«Verfasserin Julia Lackermayer angestrebter akademischer Grad Magistra der Anglistik und Amerikanistik (Mag.phil) Wien, im Oktober 2008 ...»
- 86 now dare[s] to defy the old mores, to assert the individual’s will against societal authority. […] Galsworthy break[s] with convention and propriety to expose the social game as a sham construct of appearances and chicanery that gilds the status quo, perpetuating the inequities of the existing economic hierarchy. (Fan, 185) Furthermore, it seems that issues of caste are more at the centre of the play than those of female independence. To Sanford Sternlicht, Galsworthy’s target in The Eldest Son is ‘the blatant control and manipulation of the powerful over the weak’ (Sternlicht, 107). It is also interesting to point out that, throughout the plot, the characters of the Cheshire estate are continually alluding to T.W. Robertson’s Caste, a play they are rehearsing. Similarly to the performance of Lovers’ Vows in Austen’s Mansfield Park, it appears to function as a comment on the events of the household. First performed in 1867, Caste is about George D’Alroy, an aristocrat, who falls in love with the ballet dancer Esther Eccles and has set his mind on marrying her. Especially in the first act, there are repeated references to the impossibility of their affection as the gap between their respective classes is believed to be insurmountable. Finally, however, a happy ending ensues and even George’s class-conscious mother is reconciled with the situation.
fact, it resembled other plays to a large extent and stresses particularly its relation to Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes in this connection.203
4.4. New Women 4.4.1. Jane Clegg – Jane Clegg First performed at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester in 1913, St John Ervine’s play stands out as it focuses on characters with a lower middle-class class background.
The plot centres on one nuclear family – mother, father, two children and grandmother. The eponymous heroine does not have any touch of fallenness about her. On the contrary, she almost seems too irreproachable to be modelled on reality. Jane Clegg’s innate conceptions of morality set her apart from all the other characters in the play. As the analysis of Ervine’s play will reveal, Jane’s general goodness has less to do with the common ideal of the Angel in the House or with Christian notions, as it might prima facie appear, but rather with her inner moral standards and her clear-sighted understanding of her situation. Moreover, her thoughts are at times closely linked to those of the New Woman movement.
From the beginning of the play, Jane Clegg, wife of a travelling salesman and mother of a son and a daughter, is established as the epitome of righteousness and virtue. Soon, the audience, or reader, gets to understand that the relationship between husband and wife is far from harmonious. Henry Clegg seems to be out a lot and his mother also alludes to a previous extramarital affair of his.204 Nonetheless, Jane Clegg, in a true angel-of-the-house-like manner, does not fail to defend her husband against the other family members’ reproaches. Unlike other characters, she reacts calmly and cautiously, and has a realistic, if not resigned ‘[By November 1912] The Eldest Son seemed very much like other plays, particularly Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes, enough so that Galsworthy wrote to Houghton saying that the play had been written and delivered in 1909, the idea “conceived in 1906”, and that the similarities of “situation” and “philosophy” were coincidental’ (Gindin, 201).
‘Look at the way you took it when ‘e went after that woman!‘ (Jane Clegg, I, 148).
- 88 attitude to her situation. She does not make a scene or plans revenge, but vindicates her subjectedness by her assertion that she has to make allowances and cannot prevent her husband from doing what he wants to do anyway.205 Jane has a clear understanding of women’s status in society. In contrast to characters such as Phillips’ Nelly Armroyd or Jones’s Susan Harabin, she does not think of leaving Henry because she is aware of the fate that would await her. She would be treated as an outcast of society because, as she puts it, ‘[a]woman who leaves her husband on moral grounds is treated as badly as a woman who runs away with another man’ (Jane Clegg, I, 163). It would, however, not do her justice to interpret her as utterly passive, unquestioningly accepting traditional concepts of marriage, and piously sticking to the maxim of ‘till death do you part’. Quite on the contrary, she does ask herself why it would not be considered right to leave her husband.206 The situation in the Clegg household is mirrored by their children’s game, the rules of which the elder brother Johnnie explains to his grandmother: ‘I’m pretending to be mother, and Jenny’s pretending to be father. We’re building a house with these bricks, but it’s no good… Jenny keeps knocking it all down’ (Jane Clegg, I, 158). Even after Jenny has ended the game by declaring it too boring, they continue to act according to their symbolic roles as ‘father’ and ‘mother’ that they have adopted before. Jenny is stubbornly unwilling to apologise to her brother, strikes him, and refuses to help to put away the bricks she has scattered about the room. To further clarify the situation in the household, her grandmother compares Jenny’s behaviour to her son’s when he was the girl’s age.207 Old Mrs Clegg, in general, seems to embody the voice of traditional beliefs and presumed Christian values that would, for example, forbid a woman to leave her husband. Even though it is not always clear if she really thinks that her notions are justified, she constantly reminds her daughter-in-law of them. Jane does not simply accept them as rightful, but begins to question them more and more, while her mother-in-law perpetuates them.208 In this respect, their attitudes almost seem Cf. Jane Clegg, I, 162.
Cf. Jane Clegg, I, 163.
‘That child gets more ‘eadstrong every day. Jus’ like ‘er father was, bless ‘er. And yet I can’t help likin’ ‘er for it. It reminds me of ‘im w’en ‘e was ‘er age!’ (Jane Clegg, I, 161).
‘JANE CLEGG. [...] Oh, isn’t it awful to think that I shall sit here always, mending things and waiting for Henry to come home!
MRS. CLEGG. No, it isn’t awful at all. It’s nacherl. It’s always bin like that, and it always will, It’s no good flyin’ in the face of Providence’ (Jane Clegg, I, 165).
- 89 diametrically opposed, representing the ‘old’ and the New Woman. Jane also appears to be more educated than Henry’s mother as she, at least in the written version of the play, does not have any recognisable dialect whereas the older woman, for example, often drops the initial h in words, a characteristic element of Cockney English, but also of quite a few other English dialect varieties and typically associated with the working classes.209 Henry’s mother does not produce real arguments, but maintains that she is correct basically on the grounds that the role ascribed to woman has always been the same. Moreover, she maintains that it would be Jane’s duty to hand all the money she owns to Henry.
In general, financial autonomy is a vital factor for Jane to gain some independence in her marriage. Due to her uncle’s financial support, she gets the opportunity to assert herself to some degree. She categorically refuses to hand any of that money to her husband despite his and her mother-in-law’s repeated entreaties. This situation appears to be quite revolutionary, as Henry is eager not to let anyone know that his wife would not hand any of her money over to him. In his eyes, this circumstance becoming publicly known would ‘make a man look such a damned fool’ (Jane Clegg, I, 170). To him and the bookie Munce, a man to whom he is indebted, it is unconceivable that the husband, as the head of the family, should not be able to dispose of his wife’s savings.210 Nonetheless, Mr Clegg is rather capable of stealing money from the company he works for than of telling his wife about the reasons for his need of money, namely that the woman he is having an affair with is pregnant with his child and that he plans to leave the country with her. When part of the truth – that her husband unlawfully cashed in a company’s check – is disclosed to Jane, she first and foremost thinks about her family’s wellbeing and reputation. She does not hesitate to volunteer refunding all the money out of her own purse and to offer a move to Canada as long as the case is not made public.211 Her acting like a martyr is also somewhat sarcastically recognised by Henry.212 Jane does have an independent side to her character, which becomes noticeable, when she does not let her husband have her savings or when she urges him to tell her what has become of the check. However, towards the end of the second act,
One cannot help but wonder, though, if Jane’s remark is completely free of any cynicism. By degrees, it becomes evident that Jane Clegg is far less obedient and passive than the beginning of the first act might have indicated. She has money and, consequently, is the one in charge within the family, which is sooner or later also acknowledged by Henry.213 In the final act, having the upper hand financially allows her to have the upper hand within the family. Her husband’s future depends on her mercy and, for the first time, it is not a woman who is desperate in terms of her position in society, but a man. Has it taken a male character like Maldonado to help Iris out in pecuniary difficulties, it is now a female character who saves a man.214 The money also aids her in finally finding out the whole truth about her husband’s affair. Similarly, Elaine Aston argues that [t]he usual imbalance of power between the patriarch (as head of the family) and the mother (as powerless comforter and supporter) is reversed by virtue of Jane having money of her own. It is money, the play teaches, which may give a wife and mother the power to leave her marriage and survive without a husband’s support. Jane’s position at the end of the play is sad but resolute, in contrast to her husband’s unchanging weakness and incompetence. (Aston, 217) Jane Clegg is financially and morally superior to Henry, who cannot easily cope with this situation. She is saint-like and infallibly virtuous, which is too much to bear for her husband. It seems that this aspect of the ideal of the Angel in the House, which she represents, has become less and less desirable by 1913. When it comes to money matters, women still appear to be preferred as dependents. Female
preeminence is intimidating for Henry Clegg. He wishes for a companion who neither outdoes him morally nor financially, as his monologue in the final act
To Henry, Jane is too composed and cold. She is not a womanly woman in the sense that she makes a man feel that he is needed for support. Kitty, his lover, seems to be quite the contrary. She is described as being scared by the situation and unable to deal with it on her own, which drives Henry to take care of her.215 Jane Clegg’s attitude to her marriage is that of a modern woman. She comes to realise that she and her husband are ill-suited for each other and lets him go quite easily. In doing so, she places their personal happiness above religious commands, which even makes her husband wonder,
Like Freda in Galsworthy’s The Eldest Son, Jane seems to follow her own moral standards that are not necessarily dictated by the church or society. It has to be conceded, though, that the character of Jane’s position is potentially more difficult.
She is older, does not really have the support of a parent, and has two children to take care of. Henry’s mother, moreover, certainly has a concept of right and wrong as well, but hers is dictated by religion. In this respect she belongs to the league of the ‘old’ women, abiding by Victorian ideals of morality and conduct, whereas Jane can be considered as a New Woman.
Cf. Jane Clegg, III, 226f. - 92 -
Contemporary developments concerning the role of women in society find their way into the play. The New Woman movement’s demand for an improvement of female education, for instance, is reflected in Jane’s wish to be educated. She says that she ‘want[s] to know things. [She] hate[s] being told to do things without knowing why [she] should do them. [To her], [i]t doesn’t seem right somehow to have a mind and not use it’ (Jane Clegg, I, 165).
Working women are mentioned, but are scorned by Henry. He believes that they do not take work seriously as a means to support themselves because behind each woman there still stands a responsible father who pulls the strings. Furthermore, Mr Clegg thinks that women take jobs away from men by stating, ‘[t]hese girls comin’ into offices, what responsibility have they got, eh? Live on their fathers they do, and then go and take low salaries and do their fathers out of jobs’ (Jane Clegg, I, 168).