This Day In Literary History
On October 28th, 1905, Mrs. Warren's Profession, the classic play by the legendary Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, opened at the Garrick Theater in New York. The play, Shaw's second, was written in 1893.
Banned in Britain by the Lord Chamberlain (England's theater censor) because of its frank depiction of prostitution, the play would finally open in London on January 5th, 1902, behind closed doors at the New Lyric Club - a private, members-only organization.
Private theatrical clubs were exempt from the censorship laws regulating public theaters in England. The play couldn't be legally performed in a British public theater until 1926, when theatrical censorship was less strict.
Mrs. Warren's Profession centers on the relationship between Mrs. Warren, a middle-aged ex-prostitute turned brothel madam, and her prudish, conservative, Cambridge-educated daughter, Vivie.
Mrs. Warren has always hidden the truth about her profession from her daughter. When Vivie discovers that her mother's fortune was really made in the brothel business, she's horrified.
Eventually, the two strong willed women reconcile when Mrs. Warren explains that her childhood, spent in grinding poverty and despair, led her to become a prostitute because it was the only way to support herself. Vivie forgives her - until she finds out that Mom is still running brothels.
Though the play was inspired by Yvette, a novel by the legendary French writer Guy de Maupassant, George Bernard Shaw, a staunch socialist, said that he wrote Mrs. Warren's Profession for this reason:
To draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused not by female depravity and male licentiousness but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.
After opening in New York, Mrs. Warren's Profession would close after only one performance, as the play was promptly shut down by puritanical authorities.
A few days later, on October 31st, the producer and the entire cast of actors were arrested for obscenity. Fortunately, they were all acquitted of the charge in court - including George Bernard Shaw, who was tried in absentia.
Shaw would go on to write many more classic plays, including Candida (1894), Caesar And Cleopatra (1898), Major Barbara (1905), The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), Fanny's First Play (1911), and Pygmalion (1912), upon which the famous, award-winning musical My Fair Lady was based.
In all of his works, Shaw extolled the virtues of socialism and denounced all forms of capitalist exploitation, including the degradation of women. He also drew attention to the effects of poverty, violence, and war on both society and the individual.
Quote Of The Day
"The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people." - George Bernard Shaw
Today's video features a complete live performance of Mrs. Warren's Profession. Enjoy!