Famous Plays of 1931

December 21, 2013 – 01:05 pm

From a series of compilations published by Gollancz, beginning in 1929 with Famous Plays of Today, then continuing more or less annually until 1938-39 (and, anomalously, 1954).

1. The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolf Besier. The scene is the same throughout: as the author archly remarks in the headnote, this comedy took place in Elizabeth Barrett's room in 1845. It portrays her long-postponed meeting and romance with an irresistibly buoyant Robert Browning, the recovery of her health and spirits, and finally her escape from the repellent emotional blackmail of her ultra-disciplinarian father, an almost-insane Victorian paterfamilias whose relationship with her late mother, it's eventually revealed, had declined into long-term marital rape (Mr Barrett is the decendant of characters such as Soames Forsyte in The Man of Property (1906), and the Reverend Gregorius in Hjalmar Söderberg's Doktor Glas (1905)). This was Besier's only hit. Film adaptation in 1934. (Above, Basil Rathbone as Browning, in the 1933-34 tour of Katherine Cornell's US version, which converted Besier's five-act structure into a more convenient three acts.)

2. The Improper Duchess, by J.B. Fagan. Set in Washington D.C, and concerned with oil negotiations with the imaginary kingdom of Poldavia during the "next" presidency. The sprightly and resourceful duchess, mistress of the King, uses her charms to overturn a plot to wreck the negotiations by invoking puritanical US laws. (The King's hunting forest is sold as a valuable oil concession, apparently to the joy of all; a story-line that today can only prompt sombre reflections on Ecuador's unprecedented negotiations to try and preserve rainforest from the oil industry.) Film adaptation in 1936.

3. To See Ourselves, by E.M. Delafield. Caroline's marriage to Freddie, papermill owner in Devon, has gone stale; a visit by her sister and fiancé, themselves hoping to avoid the same dismal prospect, shakes it up. E.M Delafield was a prolific novelist who touched on social and feminist issues; upper-middle class, unconventional, entered a convent in her youth but eventually rebelled, still slightly remembered for "Diary of a Provincial Lady".

Source: michaelpeverett.blogspot.com

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