"Mrs. Warren's Profession"

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MRS WARREN. You! youve no heart. [She suddenly breaks out
vehemently in her natural tongue--the dialect of a woman of the
people--with all her affectations of maternal authority and
conventional manners gone, and an overwhelming inspiration of
true conviction and scorn in her] Oh, I wont bear it: I wont put
up with the injustice of it. What right have you to set yourself
up above me like this? You boast of what you are to me--to m e,
who gave you a chance of being what you are. What chance had I?
Shame on you for a bad daughter and a stuck-up prude!
VIVIE [sitting down with a shrug, no longer confident; for her
replies, which have sounded sensible and strong to her so far,
now begin to ring rather woodenly and even priggishly against the
new tone of her mother] Dont think for a moment I set myself
above you in any way. You attacked me with the conventional
authority of a mother: I defended myself with the conventional
superiority of a respectable woman. Frankly, I am not going to
stand any of your nonsense; and when you drop it I shall not
expect you to stand any of mine. I shall always respect your
right to your own opinions and your own way of life.
MRS WARREN. My own opinions and my own way of life! Listen to
her talking! 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 wouldnt rather
have gone to college and been a lady if I'd had the chance?
VIVIE. Everybody has some choice, mother. The poorest girl
alive may not be able to choose between being Queen of England or
Principal of Newnham; but she can choose between ragpicking and
flowerselling, according to her taste. People are always blaming
circumstances for what they are. I dont 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.
MRS WARREN. Oh, it's easy to talk, isnt it? Here! would you
like to know what m y circumstances were?
VIVIE. Yes: you had better tell me. Wont you sit down?
MRS WARREN. Oh, I'll sit down: dont you be afraid. [She plants
her chair farther forward with brazen energy, and sits down.
Vivie is impressed in spite of herself]. D'you know what your
gran'mother was?
MRS WARREN. No, you dont. I do. She called herself a widow and
had a fried-fish shop down by the Mint, and kept herself and four
daughters out of it. Two of us were sisters: that was me and
Liz; and we were both good-looking and well made. I suppose our
father was a well-fed man: mother pretended he was a gentleman;
but I dont know. The other two were only half sisters:
undersized, ugly, starved looking, hard working, honest poor
creatures: Liz and I would have half-murdered them if mother
hadnt half-murdered us to keep our hands off them. They were the
respectable ones. Well, what did they get by their
respectability? I'll tell you. One of them worked in a
whitelead factory twelve hours a day for nine shillings a week
until she died of lead poisoning. She only expected to get her
hands a little paralyzed; but she died. The other was always
held up to us as a model because she married a Government laborer
in the Deptford victualling yard, and kept his room and the three
children neat and tidy on eighteen shillings a week--until he
took to drink. That was worth being respectable for, wasnt it?
VIVIE [now thoughtfully attentive] Did you and your sister think
MRS WARREN. Liz didnt, I can tell you: she had more spirit. We
both went to a church school--that was part of the ladylike airs
we gave ourselves to be superior to the children that knew
nothing and went nowhere--and we stayed there until Liz went out
one night and never came back. I know the schoolmistress thought
I'd soon follow her example; for the clergyman was always warning
me that Lizzie'd end by jumping off Waterloo Bridge. Poor fool:
that was all he knew about it! But I was more afraid of the
whitelead factory than I was of the river; and so would you have
been in my place. That clergyman got me a situation as a
scullery maid in a temperance restaurant where they sent out for
anything you liked. Then I was a waitress; and then I went to
the bar at Waterloo station: fourteen hours a day serving drinks
and washing glasses for four shillings a week and my board. That
was considered a great promotion for me. Well, one cold,
wretched night, when I was so tired I could hardly keep myself
awake, who should come up for a half of Scotch but Lizzie, in a
long fur cloak, elegant and comfortable, with a lot of sovereigns
in her purse.
VIVIE [grimly] My aunt Lizzie!
MRS WARREN. Yes; and a very good aunt to have, too. She's
living down at Winchester now, close to the cathedral, one of the
most respectable ladies there. Chaperones girls at the country
ball, if you please. No river for Liz, thank you! You remind me
of Liz a little: she was a first-rate business woman--saved money
from the beginning--never let herself look too like what she was-
-never lost her head or threw away a chance. When she saw I'd
grown up good-looking she said to me across the bar "What are you
doing there, you little fool? wearing out your health and your
appearance for other people's profit!" Liz was saving money then
to take a house for herself in Brussels; and she thought we two
could save faster than one. So she lent me some money and gave
me a start; and I saved steadily and first paid her back, and
then went into business with her as a partner. Why shouldnt I
have done it? The house in Brussels was real high class: a much
better place for a woman to be in than the factory where Anne
Jane got poisoned. None of the girls were ever treated as I was
treated in the scullery of that temperance place, or at the
Waterloo bar, or at home. Would you have had me stay in them and
become a worn out old drudge before I was forty?
VIVIE [intensely interested by this time] No; but why did you
choose that business? Saving money and good management will
succeed in any business.
MRS WARREN. Yes, saving money. But where can a woman get the
money to save in any other business? Could y o u save out of
four shillings a week and keep yourself dressed as well? Not
you. Of course, if youre a plain woman and cant earn anything
more; or if you have a turn for music, or the stage, or
newspaper-writing: thats different. But neither Liz nor I had
any turn for such things at all: all we had was our appearance
and our turn for pleasing men. Do you think we were such fools
as to let other people trade in our good looks by employing us as
shopgirls, or barmaids, or waitresses, when we could trade in
them ourselves and get all the profits instead of starvation
wages? Not likely.
VIVIE. You were certainly quite justified--from the business
point of view.
MRS WARREN. Yes; or any other point of view. What is any
respectable girl brought up to do but to catch some rich man's
fancy and get the benefit of his money by marrying him?--as if a
marriage ceremony could make any difference in the right or wrong
of the thing! Oh, the hypocrisy of the world makes me sick! Liz
and I had to work and save and calculate just like other people;
elseways we should be as poor as any good-for-nothing drunken
waster of a woman that thinks her luck will last for ever. [With
great energy] I despise such people: theyve no character; and if
theres a thing I hate in a woman, it's want of character.
VIVIE. Come now, mother: frankly! Isnt it part of what you call
character in a woman that she should greatly dislike such a way
of making money?
MRS WARREN. Why, of course. Everybody dislikes having to work
and make money; but they have to do it all the same. I'm sure
Ive often pitied a poor girl, tired out and in low spirits,
having to try to please some man that she doesnt care two straws
for--some half-drunken fool that thinks he's making himself
agreeable when he's teasing and worrying and disgusting a woman
so that hardly any money could pay her for putting up with it.
But she has to bear with disagreeables and take the rough with
the smooth, just like a nurse in a hospital or anyone else. It's
not work that any woman would do for pleasure, goodness knows;
though to hear the pious people talk you would suppose it was a
bed of roses.
VIVIE. Still, you consider it worth while. It pays.
MRS WARREN. Of course it's worth while to a poor girl, if she
can resist temptation and is good-looking and well conducted and
sensible. It's far better than any other employment open to her.
I always thought that it oughtnt to be. It c a n t be right,
Vivie, that there shouldnt be better opportunities for women. I
stick to that: it's wrong. But it's so, right or wrong; and a
girl must make the best of it. But of course it's not worth
while for a lady. If you took to it youd be a fool; but I should
have been a fool if I'd taken to anything else.
VIVIE [more and more deeply moved] Mother: suppose we were both
as poor as you were in those wretched old days, are you quite
sure that you wouldnt advise me to try the Waterloo bar, or marry
a laborer, or even go into the factory?
MRS WARREN [indignantly] Of course not. What sort of mother do
you take me for! How could you keep your self-respect in such
starvation and slavery? And whats a woman worth? whats life
worth? without self-respect! Why am I independent and able to
give my daughter a first-rate education, when other women that
had just as good opportunities are in the gutter? Because I
always knew how to respect myself and control myself. Why is Liz
looked up to in a cathedral town? The same reason. Where would
we be now if we'd minded the clergyman's foolishness? Scrubbing
floors for one and sixpence a day and nothing to look forward to
but the workhouse infirmary. Dont you be led astray by people
who dont know the world, my girl. The only way for a woman to
provide for herself decently is for her to be good to some man
that can afford to be good to her. If she's in his own station
of life, let her make him marry her; but if she's far beneath him
she cant expect it: why should she? it wouldnt be for her own
happiness. Ask any lady in London society that has daughters;
and she'll tell you the same, except that I tell you straight and
she'll tell you crooked. Thats all the difference.
VIVIE [fascinated, gazing at her] My dear mother: you are a
wonderful woman: you are stronger than all England. And are you
really and truly not one wee bit doubtful--or--or--ashamed?


MRS WARREN Tu non hai cuore ( immediatamente irrompe con veemenza nella lingua naturale- il dialetto di una popolana- con tutta l’affettazione di materna autorità e modi convenzionali e con una opprimente aspirazione di disprezzo convinto) Non lo permetterò- non sopporterò questa ingiustizia. Con che diritto ti poni ad di sopra di me? Ti vanti di ciò che sei per me, me, che ti ho dato la possibilità di diventare ciò che sei. Che scelta ho? Vergognati di essere una cattiva figlia e una presuntuosa santarellina!
VIVIE ( sedendosi con una alzata di spalle, senza altra fiducia, per le sue repliche che sembravano tanto assennate, ora suonavano in modo impacciato e presuntuoso in contrasto col nuovo tono della madre).Non pensare per un momento che mi sia sovrapposta a te in alcun modo. Mi hai attaccato con la convenzionale autorità di una madre: io mi sono difesa con la convenzionale autorità di una donna rispettabile. Francamente non intendo dare retta alle tue sciocchezze e quando cadrai non aspettarti un mio aiuto. Io rispetterò i tuoi diritti, le tue opinioni e il tuo stile di vita.
MRS WARREN Le mie opinioni e il mio stile di vita! Sentila! Pensi che sia stata cresciuta come te? Capace di cogliere e scegliere il mio stile di vita? Pensi che abbia fatto ciò che ho fatto perché mi piaceva, sebbene fosse giusto, o piuttosto non sarei andata al college e diventata una lady se ne avessi avuta la possibilità? Ma dove può una donna risparmiare denaro per altri affari? Potresti risparmiare 4 scellini a settimana e continuare a vestirti così bene? Non tu. Certo se sei una donna senza pretese e puoi guadagnare di più, oppure se hai la possibilità di scegliere tra musica, palcoscenico o giornalismo,è diverso. Ma né o né Liz abbiamo queste opportunità: tutto ciò che avevamo era l’aspetto e la possibilità di compiacere gli uomini. Pensavi che fossimo tanto sciocche da lasciare barattare il nostro bell’aspetto con un impiego come commesse, bariste, cameriere, quando avremmo potuto farlo in prima persona senza salari da fame? Inverosimile.
VIVIE Tu eri certamente da qualsiasi altro punto di vista. Cosa c’è di rispettabile in una ragazza cresciuta per dare la caccia a qualche riccone bizzarro per avere il beneficio del suo denaro ottenuto sposandolo? Come se un matrimonio potesse fare la differenza tra il giusto e lo sbagliato! Oh l’ipocrisia del mondo mi da la nausea! Liz e io dobbiamo lavorare, calcolare e risparmiare come gli atri, altrimenti potremmo diventare povere come una qualsiasi ubriacona e fannullona buona a nulla che pensa che la propria ricchezza durerà in eterno ( con energia) Disprezzo queste persone: non hanno carattere, e se c’è una cosa che odio in una donna, è la mancanza di carattere.
VIVIE Ora mamma, francamente! Non è parte di ciò che chiami carattere in una donna che lei potrebbe detestare questo modo di far soldi?
MRS WARRREN Perché, certo. Tutti odiano lavorare per far soldi, ma lo devono fare lo stesso. Sono sicura , ho spesso compatito una povera ragazza, esausta e depressa, che deve compiacere un uomo di cui non le importa nulla, qualche mezzo ubriacone che crede di rendersi gradevole se sta importunando, preoccupando e disgustando una donna, tanto che difficilmente il denaro possa ripagarla dello sforzo. Ma lei deve accettare questo comportamento indesiderabile e prendere il mondo come viene, proprio come una infermiera di un ospedale. Non è un lavoro che qualsiasi donna possa fare per piacere, bontà o conoscenze, pensando di ascoltare le pie persone che ti parlano, pensando che fosse piacevole come in un letto di rose.
VIVIE Ancora lo consideri di valore. Esso ripaga.
MRS WARREN Certo è conveniente per una povera ragazza, se riesce resistere alla tentazione ed è attraente, educata e sensibile. E’ sicuro che le è aperto ogni tipo di lavoro. Ho sempre pensato che non dovesse essere così. Non posso che avere torto, Vivie, che dovrebbero esserci migliori opportunità per le donne. Rimango fedele: è sbagliato. Ma è così, giusto o sbagliato che sia e una ragazza dovrebbe fare del suo meglio, ma sarei stata una sciocca se avessi tentato di fare altro.
VIVIE (commossa ancora di più)Madre: io credo fossimo state tanto povere quanto te a tuo tempo, sei abbastanza sicura che non mi avresti consigliato di provare al bar della stazione di Waterloo o di sposare un operaio, o di andare in fabbrica?
MRS WARRENA (indignata) certamente no. Per che razza di madre mi avreste preso! Come avreste potuto mantenere il rispetto per voi stesse in questo genere di miseria e schiavitù?E quale é il valore di una donna? Quale il valore di una vita? Senza rispetto per se stessi? Perché sono indipendente e in grado di dare a mia figlia una educazione di primo livello, quando altre donne che hanno avuto esattamente le stesse opportunità stanno nel fango? Perchè ho sempre saputo come rispettare me stessa e controllarmi. Perchè Liz è stata richiesta in una città con una cattedrale? La stessa ragione. Dove saremmo ora se avessimo prestato attenzione alle sciocchezze del parroco? A lavare pavimenti per 1,6 pence al giorno e nient’altro davanti che l’infermeria dell’ospedale come futuro. Non lasciarti fuorviare da persone che non conoscono il mondo, ragazza mia. L’unica strada per una donna di provvedere a se stessa decentemente è essere adatta a qualche uomo che possa essere adatto a lei. Se è questo il suo stile di vita , lasciala sposare. Ma stare al di sotto di lui non può aspettarselo: perché dovrebbe? Che sia solo per la propria felicità . Chiedi a qualsiasi donna nella società Londinese che ha figlie, e lei ti risponderla stessa cosa, solo che io te l’ho detto chiaramente e lei te lo dirà in modo indiretto.. La differenza è tutta qua.
VIVIE (affascinata, fissandola) Mia cara madre, tu sei una donna meravigliosa sei la più forte in tutta l’Inghilterra. Non sei nemmeno un pochino dubbiosa o imbarazzata?