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last hours.86 Learning that she did not, he is at first unable to speak but according to the stage directions ‘utters a great cry of pain and sinks onto rock, overcome’ (Dancing Girl, IV, 351).
Not only do Drusilla’s and Nelly’s fates correspond, but also those of their suitors.
Subliminally, class issues seem to be of some relevance here as well. While the two female characters come from a respectable but nonetheless working-class background, both male protagonists are socially above them. Moreover, both are penitent and are given the opportunity to lead a better life in the future. Guisebury is saved from suicide by the virtuous Sybil Crake and becomes a respected man after all.
Generally, it can be observed that the moral standards applied to men and women at that time were not the same. This does not only hold true for Lost in London and The Dancing Girl, but will later also be of significance in the other plays to be discussed. With regard to Henry Arthur Jones, it seems that he is, on the one hand, aware of those double standards, but, on the other hand, does not raise any questions concerning their justness. This view is also expressed by Richard Cordell, who states that Jones was frank in expressing his conviction that a single standard morality is impossible. He was a realist and conservative in as much as he believed man lived most comfortably by observing certain social laws arrived at through cumulative racial experience, and modifiable only with the slow passing of time. ‘His invariable answer to the social innovator was the byword of the modern pragmatist – “It won’t work!” (Cordell, 87) It could be interpreted as a gradual change in the audiences’ perception of the status of women that when the play ran again in London in 1909, eighteen years after its first performance, at His Majesty’s, it was not very successful.87
4.3. The Transition from the Fallen to the New Woman In a number of plays at issue, the female protagonists cannot easily be classified as either Fallen or New Women, neither do they simply conform to the ideal of the Angel in the House, but are rather hybrids of all three categories. In some cases, these main characters, who generally meet the terms of the traditionalist notion of how a woman should act and be like in the end, stand out against female supporting roles, who present caricatures of New Women.
4.3.1. The Case of Rebellious Susan–Susan Harabin and Elaine Shrimpton
In 1894, another play by Henry Arthur Jones, The Case of Rebellious Susan, was first performed at the Criterion Theatre in London. Here, the situation of a woman who departs from the virtuous path does not appear as bleak as in the plays discussed above. Nevertheless, as will become evident, the maintenance of her good reputation and the adherence to the ideal of the Angel in the House still proves to be more important than her strife for self-realisation.
The plot evolves around the young Lady Susan Harabin, who is initially determined to leave her repeatedly adulterous husband James. At first, she just spends a holiday in Egypt, where she falls in love with Lucien Edensor. After they coincidentally meet again in London, they form the plan to elope to the continent.
Throughout the play, the possibility of an affair between them is only hinted at, but never openly proclaimed.88 Through the persuasion of her uncle Sir Richard Kato, who acts as a raisonneur,89 though, she is talked into staying with her husband in ‘Jones goes on to great lengths to veil Susan’s actions in Cairo to keep her chastity a possibility, and he sets Sir Richard on her with a vengeance to keep her reputation (if not her chastity) intact’(Fan, 42).
Jackson on the role of the raisonneur: ‘They speak frequently for the modification of ideal standards of conduct in the light of the practical possibilities of life, and they advocate the accommodation of the desire for personal fulfilment to the limitations imposed by society’ (Jackson, 14).
For a more detailed discussion of the role of the raisonneur in Jones’s plays, see: Ruscher, 53the end. James Harabin, on his part, is willing to take her back despite her unwillingness to tell him anything about what happened in Cairo. Both swear to remain faithful in the future, and social conventions are restored. However, by way of the ambiguity with regard to the nature of her relationship with Edensor and the fact that she returns to her husband, ‘Rebellious Susan’ neither qualifies as a Fallen nor as a New Woman.
A New Woman is nonetheless present in the play in the character of Elaine Shrimpton, who, according to Jackson, ‘has features familiar in anti-feminist humour of the period: she is severe, arrogant, mannish, argumentative and graceless’ (Jackson, 17). She takes part in the women’s movement as the organiser of ‘The Clapham Boadicean Society for the Inculcation of the New Morality among the Women of Clapham’. The name of this society itself seems ironical.
Moreover, Griffin points out that in the subplot dealing with Elaine ‘Jones tilts at a favourite target, a ‘New Woman’, using her marriage as a counterpoint to Lady Susan’s’ (Griffin, 36). When Elaine is introduced in the first act of the play, she mainly seems to parrot things she might have picked up in feminist literature in her speech.90 Elaine marries despite the warning of Sir Richard, her guardian, and his advice to first learn at least basic house-keeping skills, as he believes Elaine to be ‘a rather ignorant, impulsive girl, with a smattering of pseudoscientific knowledge, chiefly picked up from unwholesome feminine novels’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 122).
As the beginning of the second act suggests, her marriage does not turn out particularly well. Ten months have passed, and she and her husband already temporarily live in separate apartments due to a disagreement about a mere trifle that is later solved by Sir Richard.91 Moreover, in the final act, a dialogue between Elaine and her guardian seems to be representative of the common Victorian perception of the New Woman movement as a phenomenon that is not only to be ridiculed, but also to be rebuked as it runs against nature. Elaine, who holds the opinion that society should be changed and the differences between the sexes redressed so that women get an opportunity to realise themselves, is cut short by Cf. ‘ELAINE: (very decidedly): At the same time we feel that we have duties and responsibilities that we shall allow no worm-eaten conventionalities of society to interfere with’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 121).
‘ELAINE: Why should we dwarf and stunt ourselves physically, morally, intellectually, for the sake of propping up a society that is decrepit and moribund to its core?’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 122).
Cf. Rebellious Susan, II, 125.
- 44 Sir Richard, who apparently represents the voice of reason and tries to redirect her
aspirations to become an Angel in the House rather than a social reformer:
ELAINE: […] There is an immense future for Woman – SIR RICHARD: (interrupting) At her own fireside. There is an immense future for women as wives and mothers, and a very limited future for them in any other capacity. While you ladies without passions – or with distorted and defeated passions – are raving and trumpeting all over the country, that wise, grim, old grandmother of us all, Dame Nature, is simply laughing up her sleeve and snapping her fingers at you and your new epochs and movements. Go home! Be sure that old Dame Nature will choose her own darlings to carry on her schemes! Go home! Go home!
Nature’s darling woman is a stay-at-home woman, a woman who wants to be a good wife and a good mother, and cares very little for anything else.
(Rebellious Susan, III, 153-154) According to Russell Jackson, this sermon-like speech, which focuses on the perpetuation of the race rather than on what is acceptable behaviour in society, is quite similar in tone to the arguments a number of conservatives put forward against the women’s movement in the 1890s and can be accounted for by Jones’s interest in social and biological evolution.92 Sir Richard’s speech, however, has no effect on Elaine. She is determined to follow her ideals and even willing to face imprisonment and to defend herself in court.93 Therefore, despite the fact that she is mocked, Elaine also represents a potential menace. She is unwilling to carry out the traditional duties expected of women, insults men, and is actively involved in revolutionising society.94 As Ada Mei Fan notes, ‘[i]t is an attitude that leads not only to the destruction of the home and family but perhaps to the destruction, or at least disruption, of the entire nation’ (Fan, 35).
In some passages, not only the New Woman movement and its disadvantageous influences on women’s behaviour is ridiculed and criticised, but the idea of female education altogether. An example can be given in Admiral Darby’s comments on the downhearted Harabin, who has been on his own for several months as his wife
has left for Cairo:
see what happens when a woman takes the bit into her mouth. A man’s peace and happiness utterly ruined. (Rebellious Susan, II, 136) Moreover, the Admiral’s observations about Lady Susan’s behaviour do not only concern the situation of the married couple, but also seem to be a reflection of the general evils of this new development with regard to female independence.95 This notion corresponds with the Victorian idea that the family serves as a microcosm of society as a whole and that disruptions in the former have consequences for the stability of the latter, as argued in the introductory pages.
Despite the conventionality that is especially voiced through the character of Sir Richard, Cordell argues that The Case of Rebellious Susan is one of the most provocative Victorian dramatic works. He sees enough evidence for Lady Susan’s act of infidelity between the lines and in Jones’s foreword to the printed edition of the play, written in a form of a letter, in which the playwright states that ‘if you must have a moral in my comedy, suppose it to be this – that as women cannot retaliate openly, they may retaliate secretly – and lie’ (Rebellious Susan, 107).
Cordell, therefore, points out that ‘[t]o have an adulteress happily reunited with her husband at the curtain-fall is without precedent either in Jones’s plays or those of his contemporaries’ (Cordell, 216). Correspondingly, Jean Chothia argues that the implication of Jones’s play is that sinfulness has rather to do with being found out than with actually doing anything improper.96 In order that the play could be staged in times of censorship, certain concessions had to be made not only through the use of ambiguity and Kato’s strong voice of reason, but also through Susan’s realisation that her prior behaviour was not warrantable.97
Moreover, any form of retaliation seems futile as this final conversation shows:
As the above passage indicates, Lady Susan is somewhat changed in the end. At the beginning she is portrayed as a rather self-determined and self-confident woman, who has been convinced not to be ‘an object of pity’ (Rebellious Susan, I,
109) and ‘to pay [her husband] back in his own coin’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 109).
She appears to be quite sharp-witted and unwilling to simply employ a bit of nagging, and it initially seems unlikely that she will let her husband get away with his unfaithfulness.
Her passionate attitude has made way for a kind of passiveness in the final act, and one cannot help but wonder if Jones’s PS to his preface of the printed play – ‘[m]y comedy isn’t a comedy at all. It’s a tragedy dressed as comedy’ (Rebellious Susan, 107) – is not meant to point out that the ending of the play does not necessarily illustrate his own attitude towards its subject matter. In some passages, Jones seems to criticise society, where cases like the one of ‘Rebellious Susan’ appear to be the norm and are accepted without questioning.98 When Lady Darby suggests that these instances should generally be looked over and hushed up, Inez, replies that ‘[i]t is the advice that everybody always gives in such cases, so I suppose it must be right’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 109). Heinz Peter Forsthuber argues that even though Susan makes an attempt to become more emancipated at the beginning, she does not turn into an Ibsenian Nora. In the end, traditional ideals and conformity prevails.99 If there is a morale to the play, it seems to be that, for a woman, there is simply no way she can revenge her husband’s infidelity if she does not want to lose her Cf. ‘LADY DARBY: Oh no, my dear! Some cases are much worse than others; and when you come to my age you’ll be thankful that yours is no worse than a respectable average case’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 110).
In this connection, the clearly ironical use of ‘respectable’ in association with the discussion of matrimonial unfaithfulness could be interpreted as a further instance of Jones’s critical attitude towards society’s understanding of morality.
Cf. Forsthuber, 229
- 47 standing in society.100 Women do not have any option except accepting and forgiving their spouses and, quite ironically, this magnanimousness is construed as their true virtue, giving evidence to the fact that they are all ‘noble creatures’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 117), and making Admiral Darby exclaim, ‘[a]h! what angels women are!’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 118). The theoretical consequences of an extramarital affair for a woman of Lady Susan’s rank, belonging to the upper class, would be to become ‘déclassé’. An idea of what the various consequences of a loss of reputation and caste were to Jones can be found in another one of his plays, The Liars. Here, the character of Sir Christopher Deering, a raisonneur as well, comes up with a list of particular instances, when he has to deal with a situation quite similar to that of Susan, involving a married woman who plans to elope with her