- Pinero's Tanqueray
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray is one of those works whose cultural importance exceeds its actual quality—which is not to suggest that it is a bad play, but rather that its significance as a cultural document of early 1890s England (or London) is considerable. This means that it is the kind of work that greatly benefits from an edition that provides plenty of contemporary context. For a proper understanding of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray we need to know about Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who made this play one of the theatrical sensations of 1893. We need to know about the Fallen Woman question in the late nineteenth century, and in the early 1890s in particular. And we need to know about the Ibsen controversies in London at that time, about Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, about Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan—and much else, which this edition conveniently makes available to us, or draws our attention to. The text of the play itself occupies about a third of the volume, which leaves ample room for Victorian excerpts on the Woman Question, contemporary reviews of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Pinero's observations on drama in general (not his strongest suit), and other valuable materials as well.
This broad view of Pinero's play is ably assembled by the editor of Pinero's letters, J. P. Wearing, who also provides a substantial introduction that surveys the playwright's life and career, and which takes us through The Second Mrs. Tanqueray in detail, scene by scene. And he gives us a text of the play that supplements the 1895 Heinemann edition with variants from the original prompt copy in the British Library. All parts of Wearing's volume are generously annotated—even a bit too generously at times. When Cayley Drummle refers to the "social Dead Sea," for example, our understanding of the play is not much enhanced by the information that "Pinero's metaphor ignores the fact that the Sea's salinity provides bathers with buoyancy," and likewise when the bored Paula talks wearily about the daily game of Bésique in the Tanqueray household, it is not altogether necessary for us to be informed that this card game "was a favourite of Winston Churchill (1874– 1965)." But for the most part readers will be grateful for the notes to the text of the play, and the similar annotation to all the accompanying materials that follow in the appendices. (Oddly, there is almost no reference in the volume to the most aesthetically impressive representation [End Page 220] of the Fallen Woman narrative in the nineteenth century: Verdi's La Traviata.)
The substantial appendix on "Contemporary Reactions to The Second Mrs. Tanqueray" reminds us of the critical enthusiasm that greeted this work in 1893, and the editor's introduction, which notes that the play "garnered accolades most dramatists can only dream about," quotes a few samples: a "dramatic masterpiece," "a great play," "the finest play of which this age can boast," "the greatest play of modern times," "the greatest play of our times." But the volume does include the odd dissenting voice. One of these is from the Yorkshire Post, which thought the play might do in London but that "many plain provincial people" would feel that "if they cannot have skilful plays and powerful acting without an offensive moral odour they will not have them at all." And then there is Bernard Shaw's 1895 review of the published text, which to my mind nicely locates the main strengths and weaknesses of Pinero's play. Shaw's emphasis, though, is clearly on the work's limitations. Paula, he argues, is presented on the stage not as a woman who "remains perfectly valid to herself" but is presented rather from the morally conventional perspective of her husband, stepdaughter, and author—"from the Tanqueray-Ellean-Pinero point of view," which "betrays the fact that she is a work of prejudiced observation instead of comprehension, and that the other characters only owe their faint humanity to the...