- St. Dominic's Parsonage:"The Best View of Victoria Park"
The setting of Candida, in spite of the title of the play, clearly belongs to the Reverend James Mavor Morell. It is not the kitchen, the scullery, the world of paraffin lamps and slicing onions, nor the world of the nursery or the bedroom, all domains that belong to Candida. (As Virginia Woolf reminds us in A Room of One's Own, women's rooms are the kitchen, the nursery, and the bedroom.) The world of the play belongs to Morell, the offstage settings being the parish he serves and the parsonage (their habitat by virtue of his position as parish priest), and, onstage, his library. Shaw's use of a particular part of London, Victoria Park, and its implications, as well as the onstage setting of Morell's library (an extension of the offstage setting), clearly point to and help define James Morell.
In the opening stage descriptions, Shaw gives us three pages of highly detailed, almost poetical, description, an indicator, knowing Shaw's habits, that extremely close scrutiny must be given to what he has meticulously described for the reader. It is important because Shaw makes it important. Another curious feature is that he devotes an entire page to describing the offstage world that the audience never sees. What is Shaw's purpose in describing at such great length a setting that only the reader is aware of? It is a question to be pondered.
We note in the first sentence that, as is so often the case with Shaw, it is "A fine morning . . . the sun is shining cheerfully; there is no fog."1 Shaw's predilection for "fine" weather is operative again, but in this case the implication is that Morell, at least at the beginning of the play, is in his heaven and that all is right with his world, his "kingdom of Heaven on earth." The location of the play is "in the north east quarter of London, a vast district miles away from the London of Mayfair and St James's, and much less narrow, squalid, fetid and airless in its slums. It is strong in unfashionable middle class life" (39). In other words, it is the working class area of the East End, the seedbed of socialist thought. [End Page 143] Shaw also notes that along the "main thoroughfares" there exists the "luxury of grass-grown 'front gardens' untrodden by the foot of man save as to the path from the gate to the hall doors (ibid.). These small patches of grass serve as a parallel to Morell's own garden. Shaw also emphasizes the fact that the setting is composed of "endured monotony of miles and miles of unlovely brick houses" where nothing seems able "to break the monotony" (ibid.). In the midst of this bleak environment stands the parsonage of St. Dominic, obviously unlike and in contrast to the working-class world around it. "This desert of unattractiveness," as Shaw calls it, has as an oasis, "a park of 217 acres, fenced in, not by railings, but by a wooden paling, and containing plenty of greensward, trees, a lake for bathers, flower beds which are triumphs of the admired cockney art of carpet gardening, and a sandpit. . . . Wherever the prospect is bounded by trees or rising green grounds, it is a pleasant place."2 Very much to the point is the fact that in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Victoria Park was largely patronized by the working classes of the East End, Morell's parishoners, and for most children it was the only large expanse of uninterrupted greenery they ever experienced.
Shaw also points out that where the ground stretches flat "to the grey palings, with bricks and mortar, sky signs, crowded chimneys and smoke beyond, the prospect makes it desolate and sordid."3 Several things are noteworthy here. At one end of this green space, commanding the "best view of Victoria Park" (39) sits St. Dominic's Parsonage, the abode of the Reverend James Mavor Morell. It is as though this vast, lovely swath of nature in the middle of a large area...