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Heartbreak House

a play by G. B. Shaw, published in 1919 and performed in 1920, though it was probably written in 191617, largely in response to the Great War, an event addressed in an unwontedly sombre preface. The plot to this ‘fantasia in the Russian manner on English themes’ is given a semblance of unity through the character Ellie Dunn, daughter of the idealistic Mazzini Dunn. She is invited to the household of the aged Captain Shotover by his younger daughter, Hesione Hushabye, a woman of bohemian inclination, said to have been partly modelled on Virginia Woolf. There, Ellie admits to being in love with Marcus Darnley, who turns out to be Hesione's husband Hector in one of his many romantic guises. Disillusioned and hardened, Ellie announces her intention of marrying Boss Mangan, a rich and influential financier. Later, she rejects the prospect of wealth and proclaims herself spiritually wed to Shotover, in what appears to be a union of vitality and wisdom. With Hesione's sister Ariadne Utterwood, the conventional wife of a colonial bureaucrat, and her brother-in-law, the feeble Randall, all these characters have contributions to make to what becomes a dramatized debate about an England Shaw regarded as hopelessly divided between the representatives of ‘Heartbreak House’ (meaning the cultured but self-absorbed and politically irresponsible) and those of what his preface calls ‘Horseback Hall’ (meaning Ariadne and the other aggressive philistines). Shotover, a self-mocking portrait of Shaw himself, delivers the key warning about the future of the ship of state: ‘The captain is in his bunk, drinking bottled ditchwater; and the crew is gambling in the forecastle. She will strike and sink and split. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favour of England because you were born in it?’ In an ambiguous ending, a bomber kills the capitalist Mangan and leaves Hesione, Hector, and Ellie radiant at the prospect of a second air-raid, even though it may destroy them.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Hart-Smith Biography to Sir John [Frederick William] Herschel Biography