Mrs. Warren's Profession
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The story centers on the relationship between Mrs Kitty Warren, a brothel owner, described by the author as "on the whole, a genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman" and her daughter, Vivie, an intelligent and pragmatic young woman, who has just graduated from college and come home to get acquainted with her mother for the first time in her life. The play focuses on the characters' relationships to each other as shaped by Mrs. Warren's choices, and the social hypocrisies relating to prostitution and the limited opportunities available for women in Victorian England. Vivie Warren, an educated, thoroughly modern young woman, has just graduated from Cambridge University with honors in Mathematics (equal Third Wrangler) and is available for suitors. Her mother, Mrs. Warren (her name changed to hide her true identity and give the impression that she is married) arranges for her daughter to meet her friend Praed, a young, handsome architect, at her home. Mrs. Warren arrives with her business partner, Sir George Crofts, who is attracted to Vivie regardless of their age difference. Vivie is romantically involved with the youthful Frank Gardner, who sees Vivie as his meal ticket, and whose father, the (married) Reverend Samuel Gardner, has a history with Vivie's mother and is in fact Vivie's out-of-wedlock father, making Vivie and Frank half-siblings. Mrs. Warren successfully justifies to her daughter why she chose her particular profession (managing a chain of brothels throughout Europe) in order to support her daughter and give her every opportunity she never had. Vivie is at first horrified at the revelation but then lauds her mother as a champion. However, the reconciliation ends when Vivie discovers that her mother continues to run her business even though she no longer needs to. Vivie takes an office job in the city, dumps Frank, vowing she will never marry, and disowns her mother. Mrs. Warren is left heartbroken, having looked forward to growing old with her daughter.
- Mrs. Kitty Warren: An attractive, middle-aged businesswoman, made wealthy by running a string of brothels.
- Mr. Praed: A friend of Mrs. Warren, middle-aged and attractive, a good man.
- Sir George Crofts: Mrs. Warren's business partner—middle-aged, stodgy, entitled member of the upper class.
- Reverend Samuel Gardner: A local minister and (possibly) Vivie's biological father.
- Vivie Warren: Mrs. Warren's daughter, just graduated from college with honors.
- Frank Gardner: Youthful son of Reverend Gardner.
Shaw said he wrote the play "to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together."
Shaw explained the source of the play in a letter to The Daily Chronicle on 28 April 1898:
Miss Janet Achurch [an actress and friend of Shaw’s] mentioned to me a novel by some French writer [Yvette by Guy de Maupassant] as having a dramatisable story in it. It being hopeless to get me to read anything, she told me the story... In the following autumn I was the guest of a lady [Beatrice Webb] of very distinguished ability—one whose knowledge of English social types is as remarkable as her command of industrial and political questions. She suggested that I should put on the stage a real modern lady of the governing class—not the sort of thing that theatrical and critical authorities imagine such a lady to be. I did so; and the result was Miss Vivie Warren ... Mrs. Warren herself was my version of the heroine of the romance narrated by Miss Achurch. The tremendously effective scene—which a baby could write if its sight were normal—in which she justifies herself, is only a paraphrase of a scene in a novel of my own, Cashel Byron's Profession (hence the title, Mrs Warren's Profession), in which a prize-fighter shows how he was driven into the ring exactly as Mrs. Warren was driven on the streets.
The play was originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain (Britain's official theatre censor) because of its frank discussion and portrayal of prostitution, but was finally first performed on Sunday, January 5, 1902, at London's New Lyric Club with the distinguished actor-manager Harley Granville-Barker as Frank, Fanny Brough as Mrs. Warren, George Goodhart as Sir George Crofts, Julius Knight as Praed, Madge McIntosh as Vivie and Cosmo Stuart as Rev. Samuel Gardner. Members-only clubs had been a device to avoid the eye of authority, but actors often also used the opportunity to invite their fellow-artists to a private showing of a play, usually on Sundays, when theatres were closed to the public. The first public performance in London took place in 1925.
A 1905 performance in New York, this time on a public stage, was interrupted by the police who arrested the cast and crew for violation of New York's version of the Comstock laws. The play was later held not in violation of the law. The play has been revived on Broadway five times since. It was recently performed by Sydney Theatre Company in 2012 and was so popular that the season was extended.
Adaptations and sequels
BBC Television staged a production under their Play of the Month banner in 1972. Produced by Cedric Messina and Directed by Herbert Wise, it stars Coral Browne in the title role, with Penelope Wilton as Vivie. Also in the cast were James Grout, Robert Powell, Richard Pearson and Derek Godfrey. The production was released on DVD in 2006.
The play was revived in 2010 in three separate venues:
- London's West End, at the Comedy Theatre with Felicity Kendal in the title role
- Washington, D.C., by the Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall, with Elizabeth Ashley in the title role
- Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre under the auspices of the Roundabout Theatre Company, with Cherry Jones as Kitty Warren and Sally Hawkins as Vivie
The role of women in Victorian marriage and Shaw's representation of Vivie's sexuality
Men who could afford to get married in the Victorian era could make use of “laws that gave him total control of his wife's person—and her fortune”. Victorian women were expected to maintain a poised and dignified manner, and to be obedient to their husbands' requests. The character Vivie defies the Victorian expectations of an obedient woman. She is educated and entirely self-sufficient. During the play she resists two marriage proposals, reflecting her reliance on her work ethic and hard-headed approach to life. Shaw represents Vivie as being the product of a type of gender reformation. This reformation results in a character who is asexual and "permanently unromantic".
Throughout the play, the boundary between sexual desires and proposed marriages is blurred; for example, Frank flirts with Mrs. Warren as well as Vivie. Mrs. Warren's companion Sir George Crofts also proposes marriage to Vivie despite his relationship with her mother. Critic Petra Dierkes-Thrun has argued that these examples illustrate the way in which Shaw
critiqued the ideological and economic system that produced her [Mrs. Warren], attacking the problematic double standard of male privilege and the deeply entrenched objectification of women, which Shaw saw pervading all levels of Victorian society down to its most basic nuclear element, the family.
- Shaw, George Bernard (1902). "Mrs. Warren's Profession". Retrieved 2011-02-07
- Powell, Kerry (2004). The Cambridge companion to Victorian and Edwardian theatre. Cambridge University Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-521-79536-4.
- "Mrs. Warren's Profession Study Guide". Guthrie Theater. 2003. pp. 25–26. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Mrs. Warren's Profession: a Play in Four Acts By Bernard Shaw
- "Arnold Daley Held for his Shaw Play". The New York Times. November 15, 1905. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
- "The Court Approves Bernard Shaw's Play". The New York Times. July 7, 1906. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
- Lawrence, Dan H. "Victorians Unveiled: Some Thoughts on Mrs. Warren’s Profession". Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 24 (2004): 40. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
- "Mrs. Warren's Profession", The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Twentieth Century and Beyond (eds. Joseph Black, et al.) Canada: Broadview, 2008
- Dierkes-Thrun, Petra. English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920, Volume 49, Number 3, 2006, pp. 293–310 (Article)
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- Mrs. Warren's Profession at Project Gutenberg
- Mrs. Warren's Profession on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- Mrs. Warren's Profession at the Internet Broadway Database