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Incest and the Trafficking of Women in Mrs. Warren's Profession: "It Runs in the Family"

From: English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920
Volume 49, Number 3, 2006
pp. 293-310 | 10.2487/T175-P638-517G-7430

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I would like to thank Michelle Burnham, John Hawley, Herbert Lindenberger, and Roseanne Quinn for their astute readings of earlier drafts of this essay.

1. Unsigned notice, New York Herald, 31 October 1905, 3; reprinted in Shaw: The Critical Heritage, T. F. Evans, ed. (London: Routledge, 1976), 139 f.

2. G. B. Shaw, letter to the editor, The Nation (16 November 1907), in Bernard Shaw: Agitations, Letters to the Press, 1875-1950, Dan H. Laurence and James Rambeau, eds. (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1985), 100.

3. On Shaw's revealing changes to the incest theme in the manuscripts of Mrs. Warren's Profession, see Brian F. Tyson, "Shaw Among the Actors: Theatrical Additions to Plays Unpleasant" Modern Drama 14 (1971-1972), 164-75. Tyson points out that whereas the original manuscript took care "to force the idea of incest home," any direct references to incestuous desire, such as Sir George admitting to taking "a fatherly interest" in Vivie, were "entirely deleted before the 1898 printing". (274). As Tyson shows, Mrs. Warren's and Sir George's exchange about Vivie in Act II of the original manuscript raises the question of incestuous desire particularly clearly and provocatively: "MRS. W (lowering her voice) How do you know that the girl maynt be your own daughter, eh? —CROFTS How do you know that that maynt be one of the fascinations of the thing? What harm if she is?" (Shaw, Mrs. Warren's Profession: B.M. MS 50588 A, 86; cited in Ibid.). Noting further instances of Shaw trying to tone down the incest theme for publication, Tyson also mentions an omitted later scene in which the Reverend Samuel discovers he is Vivie's father, "after he had tried to persuade Mrs. Warren to let her marry Frank" (Ibid.).

4. Dan H. Laurence, "Victorians Unveiled: Some Thoughts on Mrs Warren's Profession," SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, 24 (2004), 43.

5. G. B. Shaw to Janet Achurch, 4 September 1893, in Collected Letters 1874-1897, Dan H. Laurence, ed. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1965), 404.

6. G. B. Shaw, Mrs Warren's Profession, Plays Unpleasant, Dan H. Laurence, ed. (London: Penguin, 2000), 245.

7. Shaw, Collected Letters, 404.

8. Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex," The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, Linda Nicholson, ed. (New York: Routledge, 1997), 38 f.

9. Mrs Warren's Profession, 231 f.

10. Ibid., 242.

11. Ibid., 240.

12. Ibid., 262.

13. In "The Traffic in Women," Rubin argues that women in a patriarchal society based on the kinship system are "being transacted" by men without any active role in the exchange, effectively being denied "the benefits of their own circulation." The women hence function as the mere "conduit of a relationship" between the men themselves: "it is the [male] partners ... upon whom reciprocal exchange confers its quasi-mythical power of social linkage.... As long as the relations specify that men exchange women, it is men who are the beneficiaries of the product of such exchanges—social organization" (37). Paraphrasing Rubin and Lévi-Strauss, Sedgwick elaborates that "patriarchal heterosexuality can best be discussed in terms of one or another form of the traffic in women. It is the use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men." See Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 26.

14. Ibid., 21.

15. Mrs Warren's Profession, 223 f.

16. Ibid., 225.

17. Ibid., 224, my emphasis.

18. Ibid., 272.

19. Ibid., 224 f.

20. Ibid., 254.

21. Ibid., 248.

22. Ibid., 251.

23. Ellen J. Gainor, Shaw's Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions of Gender (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 37.

24. Foucault first formulated his theory of docile bodies in Discipline and Punish (originally published, 1975) and later modified it in favor of a broader inquiry into "technologies of the self." See, for example, Foucault's essay "Technologies of the Self," The Essential World of Michel Foucault, vol. 1, Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, Paul Rabinovitz, ed; Robert Hurley, trans., et al. (New York: New Press...

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