Saturday, December 4, 2010

Craig's Wife by George Kelly (1926)

Summary:  Mrs. Craig is fiercely committed to keeping her house “in order.”  As a result, she treats her maids terribly, resents any guests that come to visit and makes strict rules for her husband and (live-in) aunt-in-law. 

Though this is play is fundamentally about Mrs. Craig’s relationship to her husband, there is also a strange murder mystery in the middle of the play which serves to highlight Mrs. Craig’s neuroses and extreme jealousy. 

Thoughts:  Like many of the awarded plays of the 20s, this play features a woman who is steadfast in her beliefs about the role of a woman in marriage.  Interestingly, Mrs. Craig and her husband have only been married for eighteen months.  She repeatedly states to different people that she married so that she would never be poor, and that all a woman has is her home.  True feelings about marriage and property are revealed when her husband counters this thesis with:

Mr. Craig:  Hasn’t she her husband?
Mrs. Craig:  She could lose her husband, couldn’t she?—As many another woman has.
Mr. Craig:  Couldn’t she lose her home too?
Mrs. Craig:  She couldn’t if she knew how to secure it  (Act 2, 362).

Enlightened by his aunt, Mr. Craig attempts to resume control over his household, which manifests in smashing some of his wife’s beloved ornaments on the mantel and smoking in the living room.  After he gets his wife to admit that she has been trying to keep his friends out of the house, Mr. Craig states that he plans to leave the marriage, but will ensure that Mrs. Craig keeps the house.  At the end of the play, the servants have all been fired or have quit, Aunt Austen has left to “travel” and Mrs. Craig’s visiting niece has returned home.  She is left alone in her pristine, but empty house.

At several points throughout the play, it seems that the dramatic action is going to take a different course.  There are hints of multiple other subjects throughout the play (murder mystery, the terminal illness of Mrs. Craig’s sister, a possible lesbian relationship between Aunt Austen and the neighbor with a knack for growing roses, Mr. Craig’s potential adultery) but none of these subjects are fully explored or come to neat conclusions.  Though there are a myriad of things going on around her, Mrs. Craig is most concerned with physically keeping up appearances.

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