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Mrs Warren's Profession

vivie play society stage

a ‘play unpleasant’ by G. B. Shaw, completed in 1893, published in 1898, but refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain. Though it was privately performed by the Stage Society in 1902, it was not seen on the public stage in London until 1926. The main reason for the ban was that the play presents a brothel madame, Kitty Warren, with understanding and a degree of sympathy. As Mrs Warren explains to her daughter Vivie, a well-educated and capable ‘new woman’, she saw her half-sister die of industrial lead poisoning and felt justified in escaping the poverty of her environment by entering the only trade that offered a chance of prosperity: prostitution. Vivie is impressed, but soon afterwards discovers from the amorous Sir George Crofts, her mother's business partner, not only that the young man who wishes to marry her may be her half-brother but that Mrs Warren still runs a chain of ‘houses’ on the Continent. At the end Vivie, now working as an accountant, rejects Mrs Warren on the grounds that she hypocritically behaves as a respectable person and conventional mother while continuing to exploit needy women. The play is simultaneously a defence of that much-anathematized Victorian character, the ‘Woman with a Past’, and an attack on a society that mistreats the poor and ‘fallen’ while tolerating those who profit from their misery, such as Crofts and the now-wealthy Mrs Warren.

Mr Weston's Good Wine [next]

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