This analysis of Young Mrs. Winthrop was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 223-7.
Of the three plays of Bronson Howard which have been published, Young Mrs. Winthrop is probably the best and most typical. The dramatist's best and worst qualities are easily discernible. Like some of his contemporaries and many of his followers, Howard possessed a great deal of that essential kindliness, sympathy with the weaknesses of human nature, and sentiment which permeate the American theater. Young Mrs. Winthrop is a kindly sermon on the dangers and blessings of matrimony, besides being an ingratiating and human, perhaps too "human," comedy.
Any play written in 1882 is likely to bristle with "asides," soliloquies, and other conventions which have since fallen into disfavor with dramatists. This play opens with a soliloquy:
MRS RUTH: There, Miss Dolly! (tying ribbon on the doll and holding it up) you will have a beautiful mother tomorrow, and I shall be your grand-grandmother. Your name is to be 'Ruth' -- after me -- how do you like it? Your little mother has a very large family already, but I am sure she will love you more than any of the rest (crosses to R. by fire, kisses the doll). Lie here, my pet (holding the doll to her breast). You must go to sleep at once, for mother Rosie will be up very early in the morning. (Enter Douglas), etc...
A great deal of labor is spared the dramatist by allowing his audience to know (1) who the character present is, (2) what she is like, (3) a little of the situation. The first "aside" occurs on the next page:
DOUG: (stopping. Aside) -- I asked Constance not to go tonight.
Again, an easy device. Then, on page 25, there is another soliloquy:
Enter Constance, up L.
CONSTANCE: Back again! (with a weary air, throwing aside her cloak. Pause). How quiet the house is! It's no use going to bed; I cannot sleep. I wish these "social gaieties" as they call them, could go on forever. No matter how much I go out, or how bright the company is, it always ends in this; I am alone again, and I -- I can't stop thinking. Oh! -- I wish I could! I wish I could! Mr. Chetwyn was at the reception this evening. Douglas sent him word he could not meet him at the club. He sent the message after receiving that note from Mrs. Dunbar -- she was not there tonight! Oh! -- why must I keep thinking -- thinking? (starting to her feet and moving C. Pauses). Perhaps I am wronging him. Yes. No -- no -- I will not believe it -- I have not lost his love! There is something I do not understand? I will speak to Douglas about it in the morning. (Smiling.) It will all come right. I must get to sleep as soon as I can, to be up bright and early with Rosie. I will peep in at my little darling before I go to sleep.
It has often been said in defense of the "aside" and the soliloquy that since the drama is a series of conventions, why not accept these as well as that most necessary of conventions: the foreshortening of time? For over two thousand years these conventions have been accepted, why then should we cast them aside at this late date? The drama has changed radically during the past century, and is still developing at a rapid rate. With the change in subject-matter has come a corresponding change in manner of treatment: realistic subjects demanded realistic treatment. The "aside" is not natural, because it does not seem natural: people seldom turn their heads aside and utter words not intended to be heard by any one else; and when these words are spoken loudly enough to be overheard by a large audience, while the characters who must not hear them are within whispering distance of the speaker, the convention is too apparent. The uselessness of this particular convention is proved by the fact that almost every aside in a play can be deleted, and the audience be none the less well informed as to what is going on. Test this in the present play.
On the other hand, the soliloquy is legitimate. Ibsen in A Doll's House has made generous use of it. People do soliloquize, often aloud; even if they did not, it is not unnatural to hear a character give voice to thoughts, which must be near the surface, when he is alone on the stage. Do Hamlet's soliloquies seem unnatural? Do Nora's in the Ibsen play just mentioned?
Bronson Howard's modernity of spirit, his vision of the path to be taken by the play of the future was incontestably greater than his actual achievement: he pointed out the way for those who were to be technically more efficient than he, for those who were, living in a later generation, to treat of questions of the day. Augustus Thomas says of him (in The Autobiography of a Play): "Some philosopher tells us that a factor of greatness in any field is the power to generalize, the ability to discover the principle underlying apparently discordant facts. Bronson Howard's plays are notable for their evidence of this power. He saw causes, tendencies, results. His plays are expositions of this chemistry. Shenandoah dealt broadly with the forces and feelings behind the Civil War; The Henrietta with the American passion for speculation -- the money-madness that was dividing families. Aristocracy was a very accurate, although satirical, seizure of the disposition, then in its strongest manifestation, of a newly-rich and Western family of native force to break into the exclusive social set of New York and to do so through a preparatory European alliance."
What is the generalization in Young Mrs. Winthrop? Wherein lies its modernity?
Often -- too often in American drama -- the child is brought into the action of a play in order to attract the sympathy of the audience. David Belasco [did] this in The Return of Peter Grimm with notable effect. How has Howard utilized the child-motif in this play?
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