MRS WARREN [resig...
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- George Bernard Shaw
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Mrs. Warren and her daughter Vivie have been left alone now that their male companions have left.
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MRS WARREN [resigning herself to an evening of boredom now that the men are gone] Did you ever in your life hear anyone rattle on so? Isn’t he a tease? [She sits at the table]. Now that I think of it, dearie, don’t you go encouraging him. I’m sure he’s a regular good-for-nothing.
VIVIE [rising to fetch more books] I’m afraid so. Poor Frank! I shall have to get rid of him; but I shall feel sorry for him, though he’s not worth it. That man Crofts does not seem to me to be good for much either: is he? [She throws the books on the table rather roughly].
MRS WARREN [galled by Vivie’s indifference] What do you know of men, child, to talk that way of them? Youll have to make up your mind to see a good deal of Sir George Crofts, as he’s a friend of mine.
VIVIE [quite unmoved] Why? [She sits down and opens a book]. Do you expect that we shall be much together? You and I, I mean?
MRS WARREN [staring at her] Of course: until youre married. Youre not going back to college again.
VIVIE. Do you think my way of life would suit you? I doubt it.
MRS WARREN. Y o u r way of life! What do you mean?
VIVIE [cutting a page of her book with the paper knife on her chatelaine] Has it really never occurred to you, mother, that I have a way of life like other people?
MRS WARREN. What nonsense is this youre trying to talk? Do you want to shew your independence, now that youre a great little person at school? Don’t be a fool, child.
VIVIE [indulgently] Thats all you have to say on the subject, is it, mother?
MRS WARREN [puzzled, then angry] Don’t you keep on asking me questions like that. [Violently] Hold your tongue.
[Vivie works on, losing no time, and saying nothing]. You and your way of life, indeed! What next? [She looks at Vivie again. No reply].
Your way of life will be what I please, so it will. [Another pause]. Ive been noticing these airs in you ever since you got that tripos or whatever you call it. If you think I’m going to put up with them, youre mistaken; and the sooner you find it out, the better. [Muttering] All I have to say on the subject, indeed! [Again raising her voice angrily] Do you know who youre speaking to, Miss?
VIVIE [looking across at her without raising her head from her book] No. Who are you? What are you?
MRS WARREN [rising breathless] You young imp!
VIVIE. Everybody knows my reputation, my social standing, and the profession I intend to pursue. I know nothing about you. What is that way of life which you invite me to share with you and Sir George Crofts, pray?
MRS WARREN. Take care. I shall do something I’ll be sorry for after, and you too.
VIVIE [putting aside her books with cool decision] Well, let us drop the subject until you are better able to face it. [Looking critically at her mother] You want some good walks and a little lawn tennis to set you up. You are shockingly out of condition: you were not able to manage twenty yards uphill today without stopping to pant; and your wrists are mere rolls of fat. Look at mine. [She holds out her wrists].
MRS WARREN [after looking at her helplessly, begins to whimper] Vivie—
VIVIE [springing up sharply] Now pray don’t begin to cry. Anything but that. I really cannot stand whimpering. I will go out of the room if you do.
MRS WARREN [piteously] Oh, my darling, how can you be so hard on me? Have I no rights over you as your mother?
VIVIE. A r e you my mother?
MRS WARREN. Am I your mother? Oh, Vivie!
VIVIE. Then where are our relatives? my father? our family friends? You claim the rights of a mother: the right to call me fool and child; to speak to me as no woman in authority over me at college dare speak to me; to dictate my way of life; and to force on me the acquaintance of a brute whom anyone can see to be the most vicious sort of London man about town. Before I give myself the trouble to resist such claims, I may as well find out whether they have any real existence.
MRS WARREN [distracted, throwing herself on her knees] Oh no, no. Stop, stop. I am your mother: I swear it. Oh, you can’t mean to turn on me—my own child! it’s not natural. You believe me, don’t you? Say you believe me.
VIVIE. Who was my father?
MRS WARREN. You don’t know what youre asking. I can’t tell you.
VIVIE [determinedly] Oh yes you can, if you like. I have a right to know; and you know very well that I have that right. You can refuse to tell me if you please; but if you do, you will see the last of me tomorrow morning.
MRS WARREN. Oh, it’s too horrible to hear you talk like that. You wouldn’t—you couldn’t leave me.
VIVIE [ruthlessly] Yes, without a moment’s hesitation, if you trifle with me about this. [Shivering with disgust] How can I feel sure that I may not have the contaminated blood of that brutal waster in my veins?
MRS WARREN. No, no. On my oath it’s not he, nor any of the rest that you have ever met. I’m certain of that, at least.
[Vivie’s eyes fasten sternly on her mother as the significance of this flashes on her.]
VIVIE [slowly] You are certain of that, at least. Ah! You mean that that is all you are certain of. [Thoughtfully] I see. [Mrs Warren buries her face in her hands]. Don’t do that, mother: you know you don’t feel it a bit. [Mrs Warren takes down her hands and looks up deplorably at Vivie, who takes out her watch and says] Well, that is enough for tonight. At what hour would you like breakfast? Is half-past eight too early for you?
MRS WARREN [wildly] My God, what sort of woman are you?
VIVIE [coolly] The sort the world is mostly made of, I should hope. Otherwise I don’t understand how it gets its business done. Come [taking her mother by the wrist and pulling her up pretty resolutely]: pull yourself together. Thats right.
MRS WARREN [querulously] Youre very rough with me, Vivie.
VIVIE. Nonsense. What about bed? It’s past ten.
MRS WARREN [passionately] Whats the use of my going to bed? Do you think I could sleep?
VIVIE. Why not? I shall.
MRS WARREN. You! you’ve no heart. [She suddenly breaks out vehemently in her natural tongue—the dialect of a woman of the people—with all her affectations of maternal authority and conventional manners gone, and an overwhelming inspiration of true conviction and scorn in her] Oh, I wont bear it: I won’t put up with the injustice of it. What right have you to set yourself up above me like this? You boast of what you are to me—to me, who gave you a chance of being what you are. What chance had I? Shame on you for a bad daughter and a stuck-up prude!
VIVIE [sitting down with a shrug, no longer confident; for her replies, which have sounded sensible and strong to her so far, now begin to ring rather woodenly and even priggishly against the new tone of her mother] Don’t think for a moment I set myself above you in any way. You attacked me with the conventional authority of a mother: I defended myself with the conventional superiority of a respectable woman. Frankly, I am not going to stand any of your nonsense; and when you drop it I shall not expect you to stand any of mine. I shall always respect your right to your own opinions and your own way of life.
MRS WARREN. My own opinions and my own way of life! Listen to her talking! Do you think I was brought up like you? able to pick and choose my own way of life? Do you think I did what I did because I liked it, or thought it right, or wouldn’t rather have gone to college and been a lady if I’d had the chance?
VIVIE. Everybody has some choice, mother. The poorest girl alive may not be able to choose between being Queen of England or Principal of Newnham; but she can choose between ragpicking and flowerselling, according to her taste. People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.
MRS WARREN. Oh, it’s easy to talk, isn’t it? Here! would you like to know what my circumstances were?
VIVIE. Yes: you had better tell me. Won’t you sit down?
MRS WARREN. Oh, I’ll sit down: don’t you be afraid. [She plants her chair farther forward with brazen energy, and sits down. Vivie is impressed in spite of herself]. D’you know what your gran’mother was?
MRS WARREN. No, you don’t. I do. She called herself a widow and had a fried-fish shop down by the Mint, and kept herself and four daughters out of it. Two of us were sisters: that was me and Liz; and we were both good-looking and well made. I suppose our father was a well-fed man: mother pretended he was a gentleman; but I don’t know. The other two were only half sisters: undersized, ugly, starved looking, hard working, honest poor creatures: Liz and I would have half-murdered them if mother hadn’t half-murdered us to keep our hands off them. They were the respectable ones. Well, what did they get by their respectability? I’ll tell you. One of them worked in a whitelead factory twelve hours a day for nine shillings a week until she died of lead poisoning. She only expected to get her hands a little paralyzed; but she died. The other was always held up to us as a model because she married a Government laborer in the Deptford victualling yard, and kept his room and the three children neat and tidy on eighteen shillings a week—until he took to drink. That was worth being respectable for, wasn’t it?
VIVIE [now thoughtfully attentive] Did you and your sister think so?
MRS WARREN. Liz didn’t, I can tell you: she had more spirit. We both went to a church school—that was part of the ladylike airs we gave ourselves to be superior to the children that knew nothing and went nowhere—and we stayed there until Liz went out one night and never came back. I know the schoolmistress thought I’d soon follow her example; for the clergyman was always warning me that Lizzie’d end by jumping off Waterloo Bridge. Poor fool: that was all he knew about it! But I was more afraid of the whitelead factory than I was of the river; and so would you have been in my place. That clergyman got me a situation as a scullery maid in a temperance restaurant where they sent out for anything you liked. Then I was a waitress; and then I went to the bar at Waterloo station: fourteen hours a day serving drinks and washing glasses for four shillings a week and my board. That was considered a great promotion for me. Well, one cold, wretched night, when I was so tired I could hardly keep myself awake, who should come up for a half of Scotch but Lizzie, in a long fur cloak, elegant and comfortable, with a lot of sovereigns in her purse.
VIVIE [grimly] My aunt Lizzie!
MRS WARREN. Yes; and a very good aunt to have, too. She’s living down at Winchester now, close to the cathedral, one of the most respectable ladies there. Chaperones girls at the country ball, if you please. No river for Liz, thank you! You remind me of Liz a little: she was a first-rate business woman—saved money from the beginning—never let herself look too like what she was—never lost her head or threw away a chance. When she saw I’d grown up good-looking she said to me across the bar “What are you doing there, you little fool? wearing out your health and your appearance for other people’s profit!” Liz was saving money then to take a house for herself in Brussels; and she thought we two could save faster than one. So she lent me some money and gave me a start; and I saved steadily and first paid her back, and then went into business with her as a partner. Why shouldn’t I have done it? The house in Brussels was real high class: a much better place for a woman to be in than the factory where Anne Jane got poisoned. None of the girls were ever treated as I was treated in the scullery of that temperance place, or at the Waterloo bar, or at home. Would you have had me stay in them and become a worn out old drudge before I was forty?
VIVIE [intensely interested by this time] No; but why did you choose that business? Saving money and good management will succeed in any business.
MRS WARREN. Yes, saving money. But where can a woman get the money to save in any other business? Could y o u save out of four shillings a week and keep yourself dressed as well? Not you. Of course, if youre a plain woman and can’t earn anything more; or if you have a turn for music, or the stage, or newspaper-writing: thats different. But neither Liz nor I had any turn for such things at all: all we had was our appearance and our turn for pleasing men. Do you think we were such fools as to let other people trade in our good looks by employing us as shopgirls, or barmaids, or waitresses, when we could trade in them ourselves and get all the profits instead of starvation wages? Not likely.
VIVIE. You were certainly quite justified—from the business point of view.
MRS WARREN. Yes; or any other point of view. What is any respectable girl brought up to do but to catch some rich man’s fancy and get the benefit of his money by marrying him?—as if a marriage ceremony could make any difference in the right or wrong of the thing! Oh, the hypocrisy of the world makes me sick! Liz and I had to work and save and calculate just like other people; elseways we should be as poor as any good-for-nothing drunken waster of a woman that thinks her luck will last for ever. [With great energy] I despise such people: theyve no character; and if theres a thing I hate in a woman, it’s want of character.
VIVIE. Come now, mother: frankly! Isn’t it part of what you call character in a woman that she should greatly dislike such a way of making money?
MRS WARREN. Why, of course. Everybody dislikes having to work and make money; but they have to do it all the same. I’m sure I’ve often pitied a poor girl, tired out and in low spirits, having to try to please some man that she doesn’t care two straws for—some half-drunken fool that thinks he’s making himself agreeable when he’s teasing and worrying and disgusting a woman so that hardly any money could pay her for putting up with it. But she has to bear with disagreeables and take the rough with the smooth, just like a nurse in a hospital or anyone else. It’s not work that any woman would do for pleasure, goodness knows; though to hear the pious people talk you would suppose it was a bed of roses.
VIVIE. Still, you consider it worth while. It pays.
MRS WARREN. Of course it’s worth while to a poor girl, if she can resist temptation and is good-looking and well conducted and sensible. It’s far better than any other employment open to her. I always thought that it oughtn’t to be. It can’t be right, Vivie, that there shouldn’t be better opportunities for women. I stick to that: it’s wrong. But it’s so, right or wrong; and a girl must make the best of it. But of course it’s not worth while for a lady. If you took to it youd be a fool; but I should have been a fool if I’d taken to anything else.
VIVIE [more and more deeply moved] Mother: suppose we were both as poor as you were in those wretched old days, are you quite sure that you wouldn’t advise me to try the Waterloo bar, or marry a laborer, or even go into the factory?
MRS WARREN [indignantly] Of course not. What sort of mother do you take me for! How could you keep your self-respect in such starvation and slavery? And whats a woman worth? whats life worth? without self-respect! Why am I independent and able to give my daughter a first-rate education, when other women that had just as good opportunities are in the gutter? Because I always knew how to respect myself and control myself. Why is Liz looked up to in a cathedral town? The same reason. Where would we be now if we’d minded the clergyman’s foolishness? Scrubbing floors for one and sixpence a day and nothing to look forward to but the workhouse infirmary. Don’t you be led astray by people who don’t know the world, my girl. The only way for a woman to provide for herself decently is for her to be good to some man that can afford to be good to her. If she’s in his own station of life, let her make him marry her; but if she’s far beneath him she can’t expect it: why should she? it wouldn’t be for her own happiness. Ask any lady in London society that has daughters; and she’ll tell you the same, except that I tell you straight and she’ll tell you crooked. Thats all the difference.
VIVIE [fascinated, gazing at her] My dear mother: you are a wonderful woman: you are stronger than all England. And are you really and truly not one wee bit doubtful—or—or—ashamed?
MRS WARREN. Well, of course, dearie, it’s only good manners to be ashamed of it: it’s expected from a woman. Women have to pretend to feel a great deal that they don’t feel. Liz used to be angry with me for plumping out the truth about it. She used to say that when every woman could learn enough from what was going on in the world before her eyes, there was no need to talk about it to her. But then Liz was such a perfect lady! She had the true instinct of it; while I was always a bit of a vulgarian. I used to be so pleased when you sent me your photos to see that you were growing up like Liz: you’ve just her ladylike, determined way. But I can’t stand saying one thing when everyone knows I mean another. Whats the use in such hypocrisy? If people arrange the world that way for women, theres no good pretending it’s arranged the other way. No: I never was a bit ashamed really. I consider I had a right to be proud of how we managed everything so respectably, and never had a word against us, and how the girls were so well taken care of. Some of them did very well: one of them married an ambassador. But of course now I daren’t talk about such things: whatever would they think of us! [She yawns]. Oh dear! I do believe I’m getting sleepy after all. [She stretches herself lazily, thoroughly relieved by her explosion, and placidly ready for her night’s rest].
VIVIE. I believe it is I who will not be able to sleep now. [She goes to the dresser and lights the candle. Then she extinguishes the lamp, darkening the room a good deal]. Better let in some fresh air before locking up. [She opens the cottage door, and finds that it is broad moonlight]. What a beautiful night! Look! [She draws the curtains of the window. The landscape is seen bathed in the radiance of the harvest moon rising over Blackdown].
MRS WARREN [with a perfunctory glance at the scene] Yes, dear; but take care you don’t catch your death of cold from the night air.
VIVIE [contemptuously] Nonsense.
MRS WARREN [querulously] Oh yes: everything I say is nonsense, according to you.
VIVIE [turning to her quickly] No: really that is not so, mother. You have got completely the better of me tonight, though I intended it to be the other way. Let us be good friends now.
MRS WARREN [shaking her head a little ruefully] So it has been the other way. But I suppose I must give in to it. I always got the worst of it from Liz; and now I suppose it’ll be the same with you.
VIVIE. Well, never mind. Come: good-night, dear old mother. [She takes her mother in her arms].
MRS WARREN [fondly] I brought you up well, didn’t I, dearie?
VIVIE. You did.
MRS WARREN. And youll be good to your poor old mother for it, won’t you?
VIVIE. I will, dear. [Kissing her] Good-night.
MRS WARREN [with unction] Blessings on my own dearie darling! a mother’s blessing!
[She embraces her daughter protectingly, instinctively looking upward for divine sanction.]
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