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7. THREE PLAYS BY JONES Russell Jackson, ed. Plays by Henry Arthur Jones. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982. Cloth $34.50 Paper $12.95 Henry Arthur Jones's career as a dramatist spans over forty years. The three plays included in this anthology were written within the first twenty, during which Jones established himself as a successful playwright and wrote his best plays. Until the appearance of Jones and Pinero on the theatrical horizon, the English stage was characterized by hackneyed melodrama and the overworked formulas of the well-made play. Both Jones and Pinero attempted to introduce new ideas, characters and situations onto a moribund stage. Each in his limited way challenged the mores of Victorian society and the depiction of that society on the stage. Both achieved popular success. With the staging of The Silver King (1882), Jones proved that he had mastered the art of pleasing his audience. The Silver King, by reputation one of the best of the nineteenth century melodramas, used traditional characters and plot to great advantage. Even Matthew Arnold expressed his admiration for the dialogue, and Shaw considered it superior to the melodramas that preceded it. But for the modern playgoer , The Silver King has aged as all lesser specimens have. The story of Wilfred Denver, drunkard and presumed murderer, who escapes to America, achieves riches and returns to rejoin his family and prove his innocence is as hackneyed, sentimental and contrived as any of its kind. It belongs in this anthology, as the editor informs us, because, for one, it is the success that launched Jones as the leading dramatist of his day and, as Jones himself was reported to have said, the opening night of The Silver King was the happiest moment of his life. Also, besides the two comedies represented, this play is the only melodrama worthy of reprint. The more artistically successful plays in this volume are The Case of the Rebellious Susan (1894) and The Liars. In The Silver King Jones endeavored to improve the melodrama by a more "realistic" treatment of dialogue and character; in these two comedies he dared to challenge the mores and hypocrisies of Victorian society. The Case of the Rebellious Susan depicts the situation of a married woman, Susan, who would take upon herself the same license for sexual freedom that her philandering husband has assumed. She goes off to Cairo with a young man and there, presumably, consummates her affair. Jones leaves the sexual consummation ambiguous, though he suggests that Susan actually did have sex with her lover. The husband and wife are eventually reconciled and vow complete fidelity. Despite warnings that the presentation of an "impure" woman would injure the play's reception , Jones refused to alter it. The play proved a great success. The Liars, the third play in this anthology, is certainly Jones's best. It is a comedy of manners in the tradition of Sheridan and Congreve. It is, aside from the comedies of Wilde, one of the best comedies of the nineteenth century. Shaw writes in Our Theatres in the Nineties of "its very keen and accurate picture of smart society." This play treats the attempt of a group of the social elite to cover up the indiscretion of one of its married women, Lady Jessica, who had arranged an assignation with a young man. The comedy of intrigue and lying is finally brought to a reconciliation when the young man himself tells the truth and Jones's raissoneur, Sir Christopher, manages to work out a happy compromise. That Jones was not very fond of The Liars and was fondest of The Silver King tells us 213 something of the sentimentality and judgment of the dramatist. The Liars is his most readable and playable drama; The Silver King is one of his least. It also tells us about the survivability of melodrama as against that of comedy. Though Jones's career as a dramatist preceded Shaw's and Jones received praise by Shaw for the two comedies here anthologized, Jones's career was soon eclipsed by that of Wilde and Shaw himself—Wilde doing better what Jones did well for his time and Shaw, of course, bringing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 213-214
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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