ISC Class 12 – Literature — Candida [Act 1] -Explanation and Q and A

Candida by George Bernard Shaw

Who was G. B. Shaw .. Reading Candida would remain incomplete without learning about the accomplishments of its writer, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).  He dropped ‘George’ from his name and wanted to be called just ‘Bernard Shaw’. He was a man of astounding literary talent. Immersed in the world of dramas, theaters, and music, he found time to engage himself in social activism too. As a member of the Fabian Society, he advocated a peaceful and democratic transition to the ways of a socialistic pattern of society. Shaw often was witty and provocative, and he relished indulging in polemics. This earned him many admirers.

Bernard Shaw was a dramatist par excellence. Irish by birth, he moved to London in 1876 to explore the world of literature, and social philosophy. After a brief period of setbacks, when he struggled to have his work recognized and published, luck smiled on him. His novels got published bringing him acclaim and adulation from his readers, whose numbers soared fast. Today, his works have been translated into more than a hundred languages, and millions read his dramas with great interest.

Bernard Shaw was a rationalist and pacifist. He minced no words in blaming the countries that were involved in the First World War for the futile trial of strength that brought only death, destruction, and distress. For such views, staunch nationalists blamed him, and Shaw had to countenance a degree of social boycott. Later, on invitation of Field Marshall Haig, he went to the battle front, and wrote a 10,000-word account of the sacrifice, misery, and the appalling conditions the soldiers had to endure in course of the fighting. The writing was very well received, and his detractors began to return to him.

In a nutshell, Shaw lived a very productive life. He was a novelist, music critic, theater personality, social thinker and politician, all rolled into one.

Among his famous works are Pygmalion, Major Barbara, Man and the Superman, Arms and Man, My Fair Lady, The Devil’s Desciple, The Unsocial Socialist etc.

Bernard Shaw won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. He died in 1950, leaving Dublin, his city of birth, and the thinking men and women of the world lost in tears. For mankind, the loss was insufferable.


The Play ..

The main characters ..

Reverend James Morell…He is a conservative clergyman, well known in social circles as an articulator of Christian Socialist causes. He is an active member of the
Guild of St. Matthew and the Christian Social Union.

Candida .. She is the wife of Reverend Morell, and the central figure of the play.

Prossy .. Her full name is Miss Proserpine Garnett. She is the secretary of Mr. Morell. Although, at times, she behaves in a brash manner, she is proficient and dutiful.  She admires and loves Mr. Morell quite intensely, although she manages to keep her feelings under wraps.  

Reverend Alexander Mill (fondly called ‘Lexy’) .. He also belongs to the clergy, and works under Mr. Morell as his assistant. He has studied in Oxford, and before being invited by Mr. Morell, was doing some teaching work in the nearby community.

Mr. Burgess .. He is known for his murky business deals, and not a very likeable person. He is the father-in-law of Mr. Morell, but the latter dislikes him for the stinginess towards his maid.

Eugene Marchbanks .. He lives with the Morell’s. He is 18 years in age, nephew of an Earl, and an Oxford drop-out. He is a budding poet. Mr. Morell had found him as a destitute and invited him home to live with his family. He loves Candida (Mrs. Morell) and yearns for her hand.

The following write-up is a paraphrase of the original drama. For the convenience of the students, only the bare facts have been given omitting many of the literary descriptions of the scenes created by Shaw. In the process, the beauty of the original has been lost. We regret this.

Act 1 ..

Hackney Road, the place where the Morells lived was in the distant outskirts of London, and bore not a trace of the glitz and opulence of the central districts like Mayfair and St. James. It was a middle-class suburb that looked dark, squalid and gloomy with its narrow streets and ill-clad pedestrians. Yellow cars passed through the street quite periodically. Reverend Morell’s house was situated there. There was a large community park nearby that was perhaps, the only saving grace of the dull and depressing environment of the place. The park spread over a sprawling area of 217 is named as Victoria Park. It is home to many species of vermin besides amenities for sports and community gatherings. The residence of Rev. Morell is named St. Dominic’s Parsonage. It is detached from other houses. The basement is used for family meals. Rev. Morell worked from the first floor room of the house that had large glass windows overlooking the lush greenery of Victoria Park.

Rev. Morell was a voracious reader. Books like the complete set of Browning’s 
poems and Maurice’s Theological Essays, Progress and Poverty, Fabian Essays, a Dream of John Ball, Marx’s Capital, and half a dozen other literary 
landmarks in Socialism were lined in his over-sized book case. Rev. Morell was a Christian Socialist clergyman of the Church of England, and an active member of the Guild of St. Matthew and the Christian Social Union.

In the glass-windowed drawing room, there were two tables, one large, and the other almost half its size. Mr. Mrell uses the large one, and his secretary Miss. Prossy (Miss Proserpine Garnett) uses the small one.

Rev. Morell was  a man of profound knowledge, and a deep understanding of political philosophy. He was an erudite speaker, tall and handsome with a charming personality. He was known for his sympathy for the cause of the have-nots of the society, and in his lectures, pleaded for a more equal and empathetic society. His oratory flourish and deep insight into social problems made him a popular speaker. He used to get invitations for public lectures more than he could handle. Ms. Prossy helped him in scheduling them.

It was a cold October morning. Miss Prossy was seeing the day’s incoming mail. She opened an envelope and sighed. It was another invitation for a public lecture. Mr. Morell asked if it was another invitation. Miss Prossy said it was.

The invitation had come from Hoxton Freedom Group, and they had wanted Rev. Morell to speak on a Sunday morning. Quite obviously, Mr. Morell didn’t like the timing suggested by the Group. He seemed irritated. Miss Prossy suggested that perhaps they were Communist anarchists.

Mr. Morell told his secretary to intimate the Hoxton lecture organizers to come to the Church on Sunday morning if they wanted to hear him. It would benefit them in two ways. He told her to tell them that ONLY Mondays and Thursdays suited him for lecture outings.

Miss Prossy checks the diary and informs her boss that the coming Monday he was scheduled to speak in Tower Hamlets Radical Club, and on Thursday at English Land Restoration League. Then, on being asked by Mr. Morell, she reads out the schedule for the coming days.

The schedule read, “Guild of St. Matthew on Monday. Independent Labor 
Party, Greenwich Branch, on Thursday. Monday, Social-Democratic 
Federation, Mile End Branch. Thursday, first Confirmation Class. She hurried to add that she must tell the organizers at Confirmation Class that he couldn’t come to them on Thursday as planned.
Mr. Morell tells Prossy (Miss. Garnet) that the people at Confirmation Class happened to be his relatives. She is a bit taken aback to hear this.

The duo talked for a while about the problem of an over-crowded schedule. There was a dinner invitation from Foundations Company.

When Mr. Morell was talking about the pressures of his busy schedule, Reverend Alexander Mill (fondly called ‘Lexy’) comes in. He is mildly pulled by Mr. Morell for being late.

Miss Garnett (Prossy) sternly tells Lexy that he was going to do all the pending works of that day, and couldn’t slip out for a lazy walk outside.

Mr. Morell butts in saying that he was going to take the day off as his wife would be due at the station by 11.45 am. She had cut short her stay to return home earlier as a child, Jimmy, had fallen sick. She needed to take some flannel for him and look everyone up. She was going to be in the house just for two days.

Jimmy and Fluffy are the two young children of the Morells. Candida is bringing them back for some medical care, as they are suspected to have contacted German measles. Lexy is concerned about the situation. Mr. Morell makes light talk of the infection of his two children, and says these are to be boldly faced. Jokingly, he advises Lexy to fall sick with measles, so that he can receive tender nursing care from Candida. This leaves Lexy a bit embarrassed.

Mr. Morell proceeds to expound the values of altruism. He says for every happiness we enjoy, we must strive to create similar happiness in greater measure to fulfill God’s wishes.

Lightheartedly, he advises Lexy to marry a wife like Candida, so that he could realize what joys and tenderness a good wife can do bring to his wife. Lexy blushes on hearing this advice. Mr. Morell is told by Lexy that Mr. Burgess is likely to come. Mr. Morell leaves the room showing some irritation. He assumes that Mr. Burgess has come to look his daughter up. Both Lexy and Miss. Garnett hear what their boss told about his wife. Miss Garnett feels Candida gets more attention from Mr. Morell than what she deserves. Miss. Garnett’s jealousy towards Candida become obvious.

Lexy, being enamored of Candida, lavishes praise on her beauty. He praises her eyes as the most beautiful. Miss Garnett can’t take it any longer, and comes in to claim she has more beautiful eyes than Candida.

Miss Garnett makes no secret of her admiration for Mr. Morell, and the resulting envy towards Candida. Lexy too has similar discomfiture about Candida, although from a fully different angle.

Lexy and Miss Garnet talk vaguely over Mr. Morell and his adoration of Candida. The argument goes nowhere.

After a few minutes, She sits down to do her work. Lexy begins to assist her.

At around this time, Mr. Burgess comes in unannounced. He is sixty, and his travails in course of his small business has left him look rough, uncouth, and selfish.

There is some casual conversation between Mr. Burgess and Mr. Mill (Lexy) after which the latter leaves for his rounds. Mr. Morell has come in in the mean time, and offers a ailk handkerchief to Lexy to tie around his neck as protection against cold.

After he leaves, Mr. Burgess suggests to his son-in-law that there is no need to be so kind to one’s employees. Mr. Morell disagrees.

Mr. Burgess has come after a gap of three years. Mr. Morell reminds his visitor that his last words were, “Just as big a fool as ever, James?” Mr. Burgess wants to make amends for his rude words spoken on that occasion, and asks Mr. Morell to bury the hatchet.

Mr. Morell was not the least impressed with his father-in-law’s stance. He told Mr. Burgess that he had not quite forgotten the affront. Mr. Burgess was hurt to see that Mr. Morell (James) still nursed the grudge against him. Mr. Morell reminded him about his crookedness with regard to the tender for supply of clothes for the workhouses (orphanages). Mr. Morell (James) made it clear to Mr. Burgess that by paying a pittance to his women sewers, he had managed to win the contract. In the process, he had committed a moral blunder. Mr. Morell felt remorse recalling that he had intervened to get the contract for Mr. Burgess.

Mr. Morell was very indignant about the whole affair, and raged against Mr. Burgess for his audacity to say that he had come to pardon Mr. Morell for his failings, where as the opposite should have been the case.

Mr. Burgess tried to mollify the angry James saying he was seeking his forgiveness for his past turpitude.

On being specifically asked, he revealed that he has raised the wages of his workers. He has installed machines to do certain types of work, and the minimum wage he pays is six pence an hour. That, he claimed, was at par with the trade union wages.

Mr. Morell was greatly relieved to hear this, and felt happy at the change in Mr. Burgess’s policy towards his workers. With profound regret, Mr. Morell went up to Mr. Burgess to say that he was genuinely sorry for his hurtful words, and repented it sincerely.

Mr. Burgess says that he had to raise the wages, because the County Council (the buying authority) refused to give him the order until he paid fair wages to his workers.

Mr. Morell could see that Mr. Burgess has hiked the wages out of compulsion, and not due to a genuine desire for being fair and just to his workers.

To add to Mr. Morell’s chagrin, he claimed that workers drink when they get higher wages. So, people like Mr. Morell, who clamor for fair wages to the workers, do them more harm than good.

Mr. Morell wanted to cut him short by asking firmly if he had come there for family business only. The visitor replied that he was there for family matters only.

Some more angry exchanges take place between the two. Mr. Morell wants to see the visitor leave, but the latter somehow drags his feet and lingers uttering words to make Mr. Morell feel guilty for his rudeness.

Mr. Morell wants his estranged father-in-law to reflect and repent. He wants him to be a good man again.

The two antagonists talk to dispel their mutual dislike and iron out their differences. Mr. Morell is patient with Mr. Burgess, and wants to give him a chance to come clean with his sordid past. Mr. Burgess is also keen to re-build the bridge of friendship and restore the frayed family bond.

Finally, the two persons succeed in burying their bitterness. They re-discover the goodness in one another, shake hands and smile with a great sense of relief.

Candida arrives in the scene. She looks youthful and gracious. She is pleasantly surprised to see the two embittered persons appearing to be in jovial spirit. Candida has arrived with her travel baggage.

Mr. Morell receives her warmly, but apologizes for having forgotten to go to the station to receive her. He is mortified at his own forgetfulness and, as if to make amends for his indifference, relieves Candida of the load she carries.

Mr. Burgess feels unsure of his welcome by her daughter. He kisses her, and tells her that he and Mr. Morell have virtually made up.

Mr. Morell continues to be apologetic about his lapse and wonders how she managed to bring out the luggage on her own. To his great surprise, he learnt that Eugene had gone to Candida’s place to escort her back. He hurries to pay the cab fare.

Candida talks to her father in a friendly tone. Mr. Burgess is curious to know who that young man Eugene was. Candida explains the circumstances that led to Eugene staying with them. Mr. Burgess thinks that Eugene is just an ordinary vagabond or a cab tout. He asks Candida if Eugene was really an honorable fellow.

Candida reassures her father about Eugene’S credentials, saying that he is the nephew of an Earl. She even lavishes praise on Eugene asserting that he is an honorable decent young man. Mr. Burgess is still not convinced, but accepts his daughter’s word. He wants her to introduce him to Eugene.

Mr. Morell and Eugene come back. The latter is shy, and reluctant to meet the stranger (Mr. Burgess) sitting there. Inside his mind, he wants to avoid the visitor and escape to a lonely place, but Mr. Morell intervenes to introduce him to his father-in-law. Eugene is introduced formally as Mr. Marchbanks.

Mr. Burgess and Mr. Marchbanks talk informally for a while. Mr. Burgess asks him if he would come with him to the Victawriar Pork station.

At this point, Mr. Morell comes in to say that Eugene (Mr. Marchbanks) has to have his lunch in the house. Mr. Burgess invites Eugene for lunch some other day at his place – Freeman Founders at North Folgit.

Eugene has no clue where the place is and wonders if it is in Surrey. Mr. Burgess has a hearty laugh at his ignorance, but Candida comes to Eugene’s rescue.

Mr. Burgess leaves and is seen off by his son-in-law. Candida asks Eugene jokingly what he felt about her father , and if he would go to Freeman Founders to have lunch with him. Eugene, not able to sense the mild sarcasm in her voice says that Mr. Burgess was a nice old man, and he could go to have lunch with him one day.

Candida is pleased with Eugene’s childlike naivety, and mocks him for it. Eugene feels embarrassed for not having read the person seriously. Candida tries to cheer him up, and asks why he appeared so grumpy on their way back from station.

Eugene says he was thinking about the amount the can driver had to be paid. He said he was not used to such situations, hence his absentmindedness. He had thought of paying him ten shillings, where as Mr. Morell paid him just two, and the latter was quite happy.

Candida lightheartedly mentions to her husband that Eugene wanted to pay 10 shillings to the cab driver. Mr. Morell appreciated Eugene’s generosity, and said overpaying someone is far better than withholding his rightful dues.

Candida leaves to do up the house. At the table, Mr. Morell is still seeing his papers. He wants to ascertain if  Eugene is staying for lunch.

Eugene is restless. He can’t decide if he should stay on till lunch or go. Mr. Morell wants some private time with Candida who has come home after a long time. He hints about this to Eugene, and says he can go to the nearby park, write poetry, and be back by one thirty sharp for lunch.  A deep torment goes on Eugene’s mind. He agrees to go, but decides not to. He says he has some important matter to speak about to Mr. Morell. Some hard words couched in civility is exchanged between the two before Eugene drops the bombshell. He tells Mr. Morell about his love for Candida.

Mr. Morell is as shocked as he is amused. He laughs uncontrollably. Eugene is confused. Finally, Mr. Morell tells Eugene that he under 20, and his wife is above thirty. Mr. Morell dismisses the idea as nonsense  terming it ‘calf love’.

Eugene continues to harp on the love she inspires in him.

Mr. Morell is stern and very upset. He says enough is enough, and he can’t accept such childish infatuation of Eugene towards his wife. He adds that people will judge him to be fool on hearing his love towards Candida.

Eugene stands his ground. He reminds Mr. Morell that Mr. Burgess thinks him to be fool to for his advancing socialist ideals. Since that does not make Mr. Morell a ‘fool’, so he (Eugene) can’t be termed a ‘fool’ for his love for Candida.

Mr. Morell warns Eugene saying that he is under the spell of a devil who has taken control of his mind and made it wicked. Eugene stays firm on his stand.

Both come towards each other threateningly. Mr. Morell regains his composure to avoid a nasty confrontation.

Mr. Morell, with rare equanimity, advises Eugene that life is just unfolding itself before him. An amazing journey lies ahead of him. He can accomplish a lot and bring happiness and light to the lives of everyone in the world. He can be happily married, excel as a poet, and bring glory to himself. So, he should shed his momentary delusion and abandon the idea of having Candida.

Eugene shows no sign of retracing his path. He remains firm in his conviction.

Mr. Morell resumes his effort to reform Eugene through persuasion and patriarchal advice.

Marchbanks (Eugene) asserts that Candida lives as a wife like a caged bird, with no freedom to indulge in her own taste, express herself in her own ways, and live life the way she likes. Mr. Morell’s intellect, eloquence, and popularity has no enduring attraction for her. She craves for deliverance from this bondage.

Mr. Morell is flustered by Eugene’s comments on his wife’s perceived predicament.  He controls himself, and assures Eugene that he is equally talented as himself. In oratory flourish in matters of spirituality, he tells the young man that he is no less gifted.

Eugene speaks disparagingly to Mr. Morell about his art of swaying the audience with his clever oratory. Such speeches are empty, and intoxicating. In the audience, the men folk get swayed and applaud Mr. Morell, but the wives see through the guile and helplessly sit through the sessions. Eugene proceeds to cite the instance of King David of the Bible, whose zest and verb was so uninteresting and dull for his wife. He loathed him for this.  

Mr. Morell is grievously hurt by Eugene’s acerbic comments. He asks Eugene to leave his house. He grabs Eugene by the lapel of his coat, and gets ready to throw him out by force. Eugene sits down on the sofa, and asks him to take his hands off him. Eugene says that he will kill himself if Mr. Morell harmed him bodily. Eugene screams hysterically to vent his anger.

Mr. Mrell loosens his grip, and derisively orders Eugene to leave to avoid further unpleasantness.

Eugene is relieved as Mr. Morell takes off his hands. He provokes Mr. Morell claiming that it is the latter who is afraid of him, not the other way round.

Mr. Morell agrees with Eugene, though somewhat hatefully.

Eugene maintains that he might be muscularly weaker than Mr. Morell, but he stood on firmer ground with regard to the choice of his wife. Eugene asserts that reason and morality are on his side in his effort to let Candida free herself from the mundane environment of the home. He throws a challenge at Mr. Morell in this regard, but by that time he finds Mr. Morell’s belligerence too frightening and involuntarily goes outside of the door.

Mr. Morell stops Eugene from leaving. He thinks Candida would be curious to know why Eugene had to leave, and that to permanently. She could be distraught to know why Eugene behaved in such preposterous way. Mr. Morell reasoned that it is better if his wife learned about the unsavory developments first hand. So, he tell the young lover of his wife to stay back till she returned.

Eugene was still seething in anger and indignation. He challenges Mr. Morell to truthfully tell Candida about his feelings towards her, and the manhandling that he received at the hands of her husband. Eugene was very adamant and assertive. He stood firm. He even threatened Mr. Morell that if she isn’t given a truthful account of what had transpired, he would write to her about the matter.

Mr. Morell is puzzled by Eugene’s insistence on letting Candida everything about this showdown.

Eugene affirms that Candida would surely appreciate his eagerness to free her from the present bondage, and would reciprocate by giving her love to him. He dares Mr. Morell to tell his wife every word he spoke about her, and if he didn’t he would bear in mind that Candida rightfully loved the man who understood her inner desire for a freer life.

An angry exchange follows between Mr. Morell and Eugene, who is on the verge of leaving the house. He keeps challenging Mr. Morell to tell everything to Candida as a Clergyman.

At this point, Candida enters the scene. She was busy cleaning up the house. She finds Eugene distraught, and ruffled. He looks so unusually disconcerted. She pulls Eugene to stand before her husband and chides the former for going out to the street with such a disorderly look.

Mr. Morell and Eugene stare at each other. Candida urges Eugene to stay back for lunch.

Eugene replies to her saying that he could stay back for lunch, if her husband agrees.

Candida casually asks her husband if Eugene could stay back and help her to arrange the table. Mr. Morell agrees to her suggestion, and pretends as if he is busy with his normal work.

Eugene proceeds to assist Candida in arranging the table. He is obviously pleased with the turn of events, and says he is the happiest man.

Mr. Morell adds he was happy too, till about an hour ago.

——————————END OF Act 1———————-

Questions …

  1. What is the theme of the drama ‘Candida’?
  2. Describe the character of Eugene Marchbanks.
  3. Describe the character of Mr. Morell.

Answers will be posted if readers so desire.





——————————-To be contd ———————————————






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