When Ellie Dunn joins a house-party at the home of the eccentric Captain Shotover, she causes a stir with her decision to marry for money rather than love, and the Captain's forthright daughter Hesione protests vigorously against the pragmatic young woman's choice. Opinion on the matter quickly divides and a lively argument about money and morality, idealism and realism ensues as Hesione's rakish husband, snobbish sister and Ellie's fiancÃ© - a wealthy industrialist - enter the debate. Written between 1916 and 1917 as war raged across Europe, Heartbreak House is a telling indictment of the generation responsible for the First World War. With its bold combination of high farce and bitter tragedy, Shaw's play remains an uncannily prophetic depiction of a society on the threshold of an abrupt awakening.
This book has a LONG preface, where Mr. Shaw was quite clear of his searing feelings. I’ll admit guilt that I skimped it. The “Note” at the beginning served as an informative synopsis of the preface. If you’re highly allergic to spoilers, don’t read the “Note” until after you read the play.
Set in a country estate home of the retired Captain Shotover, built in the shape of the ship (the play uses starboard and port as stage directions), the Shavian wit has us examining the lives of the Shotover family and friends who by some unplanned coincidence descend on said estate one after the other. In these 3 acts, a mixed bag of truths are revealed where nothing is as it seems. Who’s using who? Who’s wealthy and who’s not? Who’s in love or not? It was amusing to read of the two daughters, Hesione Hushabe and Lady Ariadne Utterword, “fascinating” the men around them. Clearly, the women are the stronger sex here. These middle aged beauties bestowed their knowledge on the younger and less financially fortunate Ellie Dunn. Mayhem unfolds and reveals are surprisingly voluntary. The social classes and issues surface themselves in a subtle but recognizable way, many of which are still relevant today making this play all the more enjoyable.
If this play is ever produced locally, I’m going!
On being the owner of a business – I laughed:
“MRS HUSHABYE. Don’t cry; I can’t bear it. Have I broken your heart? I didn’t know you had one. How could I?
MANGAN. I’m a man ain’t I?
MRS HUSHABYE. (half coaxing, half rally, altogether tenderly) Oh no: not what I call a man. Only a Boss: just that and nothing else. What business has a Boss with a heart?”
On feeding the soul – I paused and thought about this one; there is some partial truth to it:
“CAPTAIN SHOTOVER. Is it? How much does your soul eat?
ELLIE. Oh, a lot. It eats music and pictures and books and mountains and lakes and beautiful things to wear and nice people to be with. In this country you can’t have them without lots of money: that is why our souls are horribly starved.”
Written in 1919.