«Verfasserin Julia Lackermayer angestrebter akademischer Grad Magistra der Anglistik und Amerikanistik (Mag.phil) Wien, im Oktober 2008 ...»
[…], think of the brave pioneers who have gone before you in this enterprise. They’ve all perished, and their bones whiten the antimatrimonial shore. Think of them! Charley Gray and Lady Rideout – flitting shabbily about the Continent at cheap table d’hôtes and gambling clubs, rubbing shoulders with all the blackguards and demi-mondaines of Europe. Poor old Fitz and his beauty – moping down at Farnhurst, cut by the country, with no single occupation except to nag and rag each other to pieces from morning to night. Billy Dover and Polly Atchison – cut in for fresh partners in three weeks. That old idiot, Sir Bonham Dancer – paid five thousand pounds damages for being saddled with the professional strong man’s wife. George Nuneham and Mrs Sandys – […] she drank herself to death and died in a hospital. (Liars, IV, 215) In The Case of Rebellious Susan, Kato cautions the heroine, ‘[o]ne false step and you’re lost’ (Rebellious Susan, II, 144), a word of warning that does not seem exaggerated when recollecting Nelly Armroyd’s and Drusilla Ives’ fates.
Moreover, Susan’s uncle does not grant his niece her own free will. He declares himself the guardian of her morality and does not allow her to live independently without a man to watch over her good reputation. She only has the option to either go back to her husband or live with Sir Richard. This, in turn, is only one of the many instances of manifest double standards between men and women in the play.
will never be sauce for the gander’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 112). James Harabin’s affairs are freely discussed, whereas only a hint at an indiscretion on Lady Susan’s side is met with harsh criticism of her conduct. She herself seems to know that women who do not want to lose their respectability cannot do anything except threaten to match their adulterous husbands.101 From a psychological point of view, it is interesting to note that Susan tends to think that some shortcoming on her part is the explanation for Harabin’s behaviour. When Kato wants Susan’s husband to give just a single reason for his demeanour, Lady Susan prompts,
Cordell considers the application of double standards concerning the morality of men and women a general feature of Jones’s plays, where ‘the frank immorality or insinuated indiscretions of men are not considered as checks to a happy marriage’ (Cordell, 91).
Arguably, due to the vagueness surrounding Lady Susan’s relationship with Edensor, the reactions to the play were mixed. The actor-manager Charles Wyndham, for example, who not only produced the play, but also cast himself in the role of Sir Richard, obviously had difficulties with the general moral message The Case of Rebellious Susan was likely to convey to its audience. In a letter to
Jones he wrote:
I stand as bewildered today as ever at finding an author, a clean-living, clear-minded man, hoping to extract laughter from an audience on the score of a woman’s impurity …. I am equally astounded at a longexperienced dramatic author believing that he will induce married men to bring their wives to the theatre to learn the lesson that their wives can descend to such nastiness, as giving themselves up for one evening of adulterous pleasure and then return safely to their husband’s arms, provided they are clever enough, low enough, and dishonest enough to avoid being found out. (Wyndham, quoted in Griffin, 37).
After the play’s premiere, the critics were also unconvinced. Nevertheless, it turned out to become a huge success with audiences.102 4.3.2. Penelope – Penelope O’Farrell and Ada Fergusson Penelope, the eponymous heroine of William Somerset Maugham’s play, written in 1908 and first performed at the Comedy Theatre in London in 1909, is a married woman as well. Her husband is Dickie O’Farrell, a doctor. With regard to this particular profession, it can be said that medical practitioners played an important role in mediating ideals of gender dissimilarity. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their female clientele consisted predominantly of middle-class women.103 Lewis points out that [i]n a period when a rigid separation of spheres prevailed between men and women, the physician’s approach to female illness exemplified the strong influence of theories of sexual difference and the nature of their implications for the position of women in society. (Lewis, Women in England, 85) Moreover, the doctor occupied an interesting position in a female patient’s life. He was not only of great significance in a middle-class household, but was also one of the very few men, belonging to the same class, with whom the married woman dealt with directly.104 Like Susan and James Harabin, the O’Farrells have been married for a couple of years and, as was the case in all the other plays so far, their marriage has remained childless. It is also interesting to note that women with children automatically seem to have been considered as more virtuous. Only if she was not only a loving wife but also a caring mother, a woman could be the perfect embodiment of the prevalent domestic ideal or, as Poovey puts it, women’s ‘most important work was Cf. Griffin, 37f.
For a further discussion, see: Lewis, Women in England, 84ff.
Cf. Lewis, Women in England, 86.
- 50 increasingly represented as the emotional labor motivated (and guaranteed) by maternal instinct’ (Poovey, 10).
Furthermore, the opening scene of Penelope can be compared to that of The Case of Rebellious Susan, as the heroine also assembles her friends and relatives in order to tell them about the actions she has considered to take in consequence of her husband’s infidelity. From the very beginning, Penelope is perceived as a caring and hospitable woman. Even though she is not physically present, she makes sure that all her guests’ particular wishes are well attended to.
The measures Penelope has in mind, though, seem to be further-reaching than those of Susan because the former does not simply want to pay her husband back in his own coin by ‘going to find a little romance, and introduce it into [their] married life’ (Rebellious Susan, I, 124). Quite on the contrary, Penelope ‘[doesn’t] want to get [her husband] back by exciting his jealousy. [She doesn’t] want his love if [she] can only have it by making him think other men are in love with [her]’ (Penelope, II, 42), but initially wishes for a divorce. In this context, it should be borne in mind that fourteen years lie between the first performances of the two plays and that the public opinion concerning marriage at that time was gradually changing. Moreover, a situation like this – a wife being betrayed by her husband is not generally perceived as ‘a respectable average case’ (Rebellious Susan, I,
110) any longer. A spouse’s unfaithfulness is not simply due to the very nature of men. Instead, the husband’s conduct is regarded as detestable and offensive. Mrs Golightly, Penelope’s mother, for example, states that ‘Dickie’s behaviour is abominable, and there are no excuses for him. It’s a mere matter of common morality’ (Penelope, I, 20). Even Dr O’Farrell himself grants that one of the possible consequences of O’Farrell’s adulterous behaviour ought to be Penelope’s wish for a divorce.105 Nevertheless, divorce was still far from being socially acceptable, which is also indicated by Davenport Barlow, Penelope’s uncle, when he says that ‘[f]amily life in England is going to the dogs. That is the long and short of it’ (Penelope, I, 18).
Besides, the case of Penelope is different because she affirms to love her husband106, whereas Susan never mentions anything in that direction. Moreover, as will also be discussed in more detail below, the ideal of the Angel in the House Cf. Penelope, II, 72.
‘PENELOPE: [...] I simply dote upon Dickie. I’ve never loved any one else, and I never shall’ (Penelope, I, 15).
- 51 does not seem to ensure a happy and stable marriage any longer. Penelope describes herself as having ‘been a perfect angel’ who has ‘simply worshipped the ground [her husband] has walked on’ (Penelope, I, 20). Nonetheless, Dickie cheats on his wife with her alleged friend Ada Fergusson, while Susan’s husband had affairs with various unspecified women. In this context, it is also interesting to point out that quite a similar plot can be found in another of Maugham’s plays, The Constant Wife, written in 1926, almost 20 years after Penelope.107 Here, the husband of Constance, the main character, is a physician who has an affair with a married woman as well, but apart from these similarities the heroine’s situation has rather changed. Even though she regains her husband’s affections, she decides to go on a journey with a former suitor and, consequently, ‘chooses to have her own affair instead of troubling to restore her husband’s spirit of romance’ (Barnes, 76).
Ronald Barnes further points out that Maugham’s plays, in general, reflect the public’s changing attitude towards marriage.108 In contrast to the situation in The Constant Wife, gaining her husband’s affections is still the main goal for Penelope after a conversation with Mr Golightly, her father, who opposes a divorce. As already indicated by his surname, 109 he advises his daughter go lightly over the whole business and to trifle with the matter. His role is comparable to that of the raisonneur Sir Richard. Similarly, Anthony Curtis argues, ‘Golightly is our mentor, our reasoner, our Maugham mask who knows how to cope with everything under the sun’ (Curtis, Pattern, 70). When his wife talks of Dr O’Farrell’s abominable behaviour, he responds with the words: ‘My dear, I have no objection to you talking common morality if you’ll let me talk common sense’ (Penelope, I, 20). It seems that common sense and common morality with regard to disturbances within a marriage do not correspond in the same way as in The Case of Rebellious Susan, but are by now regarded as different entities.
Penelope, then, is quickly persuaded to try to win Dickie back, but this appears not so much based on the maintenance of social acceptability but on the heroine’s persistent love for her husband. As soon as her father suggests a scheme to make
her husband come back, she is more than willing to do anything in her power to ensure a successful outcome.110 This plan requires self-control at any time, never to show or tell her husband of the extent of her love as not to stifle him with her feelings. Mr Golightly advises his daughter that she ‘must never let [her]self out of hand; [she] must keep guard on [her] tongue and [her] eyes and [her] smiles – and [her] temper’ (Penelope, I, 23). These seem to be the new virtues,111 which, admittedly, are found to be immoral by both Mrs Golightly and Penelope at first.112 In this case, this means that morality as a prior motive in a woman’s life has lost some ground.
Moreover, the consequences of the disturbances in the O’Farrells’ relationship have less to do with keeping up appearances to the outside world and demonstrating a harmonious family life to society, but rather with maintaining a façade within the marriage itself. Initially, Penelope appears to be worried about the outcome of such a strategy. Responding to her father’s proposition, she wants to know, ‘if I acquire so many virtues I shan’t be a woman, but a monster, and how can he love me then?’ (Penelope, I, 25). Nonetheless, she follows Mr Golightly’s recommendations and even encourages her husband to meet Ada. Penelope does so in the hope that her rival would by and by adopt her own previous pattern of behaviour by doting too much on Dickie. Furthermore, the heroine keeps up a cheerful face along the way, but as soon as she is out of the lovers’ hearing range, it becomes evident that she is in fact miserable, as a conversation with her father
You don’t know what I’ve suffered this month with a smiling face. I’ve laughed while my heart ached. […] I haven’t even dared to cry by myself in case Ada Fergusson should see that my eyes were red and tell Dickie.
He’s seen her every day, every single day for the last month, and all the time I’ve been cheerful and pleasant and amusing. (Penelope, II, 43) In order to console herself, on the one hand, and to pay back her husband’s unfaithfulness, on the other hand, she resorts to consumerism,113 the soothing qualities of which were already hinted at in The Case of Rebellious Susan.
Nonetheless, her father’s scheme succeeds in the end. Her, at times, almost unbearable self-control finally comes off and is rewarded by her husband’s return in the same way as her forebear, Homer’s Penelope, was.114 Penelope is also more daring and outspoken than The Case of Rebellious Susan when it comes to women having an affair. Ada Fergusson, Penelope’s antagonist, is a married woman whose husband is in the navy and stationed in Malta. She is aware of her assets and displays them without any perceivable sign of remorse or guilty conscience. She is ‘a womanly woman. And that’s why men like [her]’ (Penelope, II, 64). Despite the fact that she starts a liaison with Dickie, which would qualify her as a Fallen Woman, she does not seem to be that different from the virtuous Penelope. Beneath her flirtatiousness, she appears to have a tendency to cling to men as well, which already becomes evident shortly after her first appearance, when she asks Penelope’s husband, D’you mean to say your wife asks you where you’ve been and where you’re going. How like a woman. [Innocently.] By the way, what are you doing this evening? (Penelope, I, 33) Generally, there is a tendency in the play to lump all women together. Each woman seems to exhibit the same kind of behaviour, which can only be kept at bay with great efforts of self-control, as exerted by Penelope. In one passage, for instance, Dr O’Farrell summarises female demeanour, of which his wife seems to
be the only exception, as follows: