Friday, 10 June 2016

Playwrights in Aspic by A. E. Wilson: The Inconstant Wife

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The Inconstant Wife in Playwrights in Aspic - A.E. Wilson & Somerset Maugham

Wilson, A. E. Playwrights in Aspic. London: Home & Van Thal, 1946.


I got hold of this amusing little book and definitely it's worth a review here.

A. E. Wilson (†1960) was a dramatic critic of The Star from 1920 to 1954, 6 years after he joined the company. He was editor of J. M. Barrie's definitive edition, and published more books on theatre after WWII.

In the introduction, Smith details the stages of which this little book came to be, from an evening of inspiration with special company and succulent dinner to enthusiastic request from an amateur society to filling in the long hours during WWII bombing. It is not clear on which of these occasions the parody of W. Somerset Maugham's play came to be; it could have occurred in any of these stages.

What it is is a collection of parodies of plays that Wilson finds amusing to try his hand at:

This collection of parodies or imitations of various playwrights is based upon one idea or theme. It is meant to show how, in my opinion they, in their varying ways, would have treated or would treat a certain simple plot.

It is fun to read, and I can imagine the entertainment one can get out of a reading or performance.

Wilson chose to parody Maugham's The Constant Wife (1926). The stage directions are particularly amusing, and so Maugham.



The Constant Wife is about women claiming sexual equality through financial independence, presented as a comedy, as Maugham has no didactic inclination. Wilson grabs the hilarity of such a proposal and takes it from the men's perspective. Don't look for too much depth; just for a slight smile for 5 minutes, if you know Maugham's works well enough.

The Constant Wife is one of the plays being produced continuously over the years. So far into this year, it has been produced 2 times already, and 2 more are scheduled in different parts of the world. More information at Performance of Maugham's plays.

You can read the parody at the end of this post.

The other playwrights in aspic are: Shakespeare, Wycherley, Sheridan, Ibsen, Tchehov, Oscar Wilde, Pinero, Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, J. M. Barrie, Eugene O'Neill, Noel Coward, J. B. Priestley, Emlyn Williams, and James Bridie.

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Playwrights in Aspic at AbeBooks
☰☱☲☳☴☵☶☷☰☱☲☳☴☵☶☷☰☱☲☳☴☵☶☷☰☱☲☳☴☵☶☷☰☱☲☳☴☵☶☷☰☱☲


With apologies to W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
THE INCONSTANT WIFE

Characters:

SIR MAURICE CARSHALTON

CHRISTOPHER, his Son

The scene is the study of CHRISTOPHER CARSHALTON at Multum Parvo. The room indicates the taste and refinement of a man comfortably placed in life. The French windows looking on to beautiful gardens are open for it is a sunny summer afternoon. As the curtain rises it reveals CHRISTOPHER who is a good-looking man of 38, but of no marked intellectual ability. He is somewhat prim and precise in his dress. He is pacing the room impatiently and now and again he looks at his watch and at the Sèvres clock on the mantelpiece. He is evidently perturbed and waiting for something important to happen. Once or twice he pauses as if he hears an approaching step, after which he resumes his pacing with the restlessness of a caged tiger.

At last footsteps are heard and SIR MAURICE enters through the French windows. He is a tall, distinguished, well preserved-man of 68, who carries his years well and evidently possesses a detached appreciation of life which he has savoured in full. He has all the manners and appearance of a retired diplomat and when he speaks it is with a relish in his fastidiously chosen words.


CHRISTOPHER (eagerly): So you have come, father.

SIR MAURICE (urbanely): As you see. I take the privilege of the aged to be punctually an hour late. Your train service is damnable.

CHRISTOPHER: It was good of you to come at such short notice. I wouldn't have troubled you if the matter had not been extremely urgent.

SIR MAURICE (unaffected by his son's evident perturbation and surveying the room approvingly): You have a charming room. It is the one thing I envy here. (He pauses and looks at his son in the face) Well, my boy?

CHRISTOPHER: I am in grave trouble, father.

SIR MAURICE: I regret to hear it. (He glances at the table) May I help myself to a cigar? (He selects one with calm deliberation, looks at it with the eye of a connoisseur, lights in leisurely and savours it for a moment.) Ha! the same brand I see. You pay too much for them, Christopher. Your cigar merchant is defrauding you. (After another puff) You were saying—?

CHRISTOPHER (trying to arouse his father's interest): I am in trouble and need your advice.

SIR MAURICE: A woman—cards—your bookmaker?

CHRISTOPHER (impatiently): No, no; nothing of that sort.

SIR MAURICE (taking interest at last): Ho, ho! Something new, eh?

CHRISTOPHER: It's Mildred.

SIR MAURICE: Pretty woman, your wife. Always liked her. She's here?

CHRISTOPHER: Not at present. She's away.

SIR MAURICE: A pity. I was hoping to see her. I always like kissing pretty women. Well?

CHRISTOPHER: It's ghastly news. A terrible thing has happened.

SIR MAURICE: Dear, dear! You must tell me about it. May I sit down? (He takes a chair.)

CHRISTOPHER: (who is pacing up and down again): I have discovered a letter—written to her. It—it has been a dreadful shock to me.

SIR MAURICE (gazing up at the cigar fumes): From a lover?

CHRISTOPHER (startled): Why? How did you know?

SIR MAURICE: It happens regularly, my boy. Go on.

CHRISTOPHER: I came upon it purely by accident. The letter, addressed to Mildred, was mixed up with my own. Unwittingly I had opened it and before I knew what I was doing I had read it.

SIR MAURICE: Tut, tut! That was inexcusable. From someone you know?

CHRISTOPHER: Yes. It was a love letter from Philip Grantchester.

SIR MAURICE (evidently charmed to hear it): The son of my old friend Geoffrey Grantchester who was with me at Montevideo! Or was it Budapest? I knew him many years. A great runner after women. I remember. Perhaps you don't recall that scandal at Madrid in which he was mixed up. Ran off with his chief's wife. A devilish funny business. (He laughs heartily at the memory) So it's his boy, is it? How interesting.

CHRISTOPHER: It was a letter expressed in the most passionate terms. The affair must have been going on for some time.

SIR MAURICE: Really?

CHRISTOPHER: He says he is ready to run away with her as she suggests.

SIR MAURICE: Well?

CHRISTOPHER: That's just it. What can I do?

SIR MAURICE: What do you want to do?

CHRISTOPHER: Naturally to stop her from such folly.

SIR MAURICE: Can you? Besides is it folly? The woman has made a certain choice and presumably knows what she is about. It is probably a quite sensible decision. She is not a child.

CHRISTOPHER: But I must try to prevent her.

SIR MAURICE: Why?

CHRISTOPHER: Why? To prevent a scandal of course.

SIR MAURICE: You still love her?

CHRISTOPHER: Why yes—that is, I suppose so.

SIR MAURICE: Does she still love you, which is more to the point?

CHRISTOPHER: I don't know. But it's the affront to my pride, the dishonour of it that I mind.

SIR MAURICE: Pride and honour! Stuff and nonsense, my boy. Does it matter a damn?

CHRISTOPHER: How can you say that, father?

SIR MAURICE: How can I say it? Haven't I said it? If she still loved you she would not find it necessary to take a lover. If she chooses to take a lover what right have you got to step in? And how would you propose to stop her? When a woman makes up her mind in these matters—and from what I know of Mildred she has a mind which is superior to yours—it is not reason that will stop her but force. The use of force, Christopher, is vulgar and uncivilized. A gentleman would not employ it.

CHRISTOPHER: Good God! Father, you amaze me. I send for you urgently, being in great mental distress, to ask you for advice. And this is what you give me.

SIR MAURICE: Advice, my dear boy, is something which everybody asks for, which the meanest person is prepared to give in plenty and which nobody ever take. All the same, as your wife seems to have made up her mind, I suggest that you should let her have her own way. You must keep abreast of the times, Christopher. The world has changed and is ever changing. Woman, a more conventional creature than man, is developing ideas. She is taking a leaf out of the masculine book and who can blame her? We have had our liberty and enjoyed our privileges, my boy, for centuries. We have had a damned good innings and, if you will pardon me for indulging in a sporting metaphor, it is now woman's turn to go in and do the batting. We have set the example and indulged in our privileges and now we are beginning to see the result. The dismal ideas of Victorian prudery have had their day. Women are restive and beginning to want their own way. Damned good luck to them, Christopher. Only a selfish, old-fashioned male would begrudge them their liberty or be astonished when they take it. In a fairly long and self-indulgent life i have sought pleasure where I could find it. Who are you or who am I to deny them the excitement of being what the conventional world calls 'unfaithful'? Can you blame a spirited, beautiful woman for kicking over the traces, Christopher? I must confess that the idea seems to me delightful and extremely amusing.

CHRISTOPHER (almost recoiling): Frankly, father, your ideas horrify me.

SIR MAURICE: Nonsense, nonsense, my boy. Besides, do you imagine that a husband who implores his wife to cleave to him is a dignified figure? Pshaw, Christopher, such a man is not only ridiculous but contemptible. Why make a fuss about trifles? We live in a world, thank God, of human frailties, of which the most amusing and least harmful is this sex business. Constancy is a much over-rated virtue and in woman it tends to become excessively tedious. I have met one or two good women in my time—your late mother, alas, was one of them—and, believe me, they were extremely dull company. No, Christopher, don't make a fool of yourself by hindering Mildred in her wish to desert you. After all, you have been married for three years. There is too much tendency at your age to stick in a groove. I never did. And look at me now. I'm still ready to run off with any pretty woman who may take a fancy to me. Let her go, Christopher, let her go.

CHRISTOPHER (who has been staring aghast at his father): You are a wicked, cynical old man, father. You take a dreadful view of life.

SIR MAURICE (chuckling with self-contentment): On the contrary, I am extremely charming and tolerant. The women appreciate my notable lack of virtue, I assure you. I find life very delightful and most of the people—except the extremely good ones—intensely amusing.

CHRISTOPHER (weakly): I shan't take your advice.

SIR MAURICE (who is preparing to go): Probably not, my dear boy—that is unless you are much wiser than I give you credit for. However, that will not prevent me from giving you another bit of advice. You will be foolish to ignore it but listen to the voice of experience. Run off with some woman yourself. You will find it, as I have often done and hope to do again, an extremely agreeable adventure, particularly if it is the wife of some fool of husband. Good day, my boy—and happy hunting.

SIR MAURICE, having selected a flower from a vase and carefully adjusted it in his buttonhole, leaves through the French windows with a gay air. CHRISTOPHER gazes blackly after him.
Curtain

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