Mrs Warrens Profession
Society’s Implications in Prostitution
Shaw implicates society as a whole in the business of prostitution by exposing the underlying socio-economic conditions that serve to exploit the poor and render ‘immoral’ occupations like prostitution as viable options for lower class women to break out of the poverty cycle. Moreover, the capitalist economic system enables those of a higher social class to benefit (mostly monetarily) from the business of prostitution, as they are seemingly in control of the lower social classes who engage in prostitution, while maintaining a facade of respectability. Additionally, Shaw implicates society as a whole by showing that its perception of prostitution is flawed and is merely based on the higher social classes’ bias against prostitution and the stereotypes of the working class.
Shaw implicates society as a whole by showing how the capitalist economic system provides the underlying conditions for prostitution as well as perpetuating it. In order to profit off the working class, the upper echelons of society tend to exploit lower class workers. Shaw clearly highlights the exploitation of the working class through the characterisation of Mrs Warren as a representative voice of the working class, and structurally through Mrs Warren’s confrontation with Vivie. Mrs Warren justifies prostitution by stating, “Do you think I was brought up like you? able to pick and choose my own way of life? Do you think I did what I did because I liked it, or thought it right, or wouldn’t rather have gone to college and been a lady if I’d had the chance?”. Shaw’s use of diction is extremely effective here as repetition of the words “choose” and “chance” serve to highlight the fact that prostitutes are simply forced to enter prostitution as since the word “choose” implies that one can pick out something from two or more alternatives, the fact that Mrs Warren had no choice shows that lower class women do not have any other alternatives to break out of the poverty cycle other than prostitution. Unlike those of a higher social class, lower class women are unable to pursue higher education due to their financial constraints and hence, they are exploited by the upper classes as their lack of education has prevented them from pursuing their own ambitions in life.Moreover, through the numerous rhetorical questions Mrs Warren has asked Vivie, we can see that Mrs Warren is infuriated by society’s perception of prostitutes being immoral as not only has society contributed to the underlying factors for prostitution but they judge all prostitutes by a common yardstick, as being immoral, although prostitutes were forced into entering prostitution due to their circumstances. Society themselves have (through the capitalist economic system) denied lower class women of many opportunities to improve their socio-economic status, resulting in numerous working class women to resort to prostitution in order to not only improve their socio-economic status but to also be free from the exploitation of the upper class. Hence, Shaw uses the character of Mrs Warren to highlight the irony of society’s prejudice towards prostitutes as they themselves have caused the underlying conditions for prostitution.The upper classes’ exploitation of lower class women is evident from the treatment of lower class blue-collar workers. Mrs Warren’s half sisters are representatives of the lower class blue-collar workers. They are described as “starved looking, hard working, honest poor creatures”. Shaw’s use of diction is extremely effective here as the word “starved” literally implies that blue-collar workers were dying of hunger. This showcases the poor working conditions that blue-collar workers faced and that they could not even meet their basic needs. We can also interpret the word “starved” metaphorically. Since blue-collar workers were unable to meet their basic needs, we can infer that they were deprived of a sustainable salary, like how a starved person is deprived of food. The heartbreaking image of hard working lower class women being on the verge of death serves to emphasize the cruelty of the higher classes who put profit ahead of the well-being of their workers. Similarly, the word “creatures” shows that the lower class workers were dehumanized by the upper echelons of society and that they were completely subordinate to the higher classes. Hence, this serves to accentuate the mistreatment of lower class workers as their superiors viewed them as subhuman and as a result refused to provide them with basic human necessities. Thus, the capitalist economy is responsible for creating the underlying factors of prostitution as the upper classes exploit the lower classes for monetary gain and hence, they pay their workers starvation wages to increase their profit, which then causes the lower class workers to be ensnared in the cycle of poverty. Moreover, the fact that “honest” and “hard working” blue-collar workers were unable to elevate their socio-economic status and at the mercy of their superiors, shows that these ‘moral’ and honest jobs are detrimental to the welfare of blue-collar workers even though they were deemed as socially acceptable. Hence, lower class women were afraid of being perceived as immoral by society and had no choice but to enter these blue-collar occupations. Therefore, society is implicated in the business of prostitution as women who want to break out of the poverty cycle have no means to do so due to the capitalist economic system and have to resort to prostitution.
Moreover, Shaw implicates every part of society in prostitution by showing how privileged classes benefit in different ways from prostitution while maintaining a facade of respectability. Crofts, a member from the upper echelon of society, states that “If you’re going to pick and choose your acquaintances on moral principles, you’d better clear out of this country, unless you want to cut yourself out of all decent society.”This is Crofts’ justification to Vivie for the way he makes his living, by operating brothels.He responds that the majority of the upper class in the country have acquired their wealth through morally questionable means. The irony here is that “decent” society is morally corrupt and that the only people who might exercise Vivie’s morals are those who suffer in the lowest ranks of society, like the lower class women who choose to engage in blue-collar jobs.Through Shaw’s use of diction, it is evident that “honest” and “hard working” blue-collar workers were unable to elevate their financial status and were under the complete control of their superiors. Thus, this shows that these moral occupations are detrimental to the welfare of blue-collar workers, even though they were deemed as socially acceptable. The majority of working class women choose to enter the blue-collar job market as they are afraid of being judged as immoral by society, since that would have certain social implications. The irony of Croft’s statement is not lost on Vivie as she begins to question the double standards that the upper classes have for prostitutes, as these so-called respectable members of society attained their wealth through immoral means.Moreover, members of the upper class still use money that is obtained from prostitution to sustain their lifestyle, even if it is unintended. Vivie’s scholarship to study at Newham was sponsored by Croft’s brother, who ran a factory which paid its female workers starvation wages. Although it’s not directly stated, when Croft’s asks Vivie how else these orphaned female workers could financially support themselves, it is implied that these women have turned to prostitution in order to provide themselves with basic necessities as there were no other job opportunities available to them. Hence, the workers in Croft’s brother’s firm are essentially prostitutes as without the money they had earned from prostitution, they would have likely starved to death and been unable to work in that firm.Therefore, Vivie herself is implicated in the prostitution industry as her scholarship came at the expense of the prostitutes working in Croft’s brother’s firm. She had indirectly benefitted off the prostitution industry that she had completely disregarded and deemed as immoral. As Vivie is representative of upper class women, we can see that upper class women are “just as bad as” those who are directly involved in the prostitution industry and this proves that the upper echelons of society indirectly benefit from the prostitution industry. However, the privileged classes are not deemed as immoral as they manage to cover up their involvement in the prostitution industry. Crofts himself states that the “class of people” he would introduce Vivie to would not “so far forget themselves as to discuss my business affairs”. Through Shaw’s use of diction, it is evident that the “class of people” Crofts is referring to are the upper classes of society. The fact that they would not “so far forget themselves” implies that the majority of the higher classes of society are directly involved in the prostitution industry. The words “forget themselves” implies that the upper classes of society would not question Croft’s business endeavours, lest they reveal that they too profit off of the prostitution industry and consequently lose their facade of respectability. This not only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the upper classes of society as they demean prostitutes but yet profit off of the prostitution industry, but also shows that the upper classes of society cover up their shady involvement in the prostitution industry in order to preserve their reputation in society. Additionally, society “doesn’t ask any inconvenient questions”. Shaw’s use of diction through the words “doesn’t ask” shows that society does not even suspect that the so-called respectable upper classes are involved in such an immoral industry as they truly believe that higher classes are morally superior. This further enables the privileged classes to maintain their facade of respectability as society does not even suspect that they are involved in these immoral activities. Hence, they can openly condemn the prostitution industry without facing any repercussions. Therefore, Shaw implicates every part of society in prostitution by showing how the upper classes benefit in numerous ways from prostitution all while maintaining a facade of respectability.
Finally, Shaw implicates society as a whole by showing that its perceptions of prostitutes are flawed and based on the privileged classes’ prejudices and stereotypes of the working class. This is seen through the characterization of Vivive. Vivie is essentially an upper class woman who has pursued higher education and hence, she finds many viable job options that would grant her the socio-economic status she deserves. Hence, unlike Mrs Warren, Vivie has numerous job prospects and was not confined to working in blue-collar occupations. Therefore, we can assume that Vivie’s initial view on prostitution is that of the upper classes in society. Vivie dismisses Mrs Warren’s argument that her circumstances necessitated turning to prostitution but Vivie dismisses this ‘excuse’ by stating that “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they cant find them, make them.” This explains Vivie’s naive view on prostitution as she believes that one’s circumstances do not matter and that even with unfortunate circumstances, members of the lower class can still pursue their dreams without being involved in prostitution. She assumes that blue-collar workers are unable to achieve success simply because they are unambitious or lazy. However, she fails to realise that lower class women do not have the same opportunities as her because due to their lack of higher education, they are exploited by the upper classes. Her mind changes, however, after Mrs Warren describes her struggle to survive in contrast to the privileges Vivie has been granted. Vivie’s original opinion, therefore, seems narrow-minded and naive. Vivie’s rationale was that of many people in the upper echelons of society and was seen as a sort of justification for discriminating against prostitutes. Since the upper classes have not experienced what being a lower class woman entails, they do not understand the limitations that lower class women face in terms of job prospects and therefore, they assume that these women choose to enter prostitution and the fact that these women would choose to ‘sell’ their bodies instead of making a living from a normal desk job makes them immoral as they lack basic self-respect. Society then takes on the view of prostitution being immoral as during the Victorian Era, society viewed the higher classes as the epitome of moral standards and since the upper classes were biased against these so-called immoral prostitutes, society was as well. Shaw highlights the absurdity of society’s perception of prostitutes through the characterisation of Mrs Warren. Here, Mrs Warren is speaking on the behalf of prostitutes and hence, we can assume that most prostitutes hold this opinion of themselves. Mrs Warren believes that prostitution is not immoral but rather, the newfound independence of prostitutes gives them self-respect. Mrs Warren asks Vivie, “And what’s a woman worth? what’s life worth? without self-respect!” Through the use of exclamation marks, Shaw highlights Mrs Warren’s indignance to the belief that prostitution is degrading and immoral as she believes that for a lower class woman, prostitution provides them with self-respect and makes their life meaningful. Additionally, her rhetorical question of “what’s life worth?”, enables the reader to fully empathize with Mrs Warren as rhetorical questions are directed at the reader, thus gaining their attention and makes them ponder over certain themes in the novel. In this case, the reader questions what the true meaning of life is and whether prostitution, as per society’s belief, is degrading and immoral. Surely, if an occupation can provide a lower class woman with a sustainable income and prevents her from working in a mundane blue-collar job under the exploitation of the upper class, it cannot be seen as a degrading job as the opportunity to earn a decent living to fulfill one’s true ambitions in life and to be free from the exploitation and control of others would give one’s life purpose and meaning. Thus, Shaw is openly criticizing society’s prejudiced view against prostitution. Moreover, Mrs Warren’s answer is ironic because, according to conventional ideas of morality, being a prostitute indicates a lack of self-respect. However, to Mrs Warren, independence is equal to self-respect and the only way for her to achieve that independence was through prostitution, as if she had engaged in any other blue-collar occupation, her life would be under control of the upper class and she would be unable to earn enough to fulfill her life’s ambitions. Therefore, we can assume that lower class women who became prostitutes had self-respect as they believed that prostitution was not immoral but was vital in providing them with some semblance of self-worth that gave them control over their own lives. Hence, Shaw implicates society as a whole by showing that its perceptions of prostitutes are flawed and unjustified.
Overall, Shaw implicates society as a whole in the business of prostitution by showing that the capitalist economic system exploits the poor and renders ‘immoral’ occupations like prostitution to be viewed as viable options for lower class women who wish to break out of the poverty cycle and have control over their own lives. Moreover, the capitalist economic system enables those of a higher social class to benefit (mostly monetarily) from the business of prostitution, as they are seemingly in control of the lower-class women who engage in prostitution, while maintaining a facade of respectability. Additionally, Shaw implicates society as a whole by showing that its perception of prostitution is flawed and is merely based on the higher social classes’ bias against prostitution and the stereotypes of the working class.
Mrs. and Miss Warren as Representations of the “New Woman”
The notion of the “New Woman” arose in the late nineteenth century mainly defining middle class women who reproached the then current societal expectations for women. As stated by Susan Cruea, a professor of English and Women’s Studies at Bowling Green University, “the most important trait of the New Woman was her assertion of her right, not just to an education or a job outside the home, but to a career, which met her personal needs and fulfilled her interests. Reject-ing marriage and motherhood, she turned to a career for emotional and intellectual fulfillment” (200). In Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”, Vivie Warren is typically regarded and the representation of the New Woman; however, both Mrs. Warren and Vivie encompass the ideals of the New Woman through a career-centered life and rejection of marriage.
Career-driven women are an integral part of the ideals of the New Woman. Both Mrs. Kitty Warren and Miss Vivie Warren are working women of the upper-middle class; their career paths differ greatly which can be highly attributed to the circumstances of their youths. Mrs. Kitty Warren, for example, was born into a working class, single-mother home. This prompted her to get a job as a waitress, working fourteen hours a day for only four shillings a week and her board in the bar at Waterloo station. She did not consider a life of prostitution until Liz visited her at work and convinced her to leave. Up until the point of her choosing a life of prostitution, Mrs. Warren was making career-driven decisions based on chances of survival rather than being driven by economic success, those doors did not open for her until her partnership with Sir Crofts. Her decision to open brothels across Europe separates her need for economic survival from the true career-driven quality of the New Woman. Mrs. Warren’s success as a madam and owner of several brothers across Europe is what separated her from the overwhelming majority of women who became prostitutes, making her a New Woman. According to Barbara Meil Hobson’s research, which she presented in her 1987 essay, “Successful Madams”, “the image of the prostitute as someone who accumulates savings from her trade, wisely invests her capital, and obtains a small fortune was not very realistic either” (Jacobus 889). She continues on to suggest that the mandatory medical fees, percentage taken by their madams, and the cost of clothes and makeup left these prostitutes with very little income by the end of the night. Mrs. Warren’s financial success was founded in her business partnership with Sir Crofts. He takes credit by attributing her success to his advice and the money he advanced her. When revealing to Vivie the truth of the business partnership, he claims that he has put more than £40,000 into the business and without that funding it would not have been possible. While Sir Crofts’ money may have been pertinent to the foundation of their corporation, Mrs. Warren’s decision to continue the business years after she is financially stable attributes to her identity in the New Woman. With a life void of romance, she finds fulfillment in her business prospects. She knows no other life and is in wish to start a more moral life.
Vivie more strongly represents the notion of the New Woman in regards to career because though it was typically considered untraditional for a woman to have a job, her profession as an accountant was more socially acceptable than her mother’s profession as a madam. The circumstances of her youth are quite the opposite of her mother’s. Though similarly she had little to no relationship with her mother, her mother’s financial success granted her many opportunities most women did not have such as a college education. Vivie’s educational opportunity differs greatly from that of other women of the time considering, “when Oxford and Cambridge opened their doors to women, many families refused to let their clever daughters attend for fear that they would make themselves unmarriageable” (Hughes). As a New Woman herself, Mrs. Warren would not be too quick to consider marriage the greatest accomplishment Vivie could obtain. She values Vivie’s education and opportunities as much as Vivie herself does. The outcome of Mrs. Warren’s ideals regarding Vivie’s education allowed her to attend Cambridge University as an honors student in mathematics and scored high in the mathematical tripos exam – an achievement many women would not have had the chance to try for success at, let alone actually succeed. To further perpetuate Vivie as an ideal of the New Woman, she took the tripos exam for the simple fact that her mother would pay her £50 for doing so. Her academic success awarded her the opportunity to pursue a career in mathematics as an accountant on Chancery Lane.
Vivie breaks away from the expectations of femininity not only by having a male-dominated career but also in the finer details of play, typically found in the stage directions, such as the way she has chosen to decorate her office with masculine touches. It is noted that her office contains a writing table with a cigar box and a slew of papers strewn across it, untidy. She prides herself on her independent success, which she proves by mailing her monthly allowance back to her mother upon finding out where the money came from. She rejects Sir Croft’s proposal, an offer that was presented to her as more of a business proposal than a marriage proposal. She would prefer to make her own money and have the ability to sustain herself off of her own income than marry rich and keep the money when her husband passes.
Rejection of marriage and romantic relationships is a staple in the lifestyle of the New Woman. The expected role of the woman during this period was as a housewife, staying home to watch the children and keep the house in order. Mrs. Kitty Warren defied this expectation by never marrying or keeping a romantic relationship. Even her nonromantic relationships were free of emotion. Her friendship with Praed is the closest to a typical friendship but she still seems to be emotionally removed from him. Her relationship with Sir Crofts is slightly more complicated in that they are business partners and he was potentially one of her clients. Though she regards him highly as a business partner, she does not regard him highly in his manner or morality. She is dead set against his wishes to marry Vivie because she believes her daughter deserves better. It is never made clear whether or not she has wishes for Vivie to marry or if she understands it is not likely to happen.
Vivie, also encompassing the ideals of the New Woman through rejection of marriage beginning with her persistence in rejecting Frank’s affections. Though some of his love for Vivie stems from her fortune, he also appears to genuinely love her. The only time she indulges in his affection is when she is exceptionally angry with her mother. After Mrs. Warren tells her daughter the truth about her career, Vivie is unsure how to handle her emotions and goes back and forth between acceptance and anger. In a time of her anger, she is with Frank and they revert back to their childish ways of talking about affection. They talk about running away from their problems and their parents as “The dear little boy with dowdy little girl” (Jacobus 859). Sir Crofts interrupts their moment and takes Vivie aside to present his marriage proposal to her. It is presented as more of a business deal than a marriage proposal – he leaves the romance out of the offer and tells her the business opportunity within. When he dies, which will presumably be much sooner than her own death, she will be left with his fortune and the high title of Lady Crofts. She politely declines, even when he is persistent. As a woman generally unconcerned with love and romantics, her declination is likely founded more strongly in a want for economic independence than anything. Several accounts throughout the play warrant both Mrs. Warren and Vivie as representations of the nineteenth century notion of the New Woman. With both Mrs. Warren and Vivie acting as representations, the themes of career and financial success as well as rejection of marriage and relationships are elevated in the play.
Cruea, Susan M. “Changing Ideals of Womanhood.” Scholarworks @ BGSU. Bowling Green State University, Sept. 2005. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
Hughes, Kathryn. “Gender Roles in the 19th Century.” The British Library. The British Library, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. Jacobus, Lee A. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford, 1997. Print.
Hypocrisy in Mrs Warren’s Profession
In Mrs. Warren’s Profession, one of Shaw’s central concerns is the hypocrisy of Late Victorian Society and the impact of this hypocrisy on human relationships. Accordingly this essay will discuss Shaw’s literary presentation of social hypocrisy by showing how Shaw depicts hypocrisy as being responsible for the perpetuation of exploitation in capitalism, how hypocrisy poisons ties of kinship and family as well as how hypocrisy is pervasive and difficult to escape. Hypocrisy in the play can be thought of as the inability, or refusal of characters to live up to their professed ideals or virtues, and their attempts to conceal this moral shortcoming.
Shaw presents hypocrisy as responsible for the perpetuation of exploitation in Victorian England, a capitalist society. This is because mass hypocrisy engenders a fear of ostracisation from respectable society, which in turn makes people unwilling to speak out against real social ills. This is seen when Crofts lists numerous examples of public figures who survive off exploitation such as the ‘Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ who rent to ‘publicans and sinners’ and Crofts’ ‘brother the M.P.’ who earns rent from a factory with ‘600 girls … not one of them getting wages enough to live on.’ The consecutive juxtaposition of respectable titles such as ‘M.P.’ who control exploitative ventures such as the ‘factory’ serves to create shock in the audience by exposing the behaviour of many Victorian public figures in a society where this was rarely discussed, thereby making the inability of the audience to speak out against such behaviour plain.’ This thus demonstrates how social hypocrisy beyond the fourth wall contributes to exploitation. Moreover, the tone of Croft’s admonition ‘Come’ to Vivie in the same passage is one of condescension, suggesting that Vivie, and by extension the audience, is naïve if they do not know about the façade of public virtue concealing social ills. This in turn convicts the audience in the theatre of complicity in the exploitation through their unwillingness to speak out, since by refusing to admit naïveté to himself the member of the audience comes to the realisation that social ills are perpetuated by the hypocrisy of his own inaction. Moreover, the power of hypocrisy to perpetuate social ills is seen in Shaw’s expose of society through Crofts’ dialogue that ‘society doesn’t ask any inconvenient questions, and it makes short work of the cads who do.’ Shaw’s exposure of society draws a clear link between the inability of society to ‘question’ private behaviour and its complicity in perpetuating exploitation by making ‘short work of’ or ostracising those who do. In addition, the euphemism ‘inconvenient questions’ is itself an indictment lf Victorian hypocrisy, because it refers to the questions about ugly and exploitative practices that are never asked. If such questions are ‘inconvenient’ Shaw suggests that society considers exploitation a convenience or feature of daily life. This suggests that despite society’s supposed moral virtue, it is the hypocritical unwillingness to live up to these virtuous ideals that allows exploitation to continue. Thus, social hypocrisy is clearly linked to exploitation in Mrs Warren’s Profession.
In Shaw’s view, hypocrisy is also responsible for poisoning familial relationships. This is especially clear in the relationship between Mrs Warren and Vivie, whose mutual hypocrisy towards each other tears their relationship apart. Vivie’s (ostensible) rejection of hypocrisy causes her to reject Mrs Warren as her mother, because of Mrs Warren’s hypocrisy. Mrs Warren herself clearly displays hypocrisy. She exclaims ‘Oh, the hypocrisy of the world makes me sick!’ Here, she uses melodrama as shown by the exclamation of the stressed ‘Oh’ to emphasize Mrs. Warren’s supposed rejection of society’s unwillingness to admit that marrying for money is in principle the same as prostitution, and the hyperbole inherent in ‘makes me sick’ exaggerates her distaste for people who do not plainly admit to the ‘wrong’ they do by comparing this to disease. However, Mrs Warren herself is guilty of this kind of hypocrisy because she wilfully conceals the fact that she is continuing her business of prostitution from Vivie in the fear that it will make Vivie less of a ‘respectable woman,’ a use of euphemism to suggest that Vivie will not be respected or rejected by society as a pariah were Mrs Warren’s profession to be discovered. This suggests that Mrs Warren is not as ready to openly admit to the realities of her society as she claims, and suggests that she only tells Vivie this as a means of currying her favour by playing on her distaste for hypocrisy. Vivie eventually sees through this when Mrs Warren’s current profession is revealed and she rejects her mother’s attitude by saying ‘I should have not lived one life and believed in another.’ This is a use of aphorism to indicate that she rejects Mrs Warren because of her hypocrisy, leading to the final trauma of rejection in the play. However, there is a large element of hypocrisy in Vivie’s rejection, because she is not as ready to face up to the realities of her society as she purports. This is evident in her condemnation of Crofts with ‘I hardly find you worth thinking about at all now,’ despite her supposed admiration of those, such as Crofts, who are ready to admit that they embrace what society considers wrong. This suggests that Mrs Warren is rejected not because Vivie is truly a person of integrity but because she is afraid of Mrs Warren, the reminder of the darker and exploitative side of society, being near. She thus rejects Mrs Warren to preserve her sense of righteous detachment from society. Thus, Shaw presents hypocrisy as being responsible for the destruction of family relationships because hypocrisy is founded on the fear of social exclusion.
Hypocrisy in the play is also portrayed as pervading all levels of society, regardless of education or social status. As we have seen, Vivie’s attitudes towards her mother are hypocritical. This hypocrisy is apparent despite Vivie having gone to ‘Newnham,’ the name of a prestigious Cambridge college, a sign of high education which was commonly held by Victorian society to make an individual more refined or ‘respectable,’ as Mrs Warren herself puts it. However, Shaw debunks the myth that education necessarily entails acceptance and concern for those of lower status by exposing Vivie’s own hypocrisy towards her mother’s upbringing. This is seen by Shaw’s use of stage directions, where we are directly told that Vivie is ‘jarred and antagonized’ by the ‘sound of the slums’ in Mrs Warren’s voice. Shaw thus creates an ‘antagonized’ or hostile tone when Vivie responds to her mother, showing her inherent discomfort with her mother’s upbringing despite her level of education. Moreover, Vivie uses this tone to question her mother ‘do you think I will spare you?.’ Here, the word ‘spare,’ part of the semantic field of war and death, suggests a new harshness to Vivie’s voice after being reminded of her mother’s pleibian upbringing. It is thus strongly suggested that at least part of Vivie’s decision to reject her mother stems from an inherent classist bias that she retains despite her high level of education. This supports Shaw’s message in the play that hypocrisy is pervasive at all levels of society, and difficult to escape because it is unconscious.
In totality, Shaw forwards a few main ideas regarding hypocrisy: that hypocrisy sustains exploitation, that hypocrisy poisons familial relationships and that hypocrisy is socially pervasive and therefore difficult to escape. As has been shown, this is successfully achieved by Shaw’s masterful portrayal of the duality of many of the play’s characters and his exposure of their dark, subconscious motivations.
Education in Jane Eyre and Mrs. Warren’s Profession
With the advent of sophisticated industrial machinery and colonialism on a grand scale in previously unheard lands during the Victorian period came a thirst for knowledge. Accordingly, the purpose and value of education, which involved the acquisition of knowledge and the inculcation of social values, was a major concern of Victorian writers. By examining Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, this essay will examine three areas of similarity between the authors’ views of education. Both texts portray education as an avenue to increased social respectability. However, both texts also view this respectability as a mask for hypocrisy. Both texts also portray education as an avenue for perpetuating gender inequality.
Education was viewed as a pathway for the individual to acquire greater respectability in the eyes of society. This was because education was seen to impart the discretion and intellectual prowess necessary to interact with men and women of higher social status. This perception is masterfully demonstrated by Shaw in the polemic between Mrs Warren and Vivie. Vivie is stunned when her mother tells her that she is ‘taught wrong on purpose’ and her mother elaborates in response that Vivie was ‘taught at school and college to think right and proper’ but this ‘is only a pretence, to keep the cowardly slavish common run of people quiet.’ Here, Shaw’s polemic reminds audiences of the way in which discretion is used to avoid offending society. Education thus uses this ‘right and proper’ thought to teach an individual discretion which engenders respect. Evidently, however, Shaw is sceptical about this ‘pretence’ of respectability, which hypocritically disguises social ills. Thus, Shaw exposes the hypocrisy of Victorian education even as he admits that it trains individuals to be respectable members of society. Similarly, Jane Eyre presents education as a tool to acquire a questionable social respectability. Instead of using polemic, Brontë’s first person narrative juxtaposes Mr. Brocklehurst’s treatment of Lowood’s women with his treatment of his own daughters to draw out the hypocritical nature of education. Mrs Reed does ‘”quite approve”’ of how ‘”quiet and plain’” the girls look, almost like ‘”poor people’s’” children. This dialogue reveals that the education of women is intended to help them become respectable by cultivating modesty. However, Mr Brocklehurst’s daughters themselves wear clothes ‘trimmed with ermine,’ a royal material, and ‘false French curls.’ Brontë’s apt choice of the word ‘false’ calls the reader’s attention to the falsity of Brocklehurst’s purported belief in modesty for the poor girls of Lowood. It is false because he is perfectly fine with his genteel daughters wearing extravagant clothes. This suggests that men of power like Brocklehurst use education to teach the poor that modesty is respectable, so that they would not aspire to the success of gentility and wealthy society. Hence, Jane Eyre shows that the ‘respectability’ of education is often used to create a false consciousness of subservience in poor or common people. This echoes Shaw’s earlier message. Hence, education in the Victorian era was a means to promoting respectability which in fact was intended to mask class and material inequity.
Similarly, both texts portray education as a mask for gender inequality. In the eyes of both Shaw and Brontë, education serves to justify and perpetuate the superior status of men over women. In Mrs Warren’s Profession, Vivie makes sharp and sardonic commentary on the inequality perpetuated by education. For instance, Vivie responds to Praed that his idea of ‘maidenly reserve’ is a ‘frightful waste of time… Especially women’s time.’ This sardonic commentary spoken by Vivie is Shaw’s critique of society’s view of educated women as modest and reserved. To him, this limits their potential. In the play, this idea is reinforced by the social backdrop of Vivie ‘tieing’ with the Third Wrangler at Cambridge but ironically being unable to replace him because she is a woman. This demonstrates the glass ceiling placed by the education system on women. Similarly, the inequality perpetuated by education is critiqued by Brontë’s use of the introspective narrator. Jane silently rebels against the barrier society places on her knowledge. Her thoughts that it is ‘narrow minded…to say that they ought to’ be confined to ‘making puddings and knitting stockings’ instead of learning ‘more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex’ has two effects. First, it directly critiques the limits on women’s education. Second, the introspective narration demonstrates that women are sufficiently intelligent to critique the system and desire more intellectual growth than it can provide. By giving the reader greater insight into Jane’s thoughts, Brontë thus caricatures the standard justifications for society’s lowly education of women. Hence, both texts view education as a perpetuator of gender inequality.
In conclusion, Jane Eyre and Mrs Warren’s Profession both view education as a means to social respectability. However, they also portray education as a mask for hypocrisy and a purveyor of gender inequality. It tells us much about the nature of the Victorian period that two texts separated by a few decades continue to portray the same message about education.
Shaw’s Strong Female Characters in Mrs Warren’s Profession
George Bernard Shaw exemplifies values of the “new woman” and “superhero” through the character of Vivie Warren, in the play Mrs. Warren’s Profession, in order to promote individualism and critical thinking amongst females. Even the male characters like Sir George Crofts and Frank Gardener are depicted as weaker conformists in comparison to the characters of the opposite sex, like Vivie and Mrs. Warren. The play as a whole display’s Vivie as a smarter and overall better person because she questions societal standards and takes drastic action in isolating herself from high society in order to live by her own values. Furthermore, Vivie’s character fit’s all of the characteristics that classify her as a Shaw’s “superman” because of her non-conformist beliefs.
Mrs. Warren, mother to Vivie, has a mysterious occupation that drastically contributes to her complex character. Mrs. Warren is a high society woman who while a single mother (there is never any clarity as to who Vivie’s biological father is),made a name for herself in upper class society and she intends for it to stay that way no matter how degrading the career may be. When we discover her occupation is in fact prostitution, we also know that in 1894 it was very uncommon for women to accrue mass wealth from that kind of lifestyle. For Shaw to write Mrs. Warren as a successful and wealthy prostitute, in a sense he is also displaying her strength, individualism, and non-conformist mentality. She even tries to justify her attitudes towards the lifestyle of a prostitute in the final act of the play, MRS. WARREN …I must have work and excitement, or I should go melancholy mad. And what else is there for me to do? The life suits me: I’m fir for it and not for anything else. If I didn’t do it somebody else would; so I don’t do any real harm by it. And then it brings in money; and I like making money. No: it’s not use: I can’t give it up—not for anybody. (Shaw 283-284) Shaw exposes the truth of how many women were driven to prostitution in order to live in that time period, and firmly establishes women (even prostitutes) as a pillar of strength. While Mrs. Warren’s ability to overcome obstacles is admirable, her true character identifies mostly with greed, one of the seven deadly sins, disqualifying her from being a “superman”.
Sir George Crofts is a multi-dimensional character whose actions and behaviors show his true character. While he seems to be a friend to both Mrs. Warren and Vivie, his true intentions are exposed in Act III when he proposes to Vivie. When Vivie rejects him, Crofts’ charm diminishes and reveals that he was Mrs. Warren’s business partner in what some might call a “pimp” like position. He then does not accept Vivie’s refusal in Act III, but instead responding with aggression when he states, “do you think I’ll put up with this from you young devil?” It’s not until Frank shows up with a rifle that Crofts backs down, displaying his more negative traits. Crofts character displays how truly weak and out of control he really is, causing his constant desire in establishing his dominance. Aside from Vivie, Frank Gardener is the only other character that is represented in a somewhat positive light. He has romantic feelings for Vivie from the beginning of the play, but is discouraged to propose due to lack of finances. His lack of societal status and wealth are just the first introduction to his weak character. However, when he learns the truth regarding his love interest’s mother being a high-end prostitute, he suddenly loses his romantic attraction to her and happily leaves Vivie to deal with Mrs. Warren on her own. The interaction between the three characters is on page 280, FRANK [to Mrs. Warren] Goodbye: youd ever so much better have taken my advice. [He shakes hands with her. Then airily to Vivie] Byebye, Viv. VIVIE Goodbye. [He goes out gaily without shaking hands with her]. While it could be argued that Frank is in high spirits because he knows he will see Vivie another time, it is more believable that Frank is acting happy because he does not have to participate in the uncomfortable and undesirable situation. This reaction also displays his inability to handle out of the norm, dramatic, or tense situations. After all, he did lose all romantic interest in Vivie after he learned the truth about Mrs. Warren.
Vivie Warren, the most noble of the group of characters, questions where her mother’s wealth came from and turns her back on the high-society lifestyle based on her morals against participating in using “dirty money”. For example, in Act II Mrs. Warren finally breaks down and confesses her secretive occupation to Vivie, which eventually results in Vivie’s final departure from high society. Her true view of high society and her mother’s occupation is seen in act III when Vivie is speaking to Crofts, VIVIE [quietly] I hardly find you worth thinking about at all now. When I think of the society that tolerates you, and the laws that protect you! When I think of how helpless nine out of ten young girls would be in the hands of you and my mother! The unmentionable woman and her capitalist bully– (Shaw 266) Shaw plays with the theme of “dirty money” in this scene when Vivie now realizes her upbringing and current lifestyle were only made possible by her mother’s prostitution. Shaw uses Vivie’s character as a representation of the 1890’s “new woman” who is independent, intelligent, and self-motivated. Although Vivie’s character at the beginning of the play is very dependent and weak, Shaw intentionally expresses that it is her college education that makes her question her mother’s profession. Mrs. Warren even blames education as the reason Vivie is unmarried and suddenly full of so much independent thought. MRS WARREN [staring at her] Of course: until youre married. Youre not going back to college again. VIVIE Do you think my way of life would suit you? I doubt it. MRS WARREN Your way of life! What do you mean? VIVIE [cutting a page of her book with the paper knife on her chatelaine] Has it really never occurred to you, mother, that I have a way of life like other people? MRS WARREN What nonsense is this youre trying to talk? Do you want to shew your independence, now that youre a great little person at school? Dont be a fool child. (Shaw 243) It is apparent that Mrs. Warren thinks Vivie ought to get married and take her place in high society the way she had always intended her daughter to; however, Vivie’s education has provided her with her opinions on how her own life should be. Vivie’s refusal of her mother’s tainted money and high society is classification of her as a “new woman” because she thinks and lives her life for herself.
Shaw also uses Vivie’s character to demonstrate his idea of a “superman.” Shaw’s superman (or in this case, superwoman) is a character who defies society based on his or her morals. Vivie can be considered a superwoman because she rejects her mother and the upper class lifestyle after she learns where their wealth comes from. Vivie is firmly against prostitution and sees the hypocrisy in living in high society when the wealth comes from such a degrading profession. Through Vivie’s character, Shaw exposes the hypocrisy of high society, while also expressing approval for more socialistic ideals and values. We see this displayed through the weaker characters like Sir George Crofts and Frank Gardener, as well as the stronger female characters like Mrs. Warren and Vivie. In the character of Vivie, George Bernard Shaw provides the audience with a strong female lead and encourages independent thought amongst women. She can be classified as a Shaw “superman” because of her rebellion against high society and choosing her own values over money. Shaw gives a voice to the “new woman” and depicted females in a positive, independent manner, shedding light on how generational values can differ very differently from mother to daughter..