George Bernard Shaw

This etext was produced by Eve Sobol, South Bend, Indiana, USA




TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: In the printed version of this text, all
apostrophes for contractions such as "can't", "wouldn't" and
"he'd" were omitted, to read as "cant", "wouldnt" and "hed".
This etext restores the omitted apostrophes.



This piece is not an argument for or against polygamy. It is a
clinical study of how the thing actually occurs among quite
ordinary people, innocent of all unconventional views concerning
it. The enormous majority of cases in real life are those of
people in that position. Those who deliberately and
conscientiously profess what are oddly called advanced views by
those others who believe them to be retrograde, are often, and
indeed mostly, the last people in the world to engage in
unconventional adventures of any kind, not only because they have
neither time nor disposition for them, but because the friction
set up between the individual and the community by the expression
of unusual views of any sort is quite enough hindrance to the
heretic without being complicated by personal scandals. Thus the
theoretic libertine is usually a person of blameless family life,
whilst the practical libertine is mercilessly severe on all other
libertines, and excessively conventional in professions of social

What is more, these professions are not hypocritical: they are
for the most part quite sincere. The common libertine, like the
drunkard, succumbs to a temptation which he does not defend, and
against which he warns others with an earnestness proportionate
to the intensity of his own remorse. He (or she) may be a liar
and a humbug, pretending to be better than the detected
libertines, and clamoring for their condign punishment; but this
is mere self-defence. No reasonable person expects the burglar to
confess his pursuits, or to refrain from joining in the cry of
Stop Thief when the police get on the track of another burglar.
If society chooses to penalize candor, it has itself to thank if
its attack is countered by falsehood. The clamorous virtue of the
libertine is therefore no more hypocritical than the plea of Not
Guilty which is allowed to every criminal. But one result is that
the theorists who write most sincerely and favorably about
polygamy know least about it; and the practitioners who know most
about it keep their knowledge very jealously to themselves. Which
is hardly fair to the practice.


Also it is impossible to estimate its prevalence. A practice to
which nobody confesses may be both universal and unsuspected,
just as a virtue which everybody is expected, under heavy
penalties, to claim, may have no existence. It is often assumed--
indeed it is the official assumption of the Churches and the
divorce courts that a gentleman and a lady cannot be alone
together innocently. And that is manifest blazing nonsense,
though many women have been stoned to death in the east, and
divorced in the west, on the strength of it. On the other hand,
the innocent and conventional people who regard the gallant
adventures as crimes of so horrible a nature that only the most
depraved and desperate characters engage in them or would listen
to advances in that direction without raising an alarm with the
noisiest indignation, are clearly examples of the fact that most
sections of society do not know how the other sections live.
Industry is the most effective check on gallantry. Women may, as
Napoleon said, be the occupation of the idle man just as men are
the preoccupation of the idle woman; but the mass of mankind is
too busy and too poor for the long and expensive sieges which the
professed libertine lays to virtue. Still, wherever there is
idleness or even a reasonable supply of elegant leisure there is
a good deal of coquetry and philandering. It is so much
pleasanter to dance on the edge of a precipice than to go over it
that leisured society is full of people who spend a great part of
their lives in flirtation, and conceal nothing but the
humiliating secret that they have never gone any further. For
there is no pleasing people in the matter of reputation in this
department: every insult is a flattery; every testimonial is a
disparagement: Joseph is despised and promoted, Potiphar's wife
admired and condemned: in short, you are never on solid ground
until you get away from the subject altogether. There is a
continual and irreconcilable conflict between the natural and
conventional sides of the case, between spontaneous human
relations between independent men and women on the one hand and
the property relation between husband and wife on the other, not
to mention the confusion under the common name of love of a
generous natural attraction and interest with the murderous
jealousy that fastens on and clings to its mate (especially a
hated mate) as a tiger fastens on a carcase. And the confusion is
natural; for these extremes are extremes of the same passion; and
most cases lie somewhere on the scale between them, and are so
complicated by ordinary likes and dislikes, by incidental wounds
to vanity or gratifications of it, and by class feeling, that A
will be jealous of B and not of C, and will tolerate infidelities
on the part of D whilst being furiously angry when they are
committed by E.


That jealousy is independent of sex is shown by its intensity in
children, and by the fact that very jealous people are jealous of
everybody without regard to relationship or sex, and cannot bear
to hear the person they "love" speak favorably of anyone under
any circumstances (many women, for instance, are much more
jealous of their husbands' mothers and sisters than of unrelated
women whom they suspect him of fancying); but it is seldom
possible to disentangle the two passions in practice. Besides,
jealousy is an inculcated passion, forced by society on people in
whom it would not occur spontaneously. In Brieux's Bourgeois aux
Champs, the benevolent hero finds himself detested by the
neighboring peasants and farmers, not because he preserves game,
and sets mantraps for poachers, and defends his legal rights over
his land to the extremest point of unsocial savagery, but
because, being an amiable and public-spirited person, he refuses
to do all this, and thereby offends and disparages the sense of
property in his neighbors. The same thing is true of matrimonial
jealousy; the man who does not at least pretend to feel it and
behave as badly as if he really felt it is despised and insulted;
and many a man has shot or stabbed a friend or been shot or
stabbed by him in a duel, or disgraced himself and ruined his own
wife in a divorce scandal, against his conscience, against his
instinct, and to the destruction of his home, solely because
Society conspired to drive him to keep its own lower morality in
countenance in this miserable and undignified manner.

Morality is confused in such matters. In an elegant plutocracy, a
jealous husband is regarded as a boor. Among the tradesmen who
supply that plutocracy with its meals, a husband who is not
jealous, and refrains from assailing his rival with his fists, is
regarded as a ridiculous, contemptible and cowardly cuckold. And
the laboring class is divided into the respectable section which
takes the tradesman's view, and the disreputable section which
enjoys the license of the plutocracy without its money: creeping
below the law as its exemplars prance above it; cutting down all
expenses of respectability and even decency; and frankly
accepting squalor and disrepute as the price of anarchic self-
indulgence. The conflict between Malvolio and Sir Toby, between
the marquis and the bourgeois, the cavalier and the puritan, the
ascetic and the voluptuary, goes on continually, and goes on not
only between class and class and individual and individual, but
in the selfsame breast in a series of reactions and revulsions in
which the irresistible becomes the unbearable, and the unbearable
the irresistible, until none of us can say what our characters
really are in this respect.


Of one thing I am persuaded: we shall never attain to a
reasonable healthy public opinion on sex questions until we
offer, as the data for that opinion, our actual conduct and our
real thoughts instead of a moral fiction which we agree to call
virtuous conduct, and which we then--and here comes in the
mischief--pretend is our conduct and our thoughts. If the result
were that we all believed one another to be better than we really
are, there would be something to be said for it; but the actual
result appears to be a monstrous exaggeration of the power and
continuity of sexual passion. The whole world shares the fate of
Lucrezia Borgia, who, though she seems on investigation to have
been quite a suitable wife for a modern British Bishop, has been
invested by the popular historical imagination with all the
extravagances of a Messalina or a Cenci. Writers of belles
lettres who are rash enough to admit that their whole life is not
one constant preoccupation with adored members of the opposite
sex, and who even countenance La Rochefoucauld's remark that very
few people would ever imagine themselves in love if they had
never read anything about it, are gravely declared to be abnormal
or physically defective by critics of crushing unadventurousness
and domestication. French authors of saintly temperament are
forced to include in their retinue countesses of ardent
complexion with whom they are supposed to live in sin.
Sentimental controversies on the subject are endless; but they
are useless, because nobody tells the truth. Rousseau did it by
an extraordinary effort, aided by a superhuman faculty for human
natural history, but the result was curiously disconcerting
because, though the facts were so conventionally shocking that
people felt that they ought to matter a great deal, they actually
mattered very little. And even at that everybody pretends not to
believe him.


The worst of that is that busybodies with perhaps rather more
than a normal taste for mischief are continually trying to make
negligible things matter as much in fact as they do in convention
by deliberately inflicting injuries--sometimes atrocious
injuries--on the parties concerned. Few people have any knowledge
of the savage punishments that are legally inflicted for
aberrations and absurdities to which no sanely instructed
community would call any attention. We create an artificial
morality, and consequently an artificial conscience, by
manufacturing disastrous consequences for events which, left to
themselves, would do very little harm (sometimes not any) and be
forgotten in a few days.

But the artificial morality is not therefore to be condemned
offhand. In many cases it may save mischief instead of making it:
for example, though the hanging of a murderer is the duplication
of a murder, yet it may be less murderous than leaving the matter
to be settled by blood feud or vendetta. As long as human nature
insists on revenge, the official organization and satisfaction of
revenge by the State may be also its minimization. The mischief
begins when the official revenge persists after the passion it
satisfies has died out of the race. Stoning a woman to death in
the east because she has ventured to marry again after being
deserted by her husband may be more merciful than allowing her to
be mobbed to death; but the official stoning or burning of an
adulteress in the west would be an atrocity because few of us
hate an adulteress to the extent of desiring such a penalty, or
of being prepared to take the law into our own hands if it were
withheld. Now what applies to this extreme case applies also in
due degree to the other cases. Offences in which sex is concerned
are often needlessly magnified by penalties, ranging from various
forms of social ostracism to long sentences of penal servitude,
which would be seen to be monstrously disproportionate to the
real feeling against them if the removal of both the penalties
and the taboo on their discussion made it possible for us to
ascertain their real prevalence and estimation. Fortunately there
is one outlet for the truth. We are permitted to discuss in jest
what we may not discuss in earnest. A serious comedy about sex is
taboo: a farcical comedy is privileged.


The little piece which follows this preface accordingly takes the
form of a farcical comedy, because it is a contribution to the
very extensive dramatic literature which takes as its special
department the gallantries of married people. The stage has been
preoccupied by such affairs for centuries, not only in the
jesting vein of Restoration Comedy and Palais Royal farce, but in
the more tragically turned adulteries of the Parisian school
which dominated the stage until Ibsen put them out of countenance
and relegated them to their proper place as articles of commerce.
Their continued vogue in that department maintains the tradition
that adultery is the dramatic subject par excellence, and indeed
that a play that is not about adultery is not a play at all. I
was considered a heresiarch of the most extravagant kind when I
expressed my opinion at the outset of my career as a playwright,
that adultery is the dullest of themes on the stage, and that
from Francesca and Paolo down to the latest guilty couple of the
school of Dumas fils, the romantic adulterers have all been
intolerable bores.


Later on, I had occasion to point out to the defenders of sex as
the proper theme of drama, that though they were right in ranking
sex as an intensely interesting subject, they were wrong in
assuming that sex is an indispensable motive in popular plays.
The plays of Moliere are, like the novels of the Victorian epoch
or Don Quixote, as nearly sexless as anything not absolutely
inhuman can be; and some of Shakespear's plays are sexually on a
par with the census: they contain women as well as men, and that
is all. This had to be admitted; but it was still assumed that
the plays of the XIX century Parisian school are, in contrast
with the sexless masterpieces, saturated with sex; and this I
strenuously denied. A play about the convention that a man should
fight a duel or come to fisticuffs with his wife's lover if she
has one, or the convention that he should strangle her like
Othello, or turn her out of the house and never see her or allow
her to see her children again, or the convention that she should
never be spoken to again by any decent person and should finally
drown herself, or the convention that persons involved in scenes
of recrimination or confession by these conventions should call
each other certain abusive names and describe their conduct as
guilty and frail and so on: all these may provide material for
very effective plays; but such plays are not dramatic studies of
sex: one might as well say that Romeo and Juliet is a dramatic
study of pharmacy because the catastrophe is brought about
through an apothecary. Duels are not sex; divorce cases are not
sex; the Trade Unionism of married women is not sex. Only the
most insignificant fraction of the gallantries of married people
produce any of the conventional results; and plays occupied
wholly with the conventional results are therefore utterly
unsatisfying as sex plays, however interesting they may be as
plays of intrigue and plot puzzles.

The world is finding this out rapidly. The Sunday papers, which
in the days when they appealed almost exclusively to the lower
middle class were crammed with police intelligence, and more
especially with divorce and murder cases, now lay no stress on
them; and police papers which confined themselves entirely to
such matters, and were once eagerly read, have perished through
the essential dulness of their topics. And yet the interest in
sex is stronger than ever: in fact, the literature that has
driven out the journalism of the divorce courts is a literature
occupied with sex to an extent and with an intimacy and frankness
that would have seemed utterly impossible to Thackeray or Dickens
if they had been told that the change would complete itself
within fifty years of their own time.


It is ridiculous to say, as inconsiderate amateurs of the arts
do, that art has nothing to do with morality. What is true is
that the artist's business is not that of the policeman; and that
such factitious consequences and put-up jobs as divorces and
executions and the detective operations that lead up to them are
no essential part of life, though, like poisons and buttered
slides and red-hot pokers, they provide material for plenty of
thrilling or amusing stories suited to people who are incapable
of any interest in psychology. But the fine artists must keep the
policeman out of his studies of sex and studies of crime. It is
by clinging nervously to the policeman that most of the pseudo
sex plays convince me that the writers have either never had any
serious personal experience of their ostensible subject, or else
have never conceived it possible that the stage door present the
phenomena of sex as they appear in nature.


But the stage presents much more shocking phenomena than those of
sex. There is, of course, a sense in which you cannot present sex
on the stage, just as you cannot present murder. Macbeth must no
more really kill Duncan than he must himself be really slain by
Macduff. But the feelings of a murderer can be expressed in a
certain artistic convention; and a carefully prearranged sword
exercise can be gone through with sufficient pretence of
earnestness to be accepted by the willing imaginations of the
younger spectators as a desperate combat.

The tragedy of love has been presented on the stage in the same
way. In Tristan and Isolde, the curtain does not, as in Romeo and
Juliet, rise with the lark: the whole night of love is played
before the spectators. The lovers do not discuss marriage in an
elegantly sentimental way: they utter the visions and feelings
that come to lovers at the supreme moments of their love, totally
forgetting that there are such things in the world as husbands
and lawyers and duelling codes and theories of sin and notions of
propriety and all the other irrelevancies which provide
hackneyed and bloodless material for our so-called plays of


To all stage presentations there are limits. If Macduff were to
stab Macbeth, the spectacle would be intolerable; and even the
pretence which we allow on our stage is ridiculously destructive
to the illusion of the scene. Yet pugilists and gladiators will
actually fight and kill in public without sham, even as a
spectacle for money. But no sober couple of lovers of any
delicacy could endure to be watched. We in England, accustomed to
consider the French stage much more licentious than the British,
are always surprised and puzzled when we learn, as we may do any
day if we come within reach of such information, that French
actors are often scandalized by what they consider the indecency
of the English stage, and that French actresses who desire a
greater license in appealing to the sexual instincts than the
French stage allows them, learn and establish themselves on the
English stage. The German and Russian stages are in the same
relation to the French and perhaps more or less all the Latin
stages. The reason is that, partly from a want of respect for the
theatre, partly from a sort of respect for art in general which
moves them to accord moral privileges to artists, partly from the
very objectionable tradition that the realm of art is Alsatia and
the contemplation of works of art a holiday from the burden of
virtue, partly because French prudery does not attach itself to
the same points of behavior as British prudery, and has a dif-
ferent code of the mentionable and the unmentionable, and for
many other reasons the French tolerate plays which are never
performed in England until they have been spoiled by a process of
bowdlerization; yet French taste is more fastidious than ours as
to the exhibition and treatment on the stage of the physical
incidents of sex. On the French stage a kiss is as obvious a
convention as the thrust under the arm by which Maeduff runs
Macbeth through. It is even a purposely unconvincing convention:
the actors rather insisting that it shall be impossible for any
spectator to mistake a stage kiss for a real one. In England, on
the contrary, realism is carried to the point at which nobody
except the two performers can perceive that the caress is not
genuine. And here the English stage is certainly in the right;
for whatever question there arises as to what incidents are
proper for representation on the stage or not, my experience as a
playgoer leaves me in no doubt that once it is decided to
represent an incident, it will be offensive, no matter whether it
be a prayer or a kiss, unless it is presented with a convincing
appearance of sincerity.


For example, the main objection to the use of illusive scenery
(in most modern plays scenery is not illusive; everything visible
is as real as in your drawing room at home) is that it is
unconvincing; whilst the imaginary scenery with which the
audience provides a platform or tribune like the Elizabethan
stage or the Greek stage used by Sophocles, is quite convincing.
In fact, the more scenery you have the less illusion you produce.
The wise playwright, when he cannot get absolute reality of
presentation, goes to the other extreme, and aims at atmosphere
and suggestion of mood rather than at direct simulative illusion.
The theatre, as I first knew it, was a place of wings and flats
which destroyed both atmosphere and illusion. This was tolerated,
and even intensely enjoyed, but not in the least because nothing
better was possible; for all the devices employed in the
productions of Mr. Granville Barker or Max Reinhardt or the
Moscow Art Theatre were equally available for Colley Cibber and
Garrick, except the intensity of our artificial light. When
Garrick played Richard II in slashed trunk hose and plumes, it
was not because he believed that the Plantagenets dressed like
that, or because the costumes could not have made him a XV
century dress as easily as a nondescript combination of the state
robes of George III with such scraps of older fashions as seemed
to playgoers for some reason to be romantic. The charm of the
theatre in those days was its makebelieve. It has that charm
still, not only for the amateurs, who are happiest when they are
most unnatural and impossible and absurd, but for audiences as
well. I have seen performances of my own plays which were to me
far wilder burlesques than Sheridan's Critic or Buckingham's
Rehearsal; yet they have produced sincere laughter and tears such
as the most finished metropolitan productions have failed to
elicit. Fielding was entirely right when he represented Partridge
as enjoying intensely the performance of the king in Hamlet
because anybody could see that the king was an actor, and
resenting Garrick's Hamlet because it might have been a real man.
Yet we have only to look at the portraits of Garrick to see that
his performances would nowadays seem almost as extravagantly
stagey as his costumes. In our day Calve's intensely real Carmen
never pleased the mob as much as the obvious fancy ball
masquerading of suburban young ladies in the same character.


Theatrical art begins as the holding up to Nature of a distorting
mirror. In this phase it pleases people who are childish enough
to believe that they can see what they look like and what they
are when they look at a true mirror. Naturally they think that a
true mirror can teach them nothing. Only by giving them back some
monstrous image can the mirror amuse them or terrify them. It is
not until they grow up to the point at which they learn that they
know very little about themselves, and that they do not see
themselves in a true mirror as other people see them, that they
become consumed with curiosity as to what they really are like,
and begin to demand that the stage shall be a mirror of such
accuracy and intensity of illumination that they shall be able to
get glimpses of their real selves in it, and also learn a little
how they appear to other people.

For audiences of this highly developed class, sex can no longer
be ignored or conventionalized or distorted by the playwright who
makes the mirror. The old sentimental extravagances and the old
grossnesses are of no further use to him. Don Giovanni and
Zerlina are not gross: Tristan and Isolde are not extravagant or
sentimental. They say and do nothing that you cannot bear to hear
and see; and yet they give you, the one pair briefly and
slightly, and the other fully and deeply, what passes in the
minds of lovers. The love depicted may be that of a philosophic
adventurer tempting an ignorant country girl, or of a tragically
serious poet entangled with a woman of noble capacity in a
passion which has become for them the reality of the whole
universe. No matter: the thing is dramatized and dramatized
directly, not talked about as something that happened before the
curtain rose, or that will happen after it falls.


Now if all this can be done in the key of tragedy and philosophic
comedy, it can, I have always contended, be done in the key of
farcical comedy; and Overruled is a trifling experiment in that
manner. Conventional farcical comedies are always finally tedious
because the heart of them, the inevitable conjugal infidelity, is
always evaded. Even its consequences are evaded. Mr. Granville
Barker has pointed out rightly that if the third acts of our
farcical comedies dared to describe the consequences that would
follow from the first and second in real life, they would end as
squalid tragedies; and in my opinion they would be greatly
improved thereby even as entertainments; for I have never seen a
three-act farcical comedy without being bored and tired by the
third act, and observing that the rest of the audience were in
the same condition, though they were not vigilantly introspective
enough to find that out, and were apt to blame one another,
especially the husbands and wives, for their crossness. But it is
happily by no means true that conjugal infidelities always
produce tragic consequences, or that they need produce even the
unhappiness which they often do produce. Besides, the more
momentous the consequences, the more interesting become the
impulses and imaginations and reasonings, if any, of the people
who disregard them. If I had an opportunity of conversing with
the ghost of an executed murderer, I have no doubt he would begin
to tell me eagerly about his trial, with the names of the
distinguished ladies and gentlemen who honored him with their
presence on that occasion, and then about his execution. All of
which would bore me exceedingly. I should say, "My dear sir: such
manufactured ceremonies do not interest me in the least. I know
how a man is tried, and how he is hanged. I should have had you
killed in a much less disgusting, hypocritical, and unfriendly
manner if the matter had been in my hands. What I want to know
about is the murder. How did you feel when you committed it? Why
did you do it? What did you say to yourself about it? If, like
most murderers, you had not been hanged, would you have committed
other murders? Did you really dislike the victim, or did you want
his money, or did you murder a person whom you did not dislike,
and from whose death you had nothing to gain, merely for the sake
of murdering? If so, can you describe the charm to me? Does it
come upon you periodically; or is it chronic? Has curiosity
anything to do with it?" I would ply him with all manner of
questions to find out what murder is really like; and I should
not be satisfied until I had realized that I, too, might commit a
murder, or else that there is some specific quality present in a
murderer and lacking in me. And, if so, what that quality is.

In just the same way, I want the unfaithful husband or the
unfaithful wife in a farcical comedy not to bother me with their
divorce cases or the stratagems they employ to avoid a divorce
case, but to tell me how and why married couples are unfaithful.
I don't want to hear the lies they tell one another to conceal
what they have done, but the truths they tell one another when
they have to face what they have done without concealment or
excuse. No doubt prudent and considerate people conceal such
adventures, when they can, from those who are most likely to be
wounded by them; but it is not to be presumed that, when found
out, they necessarily disgrace themselves by irritating lies and
transparent subterfuges.

My playlet, which I offer as a model to all future writers of
farcical comedy, may now, I hope, be read without shock. I may
just add that Mr. Sibthorpe Juno's view that morality demands,
not that we should behave morally (an impossibility to our sinful
nature) but that we shall not attempt to defend our immoralities,
is a standard view in England, and was advanced in all seri-
ousness by an earnest and distinguished British moralist shortly
after the first performance of Overruled. My objection to that
aspect of the doctrine of original sin is that no necessary and
inevitable operation of human nature can reasonably be regarded
as sinful at all, and that a morality which assumes the contrary
is an absurd morality, and can be kept in countenance only by
hypocrisy. When people were ashamed of sanitary problems, and
refused to face them, leaving them to solve themselves
clandestinely in dirt and secrecy, the solution arrived at was
the Black Death. A similar policy as to sex problems has solved
itself by an even worse plague than the Black Death; and the
remedy for that is not Salvarsan, but sound moral hygiene, the
first foundation of which is the discontinuance of our habit of
telling not only the comparatively harmless lies that we know we
ought not to tell, but the ruinous lies that we foolishly think
we ought to tell.


A lady and gentleman are sitting together on a chesterfield in a
retired corner of the lounge of a seaside hotel. It is a summer
night: the French window behind them stands open. The terrace
without overlooks a moonlit harbor. The lounge is dark. The
chesterfield, upholstered in silver grey, and the two figures on
it in evening dress, catch the light from an arc lamp somewhere;
but the walls, covered with a dark green paper, are in gloom.
There are two stray chairs, one on each side. On the gentleman's
right, behind him up near the window, is an unused fireplace.
Opposite it on the lady's left is a door. The gentleman is on the
lady's right.

The lady is very attractive, with a musical voice and soft
appealing manners. She is young: that is, one feels sure that she
is under thirty-five and over twenty-four. The gentleman does not
look much older. He is rather handsome, and has ventured as far
in the direction of poetic dandyism in the arrangement of his
hair as any man who is not a professional artist can afford to in
England. He is obviously very much in love with the lady, and is,
in fact, yielding to an irresistible impulse to throw his arms
around her.

THE LADY. Don't--oh don't be horrid. Please, Mr. Lunn [she rises
from the lounge and retreats behind it]! Promise me you won't be

GREGORY LUNN. I'm not being horrid, Mrs. Juno. I'm not going to
be horrid. I love you: that's all. I'm extraordinarily happy.

MRS. JUNO. You will really be good?

GREGORY. I'll be whatever you wish me to be. I tell you I love
you. I love loving you. I don't want to be tired and sorry, as I
should be if I were to be horrid. I don't want you to be tired
and sorry. Do come and sit down again.

MRS. JUNO [coming back to her seat]. You're sure you don't want
anything you oughtn't to?

GREGORY. Quite sure. I only want you [she recoils]. Don't be
alarmed. I like wanting you. As long as I have a want, I have a
reason for living. Satisfaction is death.

MRS. JUNO. Yes; but the impulse to commit suicide is sometimes

GREGORY. Not with you.

MRS. JUNO. What!

GREGORY. Oh, it sounds uncomplimentary; but it isn't really. Do
you know why half the couples who find themselves situated as we
are now behave horridly?

MRS. JUNO. Because they can't help it if they let things go too

GREGORY. Not a bit of it. It's because they have nothing else to
do, and no other way of entertaining each other. You don't know
what it is to be alone with a woman who has little beauty and
less conversation. What is a man to do? She can't talk
interestingly; and if he talks that way himself she doesn't
understand him. He can't look at her: if he does, he only finds
out that she isn't beautiful. Before the end of five minutes they
are both hideously bored. There's only one thing that can save
the situation; and that's what you call being horrid. With a
beautiful, witty, kind woman, there's no time for such follies.
It's so delightful to look at her, to listen to her voice, to
hear all she has to say, that nothing else happens. That is why
the woman who is supposed to have a thousand lovers seldom has
one; whilst the stupid, graceless animals of women have dozens.

MRS. JUNO. I wonder! It's quite true that when one feels in
danger one talks like mad to stave it off, even when one doesn't
quite want to stave it off.

GREGORY. One never does quite want to stave it off. Danger is
delicious. But death isn't. We court the danger; but the real
delight is in escaping, after all.

MRS. JUNO. I don't think we'll talk about it any more. Danger is
all very well when you do escape; but sometimes one doesn't. I
tell you frankly I don't feel as safe as you do--if you really

GREGORY. But surely you can do as you please without injuring
anyone, Mrs. Juno. That is the whole secret of your extraordinary
charm for me.

MRS. JUNO. I don't understand.

GREGORY. Well, I hardly know how to begin to explain. But the
root of the matter is that I am what people call a good man.

MRS. JUNO. I thought so until you began making love to me.

GREGORY. But you knew I loved you all along.

MRS. JUNO. Yes, of course; but I depended on you not to tell me
so; because I thought you were good. Your blurting it out spoilt
it. And it was wicked besides.

GREGORY. Not at all. You see, it's a great many years since I've
been able to allow myself to fall in love. I know lots of
charming women; but the worst of it is, they're all married.
Women don't become charming, to my taste, until they're fully
developed; and by that time, if they're really nice, they're
snapped up and married. And then, because I am a good man, I have
to place a limit to my regard for them. I may be fortunate enough
to gain friendship and even very warm affection from them; but my
loyalty to their husbands and their hearths and their happiness
obliges me to draw a line and not overstep it. Of course I value
such affectionate regard very highly indeed. I am surrounded with
women who are most dear to me. But every one of them has a post
sticking up, if I may put it that way, with the inscription
Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted. How we all loathe that notice! In
every lovely garden, in every dell full of primroses, on every
fair hillside, we meet that confounded board; and there is always
a gamekeeper round the corner. But what is that to the horror of
meeting it on every beautiful woman, and knowing that there is a
husband round the corner? I have had this accursed board standing
between me and every dear and desirable woman until I thought I
had lost the power of letting myself fall really and
wholeheartedly in love.

MRS. JUNO. Wasn't there a widow?

GREGORY. No. Widows are extraordinarily scarce in modern society.
Husbands live longer than they used to; and even when they do
die, their widows have a string of names down for their next.

MRS. JUNO. Well, what about the young girls?

GREGORY. Oh, who cares for young girls? They're sympathetic.
They're beginners. They don't attract me. I'm afraid of them.

MRS. JUNO. That's the correct thing to say to a woman of my age.
But it doesn't explain why you seem to have put your scruples in
your pocket when you met me.

GREGORY. Surely that's quite clear. I--

MRS. JUNO. No: please don't explain. I don't want to know. I take
your word for it. Besides, it doesn't matter now. Our voyage is
over; and to-morrow I start for the north to my poor father's

GREGORY [surprised]. Your poor father! I thought he was alive.

MRS. JUNO. So he is. What made you think he wasn't?

GREGORY. You said your POOR father.

MRS. JUNO. Oh, that's a trick of mine. Rather a silly trick, I
Suppose; but there's something pathetic to me about men: I find
myself calling them poor So-and-So when there's nothing whatever
the matter with them.

GREGORY [who has listened in growing alarm]. But--I--is?--
wa--? Oh, Lord!

MRS. JUNO. What's the matter?

GREGORY. Nothing.

MRS. JUNO. Nothing! [Rising anxiously]. Nonsense: you're ill.

GREGORY. No. It was something about your late husband--

MRS. JUNO. My LATE husband! What do you mean? [clutching him,
horror-stricken]. Don't tell me he's dead.

GREGORY [rising, equally appalled]. Don't tell me he's alive.

MRS. JUNO. Oh, don't frighten me like this. Of course he's
alive--unless you've heard anything.

GREGORY. The first day we met--on the boat--you spoke to me of
your poor dear husband.

MRS. JUNO [releasing him, quite reassured]. Is that all?

GREGORY. Well, afterwards you called him poor Tops. Always poor
Tops, Our poor dear Tops. What could I think?

MRS. JUNO [sitting down again]. I wish you hadn't given me such a
shock about him; for I haven't been treating him at all well.
Neither have you.

GREGORY [relapsing into his seat, overwhelmed]. And you mean to
tell me you're not a widow!

MRS. JUNO. Gracious, no! I'm not in black.

GREGORY. Then I have been behaving like a blackguard. I have
broken my promise to my mother. I shall never have an easy
conscience again.

MRS. JUNO. I'm sorry. I thought you knew.

GREGORY. You thought I was a libertine?

MRS. JUNO. No: of course I shouldn't have spoken to you if I had
thought that. I thought you liked me, but that you knew, and
would be good.

GREGORY [stretching his hands towards her breast]. I thought the
burden of being good had fallen from my soul at last. I saw
nothing there but a bosom to rest on: the bosom of a lovely woman
of whom I could dream without guilt. What do I see now?

MRS. JUNO. Just what you saw before.

GREGORY [despairingly]. No, no.

MRS. JUNO. What else?

GREGORY. Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted: Trespassers Will Be

MRS. JUNO. They won't if they hold their tongues. Don't be such a
coward. My husband won't eat you.

GREGORY. I'm not afraid of your husband. I'm afraid of my

MRS. JUNO [losing patience]. Well! I don't consider myself at all
a badly behaved woman; for nothing has passed between us that was
not perfectly nice and friendly; but really! to hear a grown-up
man talking about promises to his mother!

GREGORY [interrupting her]. Yes, Yes: I know all about that. It's
not romantic: it's not Don Juan: it's not advanced; but we feel
it all the same. It's far deeper in our blood and bones than all
the romantic stuff. My father got into a scandal once: that was
why my mother made me promise never to make love to a married
woman. And now I've done it I can't feel honest. Don't pretend to
despise me or laugh at me. You feel it too. You said just now
that your own conscience was uneasy when you thought of your
husband. What must it be when you think of my wife?

MRS. JUNO [rising aghast]. Your wife!!! You don't dare sit there
and tell me coolly that you're a married man!

GREGORY. I never led you to believe I was unmarried.

MRS. JUNO. Oh! You never gave me the faintest hint that you had a

GREGORY. I did indeed. I discussed things with you that only
married people really understand.


GREGORY. I thought it the most delicate way of letting you know.

MRS. JUNO. Well, you ARE a daisy, I must say. I suppose that's
vulgar; but really! really!! You and your goodness! However, now
we've found one another out there's only one thing to be done.
Will you please go?

GREGORY [rising slowly]. I OUGHT to go.

MRS. JUNO. Well, go.

GREGORY. Yes. Er--[he tries to go]. I--I somehow can't. [He sits
down again helplessly]. My conscience is active: my will is
paralyzed. This is really dreadful. Would you mind ringing the
bell and asking them to throw me out? You ought to, you know.

MRS. JUNO. What! make a scandal in the face of the whole hotel!
Certainly not. Don't be a fool.

GREGORY. Yes; but I can't go.

MRS. JUNO. Then I can. Goodbye.

GREGORY [clinging to her hand]. Can you really?

MRS. JUNO. Of course I--[she wavers]. Oh, dear! [They contemplate
one another helplessly]. I can't. [She sinks on the lounge, hand
in hand with him].

GREGORY. For heaven's sake pull yourself together. It's a
question of self-control.

MRS. JUNO [dragging her hand away and retreating to the end of
the chesterfield]. No: it's a question of distance. Self-control
is all very well two or three yards off, or on a ship, with
everybody looking on. Don't come any nearer.

GREGORY. This is a ghastly business. I want to go away; and I

MRS. JUNO. I think you ought to go [he makes an effort; and she
adds quickly] but if you try I shall grab you round the neck and
disgrace myself. I implore you to sit still and be nice.

GREGORY. I implore you to run away. I believe I can trust myself
to let you go for your own sake. But it will break my heart.

MRS. JUNO. I don't want to break your heart. I can't bear to
think of your sitting here alone. I can't bear to think of
sitting alone myself somewhere else. It's so senseless--so
ridiculous--when we might be so happy. I don't want to be wicked,
or coarse. But I like you very much; and I do want to be
affectionate and human.

GREGORY. I ought to draw a line.

MRS. JUNO. So you shall, dear. Tell me: do you really like me? I
don't mean LOVE me: you might love the housemaid--

GREGORY [vehemently]. No!

MRS. JUNO. Oh, yes you might; and what does that matter, anyhow?
Are you really fond of me? Are we friends--comrades? Would you be
sorry if I died?

GREGORY [shrinking]. Oh, don't.

MRS. JUNO. Or was it the usual aimless man's lark: a mere
shipboard flirtation?

GREGORY. Oh, no, no: nothing half so bad, so vulgar, so wrong. I
assure you I only meant to be agreeable. It grew on me before I
noticed it.

MRS. JUNO. And you were glad to let it grow?

GREGORY. I let it grow because the board was not up.

MRS. JUNO. Bother the board! I am just as fond of Sibthorpe as--

GREGORY. Sibthorpe!

MRS. JUNO. Sibthorpe is my husband's Christian name. I oughtn't
to call him Tops to you now.

GREGORY [chuckling]. It sounded like something to drink. But I
have no right to laugh at him. My Christian name is Gregory,
which sounds like a powder.

MRS. JUNO [chilled]. That is so like a man! I offer you my
heart's warmest friendliest feeling; and you think of nothing but
a silly joke. A quip like that makes you forget me.

GREGORY. Forget you! Oh, if I only could!

MRS. JUNO. If you could, would you?

GREGORY [burying his shamed face in his hands]. No: I'd die
first. Oh, I hate myself.

MRS. JUNO. I glory in myself. It's so jolly to be reckless. CAN a
man be reckless, I wonder.

GREGORY [straightening himself desperately]. No. I'm not
reckless. I know what I'm doing: my conscience is awake. Oh,
where is the intoxication of love? the delirium? the madness that
makes a man think the world well lost for the woman he adores? I
don't think anything of the sort: I see that it's not worth it: I
know that it's wrong: I have never in my life been cooler, more

MRS. JUNO. [opening her arms to him] But you can't resist me.

GREGORY. I must. I ought [throwing himself into her arms]. Oh, my
darling, my treasure, we shall be sorry for this.

MRS. JUNO. We can forgive ourselves. Could we forgive ourselves
if we let this moment slip?

GREGORY. I protest to the last. I'm against this. I have been
pushed over a precipice. I'm innocent. This wild joy, this
exquisite tenderness, this ascent into heaven can thrill me to
the uttermost fibre of my heart [with a gesture of ecstasy she
hides her face on his shoulder]; but it can't subdue my mind or
corrupt my conscience, which still shouts to the skies that I'm
not a willing party to this outrageous conduct. I repudiate the
bliss with which you are filling me.

MRS. JUNO. Never mind your conscience. Tell me how happy you are.

GREGORY. No, I recall you to your duty. But oh, I will give you
my life with both hands if you can tell me that you feel for me
one millionth part of what I feel for you now.

MRS. JUNO. Oh, yes, yes. Be satisfied with that. Ask for no more.
Let me go.

GREGORY. I can't. I have no will. Something stronger than either
of us is in command here. Nothing on earth or in heaven can part
us now. You know that, don't you?

MRS. JUNO. Oh, don't make me say it. Of course I know. Nothing--
not life nor death nor shame nor anything can part us.

be it.

The two recover with a violent start; release one another; and
spring back to opposite sides of the lounge.

GREGORY. That did it.

MRS. JUNO [in a thrilling whisper] Sh--sh--sh! That was my
husband's voice.

GREGORY. Impossible: it's only our guilty fancy.

A WOMAN'S VOICE. This is the way to the lounge. I know it.

GREGORY. Great Heaven! we're both mad. That's my wife's voice.

MRS. JUNO. Ridiculous! Oh! we're dreaming it all. We [the door
opens; and Sibthorpe Juno appears in the roseate glow of the
corridor (which happens to be papered in pink) with Mrs. Lunn,
like Tannhauser in the hill of Venus. He is a fussily energetic
little man, who gives himself an air of gallantry by greasing the
points of his moustaches and dressing very carefully. She is a
tall, imposing, handsome, languid woman, with flashing dark eyes
and long lashes. They make for the chesterfield, not noticing the
two palpitating figures blotted against the walls in the gloom on
either side. The figures flit away noiselessly through the window
and disappear].

JUNO [officiously] Ah: here we are. [He leads the way to the
sofa]. Sit down: I'm sure you're tired. [She sits]. That's right.
[He sits beside her on her left]. Hullo! [he rises] this sofa's
quite warm.

MRS. LUNN [bored] Is it? I don't notice it. I expect the sun's
been on it.

JUNO. I felt it quite distinctly: I'm more thinly clad than you.
[He sits down again, and proceeds, with a sigh of satisfaction].
What a relief to get off the ship and have a private room! That's
the worst of a ship. You're under observation all the time.

MRS. LUNN. But why not?

JUNO. Well, of course there's no reason: at least I suppose not.
But, you know, part of the romance of a journey is that a man
keeps imagining that something might happen; and he can't do that
if there are a lot of people about and it simply can't happen.

MRS. LUNN. Mr. Juno: romance is all very well on board ship; but
when your foot touches the soil of England there's an end of it.

JUNO. No: believe me, that's a foreigner's mistake: we are the
most romantic people in the world, we English. Why, my very
presence here is a romance.

MRS. LUNN [faintly ironical] Indeed?

JUNO. Yes. You've guessed, of course, that I'm a married man.

MRS. LUNN. Oh, that's all right. I'm a married woman.

JUNO. Thank Heaven for that! To my English mind, passion is not
real passion without guilt. I am a red-blooded man, Mrs. Lunn: I
can't help it. The tragedy of my life is that I married, when
quite young, a woman whom I couldn't help being very fond of. I
longed for a guilty passion--for the real thing--the wicked
thing; and yet I couldn't care twopence for any other woman when
my wife was about. Year after year went by: I felt my youth
slipping away without ever having had a romance in my life; for
marriage is all very well; but it isn't romance. There's nothing
wrong in it, you see.

MRS. LUNN. Poor man! How you must have suffered!

JUNO. No: that was what was so tame about it. I wanted to suffer.
You get so sick of being happily married. It's always the happy
marriages that break up. At last my wife and I agreed that we
ought to take a holiday.

MRS. LUNN. Hadn't you holidays every year?

JUNO. Oh, the seaside and so on! That's not what we meant. We
meant a holiday from one another.

MRS. LUNN. How very odd!

JUNO. She said it was an excellent idea; that domestic felicity
was making us perfectly idiotic; that she wanted a holiday, too.
So we agreed to go round the world in opposite directions. I
started for Suez on the day she sailed for New York.

MRS. LUNN [suddenly becoming attentive] That's precisely what
Gregory and I did. Now I wonder did he want a holiday from me!
What he said was that he wanted the delight of meeting me after a
long absence.

JUNO. Could anything be more romantic than that? Would anyone
else than an Englishman have thought of it? I daresay my
temperament seems tame to your boiling southern blood--

MRS. LUNN. My what!

JUNO. Your southern blood. Don't you remember how you told me,
that night in the saloon when I sang "Farewell and adieu to you
dear Spanish ladies," that you were by birth a lady of Spain?
Your splendid Andalusian beauty speaks for itself.

MRS. LUNN. Stuff! I was born in Gibraltar. My father was Captain
Jenkins. In the artillery.

JUNO [ardently] It is climate and not race that determines the
temperament. The fiery sun of Spain blazed on your cradle; and it
rocked to the roar of British cannon.

MRS. LUNN. What eloquence! It reminds me of my husband when he
was in love before we were married. Are you in love?

JUNO. Yes; and with the same woman.

MRS. LUNN. Well, of course, I didn't suppose you were in love
with two women.

JUNO. I don't think you quite understand. I meant that I am in
love with you.

MRS. LUNN [relapsing into deepest boredom] Oh, that! Men do fall
in love with me. They all seem to think me a creature with
volcanic passions: I'm sure I don't know why; for all the
volcanic women I know are plain little creatures with sandy hair.
I don't consider human volcanoes respectable. And I'm so tired of
the subject! Our house is always full of women who are in love
with my husband and men who are in love with me. We encourage it
because it's pleasant to have company.

JUNO. And is your husband as insensible as yourself?

MRS. LUNN. Oh, Gregory's not insensible: very far from it; but I
am the only woman in the world for him.

JUNO. But you? Are you really as insensible as you say you are?

MRS. LUNN. I never said anything of the kind. I'm not at all
insensible by nature; but (I don't know whether you've noticed
it) I am what people call rather a fine figure of a woman.

JUNO [passionately] Noticed it! Oh, Mrs. Lunn! Have I been able
to notice anything else since we met?

MRS. LUNN. There you go, like all the rest of them! I ask you,
how do you expect a woman to keep up what you call her
sensibility when this sort of thing has happened to her about
three times a week ever since she was seventeen? It used to upset
me and terrify me at first. Then I got rather a taste for it. It
came to a climax with Gregory: that was why I married him. Then
it became a mild lark, hardly worth the trouble. After that I
found it valuable once or twice as a spinal tonic when I was run
down; but now it's an unmitigated bore. I don't mind your
declaration: I daresay it gives you a certain pleasure to make
it. I quite understand that you adore me; but (if you don't mind)
I'd rather you didn't keep on saying so.

JUNO. Is there then no hope for me?

MRS. LUNN. Oh, yes. Gregory has an idea that married women keep
lists of the men they'll marry if they become widows. I'll put
your name down, if that will satisfy you.

JUNO. Is the list a long one?

MRS. LUNN. Do you mean the real list? Not the one I show to
Gregory: there are hundreds of names on that; but the little
private list that he'd better not see?

JUNO. Oh, will you really put me on that? Say you will.

MRS. LUNN. Well, perhaps I will. [He kisses her hand]. Now don't
begin abusing the privilege.

JUNO. May I call you by your Christian name?

MRS. LUNN. No: it's too long. You can't go about calling a woman

JUNO [ecstatically] Seraphita!

MRS. LUNN. I used to be called Sally at home; but when I married
a man named Lunn, of course that became ridiculous. That's my one
little pet joke. Call me Mrs. Lunn for short. And change the
subject, or I shall go to sleep.

JUNO. I can't change the subject. For me there is no other
subject. Why else have you put me on your list?

MRS. LUNN. Because you're a solicitor. Gregory's a solicitor. I'm
accustomed to my husband being a solicitor and telling me things
he oughtn't to tell anybody.

JUNO [ruefully] Is that all? Oh, I can't believe that the voice
of love has ever thoroughly awakened you.

MRS. LUNN. No: it sends me to sleep. [Juno appeals against this
by an amorous demonstration]. It's no use, Mr. Juno: I'm
hopelessly respectable: the Jenkinses always were. Don't you
realize that unless most women were like that, the world couldn't
go on as it does?

JUNO [darkly] You think it goes on respectably; but I can tell
you as a solicitor--

MRS. LUNN. Stuff! of course all the disreputable people who get
into trouble go to you, just as all the sick people go to the
doctors; but most people never go to a solicitor.

JUNO [rising, with a growing sense of injury] Look here, Mrs.
Lunn: do you think a man's heart is a potato? or a turnip? or a
ball of knitting wool? that you can throw it away like this?

MRS. LUNN. I don't throw away balls of knitting wool. A man's
heart seems to me much like a sponge: it sops up dirty water as
well as clean.

JUNO. I have never been treated like this in my life. Here am I,
a married man, with a most attractive wife: a wife I adore, and
who adores me, and has never as much as looked at any other man
since we were married. I come and throw all this at your feet.
I! I, a solicitor! braving the risk of your husband putting me
into the divorce court and making me a beggar and an outcast! I
do this for your sake. And you go on as if I were making no
sacrifice: as if I had told you it's a fine evening, or asked you
to have a cup of tea. It's not human. It's not right. Love has
its rights as well as respectability [he sits down again, aloof
and sulky].

MRS. LUNN. Nonsense! Here, here's a flower [she gives him one].
Go and dream over it until you feel hungry. Nothing brings people
to their senses like hunger.

JUNO [contemplating the flower without rapture] What good's this?

MRS. LUNN [snatching it from him] Oh! you don't love me a bit.

JUNO. Yes I do. Or at least I did. But I'm an Englishman; and I
think you ought to respect the conventions of English life.

MRS. Juxo. But I am respecting them; and you're not.

JUNO. Pardon me. I may be doing wrong; but I'm doing it in a
proper and customary manner. You may be doing right; but you're
doing it in an unusual and questionable manner. I am not prepared
to put up with that. I can stand being badly treated: I'm no
baby, and can take care of myself with anybody. And of course I
can stand being well treated. But the thing I can't stand is
being unexpectedly treated, It's outside my scheme of life. So
come now! you've got to behave naturally and straightforwardly
with me. You can leave husband and child, home, friends, and
country, for my sake, and come with me to some southern isle--or
say South America--where we can be all in all to one another. Or
you can tell your husband and let him jolly well punch my head if
he can. But I'm damned if I'm going to stand any eccentricity.
It's not respectable.

GREGORY [coming in from the terrace and advancing with dignity to
his wife's end of the chesterfield]. Will you have the goodness,
sir, in addressing this lady, to keep your temper and refrain
from using profane language?

MRS. LUNN [rising, delighted] Gregory! Darling [she enfolds him
in a copious embrace]!

JUNO [rising] You make love to another man to my face!

MRS. LUNN. Why, he's my husband.

JUNO. That takes away the last rag of excuse for such conduct. A
nice world it would be if married people were to carry on their
endearments before everybody!

GREGORY. This is ridiculous. What the devil business is it of
yours what passes between my wife and myself? You're not her
husband, are you?

JUNO. Not at present; but I'm on the list. I'm her prospective
husband: you're only her actual one. I'm the anticipation: you're
the disappointment.

MRS. LUNN. Oh, my Gregory is not a disappointment. [Fondly] Are
you, dear?

GREGORY. You just wait, my pet. I'll settle this chap for you.
[He disengages himself from her embrace, and faces Juno. She sits
down placidly]. You call me a disappointment, do you? Well, I
suppose every husband's a disappointment. What about yourself?
Don't try to look like an unmarried man. I happen to know the
lady you disappointed. I travelled in the same ship with her;

JUNO. And you fell in love with her.

GREGORY [taken aback] Who told you that?

JUNO. Aha! you confess it. Well, if you want to know, nobody told
me. Everybody falls in love with my wife.

GREGORY. And do you fall in love with everybody's wife?

JUNO. Certainly not. Only with yours.

MRS. LUNN. But what's the good of saying that, Mr. Juno? I'm
married to him; and there's an end of it.

JUNO. Not at all. You can get a divorce.

MRS. LUNN. What for?

JUNO. For his misconduct with my wife.

GREGORY [deeply indignant] How dare you, sir, asperse the
character of that sweet lady? a lady whom I have taken under my

JUNO. Protection!

MRS. JUNO [returning hastily] Really you must be more careful
what you say about me, Mr. Lunn.

JUNO. My precious! [He embraces her]. Pardon this betrayal of my
feeling; but I've not seen my wife for several weeks; and she is
very dear to me.

GREGORY. I call this cheek. Who is making love to his own wife
before people now, pray?

MRS. LUNN. Won't you introduce me to your wife, Mr. Juno?

MRS. JUNO. How do you do? [They shake hands; and Mrs. Juno sits
down beside Mrs. Lunn, on her left].

MRS. LUNN. I'm so glad to find you do credit to Gregory's taste.
I'm naturally rather particular about the women he falls in love

JUNO [sternly] This is no way to take your husband's
unfaithfulness. [To Lunn] You ought to teach your wife better.
Where's her feelings? It's scandalous.

GREGORY. What about your own conduct, pray?

JUNO. I don't defend it; and there's an end of the matter.

GREGORY. Well, upon my soul! What difference does your not
defending it make?

JUNO. A fundamental difference. To serious people I may appear
wicked. I don't defend myelf: I am wicked, though not bad at
heart. To thoughtless people I may even appear comic. Well, laugh
at me: I have given myself away. But Mrs. Lunn seems to have no
opinion at all about me. She doesn't seem to know whether I'm
wicked or comic. She doesn't seem to care. She has no more sense.
I say it's not right. I repeat, I have sinned; and I'm prepared
to suffer.

MRS. JUNO. Have you really sinned, Tops?

MRS. LUNN [blandly] I don't remember your sinning. I have a
shocking bad memory for trifles; but I think I should remember
that--if you mean me.

JUNO [raging] Trifles! I have fallen in love with a monster.

GREGORY. Don't you dare call my wife a monster.

MRS. JUNO [rising quickly and coming between them]. Please don't
lose your temper, Mr. Lunn: I won't have my Tops bullied.

GREGORY. Well, then, let him not brag about sinning with my wife.
[He turns impulsively to his wife; makes her rise; and takes her
proudly on his arm]. What pretension has he to any such honor?

JUNO. I sinned in intention. [Mrs. Juno abandons him and resumes
her seat, chilled]. I'm as guilty as if I had actually sinned.
And I insist on being treated as a sinner, and not walked over as
if I'd done nothing, by your wife or any other man.

MRS. LUNN. Tush! [She sits down again contemptuously].

JUNO [furious] I won't be belittled.

MRS. LUNN [to Mrs. Juno] I hope you'll come and stay with us now
that you and Gregory are such friends, Mrs. Juno.

JUNO. This insane magnanimity--

MRS. LUNN. Don't you think you've said enough, Mr. Juno? This is
a matter for two women to settle. Won't you take a stroll on the
beach with my Gregory while we talk it over. Gregory is a
splendid listener.

JUNO. I don't think any good can come of a conversation between
Mr. Lunn and myself. We can hardly be expected to improve one
another's morals. [He passes behind the chesterfield to Mrs.
Lunn's end; seizes a chair; deliberately pushes it between
Gregory and Mrs. Lunn; and sits down with folded arms, resolved
not to budge].

GREGORY. Oh! Indeed! Oh, all right. If you come to that--[he
crosses to Mrs. Juno; plants a chair by her side; and sits down
with equal determination].

JUNO. Now we are both equally guilty.

GREGORY. Pardon me. I'm not guilty.

JUNO. In intention. Don't quibble. You were guilty in intention,
as I was.

GREGORY. No. I should rather describe myself guilty in fact, but
not in intention.

JUNO { rising and } What!
MRS. JUNO { exclaiming } No, really--
MRS. LUNN { simultaneously } Gregory!

GREGORY. Yes: I maintain that I am responsible for my intentions
only, and not for reflex actions over which I have no control.
[Mrs. Juno sits down, ashamed]. I promised my mother that I would
never tell a lie, and that I would never make love to a married
woman. I never have told a lie--

MRS. LUNN [remonstrating] Gregory! [She sits down again].

GREGORY. I say never. On many occasions I have resorted to
prevarication; but on great occasions I have always told the
truth. I regard this as a great occasion; and I won't be
intimidated into breaking my promise. I solemnly declare that I
did not know until this evening that Mrs. Juno was married. She
will bear me out when I say that from that moment my intentions
were strictly and resolutely honorable; though my conduct, which
I could not control and am therefore not responsible for, was
disgraceful--or would have been had this gentleman not walked in
and begun making love to my wife under my very nose.

JUNO [flinging himself back into his chair] Well, I like this!

MRS. LUNN. Really, darling, there's no use in the pot calling
the kettle black.

GREGORY. When you say darling, may I ask which of us you are

MRS. LUNN. I really don't know. I'm getting hopelessly confused.

JUNO. Why don't you let my wife say something? I don't think she
ought to be thrust into the background like this.

MRS. LUNN. I'm sorry, I'm sure. Please excuse me, dear.

MRS. JUNO [thoughtfully] I don't know what to say. I must think
over it. I have always been rather severe on this sort of thing;
but when it came to the point I didn't behave as I thought I
should behave. I didn't intend to be wicked; but somehow or
other, Nature, or whatever you choose to call it, didn't take
much notice of my intentions. [Gregory instinctively seeks her
hand and presses it]. And I really did think, Tops, that I was
the only woman in the world for you.

JUNO [cheerfully] Oh, that's all right, my precious. Mrs. Lunn
thought she was the only woman in the world for him.

GREGORY [reflectively] So she is, in a sort of a way.

JUNO [flaring up] And so is my wife. Don't you set up to be a
better husband than I am; for you're not. I've owned I'm wrong.
You haven't.

MRS. LUNN. Are you sorry, Gregory?

GREGORY [perplexed] Sorry?

MRS. LUNN. Yes, sorry. I think it's time for you to say you're
sorry, and to make friends with Mr. Juno before we all dine

GREGORY. Seraphita: I promised my mother--

MRS. JUNO [involuntarily] Oh, bother your mother! [Recovering
herself] I beg your pardon.

GREGORY. A promise is a promise. I can't tell a deliberate lie. I
know I ought to be sorry; but the flat fact is that I'm not
sorry. I find that in this business, somehow or other, there is a
disastrous separation between my moral principles and my

JUNO. There's nothing disastrous about it. It doesn't matter
about your principles if your conduct is all right.

GREGORY. Bosh! It doesn't matter about your principles if your
conduct is all right.

JUNO. But your conduct isn't all right; and my principles are.

GREGORY. What's the good of your principles being right if they
won't work?

JUNO. They WILL work, sir, if you exercise self-sacrifice.

GREGORY. Oh yes: if, if, if. You know jolly well that
self-sacrifice doesn't work either when you really want a thing.
How much have you sacrificed yourself, pray?

MRS. LUNN. Oh, a great deal, Gregory. Don't be rude. Mr. Juno is
a very nice man: he has been most attentive to me on the voyage.

GREGORY. And Mrs. Juno's a very nice woman. She oughtn't to be;
but she is.

JUNO. Why oughtn't she to be a nice woman, pray?

GREGORY. I mean she oughtn't to be nice to me. And you oughtn't
to be nice to my wife. And your wife oughtn't to like me. And my
wife oughtn't to like you. And if they do, they oughtn't to go on
liking us. And I oughtn't to like your wife; and you oughtn't to
like mine; and if we do we oughtn't to go on liking them. But we
do, all of us. We oughtn't; but we do.

JUNO. But, my dear boy, if we admit we are in the wrong where's
the harm of it? We're not perfect; but as long as we keep the
ideal before us--


JUNO. By admitting we were wrong.

MRS. LUNN [springing up, out of patience, and pacing round the
lounge intolerantly] Well, really, I must have my dinner. These
two men, with their morality, and their promises to their
mothers, and their admissions that they were wrong, and their
sinning and suffering, and their going on at one another as if it
meant anything, or as if it mattered, are getting on my nerves.
[Stooping over the back of the chesterfield to address Mrs. Juno]
If you will be so very good, my dear, as to take my sentimental
husband off my hands occasionally, I shall be more than obliged
to you: I'm sure you can stand more male sentimentality than I
can. [Sweeping away to the fireplace] I, on my part, will do my
best to amuse your excellent husband when you find him tiresome.

JUNO. I call this polyandry.

MRS. LUNN. I wish you wouldn't call innocent things by offensive
names, Mr. Juno. What do you call your own conduct?

JUNO [rising] I tell you I have admitted--

GREGORY { } What's the good of keeping on at that?
MRS. JUNO { together } Oh, not that again, please.
MRS. LUNN { } Tops: I'll scream if you say that again.

JUNO. Oh, well, if you won't listen to me--! [He sits down

MRS. JUNO. What is the position now exactly? [Mrs. Lunn shrugs
her shoulders and gives up the conundrum. Gregory looks at Juno.
Juno turns away his head huffily]. I mean, what are we going to

MRS. LUNN. What would you advise, Mr. Juno?

JUNO. I should advise you to divorce your husband.

MRS. LUNN. Do you want me to drag your wife into court and
disgrace her?

JUNO. No: I forgot that. Excuse me; but for the moment I thought
I was married to you.

GREGORY. I think we had better let bygones be bygones. [To Mrs.
Juno, very tenderly] You will forgive me, won't you? Why should
you let a moment's forgetfulness embitter all our future life?

MRS. JUNO. But it's Mrs. Lunn who has to forgive you.

GREGORY. Oh, dash it, I forgot. This is getting ridiculous.

MRS. LUNN. I'm getting hungry.

MRS. JUNO. Do you really mind, Mrs. Lunn?

MRS. LUNN. My dear Mrs. Juno, Gregory is one of those terribly
uxorious men who ought to have ten wives. If any really nice
woman will take him off my hands for a day or two occasionally, I
shall be greatly obliged to her.

GREGORY. Seraphita: you cut me to the soul [he weeps].

MRs. LUNN. Serve you right! You'd think it quite proper if it cut
me to the soul.

MRS. JUNO. Am I to take Sibthorpe off your hands too, Mrs. Lunn?

JUNO [rising] Do you suppose I'll allow this?

MRS. JUNO. You've admitted that you've done wrong, Tops. What's
the use of your allowing or not allowing after that?

JUNO. I do not admit that I have done wrong. I admit that what I
did was wrong.

GREGORY. Can you explain the distinction?

JUNO. It's quite plain to anyone but an imbecile. If you tell me
I've done something wrong you insult me. But if you say that
something that I did is wrong you simply raise a question of
morals. I tell you flatly if you say I did anything wrong you
will have to fight me. In fact I think we ought to fight anyhow.
I don't particularly want to; but I feel that England expects us

GREGORY. I won't fight. If you beat me my wife would share my
humiliation. If I beat you, she would sympathize with you and
loathe me for my brutality.

MRS. LUNN. Not to mention that as we are human beings and not
reindeer or barndoor fowl, if two men presumed to fight for us we
couldn't decently ever speak to either of them again.

GREGORY. Besides, neither of us could beat the other, as we
neither of us know how to fight. We should only blacken each
other's eyes and make fools of ourselves.

JUNO. I don't admit that. Every Englishman can use his fists.

GREGORY. You're an Englishman. Can you use yours?

JUNO. I presume so: I never tried.

MRS. JUNO. You never told me you couldn't fight, Tops. I thought
you were an accomplished boxer.

JUNO. My precious: I never gave you any ground for such a belief.

MRS. JUNO. You always talked as if it were a matter of course.
You spoke with the greatest contempt of men who didn't kick other
men downstairs.

JUNO. Well, I can't kick Mr. Lunn downstairs. We're on the ground

MRS. JUNO. You could throw him into the harbor.

GREGORY. Do you want me to be thrown into the harbor?

MRS. JUNO. No: I only want to show Tops that he's making a
ghastly fool of himself.

GREGORY [rising and prowling disgustedly between the chesterfield
and the windows] We're all making fools of ourselves.

JUNO [following him] Well, if we're not to fight, I must insist
at least on your never speaking to my wife again.

GREGORY. Does my speaking to your wife do you any harm?

JUNO. No. But it's the proper course to take. [Emphatically]. We
MUST behave with some sort of decency.

MRS. LUNN. And are you never going to speak to me again, Mr.

JUNO. I'm prepared to promise never to do so. I think your
husband has a right to demand that. Then if I speak to you after,
it will not be his fault. It will be a breach of my promise; and
I shall not attempt to defend my conduct.

GREGORY [facing him] I shall talk to your wife as often as she'll
let me.

MRS. JUNO. I have no objection to your speaking to me, Mr. Lunn.

JUNO. Then I shall take steps.

GREGORY. What steps?

Juno. Steps. Measures. Proceedings. What steps as may seem

MRS. LUNN [to Mrs. Juno] Can your husband afford a scandal, Mrs.


MRS. LUNN. Neither can mine.

GREGORY. Mrs. Juno: I'm very sorry I let you in for all this. I
don't know how it is that we contrive to make feelings like ours,
which seems to me to be beautiful and sacred feelings, and which
lead to such interesting and exciting adventures, end in vulgar
squabbles and degrading scenes.

JUNO. I decline to admit that my conduct has been vulgar or

GREGORY. I promised--

JUNO. Look here, old chap: I don't say a word against your
mother; and I'm sorry she's dead; but really, you know, most
women are mothers; and they all die some time or other; yet that
doesn't make them infallible authorities on morals, does it?

GREGORY. I was about to say so myself. Let me add that if you do
things merely because you think some other fool expects you to do
them, and he expects you to do them because he thinks you expect
him to expect you to do them, it will end in everybody doing what
nobody wants to do, which is in my opinion a silly state of

JUNO. Lunn: I love your wife; and that's all about it.

GREGORY. Juno: I love yours. What then?

JUNO. Clearly she must never see you again.

MRS. JUNO. Why not?

JUNO. Why not! My love: I'm surprised at you.

MRS. JUNO. Am I to speak only to men who dislike me?

JUNO. Yes: I think that is, properly speaking, a married woman's

MRS. JUNO. Then I won't do it: that's flat. I like to be liked. I
like to be loved. I want everyone round me to love me. I don't
want to meet or speak to anyone who doesn't like me.

JUNO. But, my precious, this is the most horrible immorality.

MRS. LUNN. I don't intend to give up meeting you, Mr. Juno. You
amuse me very much. I don't like being loved: it bores me. But I
do like to be amused.

JUNO. I hope we shall meet very often. But I hope also we shall
not defend our conduct.

MRS. JUNO [rising] This is unendurable. We've all been flirting.
Need we go on footling about it?

JUNO [huffily] I don't know what you call footling--

MRS. JUNO [cutting him short] You do. You're footling. Mr. Lunn
is footling. Can't we admit that we're human and have done with

JUNO. I have admitted it all along. I--

MRS. JUNO [almost screaming] Then stop footling.

The dinner gong sounds.

MRS. LUNN [rising] Thank heaven! Let's go in to dinner. Gregory:
take in Mrs. Juno.

GREGORY. But surely I ought to take in our guest, and not my own

MRS. LUNN. Well, Mrs. Juno is not your wife, is she?

GREGORY. Oh, of course: I beg your pardon. I'm hopelessly
confused. [He offers his arm to Mrs. Juno, rather

MRS. JUNO. You seem quite afraid of me [she takes his arm].

GREGORY. I am. I simply adore you. [They go out together; and as
they pass through the door he turns and says in a ringing voice
to the other couple] I have said to Mrs. Juno that I simply adore
her. [He takes her out defiantly].

MRS. LUNN [calling after him] Yes, dear. She's a darling. [To
Juno] Now, Sibthorpe.

JUNO [giving her his arm gallantly] You have called me
Sibthorpe! Thank you. I think Lunn's conduct fully justifies me
in allowing you to do it.

MRS. LUNN. Yes: I think you may let yourself go now.

JUNO. Seraphita: I worship you beyond expression.

MRS. LUNN. Sibthorpe: you amuse me beyond description. Come.
[They go in to dinner together].


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