Heartbreak House: A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 29 Jun 2000
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About the Author
Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was an active Socialist and a brilliant platform speaker. He was strongly critical of London theatre and closely associated with the intellectual revival of British drama.
Dan H. Laurence has edited Shaw's Collected Letters and Collected Plays with their Prefaces. He was Literary Advisor to the Shaw Estate until his retirement in 1990.
David Hare is an internationally-renowned playwright. Works include Plenty, The Judas Kiss, and The Blue Room.
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Top customer reviews
Basically, it's a country house party at which a disparate group of characters get together and fence with each other through their problems. One is the "evil banker"/industrialist, who I can see being very popular with today's audiences, and a major theme of the play is where the relatively new forces of capitalism and trade fit in with civilisation as we know it.
A sub-theme seemed to be the power of beautiful women, and their wickedness in affecting men physically with their attractiveness, like it's the women's fault - isn't this the argument that certain religions use when they request women to hide underneath lots of clothing? The two goddesses in question, who are actually glamorous but middle-aged matrons who mother some of the male characters, are several times forcefully called "daughters of the devil" over this - but one of the men is described as being very handsome, and no one goes abusing him about the effects he may be having over the opposite sex's hormones..... That bit struck me as being just a little bit misygonist and nasty.
And another theme is how in an affluent society you get a layer of people who are useless, unable to contribute anything or do anything except indulge in petty spite and gossip and looking good for dinner. Shaw takes quite a swipe here - and I can see a modern audience being on his side.
I'll go and see a production if one comes to my area. But it's not joining my list of favourite Shaw plays.
I bought the audio cassette of "About a boy" for more or less nothing, which is extremely good for something you like very much. The only disadvantage is that you cannot follow the text in the book because the cassette is a bit shortened.
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(Of course it's possible - though unlikely - that I just got a bad copy from a one-time printing glitch. Your call.)
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
The play opens as a young woman, Ellie Dunn, arrives at the house, ostensibly the guest of Hesione. With no one to greet her, and her bags left on the front porch of the house, Ellie finds her way into the boat-like drawing room, where she meets the indefatigable Nurse Guinness, and the inscrutable Captain Shotover, who is in the midst of his latest plan to usefully dispose of the hoard of dynamite he keeps in the garden. Gradually, the party fills out as Hesione, Hector, Lady Utterword (nee Shotover), Randall Utterword (the melancholy brother-in-law), Mazzini Dunn (soldier of freedom and Ellie's father), and Boss Mangan (capitalist and Ellie's intended) arrive at this bizarre house. Hesione plans to break off Ellie's engagement to the much older Mangan, and free her to follow the course of romance, while Utterwood and Hector variously pursue their sister-in-law. Of course, Shaw does not let his characters, nor his audience, off with a simple comedy of manners.
Shaw uses the play to expose the play of civilization, in which we all have a part, but with much more comic viciousness than Wilde, and with (possibly) more brute directness than Swift. The most explicit butt of Shaw's circuitous and rapid-fire dialogues is Mangan, whose gruff capitalist demeanor and pursuit of money and reputation is ultimately the guidepost of society as Shaw envisions it. As the lowest common denominator, Mangan's crudity reflects upwards at the socially climbing Ellie, the egregious nonchalance of Hesione, and the almost intentional insanity of Captain Shotover. Shaw implies that if Mangan and his ilk are running the show, then everyone who is not working to change it is complicit in its depredations. Listless bohemians, like Hesione and Hector, give the lie to their apparent graces, in an effort to maintain sanity in the midst of their perpetual confinement with each other. Lady Utterword's complaisance belies her loveless existence, and Mazzini Dunn's servility is the mark of an idealist who has given up his ideals in favor of subsistence. Is the refinement we everyday pretend to, nothing more than a thin veneer for the animal instincts that, if broached, would expose us as Swiftian Yahoos, as Shaw implies in his Preface, or as mere children, left in charge of ever more dangerous means of annihilating everyone and everything?
The tool of satire, in the hands of a master like Shaw, compels us to examine our own lives, and the ways we live them. Does Shaw call us to action, or merely to honest self-reflection? Either way, even at this late date, nearly a century later, we are still living in "Heartbreak House" - and Shaw's challenge to us is more urgent than ever. Ultimately, Shaw's message is that we are not dead yet - only asleep; can we awaken before it is too late? If we are monstrous enough to blow up the preacher's house, in the early 20th century or the early 21st, then each of us must be our own Savior - a notion which should be as empowering as it is horrifying.
The setting for the play is Sussex. Hesione Hushabye is one of the daughters of Captain Shotover. Lady Utterwood, Ariadne, is Mrs. Hushabye's sister. Ellie Dunn, a visitor, arrives and encounters Captain Shotover and Lady Utterwood.
It is a disordered house. Sister does not recognize sister. Father does not recognize daughter. Guests are not expected, the bell doesn't work. One of the sisters is Bohemian, the other is not.
Boss Mangan seeks to marry Ellie. This is a deplorable plan in Mrs. Hushabye's view. Mangan confesses to Ellie that he ruined her father in business. It turns out that Ellie is inclined to marry Mangan even if he engaged in sharp practices in regard to her father's business.
Mangan doesn't really have money and other things are not waht they seem. People shouldn't be deceived by appearances.
This is clever stuff.
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