant and anti-Catholic, and keen to marry Stella to Martin Faraday, the Protestant son of a shipping magnate. Reverend Mother has some influence over Stella although “violent fancies” are discouraged. Scene 2: the Mordaunts’ house a year later. Mr and Mrs Morduant bicker a little about religion; Morris mends his daughter’s musical box. Stella has left school but remains friends with Agnes and visits Reverend Mother frequently; she wonders if she might have a vocation. Martin Faraday arrives and discusses convent life with Stella; he cannot understand the idea of a vocation. He declares his love for Stella and kisses her. She is surprised to enjoy it. Agnes arrives; a schoolfriend is to be married to a Protestant. Martin is appalled to find that a Protestant must promise to allow their Catholic spouse to bring up the children as Catholics. Scene 3: Reverend Mother’s room, six months later. Stella comes to see her. She has refused Martin Faraday as he would not make the necessary promises to marry her in the Catholic faith. Stella tells Reverend Mother she feels like her own child. She thinks she may have a vocation. Reverend Mother agrees, and tells her own story: her parents refused permission for her to enter the convent, and she fell in love with a man who did not love her; after he took up with another, she defied her parents and entered the convent. Stella, she thinks, might be protected from the world as a nun. Act II: the Community Room at the Brussels convent, ten years later. Stella has been a professed nun for seven years now. Reverend Mother (the same one) gathers the community together. Two nuns make self-accusations of faults, and are given penances (kissing the community’s feet and giving three strokes with the discipline (whip). Reverend Mother announces that the Order is to found a new house in South American and that the Superior-General will be making a visit, and taking some nuns with her to South America. She tells Stella later that she, Reverend Mother, will be one of the party. Stella is appalled; she realises she only joined the convent as a result of her love for Reverend Mother, because she felt like her own child. She cannot renounce personal affection. She now wants to leave and return to her family. Her mother is now dead and her brother has married Agnes; she has not heard from her father since she entered the convent, and he is living with another worman. Reverend Mother tries to persuade her against this course but with no effect, saying that even in the world Stella will still be a nun. Act III Scene 1: Tony and Agnes Mordaunt’s house, three months later. Stella arrives. She is dressed in her old girlish clothes and is frightened and unhappy. Tony is pleased to have her, but Agnes is less keen and suggests it will be bad for the children, and there will be gossip; she wants a line she can take when people ask. Father Perry arrives and he and Stella have an awkward conversation, particularly when Reverend Mother is mentioned. He shows Stella that her old musical box is still there, which makes her cry hysterically. Scene 2: the Mordaunts’ house, six weeks later. Tony, Stella and Agnes are playing bridge, Stella ineffectively, to Agnes’s irritation. Stella offers to babysit so that Tony and Agnes can visit her parents. Agnes resents Stella’s interest in the children, suggesting she will spoil them. They argue about it, Stella saying that she needs something to love. She adds that it has not really been possible for her to return to the world even though she left the convent. Morris Mordaunt arrives suddenly; Agnes has contacted him, hinting that he should take Stella away. His lover has left him, and he explains that after his wife’s death, he couldn’t go on without someone to love. He and Stella embrace.
Saturday Review 25 February 1933, p.195
21 December 1934: broadcast on BBC Radio
1933: broadcast on BBC Radio 1935: repeated broadcast
‘Broadcast Drama: The Mulberry Bush’. The Times, no. 47120, 19 July 1935, p. 12.
6 October 1932: broadcast on BBC Radio
2 May 1934: broadcast on BBC Radio
21 December 1934: broadcast on BBC Radio
6 June 1936: broadcast on BBC Radio
‘Broadcast Drama: “Treasure Island”’. The Times, no. 47368, 7 May 1936, p. 14.
6 July 1936: broadcast on BBC Radio
8 July 1939: broadcast on BBC radio