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Title: The Cocktail Party

Date of first publication: 1950

Author: T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot (1888-1965)

Date first posted: May 26, 2020

Date last updated: May 26, 2020

Faded Page eBook #20200559

This eBook was produced by: Al Haines, Cindy Beyer & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party

By T. S. Eliot








edited by Valerie Eliot


children’s verse








literary criticism







edited by Ronald Schuchard


edited by Frank Kermode

social criticism




Volume 1—1898-1922

edited by Valerie Eliot

T. S. Eliot


The Cocktail Party

First published in 1950


© T. S. Eliot 1950

I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to two critics. To Mr. E. Martin Browne, who was responsible for the first production of this play at the Edinburgh Festival, 1949: for his criticism of the structure, from the first version to the last; for suggestions most of which have been accepted, and which, when accepted, have all been fully justified on the stage. And to Mr. John Hayward, for continuous criticism and correction of vocabulary, idiom and manners. My debt to both of these censors could be understood only by comparison of the successive drafts of this play with the final text.

T. S. E.

November 1949

In addition to some minor corrections, certain alterations in Act III, based on the experience of the play’s production, were made in the fourth impression of the text.

T. S. E.

August 1950


Edward Chamberlayne


Julia (Mrs. Shuttlethwaite)


Celia Coplestone


Alexander MacColgie Gibbs


Peter Quilpe


An Unidentified Guest, later identified as Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly


Lavinia Chamberlayne


A Nurse-Secretary


Two Caterer’s Men

The scene is laid in London

 The Cocktail Party

Act One. Scene 1

The drawing-room of the Chamberlaynes’ London flat. Early evening. Edward Chamberlayne, Julia Shuttlethwaite, Celia Coplestone, Peter Quilpe, Alexander MacColgie Gibbs, and an Unidentified Guest.


You’ve missed the point completely, Julia:

There were no tigers. That was the point.


Then what were you doing, up in a tree:

You and the Maharaja?


You and the Maharaja?My dear Julia!

It’s perfectly hopeless. You haven’t been listening.


You’ll have to tell us all over again, Alex.


I never tell the same story twice.


But I’m still waiting to know what happened.

I know it started as a story about tigers.


I said there were no tigers.


I said there were no tigers.Oh do stop wrangling,

Both of you. It’s your turn, Julia.

Do tell us that story you told the other day, about Lady Klootz and the wedding cake.


And how the butler found her in the pantry, rinsing her mouth out with champagne.

I like that story.


I like that story.I love that story.


                    I’m never tired of hearing that story.


Well, you all seem to know it.


Well, you all seem to know it.Do we all know it?

But we’re never tired of hearing you tell it.

I don’t believe everyone here knows it.

[To the Unidentified Guest]

You don’t know it, do you?

Unidentified Guest

You don’t know it, do you?No, I’ve never heard it.


Here’s one new listener for you, Julia;

And I don’t believe that Edward knows it.


I may have heard it, but I don’t remember it.


And Julia’s the only person to tell it.

She’s such a good mimic.


She’s such a good mimic.Am I a good mimic?


You are a good mimic. You never miss anything.


She never misses anything unless she wants to.


Especially the Lithuanian accent.


Lithuanian? Lady Klootz?


Lithuanian? Lady Klootz?I thought she was Belgian.


Her father belonged to a Baltic family—

One of the oldest Baltic families

With a branch in Sweden and one in Denmark.

There were several very lovely daughters:

I wonder what’s become of them now.


Lady Klootz was very lovely, once upon a time.

What a life she led! I used to say to her: ‘Greta!

You have too much vitality.’ But she enjoyed herself.

[To the Unidentified Guest]

Did you know Lady Klootz?

Unidentified Guest

Did you know Lady Klootz?No, I never met her.


Go on with the story about the wedding cake.


Well, but it really isn’t my story.

I heard it first from Delia Verinder

Who was there when it happened.

[To the Unidentified Guest]

                     Do you know Delia Verinder?

Unidentified Guest

No, I don’t know her.


No, I don’t know her.Well, one can’t be too careful

Before one tells a story.


Before one tells a story.Delia Verinder?

Was she the one who had three brothers?


How many brothers? Two, I think.


No, there were three, but you wouldn’t know the third one:

They kept him rather quiet.


They kept him rather quiet.Oh, you mean that one.


He was feeble-minded.


He was feeble-minded.Oh, not feeble-minded:

He was only harmless.


He was only harmless.Well then, harmless.


He was very clever at repairing clocks;

And he had a remarkable sense of hearing—

The only man I ever met who could hear the cry of bats.


Hear the cry of bats?


Hear the cry of bats?He could hear the cry of bats.


But how do you know he could hear the cry of bats?


Because he said so. And I believed him.


But if he was so . . . harmless, how could you believe him?

He might have imagined it.


He might have imagined it.My darling Celia,

You needn’t be so sceptical. I stayed there once

At their castle in the North. How he suffered!

They had to find an island for him

Where there were no bats.


Where there were no bats.And is he still there?

Julia is really a mine of information.


There isn’t much that Julia doesn’t know.


Go on with the story about the wedding cake.

[Edward leaves the room]


No, we’ll wait until Edward comes back into the room.

Now I want to relax. Are there any more cocktails?


But do go on. Edward wasn’t listening anyway.


No, he wasn’t listening, but he’s such a strain—

Edward without Lavinia! He’s quite impossible!

Leaving it to me to keep things going.

What a host! And nothing fit to eat!

The only reason for a cocktail party

For a gluttonous old woman like me

Is a really nice tit-bit. I can drink at home.

[Edward returns with a tray]

Edward, give me another of those delicious olives.

What’s that? Potato crisps? No, I can’t endure them.

Well, I started to tell you about Lady Klootz.

It was at the Vincewell wedding. Oh, so many years ago!

[To the Unidentified Guest]

Did you know the Vincewells?

Unidentified Guest

Did you know the Vincewells?No, I don’t know the Vincewells.


Oh, they’re both dead now. But I wanted to know.

If they’d been friends of yours, I couldn’t tell the story.


Were they the parents of Tony Vincewell?


Yes. Tony was the product, but not the solution.

He only made the situation more difficult.

You know Tony Vincewell? You knew him at Oxford?


No, I never knew him at Oxford:

I came across him last year in California.


I’ve always wanted to go to California.

Do tell us what you were doing in California.


Making a film.


Making a film.Trying to make a film.


Oh, what film was it? I wonder if I’ve seen it.


No, you wouldn’t have seen it. As a matter of fact

It was never produced. They did a film

But they used a different scenario.


Not the one you wrote?


Not the one you wrote?Not the one I wrote:

But I had a very enjoyable time.


Go on with the story about the wedding cake.


Edward, do sit down for a moment.

I know you’re always the perfect host,

But just try to pretend you’re another guest

At Lavinia’s party. There are so many questions

I want to ask you. It’s a golden opportunity

Now Lavinia’s away. I’ve always said:

‘If I could only get Edward alone

And have a really serious conversation!’

I said so to Lavinia. She agreed with me.

She said: ‘I wish you’d try.’ And this is the first time

I’ve ever seen you without Lavinia

Except for the time she got locked in the lavatory

And couldn’t get out. I know what you’re thinking!

I know you think I’m a silly old woman

But I’m really very serious. Lavinia takes me seriously.

I believe that’s the reason why she went away—

So that I could make you talk. Perhaps she’s in the pantry

Listening to all we say!


Listening to all we say!No, she’s not in the pantry.


Will she be away for some time, Edward?


I really don’t know until I hear from her.

If her aunt is very ill, she may be gone some time.


And how will you manage while she is away?


I really don’t know. I may go away myself.


Go away yourself!


Go away yourself!Have you an aunt too?


No, I haven’t any aunt. But I might go away.


But, Edward . . . what was I going to say?

It’s dreadful for old ladies alone in the country,

And almost impossible to get a nurse.


Is that her Aunt Laura?


Is that her Aunt Laura?No; another aunt

Whom you wouldn’t know. Her mother’s sister

And rather a recluse.


And rather a recluse.Her favourite aunt?


Her aunt’s favourite niece. And she’s rather difficult.

When she’s ill, she insists on having Lavinia.


I never heard of her being ill before.


No, she’s always very strong. That’s why when she’s ill

She gets into a panic.


She gets into a panic.And sends for Lavinia.

I quite understand. Are there any prospects?


No, I think she put it all into an annuity.


So it’s very unselfish of Lavinia

Yet very like her. But really, Edward,

Lavinia may be away for weeks,

Or she may come back and be called away again.

I understand these tough old women—

I’m one myself. I feel as if I knew

All about that aunt in Hampshire.


All about that aunt in Hampshire.Hampshire?


Didn’t you say Hampshire?


Didn’t you say Hampshire?No, I didn’t say Hampshire.


Did you say Hampstead?


Did you say Hampstead?No, I didn’t say Hampstead.


But she must live somewhere.


But she must live somewhere.She lives in Essex.


Anywhere near Colchester? Lavinia loves oysters.


No. In the depths of Essex.


No. In the depths of Essex.Well, we won’t probe into it.

You have the address, and the telephone number?

I might run down and see Lavinia

On my way to Cornwall. But let’s be sensible:

Now you must let me be your maiden aunt—

Living on an annuity, of course.

I am going to make you dine alone with me

On Friday, and talk to me about everything.




Everything?Oh, you know what I mean.

The next election. And the secrets of your cases.


Most of my secrets are quite uninteresting.


Well, you shan’t escape. You dine with me on Friday.

I’ve already chosen the people you’re to meet.


But you asked me to dine with you alone.


But you asked me to dine with you alone.Yes, alone!

Without Lavinia! You’ll like the other people—

But you’re to talk to me. So that’s all settled.

And now I must be going.


And now I must be going.Must you be going?


But won’t you tell the story about Lady Klootz?


What Lady Klootz?


What Lady Klootz?And the wedding cake.


Wedding cake? I wasn’t at her wedding.

Edward, it’s been a delightful evening:

The potato crisps were really excellent.

Now let me see. Have I got everything?

It’s such a nice party, I hate to leave it.

It’s such a nice party, I’d like to repeat it.

Why don’t you all come to dinner on Friday?

No, I’m afraid my good Mrs. Batten

Would give me notice. And now I must be going.


I’m afraid I ought to be going.


I’m afraid I ought to be going.Celia—

May I walk along with you?


May I walk along with you?No, I’m sorry, Peter;

I’ve got to take a taxi.


I’ve got to take a taxi.You come with me, Peter:

You can get me a taxi, and then I can drop you.

I expect you on Friday, Edward. And Celia—

I must see you very soon. Now don’t all go

Just because I’m going. Good-bye, Edward.


Good-bye, Julia.

[Exeunt Julia and Peter]


Good-bye, Julia.Good-bye, Edward.

Shall I see you soon?


Shall I see you soon?Perhaps. I don’t know.


Perhaps you don’t know? Very well, good-bye.


Good-bye, Celia.


Good-bye, Celia.Good-bye, Edward. I do hope

You’ll have better news of Lavinia’s aunt.


Oh . . . yes . . . thank you. Good-bye, Alex,

It was nice of you to come.

[Exeunt Alex and Celia]

[To the Unidentified Guest]

It was nice of you to come.Don’t go yet.

Don’t go yet. We’ll finish the cocktails.

Or would you rather have whisky?

Unidentified Guest

Or would you rather have whisky?Gin.


Anything in it?

Unidentified Guest

Anything in it?A drop of water.


I want to apologise for this evening.

The fact is, I tried to put off this party:

These were only the people I couldn’t put off

Because I couldn’t get at them in time;

And I didn’t know that you were coming.

I thought that Lavinia had told me the names

Of all the people she said she’d invited.

But it’s only that dreadful old woman who mattered—

I shouldn’t have minded anyone else,

[The doorbell rings. Edward goes to the door, saying:]

But she always turns up when she’s least wanted.

[Opens the door]


[Enter Julia]


Julia!Edward! How lucky that it’s raining!

It made me remember my umbrella,

And there it is! Now what are you two plotting?

How very lucky it was my umbrella,

And not Alexander’s—he’s so inquisitive!

But I never poke into other people’s business.

Well, good-bye again. I’m off at last.



I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t know your name.

Unidentified Guest

I ought to be going.


I ought to be going.Don’t go yet.

I very much want to talk to somebody;

And it’s easier to talk to a person you don’t know.

The fact is, that Lavinia has left me.

Unidentified Guest

Your wife has left you?


Your wife has left you?Without warning, of course;

Just when she’d arranged a cocktail party.

She’d gone when I came in, this afternoon.

She left a note to say that she was leaving me;

But I don’t know where she’s gone.

Unidentified Guest

But I don’t know where she’s gone.This is an occasion.

May I take another drink?


May I take another drink?Whisky?

Unidentified Guest

May I take another drink?Whisky?Gin.


Anything in it?

Unidentified Guest

Anything in it?Nothing but water.

And I recommend you the same prescription . . .

Let me prepare it for you, if I may . . .

Strong . . . but sip it slowly . . . and drink it sitting down.

Breathe deeply, and adopt a relaxed position.

There we are. Now for a few questions.

How long married?


How long married?Five years.

Unidentified Guest

How long married?Five years.Children?



Unidentified Guest

                      Then look at the brighter side.

You say you don’t know where she’s gone?


You say you don’t know where she’s gone?No, I do not.

Unidentified Guest

Do you know who the man is?


Do you know who the man is?There was no other man—

None that I know of.

Unidentified Guest

None that I know of.Or another woman

Of whom she thought she had cause to be jealous?


She had nothing to complain of in my behaviour.

Unidentified Guest

Then no doubt it’s all for the best.

With another man, she might have made a mistake

And want to come back to you. If another woman,

She might decide to be forgiving

And gain an advantage. If there’s no other woman

And no other man, then the reason may be deeper

And you’ve ground for hope that she won’t come back at all.

If another man, then you’d want to re-marry

To prove to the world that somebody wanted you;

If another woman, you might have to marry her—

You might even imagine that you wanted to marry her.


But I want my wife back.

Unidentified Guest

But I want my wife back.That’s the natural reaction.

It’s embarrassing, and inconvenient.

It was inconvenient, having to lie about it

Because you can’t tell the truth on the telephone.

It will all take time that you can’t well spare;

But I put it to you . . .


But I put it to you . . .Don’t put it to me.

Unidentified Guest

Then I suggest . . .


Then I suggest . . .And please don’t suggest.

I have often used these terms in examining witnesses,

So I don’t like them. May I put it to you?

I know that I invited this conversation:

But I don’t know who you are. This is not what I expected.

I only wanted to relieve my mind

By telling someone what I’d been concealing.

I don’t think I want to know who you are;

But, at the same time, unless you know my wife

A good deal better than I thought, or unless you know

A good deal more about us than appears—

I think your speculations rather offensive.

Unidentified Guest

I know you as well as I know your wife;

And I knew that all you wanted was the luxury

Of an intimate disclosure to a stranger.

Let me, therefore, remain the stranger.

But let me tell you, that to approach the stranger

Is to invite the unexpected, release a new force,

Or let the genie out of the bottle.

It is to start a train of events

Beyond your control. So let me continue.

I will say then, you experience some relief

Of which you’re not aware. It will come to you slowly:

When you wake in the morning, when you go to bed at night,

That you are beginning to enjoy your independence;

Finding your life becoming cosier and cosier

Without the consistent critic, the patient misunderstander

Arranging life a little better than you like it,

Preferring not quite the same friends as yourself,

Or making your friends like her better than you;

And, turning the past over and over,

You’ll wonder only that you endured it for so long.

And perhaps at times you will feel a little jealous

That she saw it first, and had the courage to break it—

Thus giving herself a permanent advantage.


It might turn out so, yet . . .

Unidentified Guest

It might turn out so, yet . . .Are you going to say, you love her?


Why, I thought we took each other for granted.

I never thought I should be any happier

With another person. Why speak of love?

We were used to each other. So her going away

At a moment’s notice, without explanation,

Only a note to say that she had gone

And was not coming back—well, I can’t understand it.

Nobody likes to be left with a mystery:

It’s so . . . unfinished.

Unidentified Guest

It’s so . . . unfinished.Yes, it’s unfinished;

And nobody likes to be left with a mystery.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s a loss of personality;

Or rather, you’ve lost touch with the person

You thought you were. You no longer feel quite human.

You’re suddenly reduced to the status of an object—

A living object, but no longer a person.

It’s always happening, because one is an object

As well as a person. But we forget about it

As quickly as we can. When you’ve dressed for a party

And are going downstairs, with everything about you

Arranged to support you in the role you have chosen,

Then sometimes, when you come to the bottom step

There is one step more than your feet expected

And you come down with a jolt. Just for a moment

You have the experience of being an object

At the mercy of a malevolent staircase.

Or, take a surgical operation.

In consultation with the doctor and the surgeon,

In going to bed in the nursing home,

In talking to the matron, you are still the subject,

The centre of reality. But, stretched on the table,

You are a piece of furniture in a repair shop

For those who surround you, the masked actors;

All there is of you is your body

And the ‘you’ is withdrawn. May I replenish?


Oh, I’m sorry. What were you drinking?


Unidentified Guest



Whisky?Gin.Anything with it?

Unidentified Guest

Whisky?Gin.Anything with it?Water.


To what does this lead?

Unidentified Guest

To what does this lead?To finding out

What you really are. What you really feel.

What you really are among other people.

Most of the time we take ourselves for granted,

As we have to, and live on a little knowledge

About ourselves as we were. Who are you now?

You don’t know any more than I do,

But rather less. You are nothing but a set

Of obsolete responses. The one thing to do

Is to do nothing. Wait.


Is to do nothing. Wait.Wait!

But waiting is the one thing impossible.

Besides, don’t you see that it makes me ridiculous?

Unidentified Guest

It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.

Resign yourself to be the fool you are.

That’s the best advice that I can give you.


But how can I wait, not knowing what I’m waiting for?

Shall I say to my friends, ‘My wife has gone away’?

And they answer ‘Where?’ and I say ‘I don’t know’;

And they say, ‘But when will she be back?’

And I reply ‘I don’t know that she is coming back’.

And they ask ‘But what are you going to do?’

And I answer ‘Nothing’. They will think me mad

Or simply contemptible.

Unidentified Guest

Or simply contemptible.All to the good.

You will find that you survive humiliation.

And that’s an experience of incalculable value.


Stop! I agree that much of what you’ve said

Is true enough. But that is not all.

Since I saw her this morning when we had breakfast

I no longer remember what my wife is like.

I am not quite sure that I could describe her

If I had to ask the police to search for her.

I’m sure I don’t know what she was wearing

When I saw her last. And yet I want her back.

And I must get her back, to find out what has happened

During the five years that we’ve been married.

I must find out who she is, to find out who I am.

And what is the use of all your analysis

If I am to remain always lost in the dark?

Unidentified Guest

There is certainly no purpose in remaining in the dark

Except long enough to clear from the mind

The illusion of having ever been in the light.

The fact that you can’t give a reason for wanting her

Is the best reason for believing that you want her.


I want to see her again—here.

Unidentified Guest

I want to see her again—here.You shall see her again—here.


Do you mean to say that you know where she is?

Unidentified Guest

That question is not worth the trouble of an answer.

But if I bring her back it must be on one condition:

That you promise to ask her no questions

Of where she has been.


Of where she has been.I will not ask them.

And yet—it seems to me—when we began to talk

I was not sure I wanted her; and now I want her.

Do I want her? Or is it merely your suggestion?

Unidentified Guest

We do not know yet. In twenty-four hours

She will come to you here. You will be here to meet her.

[The doorbell rings]


I must answer the door.

[Edward goes to the door]

So it’s you again, Julia!

[Enter Julia and Peter]


Edward, I’m so glad to find you.

Do you know, I must have left my glasses here,

And I simply can’t see a thing without them.

I’ve been dragging Peter all over town

Looking for them everywhere I’ve been.

Has anybody found them? You can tell if they’re mine—

Some kind of a plastic sort of frame—

I’m afraid I don’t remember the colour,

But I’d know them, because one lens is missing.

Unidentified Guest


As I was drinkin’ gin and water,

    And me bein’ the One-Eyed Riley,

Who came in but the landlord’s daughter

    And she took my heart entirely.

You will keep our appointment?


You will keep our appointment?I shall keep it.

Unidentified Guest


Tooryooly toory-iley,

    What’s the matter with One-Eyed Riley?



Edward, who is that dreadful man?

I’ve never been so insulted in my life.

It’s very lucky that I left my spectacles:

This is what I call an adventure!

Tell me about him. You’ve been drinking together!

So this is the kind of friend you have

When Lavinia is out of the way! Who is he?


I don’t know.


I don’t know.You don’t know?


I don’t know.You don’t know?I never saw him before in my life.


But how did he come here?


But how did he come here?I don’t know.


You don’t know! And what’s his name?

Did I hear him say his name was Riley?


I don’t know his name.


I don’t know his name.You don’t know his name?


I tell you I’ve no idea who he is

Or how he got here.


Or how he got here.But what did you talk about

Or were you singing songs all the time?

There’s altogether too much mystery

About this place to-day.


About this place to-day.I’m very sorry.


No, I love it. But that reminds me

About my glasses. That’s the greatest mystery.

Peter! Why aren’t you looking for them?

Look on the mantelpiece. Where was I sitting?

Just turn out the bottom of that sofa—

No, this chair. Look under the cushion.


Are you quite sure they’re not in your bag?


Why no, of course not: that’s where I keep them.

Oh, here they are! Thank you, Edward;

That really was very clever of you;

I’d never have found them but for you.

The next time I lose anything, Edward,

I’ll come straight to you, instead of to St. Anthony.

And now I must fly. I’ve kept the taxi waiting.

Come along, Peter.


Come along, Peter.I hope you won’t mind

If I don’t come with you, Julia? On the way back

I remembered something I had to say to Edward . . .


Oh, about Lavinia?


Oh, about Lavinia?No, not about Lavinia.

It’s something I want to consult him about,

And I could do it now.


And I could do it now.Of course I don’t mind.


Well, at least you must let me take you down in the lift.


No, you stop and talk to Edward. I’m not helpless yet.

And besides, I like to manage the machine myself—

In a lift I can meditate. Good-bye then.

And thank you—both of you—very much.



I hope I’m not disturbing you, Edward.


I seem to have been disturbed already;

And I did rather want to be alone.

But what’s it all about?


But what’s it all about?I want your help.

I was going to telephone and try to see you later;

But this seemed an opportunity.


But this seemed an opportunity.And what’s your trouble?


This evening I felt I could bear it no longer.

That awful party! I’m sorry, Edward;

Of course it was really a very nice party

For everyone but me. And that wasn’t your fault.

I don’t suppose you noticed the situation.


I did think I noticed one or two things;

But I don’t pretend I was aware of everything.


Oh, I’m very glad that you didn’t notice:

I must have behaved rather better than I thought.

If you didn’t notice, I don’t suppose the others did,

Though I’m rather afraid of Julia Shuttlethwaite.


Julia is certainly observant,

But I think she had some other matter on her mind.


It’s about Celia. Myself and Celia.


Why, what could there be about yourself and Celia?

Have you anything in common, do you think?


It seemed to me we had a great deal in common.

We’re both of us artists.


We’re both of us artists.I never thought of that.

What arts do you practise?


What arts do you practise?You won’t have seen my novel,

Though it had some very good reviews.

But it’s more the cinema that interests both of us.


A common interest in the moving pictures

Frequently brings young people together.


Now you’re only being sarcastic:

Celia was interested in the art of the film.


As a possible profession?


As a possible profession?She might make it a profession;

Though she had her poetry.


Though she had her poetry.Yes, I’ve seen her poetry—

Interesting if one is interested in Celia.

Apart, of course, from its literary merit

Which I don’t pretend to judge.


Which I don’t pretend to judge.Well, I can judge it,

And I think it’s very good. But that’s not the point.

The point is, I thought we had a great deal in common

And I think she thought so too.


And I think she thought so too.How did you come to know her?

[Enter Alex]


Ah, there you are, Edward! Do you know why I’ve looked in?


I’d like to know first how you got in, Alex.


Why, I came and found that the door was open

And so I thought I’d slip in and see if anyone was with you.


Julia must have left it open.


Julia must have left it open.Never mind;

So long as you both shut it when you go out.


Ah, but you’re coming with me, Edward.

I thought, Edward may be all alone this evening,

And I know that he hates to spend an evening alone,

So you’re going to come out and have dinner with me.


That’s very thoughtful of you, Alex, I’m sure;

But I rather want to be alone, this evening.


But you’ve got to have some dinner. Are you going out?

Is there anyone here to get dinner for you?


No, I shan’t want much, and I’ll get it myself.


Ah, in that case I know what I’ll do.

I’m going to give you a little surprise:

You know, I’m rather a famous cook.

I’m going straight to your kitchen now

And I shall prepare you a nice little dinner

Which you can have alone. And then we’ll leave you.

Meanwhile, you and Peter can go on talking

And I shan’t disturb you.


And I shan’t disturb you.My dear Alex,

There’ll be nothing in the larder worthy of your cooking.

I couldn’t think of it.


I couldn’t think of it.Ah, but that’s my special gift—

Concocting a toothsome meal out of nothing.

Any scraps you have will do. I learned that in the East.

With a handful of rice and a little dried fish

I can make half-a-dozen dishes. Don’t say a word.

I shall begin at once.

[Exit to kitchen]


I shall begin at once.Well, where did you leave off?


You asked me how I came to know Celia.

I met her here, about a year ago.


At one of Lavinia’s amateur Thursdays?


A Thursday. Why do you say amateur?


Lavinia’s attempts at starting a salon,

Where I entertained the minor guests

And dealt with the misfits, Lavinia’s mistakes.

But you were one of the minor successes

For a time at least.


For a time at least.I wouldn’t say that.

But Lavinia was awfully kind to me

And I owe her a great deal. And then I met Celia.

She was different from any girl I’d ever known

And not easy to talk to, on that occasion.


Did you see her often?

Alex’s Voice

Did you see her often?Edward, have you a double boiler?


I suppose there must be a double boiler:

Isn’t there one in every kitchen?

Alex’s Voice

Isn’t there one in every kitchen?I can’t find it.

There goes that surprise. I must think of another.


                                  Not very often.

And when I did, I got no chance to talk to her.


You and Celia were asked for different purposes.

Your role was to be one of Lavinia’s discoveries;

Celia’s, to provide society and fashion.

Lavinia always had the ambition

To establish herself in two worlds at once—

But she herself had to be the link between them.

That is why, I think, her Thursdays were a failure.


You speak as if everything was finished.


Oh no, no, everything is left unfinished.

But you haven’t told me how you came to know Celia.


I saw her again a few days later

Alone at a concert. And I was alone.

I’ve always gone to concerts alone—

At first, because I knew no one to go with,

And later, I found I preferred to go alone.

But a girl like Celia, it seemed very strange,

Because I had thought of her merely as a name

In a society column, to find her there alone.

Anyway, we got into conversation

And I found that she went to concerts alone

And to look at pictures. So we often met

In the same way, and sometimes went together.

And to be with Celia, that was something different

From company or solitude. And we sometimes had tea

And once or twice dined together.


And once or twice dined together.And after that

Did she ever introduce you to her family

Or to any of her friends?


Or to any of her friends?No, but once or twice she spoke of them

And about their lack of intellectual interests.


And what happened after that?


And what happened after that?Oh, nothing happened.

But I thought that she really cared about me.

And I was so happy when we were together—

So . . . contented, so . . . at peace: I can’t express it;

I had never imagined such quiet happiness.

I had only experienced excitement, delirium,

Desire for possession. It was not like that at all.

It was something very strange. There was such . . . tranquillity . . .


And what interrupted this interesting affair?

[Enter Alex in shirtsleeves and an apron]


Edward, I can’t find any curry powder.


There isn’t any curry powder. Lavinia hates curry.


There goes another surprise, then. I must think.

I didn’t expect to find any mangoes,

But I did count upon curry powder.



That is exactly what I want to know.

She has simply faded—into some other picture—

Like a film effect. She doesn’t want to see me;

Makes excuses, not very plausible,

And when I do see her, she seems preoccupied

With some secret excitement which I cannot share.


Do you think she has simply lost interest in you?


You put it just wrong. I think of it differently.

It is not her interest in me that I miss—

But those moments in which we seemed to share some perception,

Some feeling, some indefinable experience

In which we were both unaware of ourselves.

In your terms, perhaps, she’s lost interest in me.


That is all very normal. If you could only know

How lucky you are. In a little while

This might have become an ordinary affair

Like any other. As the fever cooled

You would have found that she was another woman

And that you were another man. I congratulate you

On a timely escape.


On a timely escape.I should prefer to be spared

Your congratulations. I had to talk to someone.

And I have been telling you of something real—

My first experience of reality

And perhaps it is the last. And you don’t understand.


My dear Peter, I have only been telling you

What would have happened to you with Celia

In another six months’ time. There it is.

You can take it or leave it.


You can take it or leave it.But what am I to do?


Nothing. Wait. Go back to California.


But I must see Celia.


But I must see Celia.Will it be the same Celia?

Better be content with the Celia you remember.

Remember! I say it’s already a memory.


But I must see Celia at least to make her tell me

What has happened, in her terms. Until I know that

I shan’t know the truth about even the memory.

Did we really share these interests? Did we really feel the same

When we heard certain music? Or looked at certain pictures?

There was something real. But what is the reality . . .

[The telephone rings]


Excuse me a moment.

[Into telephone]

Excuse me a moment.Hello! . . . I can’t talk now . . .

Yes, there is . . . Well then, I’ll ring you

As soon as I can.

[To Peter]

As soon as I can.I’m sorry. You were saying?


I was saying, what is the reality

Of experience between two unreal people?

If I can only hold to the memory

I can bear any future. But I must find out

The truth about the past, for the sake of the memory.


There’s no memory you can wrap in camphor

But the moths will get in. So you want to see Celia.

I don’t know why I should be taking all this trouble

To protect you from the fool you are.

What do you want me to do?


What do you want me to do?See Celia for me.

You knew her in a different way from me

And you are so much older.


And you are so much older.So much older?


Yes, I’m sure that she would listen to you

As someone disinterested.


As someone disinterested.Well, I will see Celia.


Thank you, Edward. It’s very good of you.

[Enter Alex, with his jacket on]


Oh, Edward! I’ve prepared you such a treat!

I really think that of all my triumphs

This is the greatest. To make something out of nothing!

Never, even when travelling in Albania,

Have I made such a supper out of so few materials

As I found in your refrigerator. But of course

I was lucky to find half-a-dozen eggs.


What! You used all those eggs! Lavinia’s aunt

Has just sent them from the country.


Has just sent them from the country.Ah, so the aunt

Really exists. A substantial proof.


No, no . . . I mean, this is another aunt.


I understand. The real aunt. But you’ll be grateful.

There are very few peasants in Montenegro

Who can have the dish that you’ll be eating, nowadays.


But what about my breakfast?


But what about my breakfast?Don’t worry about breakfast

All you should want is a cup of black coffee

And a little dry toast. I’ve left it simmering.

Don’t leave it longer than another ten minutes.

Now I’ll be going, and I’ll take Peter with me.


Edward, I’ve taken too much of your time,

And you want to be alone. Give my love to Lavinia

When she comes back . . . but, if you don’t mind,

I’d rather you didn’t tell her what I’ve told you.


I shall not say anything about it to Lavinia.


Thank you, Edward. Good night.


Thank you, Edward. Good night.Good night, Peter,

And good night, Alex. Oh, and if you don’t mind,

Please shut the door after you, so that it latches.


Remember, Edward, not more than ten minutes,

Twenty minutes, and my work will be ruined.

[Exeunt Alex and Peter]

[Edward picks up the telephone, and dials a number.]


Is Miss Celia Coplestone in? . . . How long ago? . . .

No, it doesn’t matter.


Act One. Scene 2

The same room: a quarter of an hour later. Edward is alone, playing Patience. The doorbell rings, and he goes to answer it.

Celia’s Voice

Are you alone?

[Edward returns with Celia]


Are you alone?Celia! Why have you come back?

I said I would telephone as soon as I could:

And I tried to get you a short while ago.


If there had happened to be anyone with you

I was going to say I’d come back for my umbrella. . . .

I must say you don’t seem very pleased to see me.

Edward, I understand what has happened

But I could not understand your manner on the telephone.

It did not seem like you. So I felt I must see you.

Tell me it’s all right, and then I’ll go.


But how can you say you understand what has happened?

I don’t know what has happened, or what is going to happen;

And to try to understand it, I want to be alone.


I should have thought it was perfectly simple.

Lavinia has left you.


Lavinia has left you.Yes, that was the situation.

I suppose it was pretty obvious to everyone.


It was obvious that the aunt was a pure invention

On the spur of the moment, and not a very good one.

You should have been prepared with something better, for Julia;

But it doesn’t really matter. They will know soon enough.

Doesn’t that settle all our difficulties?


It has only brought to light the real difficulties.


But surely, these are only temporary.

You know I accepted the situation

Because a divorce would ruin your career;

And we thought that Lavinia would never want to leave you.

Surely you don’t hold to that silly convention

That the husband must always be the one to be divorced?

And if she chooses to give you the grounds . . .


I see. But it is not like that at all.

Lavinia is coming back.


Lavinia is coming back.Lavinia coming back!

Do you mean to say that she’s laid a trap for us?


No. If there is a trap, we are all in the trap,

We have set it for ourselves. But I do not know

What kind of trap it is.


What kind of trap it is.Then what has happened?

[The telephone rings]


Damn the telephone. I suppose I must answer it.

Hello . . . oh, hello! . . . No. I mean yes, Alex;

Yes, of course . . . it was marvellous.

I’ve never tasted anything like it . . .

Yes, that’s very interesting. But I just wondered

Whether it mightn’t be rather indigestible? . . .

Oh, no, Alex, don’t bring me any cheese;

I’ve got some cheese . . . No, not Norwegian;

But I don’t really want cheese . . . Slipper what? . . .

Oh, from Jugoslavia . . . prunes and alcohol?

No, really, Alex, I don’t want anything.

I’m very tired. Thanks awfully, Alex.

Good night.


Good night.What on earth was that about?


That was Alex.


That was Alex.I know it was Alex.

But what was he talking of?


But what was he talking of?I had quite forgotten.

He made his way in, a little while ago,

And insisted on cooking me something for supper;

And he said I must eat it within ten minutes.

I suppose it’s still cooking.


I suppose it’s still cooking.You suppose it’s still cooking!

I thought I noticed a peculiar smell:

Of course it’s still cooking—or doing something.

I must go and investigate.

[Starts to leave the room]


I must go and investigate.For heaven’s sake, don’t bother!

[Exit Celia]

Suppose someone came and found you in the kitchen?

[Edward goes over to the table and inspects his game of Patience. He moves a card. The doorbell rings repeatedly. Re-enter Celia, in an apron.]


You’d better answer the door, Edward.

It’s the best thing to do. Don’t lose your head.

You see, I really did leave my umbrella;

And I’ll say I found you here starving and helpless

And had to do something. Anyway, I’m staying

And I’m not going to hide.

[Returns to kitchen. The bell rings again. Edward goes to front door, and is heard to say:]

And I’m not going to hide.Julia!

What have you come back for?

[Enter Julia]


What have you come back for?I’ve had an inspiration!

[Enter Celia with saucepan]


Edward, it’s ruined!


Edward, it’s ruined!What a good thing.


But it’s ruined the saucepan too.


But it’s ruined the saucepan too.And half a dozen eggs:

I wanted one for breakfast. A boiled egg.

It’s the only thing I know how to cook.


Celia! I see you’ve had the same inspiration

That I had. Edward must be fed.

He’s under such a strain. We must keep his strength up.

Edward! Don’t you realise how lucky you are

To have two Good Samaritans? I never heard of that before.


The man who fell among thieves was luckier than I:

He was left at an inn.


He was left at an inn.Edward, how ungrateful.

What’s in that saucepan?


What’s in that saucepan?Nobody knows.


It’s something that Alex came and prepared for me.

He would do it. Three Good Samaritans.

I forgot all about it.


I forgot all about it.But you mustn’t touch it.


Of course I shan’t touch it.


Of course I shan’t touch it.My dear, I should have warned you

Anything that Alex makes is absolutely deadly.

I could tell such tales of his poisoning people.

Now, my dear, you give me that apron

And we’ll see what I can do. You stay and talk to Edward.

[Exit Julia]


But what has happened, Edward? What has happened?


Lavinia is coming back, I think.


You think! Don’t you know?


No, but I believe it. That man who was here—


Yes, who was that man? I was rather afraid of him;

He has some sort of power.


He has some sort of power.I don’t know who he is.

But I had some talk with him, when the rest of you had left,

And he said he would bring Lavinia back, tomorrow.


But why should that man want to bring her back—

Unless he is the Devil! I could believe he was.


Because I asked him to.


Because I asked him to.Because you asked him to!

Then he must be the Devil! He must have bewitched you.

How did he persuade you to want her back?

[A popping noise is heard from the kitchen]


What the devil’s that?

[Re-enter Julia, in apron, with a tray and three glasses]


What the devil’s that?I’ve had an inspiration!

There’s nothing in the place fit to eat:

I’ve looked high and low. But I found some champagne—

Only a half-bottle, to be sure,

And of course it isn’t chilled. But it’s so refreshing;

And I thought, we are all in need of a stimulant

After this disaster. Now I’ll propose a health.

Can you guess whose health I’m going to propose?


No, I can’t. But I won’t drink to Alex’s.


Oh, it isn’t Alex’s. Come, I give you

Lavinia’s aunt! You might have guessed it.

Edward and Celia

Lavinia’s aunt.


Lavinia’s aunt.Now, the next question

Is, what’s to be done. That’s very simple.

It’s too late, or too early, to go to a restaurant.

You must both come home with me.


You must both come home with me.No, I’m sorry, Julia.

I’m too tired to go out, and I’m not at all hungry.

I shall have a few biscuits.


I shall have a few biscuits.But you, Celia?

You must come and have a light supper with me—

Something very light.


Something very light.Thank you, Julia.

I think I will, if I may follow you

In about ten minutes? Before I go, there’s something

I want to say to Edward.


I want to say to Edward.About Lavinia?

Well, come on quickly. And take a taxi.

You know, you’re looking absolutely famished.

Good night, Edward.

[Exit Julia]


Good night, Edward.Well, how did he persuade you?


How did he persuade me? Did he persuade me?

I have a very clear impression

That he tried to persuade me it was all for the best

That Lavinia had gone; that I ought to be thankful.

And yet, the effect of all his argument

Was to make me see that I wanted her back.


That’s the Devil’s method! So you want Lavinia back!

Lavinia! So the one thing you care about

Is to avoid a break—anything unpleasant!

No, it can’t be that. I won’t think it’s that.

I think it is just a moment of surrender

To fatigue. And panic. You can’t face the trouble.


No, it is not that. It is not only that.


It cannot be simply a question of vanity:

That you think the world will laugh at you

Because your wife has left you for another man?

I shall soon put that right, Edward,

When you are free.


When you are free.No, it is not that.

And all these reasons were suggested to me

By the man I call Riley—though his name is not Riley;

It was just a name in a song he sang . . .


He sang you a song about a man named Riley!

Really, Edward, I think you are mad—

I mean, you’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Edward, if I go away now

Will you promise me to see a very great doctor

Whom I have heard of—and his name is Reilly!


It would need someone greater than the greatest doctor

To cure this illness.


To cure this illness.Edward, if I go now,

Will you assure me that everything is right,

That you do not mean to have Lavinia back

And that you do mean to gain your freedom,

And that everything is all right between us?

That’s all that matters. Truly, Edward,

If that is right, everything else will be,

I promise you.


I promise you.No, Celia.

It has been very wonderful, and I’m very grateful,

And I think you are a very rare person.

But it was too late. And I should have known

That it wasn’t fair to you.


That it wasn’t fair to you.It wasn’t fair to me!

You can stand there and talk about being fair to me!


But for Lavinia leaving, this would never have arisen.

What future had you ever thought there could be?


What had I thought that the future could be?

I abandoned the future before we began,

And after that I lived in a present

Where time was meaningless, a private world of ours,

Where the word ‘happiness’ had a different meaning

Or so it seemed.


Or so it seemed.I have heard of that experience.


A dream. I was happy in it till to-day,

And then, when Julia asked about Lavinia

And it came to me that Lavinia had left you

And that you would be free—then I suddenly discovered

That the dream was not enough; that I wanted something more

And I waited, and wanted to run to tell you.

Perhaps the dream was better. It seemed the real reality,

And if this is reality, it is very like a dream.

Perhaps it was I who betrayed my own dream

All the while; and to find I wanted

This world as well as that . . . well, it’s humiliating.


There is no reason why you should feel humiliated . . .


Oh, don’t think that you can humiliate me!

Humiliation—it’s something I’ve done to myself.

I am not sure even that you seem real enough

To humiliate me. I suppose that most women

Would feel degraded to find that a man

With whom they thought they had shared something wonderful

Had taken them only as a passing diversion.

Oh, I dare say that you deceived yourself;

But that’s what it was, no doubt.


I didn’t take you as a passing diversion!

If you want to speak of passing diversions

How did you take Peter?


How did you take Peter?Peter? Peter who?


Peter Quilpe, who was here this evening. He was in a dream

And now he is simply unhappy and bewildered.


I simply don’t know what you are talking about.

Edward, this is really too crude a subterfuge

To justify yourself. There was never anything

Between me and Peter.


Between me and Peter.Wasn’t there? He thought so.

He came back this evening to talk to me about it.


But this is ridiculous! I never gave Peter

Any reason to suppose I cared for him.

I thought he had talent; I saw that he was lonely;

I thought that I could help him. I took him to concerts.

But then, as he came to make more acquaintances,

I found him less interesting, and rather conceited.

But why should we talk about Peter? All that matters

Is, that you think you want Lavinia.

And if that is the sort of person you are—

Well, you had better have her.


Well, you had better have her.It’s not like that.

It is not that I am in love with Lavinia.

I don’t think I was ever really in love with her.

If I have ever been in love—and I think that I have—

I have never been in love with anyone but you,

And perhaps I still am. But this can’t go on.

It never could have been . . . a permanent thing:

You should have a man . . . nearer your own age.


I don’t think I care for advice from you, Edward:

You are not entitled to take any interest

Now, in my future. I only hope you’re competent

To manage your own. But if you are not in love

And never have been in love with Lavinia,

What is it that you want?


What is it that you want?I am not sure.

The one thing of which I am relatively certain

Is, that only since this morning

I have met myself as a middle-aged man

Beginning to know what it is to feel old.

That is the worst moment, when you feel that you have lost

The desire for all that was most desirable,

Before you are contented with what you can desire;

Before you know what is left to be desired;

And you go on wishing that you could desire

What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand.

How could you understand what it is to feel old?


But I want to understand you. I could understand.

And, Edward, please believe that whatever happens

I shall not loathe you. I shall only feel sorry for you.

It’s only myself I am in danger of loathing.

But what will your life be? I cannot bear to think of it.

Oh, Edward! Can you be happy with Lavinia?


No—not happy: or, if there is any happiness,

Only the happiness of knowing

That the misery does not feed on the ruin of loveliness,

That the tedium is not the residue of ecstasy.

I see that my life was determined long ago

And that the struggle to escape from it

Is only a make-believe, a pretence

That what is, is not, or could be changed.

The self that can say ‘I want this—or want that’—

The self that wills—he is a feeble creature;

He has to come to terms in the end

With the obstinate, the tougher self; who does not speak,

Who never talks, who cannot argue;

And who in some men may be the guardian

But in men like me, the dull, the implacable,

The indomitable spirit of mediocrity.

The willing self can contrive the disaster

Of this unwilling partnership—but can only flourish

In submission to the rule of the stronger partner.


I am not sure, Edward, that I understand you;

And yet I understand as I never did before.

I think—I believe—you are being yourself

As you never were before, with me.

Twice you have changed since I have been looking at you.

I looked at your face: and I thought that I knew

And loved every contour; and as I looked

It withered, as if I had unwrapped a mummy.

I listened to your voice, that had always thrilled me,

And it became another voice—no, not a voice:

What I heard was only the noise of an insect,

Dry, endless, meaningless, inhuman—

You might have made it by scraping your legs together—

Or however grasshoppers do it. I looked,

And listened for your heart, your blood;

And saw only a beetle the size of a man

With nothing more inside it than what comes out

When you tread on a beetle.


When you tread on a beetle.Perhaps that is what I am.

Tread on me, if you like.


Tread on me, if you like.No, I won’t tread on you.

That is not what you are. It is only what was left

Of what I had thought you were. I see another person,

I see you as a person whom I never saw before.

The man I saw before, he was only a projection—

I see that now—of something that I wanted—

No, not wanted—something I aspired to—

Something that I desperately wanted to exist.

It must happen somewhere—but what, and where is it?

Edward, I see that I was simply making use of you.

And I ask you to forgive me.


And I ask you to forgive me.You . . . ask me to forgive you!


Yes, for two things. First . . .

[The telephone rings]


Yes, for two things. First . . .Damn the telephone.

I suppose I had better answer it.


I suppose I had better answer it.Yes, better answer it.


Hello! . . . Oh, Julia: what is it now?

Your spectacles again . . . where did you leave them?

Or have we . . . have I got to hunt all over?

Have you looked in your bag? . . . Well, don’t snap my head off . . .

You’re sure, in the kitchen? Beside the champagne bottle?

You’re quite sure? . . . Very well, hold on if you like;

We . . . I’ll look for them.


We . . . I’ll look for them.Yes, you look for them.

I shall never go into your kitchen again.

[Exit Edward. He returns with the spectacles and a bottle]


She was right for once.


She was right for once.She is always right.

But why bring an empty champagne bottle?


It isn’t empty. It may be a little flat—

But why did she say that it was a half-bottle?

It’s one of my best: and I have no half-bottles.

Well, I hoped that you would drink a final glass with me.


What should we drink to?


What should we drink to?Whom shall we drink to?


To the Guardians.


To the Guardians.To the Guardians?


To the Guardians. It was you who spoke of guardians.

[They drink]

It may be that even Julia is a guardian.

Perhaps she is my guardian. Give me the spectacles.

Good night, Edward.


Good night, Edward.Good night . . . Celia.

[Exit Celia]

Good night, Edward.Good night . . . Celia.Oh!

[He snatches up the receiver]

Hello, Julia! are you there? . . .

Well, I’m awfully sorry to have kept you waiting;

But we . . . I had to hunt for them . . . No, I found them.

. . . Yes, she’s bringing them now . . . Good night.


Act One. Scene 3

The same room: late afternoon of the next day. Edward alone. He goes to answer the doorbell.


Oh . . . good evening.

[Enter the Unidentified Guest]

Unidentified Guest

Oh . . . good evening.Good evening, Mr. Chamberlayne.


Well. May I offer you some gin and water?

Unidentified Guest

No, thank you. This is a different occasion.


I take it that as you have come alone

You have been unsuccessful.

Unidentified Guest

You have been unsuccessful.Not at all.

I have come to remind you—you have made a decision.


Are you thinking that I may have changed my mind?

Unidentified Guest

No. You will not be ready to change your mind

Until you recover from having made a decision.

No. I have come to tell you that you will change your mind,

But that it will not matter. It will be too late.


I have half a mind to change my mind now

To show you that I am free to change it.

Unidentified Guest

You will change your mind, but you are not free.

Your moment of freedom was yesterday.

You made a decision. You set in motion

Forces in your life and in the lives of others

Which cannot be reversed. That is one consideration.

And another is this: it is a serious matter

To bring someone back from the dead.


To bring someone back from the dead.From the dead?

That figure of speech is somewhat . . . dramatic,

As it was only yesterday that my wife left me.

Unidentified Guest

Ah, but we die to each other daily.

What we know of other people

Is only our memory of the moments

During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.

To pretend that they and we are the same

Is a useful and convenient social convention

Which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember

That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.


So you want me to greet my wife as a stranger?

That will not be easy.

Unidentified Guest

That will not be easy.It is very difficult.

But it is perhaps still more difficult

To keep up the pretence that you are not strangers.

The affectionate ghosts: the grandmother,

The lively bachelor uncle at the Christmas party,

The beloved nursemaid—those who enfolded

Your childhood years in comfort, mirth, security—

If they returned, would it not be embarrassing?

What would you say to them, or they to you

After the first ten minutes? You would find it difficult

To treat them as strangers, but still more difficult

To pretend that you were not strange to each other.


You can hardly expect me to obliterate

The last five years.

Unidentified Guest

The last five years.I ask you to forget nothing.

To try to forget is to try to conceal.


There are certainly things I should like to forget.

Unidentified Guest

And persons also. But you must not forget them.

You must face them all, but meet them as strangers.


Then I myself must also be a stranger.

Unidentified Guest

And to yourself as well. But remember,

When you see your wife, you must ask no questions

And give no explanations. I have said the same to her.

Don’t strangle each other with knotted memories.

Now I shall go.


Now I shall go.Stop! Will you come back with her?

Unidentified Guest

No, I shall not come with her.


No, I shall not come with her.I don’t know why,

But I think I should like you to bring her yourself.

Unidentified Guest

Yes, I know you would. And for definite reasons

Which I am not prepared to explain to you

I must ask you not to speak of me to her;

And she will not mention me to you.


I promise.

Unidentified Guest

I promise.And now you must await your visitors.


Visitors? What visitors?

Unidentified Guest

Visitors? What visitors?Whoever comes. The strangers.

As for myself, I shall take the precaution

Of leaving by the service staircase.


May I ask one question?

Unidentified Guest

May I ask one question?You may ask it.


Who are you?

Unidentified Guest

Who are you?I also am a stranger.

[Exit. A pause. Edward moves about restlessly. The bell rings, and he goes to the front door.]




Celia!Has Lavinia arrived?


Celia!Has Lavinia arrived?Celia! Why have you come?

I expect Lavinia at any moment.

You must not be here. Why have you come here?


Because Lavinia asked me.


Because Lavinia asked me.Because Lavinia asked you!


Well, not directly, Julia had a telegram

Asking her to come, and to bring me with her.

Julia was delayed, and sent me on ahead.


It seems very odd. And not like Lavinia.

I suppose there is nothing to do but wait.

Won’t you sit down?


Won’t you sit down?Thank you.



Oh, my God, what shall we talk about?

We can’t sit here in silence.


We can’t sit here in silence.Oh, I could.

Just looking at you. Edward, forgive my laughing.

You look like a little boy who’s been sent for

To the headmaster’s study; and is not quite sure

What he’s been found out in. I never saw you so before.

This is really a ludicrous situation.


I’m afraid I can’t see the humorous side of it.


I’m not really laughing at you, Edward.

I couldn’t have laughed at anything, yesterday;

But I’ve learnt a lot in twenty-four hours.

It wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

Oh, I’m glad I came!

I can see you at last as a human being.

Can’t you see me that way too, and laugh about it?


I wish I could. I wish I understood anything.

I’m completely in the dark.


I’m completely in the dark.But it’s all so simple.

Can’t you see that. . .

[The doorbell rings]


Can’t you see that. . .There’s Lavinia.

[Goes to front door]

Can’t you see that. . .There’s Lavinia.Peter!

[Enter Peter]


Where’s Lavinia?


Where’s Lavinia?Don’t tell me that Lavinia

Sent you a telegram . . .


Sent you a telegram . . .No, not to me,

But to Alex. She told him to come here

And to bring me with him. He’ll be here in a minute.

Celia! Have you heard from Lavinia too?

Or am I interrupting?


Or am I interrupting?I’ve just explained to Edward—

I only got here this moment myself—

That she telegraphed to Julia to come and bring me with her.


I wonder whom else Lavinia has invited.


Why, I got the impression that Lavinia intended

To have yesterday’s cocktail party to-day

So I don’t suppose her aunt can have died.


What aunt?


What aunt?The aunt you told us about.

But Edward—you remember our conversation yesterday?


Of course.


Of course.I hope you’ve done nothing about it.


No, I’ve done nothing.


No, I’ve done nothing.I’m so glad.

Because I’ve changed my mind. I mean, I’ve decided

That it’s all no use. I’m going to California.


You’re going to California!


You’re going to California!Yes, I have a new job.


And how did that happen, overnight?


Why, it’s a man Alex put me in touch with

And we settled everything this morning.

Alex is a wonderful person to know,

Because, you see, he knows everybody, everywhere.

So what I’ve really come for is to say good-bye.


Well, Peter, I’m awfully glad, for your sake,

Though of course we . . . I shall miss you;

You know how I depended on you for concerts,

And picture exhibitions—more than you realised.

It was fun, wasn’t it! But now you’ll have a chance,

I hope, to realise your ambitions.

I shall miss you.


I shall miss you.It’s nice of you to say so;

But you’ll find someone better, to go about with.


I don’t think that I shall be going to concerts.

I am going away too.

[Lavinia lets herself in with a latch-key]


I am going away too.You’re going abroad?


I don’t know. Perhaps.


I don’t know. Perhaps.You’re both going away!

[Enter Lavinia]


Who’s going away? Well, Celia. Well, Peter.

I didn’t expect to find either of you here.

Peter and Celia

But the telegram!


But the telegram!What telegram?


But the telegram!What telegram?The one you sent to Julia.


And the one you sent to Alex.


And the one you sent to Alex.I don’t know what you mean.

Edward, have you been sending telegrams?


Of course I haven’t sent any telegrams.


This is some of Julia’s mischief.

And is she coming?


And is she coming?Yes, and Alex.


Then I shall ask them for an explanation.

Meanwhile, I suppose we might as well sit down.

What shall we talk about?


What shall we talk about?Peter’s going to America.


Yes, and I would have rung you up tomorrow

And come in to say good-bye before I left.


And Celia’s going too? Was that what I heard?

I congratulate you both. To Hollywood, of course?

How exciting for you, Celia! Now you’ll have a chance

At last, to realise your ambitions.

You’re going together?


You’re going together?We’re not going together.

Celia told us she was going away,

But I don’t know where.


But I don’t know where.You don’t know where?

And do you know where you are going, yourself?


Yes, of course, I’m going to California.


Well, Celia, why don’t you go to California?

Everyone says it’s a wonderful climate:

The people who go there never want to leave it.


Lavinia, I think I understand about Peter . . .


I have no doubt you do.


I have no doubt you do.And why he is going . . .


I don’t doubt that either.


I don’t doubt that either.And I believe he is right to go.


Oh, so you advised him?


Oh, so you advised him?She knew nothing about it.


But now that I may be going away—somewhere—

I should like to say good-bye—as friends.


Why, Celia, but haven’t we always been friends?

I thought you were one of my dearest friends—

At least, in so far as a girl can be a friend

Of a woman so much older than herself.


Of a woman so much older than herself.Lavinia,

Don’t put me off. I may not see you again.

What I want to say is this: I should like you to remember me

As someone who wants you and Edward to be happy.


You are very kind, but very mysterious.

I am sure that we shall manage somehow, thank you,

As we have in the past.


As we have in the past.Oh, not as in the past!

[The doorbell rings, and Edward goes to answer it]

Oh, I’m afraid that all this sounds rather silly!

But . . .

[Edward re-enters with Julia]


But . . .There you are, Lavinia! I’m sorry to be late.

But your telegram was a bit unexpected.

I dropped everything to come. And how is the dear aunt?


So far as I know, she is very well, thank you.


She must have made a marvellous recovery.

I said so to myself, when I got your telegram.


But where, may I ask, was this telegram sent from?


Why, from Essex, of course.


Why, from Essex, of course.And why from Essex?


Because you’ve been in Essex.


Because you’ve been in Essex.Because I’ve been in Essex!


Lavinia! Don’t say you’ve had a lapse of memory!

Then that accounts for the aunt—and the telegram.


Well, perhaps I was in Essex. I really don’t know.


You don’t know where you were? Lavinia!

Don’t tell me you were abducted! Tell us

I’m thrilled . . .

[The doorbell rings. Edward goes to answer it. Enter Alex.]


Has Lavinia arrived?


Has Lavinia arrived?Yes.


Has Lavinia arrived?Yes.Welcome back, Lavinia!

When I got your telegram . . .


When I got your telegram . . .Where from?


When I got your telegram . . .Where from?Dedham.


Dedham is in Essex. So it was from Dedham.

Edward, have you any friends in Dedham?


No, I have no connections in Dedham.


Well, it’s all delightfully mysterious.


But what is the mystery?


But what is the mystery?Alex, don’t be inquisitive.

Lavinia has had a lapse of memory,

And so, of course, she sent us telegrams:

And now I don’t believe she really wants us.

I can see that she is quite worn out

After her anxiety about her aunt—

Who you’ll be glad to hear, has quite recovered, Alex—

And after that long journey on the old Great Eastern,

Waiting at junctions. And I suppose she’s famished.


Ah, in that case I know what I’ll do . . .


Ah, in that case I know what I’ll do . . .No, Alex.

We must leave them alone, and let Lavinia rest.

Now we’ll all go back to my house. Peter, call a taxi.

[Exit Peter]

We’ll have a cocktail party at my house to-day.


Well, I’ll go now. Good-bye, Lavinia.

Good-bye, Edward.


Good-bye, Edward.Good-bye, Celia.


Good-bye, Lavinia.


Good-bye, Lavinia.Good-bye, Celia.

[Exit Celia]


And now, Alex, you and I should be going.


Are you sure you haven’t left anything, Julia?


Left anything? Oh, you mean my spectacles.

No, they’re here. Besides, they’re no use to me.

I’m not coming back again this evening.


Stop! I want you to explain the telegram.


Explain the telegram? What do you think, Alex?


No, Julia, we can’t explain the telegram.


I am sure that you could explain the telegram.

I don’t know why. But it seems to me that yesterday

I started some machine, that goes on working,

And I cannot stop it; no, it’s not like a machine—

Or if it’s a machine, someone else is running it.

But who? Somebody is always interfering . . .

I don’t feel free . . . and yet I started it . . .


Alex, do you think we could explain anything?


I think not, Julia. She must find out for herself:

That’s the only way.


That’s the only way.How right you are!

Well, my dears, I shall see you very soon.


When shall we see you?


When shall we see you?Did I say you’d see me?

Good-bye. I believe . . . I haven’t left anything.

[Enter Peter]


I’ve got a taxi, Julia.


I’ve got a taxi, Julia.Splendid! Good-bye!

[Exeunt Julia, Alex and Peter]


I must say, you don’t seem very pleased to see me.


I can’t say that I’ve had much opportunity

To seem anything. But of course I’m glad to see you.


Yes, that was a silly thing to say.

Like a schoolgirl. Like Celia. I don’t know why I said it.

Well, here I am.


Well, here I am.I am to ask no questions.


And I know I am to give no explanations.


And I am to give no explanations.


And I am to ask no questions. And yet . . . why not?


I don’t know why not. So what are we to talk about?


There is one thing I ought to know, because of other people

And what to do about them. It’s about that party.

I suppose you won’t believe I forgot all about it!

I let you down badly. What did you do about it?

I only remembered after I had left.


I telephoned to everyone I knew was coming

But I couldn’t get everyone. And so a few came.


Who came?


Who came?Just those who were here this evening . . .


That’s odd.


That’s odd.. . . and one other. I don’t know who he was,

But you ought to know.


But you ought to know.Yes, I think I know.

But I’m puzzled by Julia. That woman is the devil.

She knows by instinct when something’s going to happen.

Trust her not to miss any awkward situation!

And what did you tell them?


And what did you tell them?I invented an aunt

Who was ill in the country, and had sent for you.


Really, Edward! You had better have told the truth:

Nothing less that the truth could deceive Julia.

But how did the aunt come to live in Essex?


Julia compelled me to make her live somewhere.


I see. So Julia made her live in Essex;

And made the telegrams come from Essex.

Well, I shall have to tell Julia the truth.

I shall always tell the truth now.

We have wasted such a lot of time in lying.


I don’t quite know what you mean.


I don’t quite know what you mean.Oh, Edward!

The point is, that since I’ve been away

I see that I’ve taken you much too seriously.

And now I can see how absurd you are.


That is a very serious conclusion

To have arrived at in . . . how many? . . . thirty-two hours.


Yes, a very important discovery,

Finding that you’ve spent five years of your life

With a man who has no sense of humour;

And that the effect upon me was

That I lost all sense of humour myself.

That’s what came of always giving in to you.


I was unaware that you’d always given in to me.

It struck me very differently. As we’re on the subject,

I thought that it was I who had given in to you.


I know what you mean by giving in to me:

You mean, leaving all the practical decisions

That you should have made yourself. I remember—

Oh, I ought to have realised what was coming—

When we were planning our honeymoon,

I couldn’t make you say where you wanted to go . . .


But I wanted you to make that decision.


But how could I tell where I wanted to go

Unless you suggested some other place first?

And I remember that finally in desperation

I said: ‘I suppose you’d as soon go to Peacehaven’—

And you said ‘I don’t mind’.


And you said ‘I don’t mind’.Of course I didn’t mind.

I meant it as a compliment.


I meant it as a compliment.You meant it as a compliment!

And you were so considerate, people said;

And you thought you were unselfish. It was only passivity;

You only wanted to be bolstered, encouraged. . . .


Encouraged? To what?


Encouraged? To what?To think well of yourself.

You know it was I who made you work at the Bar . . .


You nagged me because I didn’t get enough work

And said that I ought to meet more people:

But when the briefs began to come in—

And they didn’t come through any of your friends—

You suddenly found it inconvenient

That I should be always too busy or too tired

To be of use to you socially . . .


To be of use to you socially . . .I never complained.


No; and it was perfectly infuriating,

The way you didn’t complain . . .


The way you didn’t complain . . .It was you who complained

Of seeing nobody but solicitors and clients . . .


And you were never very sympathetic.


Well, I tried to do something about it.

That was why I took so much trouble

To have those Thursdays, to give you the chance

Of talking to intellectual people . . .


You would have given me about as much opportunity

If you had hired me as your butler:

Some of your guests may have thought I was the butler.


And on several occasions, when somebody was coming

Whom I particularly wanted you to meet,

You didn’t arrive until just as they were leaving.


Well, at least, they can’t have thought I was the butler.


Everything I tried only made matters worse,

And the moment you were offered something that you wanted

You wanted something else. I shall treat you very differently

In future.


In future.Thank you for the warning. But tell me,

Since this is how you see me, why did you come back?


Frankly, I don’t know. I was warned of the danger,

Yet something, or somebody, compelled me to come.

And why did you want me?


And why did you want me?I don’t know either.

You say you were trying to ‘encourage’ me:

Then why did you always make me feel insignificant?

I may not have known what life I wanted,

But it wasn’t the life you chose for me.

You wanted your husband to be successful,

You wanted me to supply a public background

For your kind of public life. You wished to be a hostess

For whom my career would be a support.

Well, I tried to be accommodating. But, in future,

I shall behave, I assure you, very differently.


Bravo! Edward. This is surprising.

Now who could have taught you to answer back like that?


I have had quite enough humiliation

Lately, to bring me to the point

At which humiliation ceases to humiliate.

You get to the point at which you cease to feel

And then you speak your mind.


And then you speak your mind.That will be a novelty

To find that you have a mind to speak.

Anyway, I’m prepared to take you as you are.


You mean you are prepared to take me

As I was, or as you think I am.

But what do you think I am?


But what do you think I am?Oh, what you always were.

As for me, I’m rather a different person

Whom you must get to know.


Whom you must get to know.This is very interesting:

But you seem to assume that you’ve done all the changing—

Though I haven’t yet found it a change for the better.

But doesn’t it occur to you that possibly

I may have changed too?


I may have changed too?Oh, Edward, when you were a little boy,

I’m sure you were always getting yourself measured

To prove how you had grown since the last holidays.

You were always intensely concerned with yourself;

And if other people grow, well, you want to grow too.

In what way have you changed?


In what way have you changed?The change that comes

From seeing oneself through the eyes of other people.


That must have been very shattering for you.

But never mind, you’ll soon get over it

And find yourself another little part to play,

With another face, to take people in.


One of the most infuriating things about you

Has always been your perfect assurance

That you understood me better than I understood myself.


And the most infuriating thing about you

Has always been your placid assumption

That I wasn’t worth the trouble of understanding.


So here we are again. Back in the trap,

With only one difference, perhaps—we can fight each other,

Instead of each taking his corner of the cage.

Well, it’s a better way of passing the evening

Than listening to the gramophone.


Than listening to the gramophone.We have very good records;

But I always suspected that you really hated music

And that the gramophone was only your escape

From talking to me when we had to be alone.


I’ve often wondered why you married me.


Well, you really were rather attractive, you know;

And you kept on saying that you were in love with me—

I believe you were trying to persuade yourself you were.

I seemed always on the verge of some wonderful experience

And then it never happened. I wonder now

How you could have thought you were in love with me.


Everybody told me that I was;

And they told me how well-suited we were.


It’s a pity that you had no opinion of your own.

Oh, Edward, I should like to be good to you—

Or if that’s impossible, at least be horrid to you—

Anything but nothing, which is all you seem to want of me.

But I’m sorry for you . . .


But I’m sorry for you . . .Don’t say you are sorry for me!

I have had enough of people being sorry for me.


Yes, because they can never be so sorry for you

As you are for yourself. And that’s hard to bear.

I thought that there might be some way out for you

If I went away. I thought that if I died

To you, I who had been only a ghost to you,

You might be able to find the road back

To a time when you were real—for you must have been real

At some time or other, before you ever knew me:

Perhaps only when you were a child.


I don’t want you to make yourself responsible for me:

It’s only another kind of contempt.

And I do not want you to explain me to myself.

You’re still trying to invent a personality for me

Which will only keep me away from myself.


You’re complicating what is in fact very simple.

But there is one point which I see clearly:

We are not to relapse into the kind of life we led

Until yesterday morning.


Until yesterday morning.There was a door

And I could not open it. I could not touch the handle.

Why could I not walk out of my prison?

What is hell? Hell is oneself,

Hell is alone, the other figures in it

Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from

And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.


Edward, what are you talking about?

Talking to yourself. Could you bear, for a moment,

To think about me?


To think about me?It was only yesterday

That damnation took place. And now I must live with it

Day by day, hour by hour, for ever and ever.


I think you’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown!


Don’t say that!


Don’t say that!I must say it.

I know . . . of a doctor who I think could help you.


If I go to a doctor, I shall make my own choice;

Not take one whom you choose. How do I know

That you wouldn’t see him first, and tell him all about me

From your point of view? But I don’t need a doctor.

I am simply in hell. Where there are no doctors—

At least, not in a professional capacity.


One can be practical, even in hell:

And you know I am much more practical than you are.


I ought to know by now what you consider practical.

Practical! I remember, on our honeymoon,

You were always wrapping things up in tissue paper

And then had to unwrap everything again

To find what you wanted. And I could never teach you

How to put the cap on a tube of tooth-paste.


Very well then, I shall not try to press you.

You’re much too divided to know what you want.

But, being divided, you will tend to compromise,

And your sort of compromise will be the old one.


You don’t understand me. Have I not made it clear

That in future you will find me a different person?


Indeed. And has the difference nothing to do

With Celia going to California?


Celia? Going to California?


Celia? Going to California?Yes, with Peter.

Really, Edward, if you were human

You would burst out laughing. But you won’t.


O God, O God, if I could return to yesterday

Before I thought that I had made a decision.

What devil left the door on the latch

For these doubts to enter? And then you came back, you

The angel of destruction—just as I felt sure.

In a moment, at your touch, there is nothing but ruin.

O God, what have I done? The python. The octopus.

Must I become after all what you would make me?


Well, Edward, as I am unable to make you laugh,

And as I can’t persuade you to see a doctor,

There’s nothing else at present that I can do about it.

I ought to go and have a look in the kitchen.

I know there are some eggs. But we must go out for dinner.

Meanwhile, my luggage is in the hall downstairs:

Will you get the porter to fetch it up for me?


Act Two

Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly’s consulting room in London. Morning: several weeks later. Sir Henry alone at his desk. He presses an electric button. The Nurse-Secretary enters, with Appointment Book.


About those three appointments this morning, Miss Barraway:

I should like to run over my instructions again.

You understand, of course, that it is important

To avoid any meeting?


To avoid any meeting?You made that clear, Sir Henry:

The first appointment at eleven o’clock.

He is to be shown into the small waiting-room;

And you will see him almost at once.


I shall see him at once. And the second?


The second to be shown into the other room

Just as usual. She arrives at a quarter past;

But you may keep her waiting.


But you may keep her waiting.Or she may keep me waiting;

But I think she will be punctual.


But I think she will be punctual.I telephone through

The moment she arrives. I leave her there

Until you ring three times.


Until you ring three times.And the third patient?


The third one to be shown into the small room;

And I need not let you know that she has arrived.

Then, when you ring, I show the others out;

And only after they have left the house. . . .


Quite right, Miss Barraway. That’s all for the moment.


Mr. Gibbs is here, Sir Henry.


Mr. Gibbs is here, Sir Henry.Ask him to come straight in.

[Exit Nurse-Secretary]

[Alex enters almost immediately]


When is Chamberlayne’s appointment?


When is Chamberlayne’s appointment?At eleven o’clock,

The conventional hour. We have not much time.

Tell me now, did you have any difficulty

In convincing him I was the man for his case?


Difficulty? No! He was only impatient

At having to wait four days for the appointment.


It was necessary to delay his appointment

To lower his resistance. But what I mean is,

Does he trust your judgement?


Does he trust your judgement?Yes, implicitly.

It’s not that he regards me as very intelligent,

But he thinks I’m well informed: the sort of person

Who would know the right doctor, as well as the right shops

Besides, he was ready to consult any doctor

Recommended by anyone except his wife.


I had already impressed upon her

That she was not to mention my name to him.


With your usual foresight. Now, he’s quite triumphant

Because he thinks he’s stolen a march on her.

And when you’ve sent him to a sanatorium

Where she can’t get at him—then, he believes,

She will be very penitent. He’s enjoying his illness.


Illness offers him a double advantage:

To escape from himself—and get the better of his wife.


Not to escape from her?


Not to escape from her?He doesn’t want to escape from her.


He is staying at his club.


He is staying at his club.Yes, that is where he wrote from.

[The house-telephone rings]

Hello! Yes, show him up.


Hello! Yes, show him up.You will have a busy morning!

I will go out by the service staircase

And come back when they’ve gone.


Yes, when they’ve gone.

[Exit Alex by side door]

[Edward is shown in by Nurse-Secretary]


Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly—

[Stops and stares at Reilly]


[Without looking up from his papers]

Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly—Good morning, Mr. Chamberlayne.

Please sit down. I won’t keep you a moment.

—Now, Mr. Chamberlayne?


—Now, Mr. Chamberlayne?It came into my mind

Before I entered the door, that you might be the same person:

But I dismissed that as just another symptom.

Well, I should have known better than to come here

On the recommendation of a man who did not know you.

Yet Alex is so plausible. And his recommendations

Of shops, have always been satisfactory.

I beg your pardon. But he is a blunderer.

I should like to know . . . but what is the use!

I suppose I might as well go away at once.


No. If you please, sit down, Mr. Chamberlayne.

You are not going away, so you might as well sit down.

You were going to ask a question.


You were going to ask a question.When you came to my flat

Had you been invited by my wife as a guest

As I supposed? . . . Or did she send you?


I cannot say that I had been invited;

And Mrs. Chamberlayne did not know that I was coming.

But I knew you would be there, and whom I should find with you.


But you had seen my wife?


But you had seen my wife?Oh yes, I had seen her.


So this is a trap!


So this is a trap!Let’s not call it a trap.

But if it is a trap, then you cannot escape from it:

And so . . . you might as well sit down.

I think you will find that chair comfortable.


I think you will find that chair comfortable.You knew,

Before I began to tell you, what had happened?


That is so, that is so. But all in good time.

Let us dismiss that question for the moment.

Tell me first, about the difficulties

On which you want my professional opinion.


It’s not for me to blame you for bringing my wife back,

I suppose. You seemed to be trying to persuade me

That I was better off without her. But didn’t you realise

That I was in no state to make a decision?


If I had not brought your wife back, Mr. Chamberlayne,

Do you suppose that things would be any better—now?


I don’t know, I’m sure. They could hardly be worse.


They might be much worse. You might have ruined three lives

By your indecision. Now there are only two—

Which you still have the chance of redeeming from ruin.


You talk as if I was capable of action:

If I were, I should not need to consult you

Or anyone else. I came here as a patient.

If you take no interest in my case, I can go elsewhere.


You have reason to believe that you are very ill?


I should have thought a doctor could see that for himself.

Or at least that he would enquire about the symptoms.

Two people advised me recently,

Almost in the same words, that I ought to see a doctor.

They said—again, in almost the same words—

That I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

I didn’t know it then myself—but if they saw it

I should have thought that a doctor could see it.


‘Nervous breakdown’ is a term I never use:

It can mean almost anything.


It can mean almost anything.And since then, I have realised

That mine is a very unusual case.


All cases are unique, and very similar to others.


Is there a sanatorium to which you send such patients

As myself, under your personal observation?


You are very impetuous, Mr. Chamberlayne.

There are several kinds of sanatoria

For several kinds of patient. And there are also patients

For whom a sanatorium is the worst place possible.

We must first find out what is wrong with you

Before we decide what to do with you.


I doubt if you have ever had a case like mine:

I have ceased to believe in my own personality.


Oh, dear yes; this is serious. A very common malady.

Very prevalent indeed.


Very prevalent indeed.I remember, in my childhood . . .


I always begin from the immediate situation

And then go back as far as I find necessary.

You see, your memories of childhood—

I mean, in your present state of mind—

Would be largely fictitious; and as for your dreams,

You would produce amazing dreams, to oblige me.

I could make you dream any kind of dream I suggested,

And it would only go to flatter your vanity

With the temporary stimulus of feeling interesting.


But I am obsessed by the thought of my own insignificance.


Precisely. And I could make you feel important,

And you would imagine it a marvellous cure;

And you would go on, doing such amount of mischief

As lay within your power—until you came to grief.

Half of the harm that is done in this world

Is due to people who want to feel important.

They don’t mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them.

Or they do not see it, or they justify it

Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle

To think well of themselves.


To think well of themselves.If I am like that

I must have done a great deal of harm.


Oh, not so much as you would like to think:

Only, shall we say, within your modest capacity.

Try to explain what has happened since I left you.


I see now why I wanted my wife to come back.

It was because of what she had made me into.

We had not been alone again for fifteen minutes

Before I felt, and still more acutely—

Indeed, acutely, perhaps, for the first time,

The whole oppression, the unreality

Of the role she had always imposed upon me

With the obstinate, unconscious, sub-human strength

That some women have. Without her, it was vacancy.

When I thought she had left me, I began to dissolve,

To cease to exist. That was what she had done to me!

I cannot live with her—that is now intolerable;

I cannot live without her, for she has made me incapable

Of having any existence of my own.

That is what she has done to me in five years together!

She has made the world a place I cannot live in

Except on her terms. I must be alone,

But not in the same world. So I want you to put me

Into your sanatorium. I could be alone there?

[House-telephone rings]


[Into telephone]  Yes.

[To Edward]          Yes, you could be alone there.


                                        I wonder

If you have understood a word of what I have been saying.


You must have patience with me, Mr. Chamberlayne:

I learn a good deal by merely observing you,

And letting you talk as long as you please,

And taking note of what you do not say.


I once experienced the extreme of physical pain,

And now I know there is suffering worse than that.

It is surprising, if one had time to be surprised:

I am not afraid of the death of the body,

But this death is terrifying. The death of the spirit—

Can you understand what I suffer?


Can you understand what I suffer?I understand what you mean.


I can no longer act for myself.

Coming to see you—that’s the last decision

I was capable of making. I am in your hands.

I cannot take any further responsibility.


Many patients come in that belief.


And now will you send me to the sanatorium?


You have nothing else to tell me?


You have nothing else to tell me?What else can I tell you?

You didn’t want to hear about my early history.


No, I did not want to hear about your early history.


And so will you send me to the sanatorium?

I can’t go home again. And at my club

They won’t let you keep a room for more than seven days;

I haven’t the courage to go to a hotel,

And besides, I need more shirts—you can get my wife

To have my things sent on: whatever I shall need.

But of course you mustn’t tell her where I am.

Is it far to go?


Is it far to go?You might say, a long journey.

But before I treat a patient like yourself

I need to know a great deal more about him,

Than the patient himself can always tell me.

Indeed, it is often the case that my patients

Are only pieces of a total situation

Which I have to explore. The single patient

Who is ill by himself, is rather the exception.

I have recently had another patient

Whose situation is much the same as your own.

[Presses the bell on his desk three times]

You must accept a rather unusual procedure:

I propose to introduce you to the other patient.


What do you mean? Who is this other patient?

I consider this very unprofessional conduct—

I will not discuss my case before another patient.


On the contrary. That is the only way

In which it can be discussed. You have told me nothing.

You have had the opportunity, and you have said enough

To convince me that you have been making up your case

So to speak, as you went along. A barrister

Ought to know his brief before he enters the court.


I am at least free to leave. And I propose to do so.

My mind is made up. I shall go to a hotel.


It is just because you are not free, Mr. Chamberlayne,

That you have come to me. It is for me to give you that—

Your freedom. That is my affair.

[Lavinia is shown in by the Nurse-Secretary]

But here is the other patient.


But here is the other patient.Lavinia!


But here is the other patient.Lavinia!Well, Sir Henry!

I said I would come to talk about my husband:

I didn’t say I was prepared to meet him.


And I did not expect to meet you, Lavinia.

I call this a very dishonourable trick.


Honesty before honour, Mr. Chamberlayne.

Sit down, please, both of you. Mrs. Chamberlayne,

Your husband wishes to enter a sanatorium,

And that is a question which naturally concerns you.


I am not going to any sanatorium.

I am going to a hotel. And I shall ask you, Lavinia,

To be so good as to send me on some clothes.


Oh, to what hotel?


Oh, to what hotel?I don’t know—I mean to say,

That doesn’t concern you.


That doesn’t concern you.In that case, Edward,

I don’t think your clothes concern me either.

[To Reilly]

I presume you will send him to the same sanatorium

To which you sent me? Well, he needs it more than I did.


I am glad that you have come to see it in that light—

At least, for the moment. But, Mrs. Chamberlayne,

You have never visited my sanatorium.


What do you mean? I asked to be sent

And you took me there. If that was not a sanatorium

What was it?


What was it?A kind of hotel. A retreat

For people who imagine that they need a respite

From everyday life. They return refreshed;

And if they believe it to be a sanatorium

That is good reason for not sending them to one.

The people who need my sort of sanatorium

Are not easily deceived.


Are not easily deceived.Are you a devil

Or merely a lunatic practical joker?


I incline to the second explanation

Without the qualification ‘lunatic’.

Why should you go to a sanatorium?

I have never known anyone in my life

With fewer mental complications than you;

You’re stronger than a . . . battleship. That’s what drove me mad.

I am the one who needs a sanatorium—

But I’m not going there.


But I’m not going there.You are right, Mr. Chamberlayne.

You are no case for my sanatorium:

You are much too ill.


You are much too ill.Much too ill?

Then I’ll go and be ill in a suburban boarding-house.


That would never suit you, Edward. Now I know of a hotel

In the New Forest . . .


In the New Forest . . .How like you, Lavinia.

You always know of something better.


It’s only that I have a more practical mind

Than you have, Edward. You do know that.


Only because you’ve told me so often.

I’d like to see you filling up an income-tax form.


Don’t be silly, Edward. When I say practical,

I mean practical in the things that really matter.


May I interrupt this interesting discussion?

I say you are both too ill. There several symptoms

Which must occur together, and to a marked degree,

To qualify a patient for my sanatorium:

And one of them is an honest mind.

That is one of the causes of their suffering.


No one can say my husband has an honest mind.


And I could not honestly say that of you, Lavinia.


I congratulate you both on your perspicacity.

Your sympathetic understanding of each other

Will prepare you to appreciate what I have to say to you.

I do not trouble myself with the common cheat,

Or with the insuperably, innocently dull:

My patients such as you are the self-deceivers

Taking infinite pains, exhausting their energy,

Yet never quite successful. You have both of you pretended

To be consulting me; both, tried to impose upon me

Your own diagnosis, and prescribe your own cure.

But when you put yourselves into hands like mine

You surrender a great deal more than you meant to.

This is the consequence of trying to lie to me.


I did not come here to be insulted.


You have come where the word ‘insult’ has no meaning;

And you must put up with that. All that you have told me—

Both of you—was true enough: you described your feelings—

Or some of them—omitting the important facts.

Let me take your husband first.

[To Edward]

Let me take your husband first.You were lying to me

By concealing your relations with Miss Coplestone.


This is monstrous! My wife knew nothing about it.


Really, Edward! Even if I’d been blind

There were plenty of people to let me know about it.

I wonder if there was anyone who didn’t know.


There was one, in fact. But you, Mrs. Chamberlayne,

Tried to make me believe that it was this discovery

Precipitated what you called your nervous breakdown.


But it’s true! I was completely prostrated;

Even if I have made a partial recovery.


Certainly, you were completely prostrated,

And certainly, you have somewhat recovered.

But you failed to mention that the cause of your distress

Was the defection of your lover—who suddenly

For the first time in his life, fell in love with someone,

And with someone of whom you had reason to be jealous.


Really, Lavinia! This is very interesting.

You seem to have been much more successful at concealment

Than I was. Now I wonder who it could have been.


Well, tell him if you like.


Well, tell him if you like.A young man named Peter.


Peter? Peter who?


Peter? Peter who?Mr. Peter Quilpe

Was a frequent guest.


Was a frequent guest.Peter Quilpe.

Peter Quilpe! Really Lavinia!

I congratulate you. You could not have chosen

Anyone I was less likely to suspect.

And then he came to me to confide about Celia!

I have never heard anything so utterly ludicrous:

This is the best joke that ever happened.


I never knew you had such a sense of humour.


It is the first more hopeful symptom.


How did you know all this?


How did you know all this?That I cannot disclose.

I have my own method of collecting information

About my patients. You must not ask me to reveal it—

That is a matter of professional etiquette.


I have not noticed much professional etiquette

About your behaviour to-day.


About your behaviour to-day.A point well taken.

But permit me to remark that my revelations

About each of you, to one another,

Have not been of anything that you confided to me.

The information I have exchanged between you

Was all obtained from outside sources.

Mrs. Chamberlayne, when you came to me two months ago

I was dissatisfied with your explanation

Of your obvious symptoms of emotional strain

And so I made enquiries.


And so I made enquiries.It was two months ago

That your breakdown began! And I never noticed it.


You wouldn’t notice anything. You never noticed me.


Now, I want to point out to both of you

How much you have in common. Indeed, I consider

That you are exceptionally well-suited to each other.

Mr. Chamberlayne, when you thought your wife had left you,

You discovered, to your surprise and consternation,

That you were not really in love with Miss Coplestone . . .


My husband has never been in love with anybody.


And were not prepared to make the least sacrifice

On her account. This injured your vanity.

You liked to think of yourself as a passionate lover.

Then you realised, what your wife has justly remarked,

That you had never been in love with anybody;

Which made you suspect that you were incapable

Of loving. To men of a certain type

The suspicion that they are incapable of loving

Is as disturbing to their self-esteem

As, in cruder men, the fear of impotence.


You are cold-hearted, Edward.


You are cold-hearted, Edward.So you say, Mrs. Chamberlayne.

And now, let us turn to your side of the problem.

When you discovered that your young friend

(Though you knew, in your heart, that he was not in love with you,

And were always humiliated by the awareness

That you had forced him into this position)—

When, I say, you discovered that your young friend

Had actually fallen in love with Miss Coplestone,

It took you some time, I have no doubt,

Before you would admit it. Though perhaps you knew it

Before he did. You pretended to yourself,

I suspect, and for as long as you could,

That he was aiming at a higher social distinction

Than the honour conferred by being your lover.

When you had to face the fact that his feelings towards her

Were different from any you had aroused in him—

It was a shock. You had wanted to be loved;

You had come to see that no one had ever loved you.

Then you began to fear that no one could love you.


I’m beginning to feel very sorry for you, Lavinia.

You know, you really are exceptionally unlovable,

And I never quite knew why. I thought it was my fault.


And now you begin to see, I hope,

How much you have in common. The same isolation.

A man who finds himself incapable of loving

And a woman who finds that no man can love her.


It seems to me that what we have in common

Might be just enough to make us loathe one another.


See it rather as the bond which holds you together.

While still in a state of unenlightenment,

You could always say: ‘he could not love any woman;’

You could always say: ‘no man could love her.’

You could accuse each other of your own faults,

And so could avoid understanding each other.

Now, you have only to reverse the propositions

And put them together.


And put them together.Is that possible?


If I had sent either of you to the sanatorium

In the state in which you came to me—I tell you this:

It would have been a horror beyond your imagining,

For you would have been left with what you brought with you:

The shadow of desires of desires. A prey

To the devils who arrive at their plenitude of power

When they have you to themselves.


When they have you to themselves.Then what can we do

When we can go neither back nor forward? Edward!

What can we do?


What can we do?You have answered your own question,

Though you do not know the meaning of what you have said.


Lavinia, we must make the best of a bad job.

That is what he means.


That is what he means.When you find, Mr. Chamberlayne,

The best of a bad job is all any of us make of it—

Except of course, the saints—such as those who go

To the sanatorium—you will forget this phrase,

And in forgetting it will alter the condition.


Edward, there is that hotel in the New Forest

If you want to go there. The proprietor

Who has just taken over, is a friend of Alex’s.

I could go down with you, and then leave you there

If you want to be alone . . .


If you want to be alone . . .But I can’t go away!

I have a case coming on next Monday.


Then will you stop at your club?


Then will you stop at your club?No, they won’t let me.

I must leave tomorrow—but how did you know

I was staying at the club?


I was staying at the club?Really, Edward!

I have some sense of responsibility.

I was going to leave some shirts there for you.


It seems to me that I might as well go home.


Then we can share a taxi, and be economical.

Edward, have you anything else to ask him

Before we go?


Before we go?Yes, I have.

But it’s difficult to say.


But it’s difficult to say.But I wish you would say it.

At least, there is something I would like you to ask.


It’s about the future of . . . the others.

I don’t want to build on other people’s ruins.


Exactly. And I have a question too.

Sir Henry, was it you who sent those telegrams?


I think I will dispose of your husband’s problem.

[To Edward]

Your business is not to clear your conscience

But to learn how to bear the burdens on your conscience.

With the future of the others you are not concerned.


I think you have answered my question too.

They had to tell us, themselves, that they had made their decision.


Have you anything else to say to us, Sir Henry?


No. Not in this capacity.

[Edward takes out his cheque-book. Reilly raises his hand.]

My secretary will send you my account.

Go in peace. And work out your salvation with diligence.

[Exeunt Edward and Lavinia]

[Reilly goes to the couch and lies down. The house-telephone rings. He gets up and answers it.]


Yes? . . . Yes. Come in.

[Enter Julia by side door]

Yes? . . . Yes. Come in.She’s waiting downstairs.


I know that, Henry. I brought her here myself.


Oh? You didn’t let her know you were seeing me first?


Of course not. I dropped her at the door

And went on in the taxi, round the corner;

Waited a moment, and slipped in by the back way.

I only came to tell you, I am sure she is ready

To make a decision.


To make a decision.Was she reluctant?

Was that why you brought her?


Was that why you brought her?Oh no, not reluctant:

Only diffident. She cannot believe

That you will take her seriously.


That you will take her seriously.That is not uncommon.


Or that she deserves to be taken seriously.


That is most uncommon.


That is most uncommon.Henry, get up.

You can’t be as tired as that. I shall wait in the next room,

And come back when she’s gone.


And come back when she’s gone.Yes, when she’s gone.


Will Alex be here?


Will Alex be here?Yes, he’ll be here.

[Exit Julia by side door]

[Reilly presses button. Nurse-Secretary shows in Celia.]


Miss Celia Coplestone? . . . Won’t you sit down?

I believe you are a friend of Mrs. Shuttlethwaite.


Yes, it was Julia . . . Mrs. Shuttlethwaite

Who advised me to come to you.—But I’ve met you before,

Haven’t I, somewhere? . . . Oh, of course.

But I didn’t know . . .


But I didn’t know . . .There is nothing you need to know.

I was there at the instance of Mrs. Shuttlethwaite.


That makes it even more perplexing. However,

I don’t want to waste your time. And I’m awfully afraid

That you’ll think that I am wasting it anyway.

I suppose most people, when they come to see you,

Are obviously ill, or can give good reasons

For wanting to see you. Well, I can’t.

I just came in desperation. And I shan’t be offended

If you simply tell me to go away again.


Most of my patients begin, Miss Coplestone,

By telling me exactly what is the matter with them,

And what I am to do about it. They are quite sure

They have had a nervous breakdown—that is what they call it—

And usually they think that someone else is to blame.


I at least have no one to blame but myself.


And after that, the prologue to my treatment

Is to try to show them that they are mistaken

About the nature of their illness, and lead them to see

That it’s not so interesting as they had imagined.

When I get as far as that, there is something to be done.


Well, I can’t pretend that my trouble is interesting;

But I shan’t begin that way. I feel perfectly well.

I could lead an active life—if there’s anything to work for;

I don’t imagine that I am being persecuted;

I don’t hear any voices, I have no delusions—

Except that the world I live in seems all a delusion!

But oughtn’t I first to tell you the circumstances?

I’d forgotten that you know nothing about me;

And with what I’ve been going through, these last weeks,

I somehow took it for granted that I needn’t explain myself.


I know quite enough about you for the moment:

Try first to describe your present state of mind.


Well, there are two things I can’t understand,

Which you might consider symptoms. But first I must tell you

That I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me—

Because, if there isn’t, then there’s something wrong,

Or at least, very different from what it seemed to be,

With the world itself—and that’s much more frightening!

That would be terrible. So I’d rather believe

There is something wrong with me, that could be put right.

I’d do anything you told me, to get back to normality.


We must find out about you, before we decide

What is normality. You say there are two things:

What is the first?


What is the first?An awareness of solitude.

But that sounds so flat. I don’t mean simply

That there’s been a crash: though indeed there has been.

It isn’t simply the end of an illusion

In the ordinary way, or being ditched.

Of course that’s something that’s always happening

To all sorts of people, and they get over it

More or less, or at least they carry on.

No. I mean that what has happened has made me aware

That I’ve always been alone. That one always is alone.

Not simply the ending of one relationship,

Not even simply finding that it never existed—

But a revelation about my relationship

With everybody. Do you know—

It no longer seems worth while to speak to anyone!


And what about your parents?


And what about your parents?Oh, they live in the country,

Now they can’t afford to have a place in town.

It’s all they can do to keep the country house going;

But it’s been in the family so long, they won’t leave it.


And you live in London?


And you live in London?I share a flat

With a cousin: but she’s abroad at the moment,

And my family want me to come down and stay with them.

But I just can’t face it.


But I just can’t face it.So you want to see no one?


No . . . it isn’t that I want to be alone,

But that everyone’s alone—or so it seems to me.

They make noises, and think they are talking to each other;

They make faces, and think they understand each other.

And I’m sure that they don’t. Is that a delusion?


A delusion is something we must return from.

There are other states of mind, which we take to be delusion,

But which we have to accept and go on from.

And the second symptom?


And the second symptom?That’s stranger still.

It sounds ridiculous—but the only word for it

That I can find, is a sense of sin.


You suffer from a sense of sin, Miss Coplestone?

This is most unusual.


This is most unusual.It seemed to me abnormal.


We have yet to find what would be normal

For you, before we use the term ‘abnormal’.

Tell me what you mean by a sense of sin.


It’s much easier to tell you what I don’t mean:

I don’t mean sin in the ordinary sense.


And what, in your opinion, is the ordinary sense?


Well . . . I suppose it’s being immoral—

And I don’t feel as if I was immoral:

In fact, aren’t the people one thinks of as immoral

Just the people who we say have no moral sense?

I’ve never noticed that immorality

Was accompanied by a sense of sin:

At least, I have never come across it.

I suppose it is wicked to hurt other people.

If you know that you’re hurting them. I haven’t hurt her.

I wasn’t taking anything away from her—

Anything she wanted. I may have been a fool:

But I don’t mind at all having been a fool.


And what is the point of view of your family?


Well, my bringing up was pretty conventional—

I had always been taught to disbelieve in sin.

Oh, I don’t mean that it was ever mentioned!

But anything wrong, from our point of view,

Was either bad form, or was psychological.

And bad form always led to disaster

Because the people one knew disapproved of it.

I don’t worry much about form, myself—

But when everything’s bad form, or mental kinks,

You either become bad form, and cease to care,

Or else, if you care, you must be kinky.


And so you suppose you have what you call a ‘kink’?


But everything seemed so right, at the time!

I’ve been thinking about it, over and over;

I can see now, it was all a mistake.

But I don’t see why mistakes should make one feel sinful!

And yet I can’t find any other word for it.

It must be some kind of hallucination;

Yet, at the same time, I’m frightened by the fear

That it is more real than anything I believed in.


What is more real than anything you believed in?


It’s not the feeling of anything I’ve ever done,

Which I might get away from, or of anything in me

I could get rid of—but of emptiness, of failure

Towards someone, or something, outside of myself;

And I feel I must . . . atone—is that the word?

Can you treat a patient for such a state of mind?


What had you believed were your relations with this man?


Oh, you’d guessed that, had you? That’s clever of you.

No, perhaps I made it obvious. You don’t need to know

About him, do you?


About him, do you?No.


About him, do you?No.Perhaps I’m only typical.


There are different types. Some are rarer than others.


Oh, I thought that I was giving him so much!

And he to me—and the giving and the taking

Seemed so right: not in terms of calculation

Of what was good for the persons we had been

But for the new person, us. If I could feel

As I did then, even now it would seem right.

And then I found we were only strangers

And that there had been neither giving nor taking

But that we had merely made use of each other

Each for his purpose. That’s horrible. Can we only love

Something created by our own imagination?

Are we all in fact unloving and unlovable?

Then one is alone, and if one is alone

Then lover and belovèd are equally unreal

And the dreamer is no more real than his dreams.


And this man. What does he now seem like, to you?


Like a child who has wandered into a forest

Playing with an imaginary playmate

And suddenly discovers he is only a child

Lost in a forest, wanting to go home.


Compassion may be already a clue

Towards finding your own way out of the forest.


But even if I find my way out of the forest

I shall be left with the inconsolable memory

Of the treasure I went into the forest to find

And never found, and which was not there

And perhaps is not anywhere? But if not anywhere,

Why do I feel guilty at not having found it?


Disillusion can become itself an illusion

If we rest in it.


If we rest in it.I cannot argue.

It’s not that I’m afraid of being hurt again:

Nothing again can either hurt or heal.

I have thought at moments that the ecstasy is real

Although those who experience it may have no reality.

For what happened is remembered like a dream

In which one is exalted by intensity of loving

In the spirit, a vibration of delight

Without desire, for desire is fulfilled

In the delight of loving. A state one does not know

When awake. But what, or whom I loved,

Or what in me was loving, I do not know.

And if that is all meaningless, I want to be cured

Of a craving for something I cannot find

And of the shame of never finding it.

Can you cure me?


Can you cure me?The condition is curable.

But the form of treatment must be your own choice:

I cannot choose for you. If that is what you wish,

I can reconcile you to the human condition,

The condition to which some who have gone as far as you

Have succeeded in returning. They may remember

The vision they have had, but they cease to regret it,

Maintain themselves by the common routine,

Learn to avoid excessive expectation,

Become tolerant of themselves and others,

Giving and taking, in the usual actions

What there is to give and take. They do not repine;

Are contented with the morning that separates

And with the evening that brings together

For casual talk before the fire

Two people who know they do not understand each other,

Breeding children whom they do not understand

And who will never understand them.


And who will never understand them.Is that the best life?


It is a good life. Though you will not know how good

Till you come to the end. But you will want nothing else,

And the other life will be only like a book

You have read once, and lost. In a world of lunacy,

Violence, stupidity, greed . . . it is a good life.


I know I ought to be able to accept that

If I might still have it. Yet it leaves me cold.

Perhaps that’s just a part of my illness,

But I feel it would be a kind of surrender—

No, not a surrender—more like a betrayal.

You see, I think I really had a vision of something

Though I don’t know what it is. I don’t want to forget it.

I want to live with it. I could do without everything,

Put up with anything, if I might cherish it.

In fact, I think it would really be dishonest

For me, now, to try to make a life with anybody!

I couldn’t give anyone the kind of love—

I wish I could—which belongs to that life.

Oh, I’m afraid this sounds like raving!

Or just cantankerousness . . . still,

If there’s no other way . . . then I feel just hopeless.


There is another way, if you have the courage.

The first I could describe in familiar terms

Because you have seen it, as we all have seen it,

Illustrated, more or less, in lives of those about us.

The second is unknown, and so requires faith—

The kind of faith that issues from despair.

The destination cannot be described;

You will know very little until you get there;

You will journey blind. But the way leads towards possession

Of what you have sought for in the wrong place.


That sounds like what I want. But what is my duty?


Whichever way you choose will prescribe its own duty.


Which way is better?


Which way is better?Neither way is better.

Both ways are necessary. It is also necessary

To make a choice between them.


To make a choice between them.Then I choose the second.


It is a terrifying journey.


It is a terrifying journey.I am not frightened

But glad. I suppose it is a lonely way?


No lonelier than the other. But those who take the other

Can forget their loneliness. You will not forget yours.

Each way means loneliness—and communion.

Both ways avoid the final desolation

Of solitude in the phantasmal world

Of imagination, shuffling memories and desires.


That is the hell I have been in.


That is the hell I have been in.It isn’t hell

Till you become incapable of anything else.

Now—do you feel quite sure?


Now—do you feel quite sure?I want your second way.

So what am I to do?


So what am I to do?You will go to the sanatorium.


Oh, what an anti-climax! I have known people

Who have been to your sanatorium, and come back again—

I don’t mean to say they weren’t much better for it—

That’s why I came to you. But they returned . . .

Well . . . I mean . . . to everyday life.


True. But the friends you have in mind

Cannot have been to this sanatorium.

I am very careful whom I send there:

Those who go do not come back as these did.


It sounds like a prison. But they can’t all stay there!

I mean, it would make the place so over-crowded.


Not very many go. But I said they did not come back

In the sense in which your friends came back.

I did not say they stayed there.


I did not say they stayed there.What becomes of them?


They choose, Miss Coplestone. Nothing is forced on them.

Some of them return, in a physical sense;

No one disappears. They lead very active lives

Very often, in the world.


Very often, in the world.How soon will you send me there?


How soon will you be ready?


How soon will you be ready?Tonight, by nine o’clock.


Go home then, and make your preparations.

Here is the address for you to give your friends;

[Writes on a slip of paper]

You had better let your family know at once.

I will send a car for you at nine o’clock.


What do I need to take with me?


What do I need to take with me?Nothing.

Everything you need will be provided for you,

And you will have no expenses at the sanatorium.


I don’t in the least know what I am doing

Or why I am doing it. There is nothing else to do:

That is the only reason.


That is the only reason.It is the best reason.


But I know it is I who have made the decision:

I must tell you that. Oh, I almost forgot—

May I ask what your fee is?


May I ask what your fee is?I have told my secretary

That there is no fee.


That there is no fee.But . . .


That there is no fee.But . . .For a case like yours

There is no fee.

[Presses button]


There is no fee.You have been very kind.


Go in peace, my daughter.

Work out your salvation with diligence.

[Nurse-Secretary appears at door. Exit Celia. Reilly dials on house-telephone.]


[Into telephone]

It is finished. You can come in now.

[Enter Julia by side door]

She will go far, that one.


She will go far, that one.Very far, I think.

You do not need to tell me. I knew from the beginning.


It’s the other ones I am worried about.


Nonsense, Henry. I shall keep an eye on them.


To send them back: what have they to go back to?

To the stale food mouldering in the larder,

The stale thoughts mouldering in their minds.

Each unable to disguise his own meanness

From himself, because it is known to the other.

It’s not the knowledge of the mutual treachery

But the knowledge that the other understands the motive—

Mirror to mirror, reflecting vanity.

I have taken a great risk.


I have taken a great risk.We must always take risks.

That is our destiny. Since you question the decision

What possible alternative can you imagine?




None.Very well then. We must take the risk.

All we could do was to give them the chance.

And now, when they are stripped naked to their souls

And can choose, whether to put on proper costumes

Or huddle quickly into new disguises,

They have, for the first time, somewhere to start from.

Oh, of course, they might just murder each other!

But I don’t think they will do that. We shall see.

It’s the thought of Celia that weighs upon my mind.


Of Celia?


Of Celia?Of Celia.


Of Celia?Of Celia.But when I said just now

That she would go far, you agreed with me.


Oh yes, she will go far. And we know where she is going.

But what do we know of the terrors of the journey?

You and I don’t know the process by which the human is

Transhumanised: what do we know

Of the kind of suffering they must undergo

On the way of illumination?


On the way of illumination?Will she be frightened

By the first appearance of projected spirits?


Henry, you simply do not understand innocence.

She will be afraid of nothing; she will not even know

That there is anything there to be afraid of.

She is too humble. She will pass between the scolding hills,

Through the valley of derision, like a child sent on an errand

In eagerness and patience. Yet she must suffer.


When I express confidence in anything

You always raise doubts; when I am apprehensive

Then you see no reason for anything but confidence.


That’s one way in which I am so useful to you.

You ought to be grateful.


You ought to be grateful.And when I say to one like her

‘Work out your salvation with diligence’, I do not understand

What I myself am saying.


What I myself am saying.You must accept your limitations.

—But how much longer will Alex keep us waiting?


He should be here by now. I’ll speak to Miss Barraway.

[Takes up house-telephone]

Miss Barraway, when Mr. Gibbs arrives . . .

Oh, very good.

[To Julia]

Oh, very good.He’s on his way up.

[Into telephone]

Oh, very good.He’s on his way up.You may bring the tray in now, Miss Barraway.

[Enter Alex]


Well! Well! and how have we got on?


Well! Well! and how have we got on?Everything is in order.


The Chamberlaynes have chosen?


The Chamberlaynes have chosen?They accept their destiny.


And she has made the choice?


And she has made the choice?She will be fetched this evening.

[Nurse-Secretary enters with a tray, a decanter and three glasses, and exits. Reilly pours drinks.]

And now we are ready to proceed to the libation.


The words for the building of the hearth.

[They raise their glasses]


Let them build the hearth

Under the protection of the stars.


Let them place a chair each side of it.


May the holy ones watch over the roof,

May the Moon herself influence the bed.

[They drink]


The words for those who go upon a journey.


Protector of travellers

Bless the road.


Watch over her in the desert.

Watch over her in the mountain.

Watch over her in the labyrinth.

Watch over her by the quicksand.


Protect her from the Voices

Protect her from the Visions

Protect her in the tumult

Protect her in the silence.

[They drink]


There is one for whom the words cannot be spoken.


They can not be spoken yet.


They can not be spoken yet.You mean Peter Quilpe.


He has not yet come to where the words are valid.


Shall we ever speak them?


Shall we ever speak them?Others, perhaps, will speak them.

You know, I have connections—even in California.


Act Three

The drawing-room of the Chamberlaynes’ London flat. Two years later. A late afternoon in July. A Caterer’s Man is arranging a buffet table. Lavinia enters from side door.

Caterer’s Man

Have you any further orders for us, Madam?


You could bring in the trolley with the glasses

And leave them ready.

Caterer’s Man

And leave them ready.Very good, Madam.

[Exit. Lavinia looks about the room critically and moves bowl of flowers.]

[Re-enter Caterer’s Man with trolley]


There, in that corner. That’s the most convenient;

You can get in and out. Is there anything you need

That you can’t find in the kitchen?

Caterer’s Man

That you can’t find in the kitchen?Nothing, Madam.

Will there be anything more you require?


Nothing more, I think, till half past six.

[Exit Caterer’s Man]

[Edward lets himself in at the front door]


I’m in good time, I think. I hope you’ve not been worrying.


Oh no. I did in fact ring up your chambers,

And your clerk told me you had already left.

But all I rang up for was to reassure you . . .



That you hadn’t run away?


That you hadn’t run away?Now Edward, that’s unfair!

You know that we’ve given several parties

In the last two years. And I’ve attended all of them.

I hope you’re not too tired?


I hope you’re not too tired?Oh no, a quiet day.

Two consultations with solicitors

On quite straightforward cases. It’s you who should be tired.


I’m not tired yet. But I know that I’ll be glad

When it’s all over.


When it’s all over.I like the dress you’re wearing:

I’m glad you put on that one.


I’m glad you put on that one.Well, Edward!

Do you know it’s the first time you’ve paid me a compliment

Before a party? And that’s when one needs them.


Well, you deserve it.—We asked too many people.


It’s true, a great many more accepted

Than we thought would want to come. But what can you do?

There’s usually a lot who don’t want to come

But all the same would be bitterly offended

To hear we’d given a party without asking them.


Perhaps we ought to have arranged to have two parties

Instead of one.


Instead of one.That’s never satisfactory.

Everyone who’s asked to either party

Suspects that the other one was more important.


That’s true. You have a very practical mind.


But you know, I don’t think that you need worry:

They won’t all come, out of those who accepted.

You know we said, ‘we can ask twenty more

Because they will be going to the Gunnings instead’.


I know, that’s what we said at the time;

But I’d forgotten what the Gunnings’ parties were like.

Their guests will get just enough to make them thirsty;

They’ll come on to us later, roaring for drink.

Well, let’s hope that those who come to us early

Will be going on to the Gunnings afterwards,

To make room for those who come from the Gunnings.


And if it’s very crowded, they can’t get at the cocktails,

And the man won’t be able to take the tray about,

So they’ll go away again. Anyway, at that stage

There’s nothing whatever you can do about it:

And everyone likes to be seen at a party

Where everybody else is, to show they’ve been invited.

That’s what makes it a success. Is that picture straight?


Yes, it is.


Yes, it is.No, it isn’t. Do please straighten it.


Is it straight now?


Is it straight now?Too much to the left.


How’s that now?


How’s that now?No, I meant the right.

That will do. I’m too tired to bother.


After they’re all gone, we will have some champagne.

Just ourselves. You lie down now, Lavinia.

No one will be coming for at least half an hour;

So just stretch out.


So just stretch out.You must sit beside me,

Then I can relax.


Then I can relax.This is the best moment

Of the whole party.


Of the whole party.Oh no, Edward.

The best moment is the moment it’s over;

And then to remember, it’s the end of the season

And no more parties.


And no more parties.And no more committees.


Can we get away soon?


Can we get away soon?By the end of next week

I shall be quite free.


I shall be quite free.And we can be alone.

I love that house being so remote.


That’s why we took it. And I’m really thankful

To have that excuse for not seeing people;

And you do need to rest now.

[The doorbell rings]


And you do need to rest now.Oh, bother!

Now who would come so early? I simply can’t get up.

Caterer’s Man

Mrs. Shuttlethwaite!


Mrs. Shuttlethwaite!Oh, it’s Julia!

[Enter Julia]


Well, my dears, and here I am!

I seem literally to have caught you napping!

I know I’m much too early; but the fact is, my dears,

That I have to go on to the Gunnings’ party—

And you know what they offer in the way of food and drink!

And I’ve had to miss my tea, and I’m simply ravenous

And dying of thirst. What can Parkinson’s do for me?

Oh yes, I know this is a Parkinson party;

I recognised one of their men at the door—

An old friend of mine, in fact. But I’m forgetting!

I’ve got a surprise: I’ve brought Alex with me!

He only got back this morning from somewhere—

One of his mysterious expeditions,

And we’re going to get him to tell us all about it.

But what’s become of him?

[Enter Alex]


But what’s become of him?Well, Alex!

Where on earth do you turn up from?


Where on earth? From the east. From Kinkanja—

An island that you won’t have heard of

Yet. Got back this morning. I heard about your party

And, as I thought you might be leaving for the country,

I said, I must not miss the opportunity

To see Edward and Lavinia.


To see Edward and Lavinia.How are you, Alex?


I did try to get you on the telephone

After lunch, but my secretary couldn’t get through to you.

Never mind, I said—to myself, not to her—

Never mind: the unexpected guest

Is the one to whom they give the warmest welcome.

I know them well enough for that.


I know them well enough for that.But tell us, Alex.

What were you doing in this strange place—

What’s it called?


What’s it called?Kinkanja.


What’s it called?Kinkanja.What were you doing

In Kinkanja? Visiting some Sultan?

You were shooting tigers?


You were shooting tigers?There are no tigers, Julia,

In Kinkanja. And there are no sultans.

I have been staying with the Governor.

Three of us have been out on a tour of inspection

Of local conditions.


Of local conditions.What about? Monkey nuts?


That was a nearer guess than you think.

No, not monkey nuts. But it had to do with monkeys—

Though whether the monkeys are the core of the problem

Or merely a symptom, I am not so sure.

At least, the monkeys have become the pretext

For general unrest amongst the natives.


But how do the monkeys create unrest?


To begin with, the monkeys are very destructive . . .


You don’t need to tell me that monkeys are destructive.

I shall never forget Mary Mallington’s monkey,

The horrid little beast—stole my ticket to Mentone

And I had to travel in a very slow train

And in a couchette. She was very angry

When I told her the creature ought to be destroyed.


But can’t they exterminate these monkeys

If they are a pest?


If they are a pest?Unfortunately,

The majority of the natives are heathen:

They hold these monkeys in peculiar veneration

And do not want them killed. So they blame the Government

For the damage that the monkeys do.


That seems unreasonable.


That seems unreasonable.It is unreasonable,

But characteristic. And that’s not the worst of it.

Some of the tribes are Christian converts,

And, naturally, take a different view.

They trap the monkeys. And they eat them.

The young monkeys are extremely palatable:

I’ve cooked them myself . . .


I’ve cooked them myself . . .And did anybody eat them

When you cooked them?


When you cooked them?Oh yes, indeed.

I invented for the natives several new recipes.

But you see, what with eating the monkeys

And what with protecting their crops from the monkeys

The Christian natives prosper exceedingly:

And that creates friction between them and the others.

And that’s the real problem. I hope I’m not boring you?


No indeed: we are anxious to learn the solution.


I’m not sure that there is any solution.

But even this does not bring us to the heart of the matter.

There are also foreign agitators,

Stirring up trouble . . .


Stirring up trouble . . .Why don’t you expel them?


They are citizens of a friendly neighbouring state

Which we have just recognised. You see, Lavinia,

There are very deep waters.


There are very deep waters.And the agitators;

How do they agitate?


How do they agitate?By convincing the heathen

That the slaughter of monkeys has put a curse on them

Which can only be removed by slaughtering the Christians.

They have even been persuading some of the converts—

Who, after all, prefer not to be slaughtered—

To relapse into heathendom. So, instead of eating monkeys

They are eating Christians.


They are eating Christians.Who have eaten monkeys.


The native is not, I fear, very logical.


I wondered where you were taking us, with your monkeys.

I thought I was going to dine out on those monkeys:

But one can’t dine out on eating Christians—

Even among pagans!


Even among pagans!Not on the whole story.


And have any of the English residents been murdered?


Yes, but they are not usually eaten.

When these people have done with a European

He is, as a rule, no longer fit to eat.


And what has your commission accomplished?


We have just drawn up an interim report.


Will it be made public?


Will it be made public?It cannot be, at present:

There are too many international complications.

Eventually, there may be an official publication.


But when?


But when?In a year or two.


But when?In a year or two.And meanwhile?


Meanwhile the monkeys multiply.


Meanwhile the monkeys multiply.And the Christians?


Ah, the Christians! Now, I think I ought to tell you

About someone you know—or knew . . .


About someone you know—or knew . . .Edward!

Somebody must have walked over my grave:

I’m feeling so chilly. Give me some gin.

Not a cocktail. I’m freezing—in July!

Caterer’s Man

Mr. Quilpe!


Mr. Quilpe!Now who . . .

[Enter Peter]

Mr. Quilpe!Now who . . .Why, it’s Peter!




Peter!Hullo, everybody!


Peter!Hullo, everybody!When did you arrive?


I flew over from New York last night—

I left Los Angeles three days ago.

I saw Sheila Paisley at lunch to-day

And she told me you were giving a party—

She’s coming on later, after the Gunnings—

So I said, I really must crash in:

It’s my only chance to see Edward and Lavinia.

I’m only over for a week, you see,

And I’m driving down to the country this evening,

So I knew you wouldn’t mind my looking in so early.

It does seem ages since I last saw any of you!

And how are you, Alex? And dear old Julia!


So you’ve just come from New York.


So you’ve just come from New York.Yes, from New York.

The Bologolomskys saw me off.

You remember Princess Bologolomsky

In the old days? We dined the other night

At the Saffron Monkey. That’s the place to go now.


How very odd. My monkeys are saffron.


Your monkeys, Alex? I always said

That Alex knew everybody. But I didn’t know

That he knew any monkeys.


That he knew any monkeys.But give us your news;

Give us your news of the world, Peter.

We lead such a quiet life, here in London.


You always did enjoy a leg-pull, Julia:

But you all know I’m working for Pan-Am-Eagle?


No. Tell us, what is Pan-Am-Eagle?


You must have been living a quiet life!

Don’t you go to the movies?


Don’t you go to the movies?Occasionally.


Don’t you go to the movies?Occasionally.Alex knows.

Did you see my last picture, Alex?


I knew about it, but I didn’t see it.

There is no cinema in Kinkanja.


Kinkanja? Where’s that? They don’t have pictures?

Pan-Am-Eagle must look into this.

Perhaps it would be a good place to make one.

—Alex knows all about Pan-Am-Eagle:

It was he who introduced me to the great Bela.


And who is the great Bela?


And who is the great Bela?Why, Bela Szogody—

He’s my boss. I thought everyone knew his name.


Is he your connection in California, Alex?


Yes, we have sometimes obliged each other.


Well, it was Bela sent me over

Just for a week. And I have my hands full

I’m going down tonight, to Boltwell.


To stay with the Duke?


To stay with the Duke?And do him a good turn.

We’re making a film of English life

And we want to use Boltwell.


And we want to use Boltwell.But I understood that Boltwell

Is in a very decayed condition.


Exactly. It is. And that’s why we’re interested.

The most decayed noble mansion in England!

At least, of any that are still inhabited.

We’ve got a team of experts over

To study the decay, so as to reproduce it.

Then we build another Boltwell in California.


But what is your position, Peter?

Have you become an expert on decaying houses?


Oh dear no! I’ve written the script of this film,

And Bela is very pleased with it.

He thought I should see the original Boltwell;

And besides, he thought that as I’m English

I ought to know the best way to handle a duke.

Besides that, we’ve got the casting director:

He’s looking for some typical English faces—

Of course, only for minor parts—

And I’ll help him decide what faces are typical.


Peter, I’ve thought of a wonderful idea!

I’ve always wanted to go to California:

Couldn’t you persuade your casting director

To take us all over? We’re all very typical.


No, I’m afraid . . .

Caterer’s Man

No, I’m afraid . . .Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly!


Oh, I forgot! I’d another surprise for you.

[Enter Reilly]

I want you to meet Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly—


We’re delighted to see him. But we have met before.


Then if you know him already, you won’t be afraid of him.

You know, I was afraid of him at first:

He looks so forbidding . . .


He looks so forbidding . . .My dear Julia,

You are giving me a very bad introduction—

Supposing that an introduction was necessary.


My dear Henry, you are interrupting me.


If you can interrupt Julia, Sir Henry,

You are the perfect guest we’ve been looking for.


I should not dream of trying to interrupt Julia . . .


But you’re both interrupting!


But you’re both interrupting!Who is interrupting now?


Well, you shouldn’t interrupt my interruptions:

That’s really worse than interrupting.

Now my head’s fairly spinning. I must have a cocktail.


[To Reilly]

And will you have a cocktail?


And will you have a cocktail?Might I have a glass of water?


Anything with it?


Anything with it?Nothing, thank you.


May I introduce Mr. Peter Quilpe?

Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. Peter’s an old friend

Of my husband and myself. Oh, I forgot—

[Turning to Alex]

I rather assumed that you knew each other—

I don’t know why I should. Mr. MacColgie Gibbs.


Indeed, yes, we have met.


Indeed, yes, we have met.On several commissions.


We’ve been having such an interesting conversation.

Peter’s just over from California

Where he’s something very important in films.

He’s making a film of English life

And he’s going to find parts for all of us. Think of it!


But, Julia, I was just about to explain—

I’m afraid I can’t find parts for anybody

In this film—it’s not my business;

And that’s not the way we do it.


And that’s not the way we do it.But, Peter;

If you’re taking Boltwell to California

Why can’t you take me?


Why can’t you take me?We’re not taking Boltwell.

We reconstruct a Boltwell.


We reconstruct a Boltwell.Very well, then:

Why not reconstruct me? It’s very much cheaper.

Oh, dear, I can see you’re determined not to have me:

So good-bye to my hopes of seeing California.


You know you’d never come if we invited you.

But there’s someone I wanted to ask about,

Who did really want to get into films,

And I always thought she could make a success of it

If she only got the chance. It’s Celia Coplestone.

She always wanted to. And now I could help her.

I’ve already spoken to Bela about her,

And I want to introduce her to our casting director.

I’ve got an idea for another film.

Can you tell me where she is? I couldn’t find her

In the telephone directory.


In the telephone directory.Not in the directory,

Or in any directory. You can tell them now, Alex.


What does Julia mean?


What does Julia mean?I was about to speak of her

When you came in, Peter. I’m afraid you can’t have Celia.


Oh . . . Is she married?


Oh . . . Is she married?Not married, but dead.






Celia?Dead.Dead. That knocks the bottom out of it.


Celia dead.


Celia dead.You had better tell them, Alex,

The news that you bring back from Kinkanja.


Kinkanja? What was Celia doing in Kinkanja?

We heard that she had joined some nursing order . . .


She had joined an order. A very austere one.

And as she already had experience of nursing . . .


Yes, she had been a V.A.D. I remember.


She was directed to Kinkanja,

Where there are various endemic diseases

Besides, of course, those brought by Europeans,

And where the conditions are favourable to plague.


Go on.


Go on.It seems that there were three of them—

Three sisters at this station, in a Christian village;

And half the natives were dying of pestilence.

They must have been overworked for weeks.


And then?


And then?And then, the insurrection broke out

Among the heathen, of which I was telling you.

They knew of it, but would not leave the dying natives.

Eventually, two of them escaped:

One died in the jungle, and the other

Will never be fit for normal life again.

But Celia Coplestone, she was taken.

When our people got there, they questioned the villagers—

Those who survived. And then they found her body,

Or at least, they found the traces of it.


But before that . . .


But before that . . .It was difficult to tell.

But from what we know of local practices

It would seem that she must have been crucified

Very near an ant-hill.


Very near an ant-hill.But Celia! . . . Of all people . . .


And just for a handful of plague-stricken natives

Who would have died anyway.


Who would have died anyway.Yes, the patients died anyway;

Being tainted with the plague, they were not eaten.


Oh, Edward, I’m so sorry—what a feeble thing to say!

But you know what I mean.


But you know what I mean.And you know what I’m thinking.


I don’t understand at all. But then I’ve been away

For two years, and don’t know what happened

To Celia, during those two years.

Two years! Thinking about Celia.


It’s the waste that I resent.


It’s the waste that I resent.You know more than I do:

For me, it’s everything else that’s a waste.

Two years! And it was all a mistake.

Julia! Why don’t you say anything?


You gave her those two years, as best you could.


When did she . . . take up this career?


When did she . . . take up this career?Two years ago.


Two years ago! I tried to forget about her,

Until I began to think myself a success

And got a little more self-confidence;

And then I thought about her again. More and more.

At first I did not want to know about Celia

And so I never asked. Then I wanted to know

And did not dare to ask. It took all my courage

To ask you about her just now; but I never thought

Of anything like this. I suppose I didn’t know her,

I didn’t understand her. I understand nothing.


You understand your métier, Mr. Quilpe—

Which is the most that any of us can ask for.


And what a métier! I’ve tried to believe in it

So that I might believe in myself.

I thought I had ideas to make a revolution

In the cinema, that no one could ignore—

And here I am, making a second-rate film!

But I thought it was going to lead to something better,

And that seemed possible, while Celia was alive.

I wanted it, believed in it, for Celia.

And, of course, I wanted to do something for Celia—

But what mattered was, that Celia was alive.

And now it’s all worthless. Celia’s not alive.


No, it’s not all worthless, Peter. You’ve only just begun.

I mean, this only brings you to the point

At which you must begin. You were saying just now

That you never knew Celia. We none of us did.

What you’ve been living on is an image of Celia

Which you made for yourself, to meet your own needs.

Peter, please don’t think I’m being unkind . . .


No, I don’t think you’re being unkind, Lavinia;

And I know that you’re right.


And I know that you’re right.And perhaps what I’ve been saying

Will seem less unkind if I can make you understand

That in fact I’ve been talking about myself.


Lavinia is right. This is where you start from.

If you find out now, Peter, things about yourself

That you don’t like to face: well, just remember

That some men have to learn much worse things

About themselves, and learn them later

When it’s harder to recover, and make a new beginning.

It’s not so hard for you. You’re naturally good.


I’m sorry. I don’t believe I’ve taken in

All that you’ve been saying. But I’m grateful all the same.

You know, all the time that you’ve been talking,

One thought has been going round and round in my head—

That I’ve only been interested in myself:

And that isn’t good enough for Celia.


You must have learned how to look at people, Peter,

When you look at them with an eye for the films:

That is, when you’re not concerned with yourself

But just being an eye. You will come to think of Celia

Like that, one day. And then you’ll understand her

And be reconciled, and be happy in the thought of her.


Sir Henry, there is something I want to say to you.

While Alex was telling us what had happened to Celia

I was looking at your face. And it seemed from your expression

That the way in which she died did not disturb you

Or the fact that she died because she would not leave

A few dying natives.


A few dying natives.Who knows, Mrs. Chamberlayne,

The difference that made to the natives who were dying

Or the state of mind in which they died?


I’m willing to grant that. What struck me, though,

Was that your face showed no surprise or horror

At the way in which she died. I don’t know if you knew her.

I suspect that you did. In any case you knew about her.

Yet I thought your expression was one of . . . satisfaction!


Mrs. Chamberlayne, I must be very transparent

Or else you are very perceptive.


Or else you are very perceptive.Oh, Henry!

Lavinia is much more observant than you think.

I believe that she has forced you to a show-down.


You state the position correctly, Julia.

Do you mind if I quote poetry, Mrs. Chamberlayne?


Oh no, I should love to hear you speaking poetry . . .


She has made a point, Henry.


She has made a point, Henry.. . . if it answers my question.


                  Ere Babylon was dust

The magus Zoroaster, my dead child,

Met his own image walking in the garden.

That apparition, sole of men, he saw.

For know there are two worlds of life and death:

One that which thou beholdest; but the other

Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit

The shadows of all forms that think and live

Till death unite them and they part no more!


When I first met Miss Coplestone, in this room,

I saw the image, standing behind her chair,

Of a Celia Coplestone whose face showed the astonishment

Of the first five minutes after a violent death.

If this strains your credulity, Mrs. Chamberlayne,

I ask you only to entertain the suggestion

That a sudden intuition, in certain minds,

May tend to express itself at once in a picture.

That happens to me, sometimes. So it was obvious

That here was a woman under sentence of death.

That was her destiny. The only question

Then was, what sort of death? I could not know;

Because it was for her to choose the way of life

To lead to death, and, without knowing the end

Yet choose the form of death. We know the death she chose.

I did not know that she would die in this way;

She did not know. So all that I could do

Was to direct her in the way of preparation.

That way, which she accepted, led to this death.

And if that is not a happy death, what death is happy?


Do you mean that having chosen this form of death

She did not suffer as ordinary people suffer?


Not at all what I mean. Rather the contrary.

I’d say that she suffered all that we should suffer

In fear and pain and loathing—all these together—

And reluctance of the body to become a thing.

I’d say she suffered more, because more conscious

Than the rest of us. She paid the highest price

In suffering. That is part of the design.


Perhaps she had been through greater agony beforehand.

I mean—I know nothing of her last two years.


That shows some insight on your part, Mrs. Chamberlayne;

But such experience can only be hinted at

In myths and images. To speak about it

We talk of darkness, labyrinths, Minotaur terrors.

But that world does not take the place of this one.

Do you imagine that the Saint in the desert

With spiritual evil always at his shoulder

Suffered any less from hunger, damp, exposure,

Bowel trouble, and the fear of lions,

Cold of the night and heat of the day, than we should?


But if this was right—if this was right for Celia—

There must be something else that is terribly wrong,

And the rest of us are somehow involved in the wrong.

I should only speak for myself. I’m sure that I am.


Let me free your mind from one impediment:

You must try to detach yourself from what you still feel

As your responsibility.


As your responsibility.I cannot help the feeling

That, in some way, my responsibility

Is greater than that of a band of half-crazed savages.


Oh, Edward, I knew! I knew what you were thinking!

Doesn’t it help you, that I feel guilty too?


If we were all judged according to the consequences

Of all our words and deeds, beyond the intention

And beyond our limited understanding

Of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned.

Mrs. Chamberlayne, I often have to make a decision

Which may mean restoration or ruin to a patient—

And sometimes I have made the wrong decision.

As for Miss Coplestone, because you think her death was waste

You blame yourselves, and because you blame yourselves

You think her life was wasted. It was triumphant.

But I am no more responsible for the triumph—

And just as responsible for her death as you are.


Yet I know I shall go on blaming myself

For being so unkind to her . . . so spiteful.

I shall go on seeing her at the moment

When she said good-bye to us, two years ago.


Your responsibility is nothing to mine, Lavinia.


I’m not sure about that. If I had understood you

Then I might not have misunderstood Celia.


You will have to live with these memories and make them

Into something new. Only by acceptance

Of the past will you alter its meaning.


Henry, I think it is time that I said something:

Everyone makes a choice, of one kind or another,

And then must take the consequences. Celia chose

A way of which the consequence was Kinkanja.

Peter chose a way that leads him to Boltwell:

And he’s got to go there . . .


And he’s got to go there . . .I see what you mean.

I wish I didn’t have to. But the car will be waiting,

And the experts—I’d almost forgotten them.

I realise that I can’t get out of it—

And what else can I do?


And what else can I do?It is your film.

And I know that Bela expects great things of it.


So now I’ll be going.


So now I’ll be going.Shall we see you again, Peter,

Before you leave England?


Before you leave England?Do try to come to see us.

You know, I think it would do us all good—

You and me and Edward . . . to talk about Celia


Thanks very much. But not this time—

I simply shan’t be able to.


I simply shan’t be able to.But on your next visit?


The next time I come to England, I promise you.

I really do want to see you both, very much.

Good-bye, Julia. Good-bye, Alex. Good-bye, Sir Henry.



. . . And now the consequences of the Chamberlaynes’ choice

Is a cocktail party. They must be ready for it.

Their guests may be arriving at any moment.


Julia, you are right. It is also right

That the Chamberlaynes should now be giving a party.


And I have been thinking, for these last five minutes,

How I could face my guests. I wish it was over.

I mean . . . I am glad you came . . . I am glad Alex told us . . .

And Peter had to know . . .


And Peter had to know . . .Now I think I understand . . .


Then I hope you will explain it to me!


Then I hope you will explain it to me!Oh, it isn’t much

That I understand yet! But Sir Henry has been saying,

I think, that every moment is a fresh beginning;

And Julia, that life is only keeping on;

And somehow, the two ideas seem to fit together.


But all the same . . . I don’t want to see these people.


It is your appointed burden. And as for the party,

I am sure it will be a success.


I am sure it will be a success.And I think, Henry,

That we should leave before the party begins.

They will get on better without us. You too, Alex.


We don’t want you to go!


We don’t want you to go!We have another engagement.


And on this occasion I shall not be unexpected.


Now, Henry. Now, Alex. We’re going to the Gunnings.

[Exeunt Julia, Reilly and Alex]


Edward, how am I looking?


Edward, how am I looking?Very well.

I might almost say, your best. But you always look your best.


Oh, Edward, that spoils it. No woman can believe

That she always looks her best. You’re rather transparent,

You know, when you’re trying to cheer me up.

To say I always look my best can only mean the worst.


I never shall learn how to pay a compliment.


What you should have done was to admire my dress.


But I’ve already told you how much I like it.


But so much has happened since then. And besides,

One sometimes likes to hear the same compliment twice.


And now for the party.


And now for the party.Now for the party.


It will soon be over.


It will soon be over.I wish it would begin.


There’s the doorbell.


There’s the doorbell.Oh, I’m glad. It’s begun.



The tune of One-Eyed Riley (page 38), as scored from the author’s dictation by Miss Mary Trevelyan.

The Cast of the First Production

at the

Edinburgh Festival,

August 22-27, 1949

Edward ChamberlayneRobert Flemyng
Julia (Mrs. Shuttlethwaite)Cathleen Nesbitt
Celia CoplestoneIrene Worth
Alexander McColgie GibbsErnest Clark
Peter QuilpeDonald Houston
An Unidentified Guest, later identified as Sir Henry Harcourt-ReillyAlec Guinness
Lavinia ChamberlayneUrsula Jeans
A Nurse-SecretaryChristina Horniman
Two Caterer’s Men{Donald Bain
{Martin Beckwith
Directed by E. Martin Browne
Settings designed by Anthony Holland
Produced by Sherek Players Ltd.
in association with The Arts Council


Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.


[The end of The Cocktail Party by T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot]