The following analysis of Hindle Wakes was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 149-53.
Hindle Wakes is original by reason of its theme (the same, by the way, as that treated in St. John Ervine's The Magnanimous Lover and Galsworthy's The Eldest Son), its telling dialogue, and its construction. The characters are well drawn, lifelike, thoroughly human.
It is only by comparison with such plays as Sweet Lavender that one can appreciate the immence advance made in dialogue in this play. The early Pinero play was considerably influenced by the very stilted style of Robertson and H.J. Byron; still, it purported to be realistic in treatment. Read the first five pages of Sweet Lavender, then read the first five of Hindle Wakes. Then read the first five of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, which is intended to be still closer to "real life," and then read five more of the Houghton play. Again, read a scene from The Thunderbolt (by Pinero), one of the few frankly realistic pictures of English middle-class society which Pinero attempted, and read another scene from Hindle Wakes. Pinero cannot escape from the shackles of his predecessors; Houghton came to the theater with a fresh outlook on life, and few ideas about the "literary" style of dialogue.
Hindle Wakes, besides being a "slice of life" and an intersting story, is a "thesis play." This does not mean that the author wrote it solely to exploit an idea, or that he was so interested in the moral that he neglected any means to make the play an interesting spectacle: the idea serves only to increase the interest. Up to the very last of the play the author's solution is not made clear. This was Ibsen's method in A Doll's House, where, up to the middle of the last act, Nora's sudden resolution was not hinted at. It is likely that if these dramatists had been more interested in the propagandist side of their work they would doubtless have foreshadowed the end earlier in the play: their enthusiasm would have led them into argument and discussion far before the end. But both Ibsen and Houghton allowed their plays to develop naturally up to what in a conventional play would have been the beginning of the usual end, and then -- by a sudden turn -- changed the whole dénouement.
What indications are there that Houghton was less concerned than Ibsen with the idea, as distinct from the play as a dramatic entertainment? Does Houghton adopt a moral attitude? An immoral attitude?
What is the advantage of dividing the first act into three scenes? Is there any necessity for combining these three parts into one act? Why could the author not have made each of these into a separate act? Why did he not divide the second and third acts into scenes?
In any thesis play there is a danger that characters speak a good deal more logically and with much more penetration than they would in life: the dramatist puts his own arguments into their mouths, and consequently distorts them as characters. What would ordinarily be the logic of their actions he often makes them reason out in a way which would be out of the question in any other place. The logical explanation of Fanny's conduct occurs in the last scene of this play. Notice the following dialogue.
ALAN: ... you'd damage my prospects, and all that sort of thing. You can see that, can't you?
FANNY: Ay! I can see it now you point it out. I hadn't thought of it before.
ALAN: Then, that isn't why you refused me?
FANNY: Sorry to disappoint you, but it's not.
ALAN: I didn't see what else it could be.
FANNY: Don't kid yourself, my lad! It isn't because I'm afraid of spoiling your life that I'm refusing you, but because I'm afraid of spoiling mine! That didn't occur to you?
ALAN: It didn't.
FANNY: You never thought that anybody else could be as selfish as yourself.
ALAN: I may be very conceited, but I don't see how you can hurt yourself by wedding me. You'd come in for plenty of brass, anyhow.
FANNY: I don't know as money's much to go by when it comes to a job of this sort. It's more important to get the right chap.
ALAN: You like me well enough?
FANNY: Suppose it didn't last? Weddings brought about this road have a knack of turning out badly. Would you ever forget it was your father bade you marry me? No fear! You'd bear me a grudge all my life for that.
ALAN: But you didn't ever really love me?
FANNY: Love you? Good Heavens, of course not! Why on earth should I love you? You were just some one to have a bit of fun with. You were an amusement -- a lark.
ALAN: (shocked) Fanny! Is that all you cared for me?
FANNY: How much more did you care for me?
ALAN: But it's not the same. I'm a man.
FANNY: You're a man, and I was your little fancy. Well, I'm a woman, and you were my little fancy. You wouldn't prevent a woman enjoying herself as well as a man, if she takes it into her head?
ALAN: But do you mean to say that you didn't care any more for me than a fellow cares for any girl he happens to pick up?
FANNY: Yes. Are you shocked?
ALAN: It's a bit thick; it is really!
FANNY: You're a beauty to talk!
ALAN: It sounds so jolly immoral. I never thought of a girl looking on a chap just like that! I made sure you wanted to marry me if you got the chance....
Is the dramatist forcing his characters (Fanny especially) to give utterance to ideas which they would scarcely be able to formulate, merely in order that the theme may be clear?
How far has an author the right to do this?
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