The Glass Wall

Date of publication
First performed/broadcast
Performance history
February 1933: Embassy Theatre, London
Published reviews
Saturday Review 25 February 1933, p.195
Victor Gollancz Ltd
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.