Wednesday 19 August 2020

The Dr Johnson Reading Circle read The Modern Husband (Part Three)

Previously, when meeting up for the last act of the play, there was a tension, a question in the air; ’how are the characters we like going to get out of this one?’ The problem with The Modern Husband was that none of the characters are ‘good’ people and the ones we liked most were among the nastiest.

Speaking of Lady Charlotte, she’s off to visit Emilia Bellamant, who is less than thrilled at the visit. Charlotte has gone to gather the gossip, following her parent’s embarrassment at the party the night before. It’s clear that Fielding enjoyed writing her, as much as our actor enjoyed portraying her. As she enters the room with Emilia, she’s boasting about what an ‘early creature’ she is and telling her how ‘heartily concerned’ she is, whilst also fishing for compliments by complaining about how her own dress is ‘hideous and ‘odious’. 

Emilia’s brother, Captain Bellamant enters and it is clear that he and Lady Charlotte have chemistry, even if that chemistry exists in a teasing, argumentative form, like a cut-price Benedict and Beatrice. 
   “Sure, never two people were so like one another as you and I are,” says Captain Bellamant. “We think alike, we act alike and some people think we are very much alike in the face.” A compliment that Lady Charlotte pretends is the worst compliment ever, declaring that she never look in the looking glass again. Captain Bellamant saves face by saying that she never did, she’d be the saddest person in England for never having the pleasure of seeing her face. As Lady Charlotte heads off to her next visit, Emilia pretty much forgotten, Captain Bellamant follows. Emilia barely has a moment to herself when Gaywit enters for an altogether tenderer scene but one that reflects the one before. Both couples, whether through fashion or shyness, are unable to forthrightly declare their fondness. One couple dance around it by pretending to hate each other while the other couple pretend they are merely good friends.

Meanwhile, Bellamant Sr visits Lord Richly to hand him back the bank note which the Lord with which the Lord had tried to seduce his wife. Whereas Lord Richly attempts to be polite, shrugging of his attempted seduction as another day in the office, Bellamant is furious, calling him base and villainous before storming out. Gaywit then turns up to this location (time and places are a little confused in The Modern Husband) where he tries to win Lord Richly to Emilia Bellamant as his wife - Lord Richly carries on his record of slimiest person in the play by advising Gaywit to take advantage of Bellamant’s financial distresses and make her his mistress but Gaywit has more honour than that and he storms off. Then enters Mr Modern, the slimiest character in the play, who slimes a bit till the end of the scene.

The next is probably the most purely comic scene of the play and more relevant to the plot than first appears. Lady Charlotte and Captain Bellamant are flirting up a storm in their own peculiar manner, talking about their ideal marriage. Lady Charlotte claims her friend Betty Shuttlecock and her created a system where she is, “sure to have my own humour in everything.” She will see her own friends, go to her own amusements, have her own bedroom, drawing-room, coach and everything. Captain Bellamant has a brainwave, claiming that he had been discussing the system with Betty and was so charmed by it that he asked her to marry him and was going to get married later that day. She bursts into tears, revealing that she feels rather more for him then she lets on - even though she tries to cover up her tears as a gag. Captain Bellamant leaves to ‘marry’ Betty, with Lady Charlotte in close pursuit.

The next scene is the last and there’s a lot going on in those five pages. Mrs Modern reveals to Bellamant how her husband had forced her to be with Lord Richly and how he’d set up to catch them together so he could sue Bellamant for Criminal Conversation. Lord Richly and Mr Modern enter, where it is revealed that Mr Modern originally planned to catch Lord Richly with his wife rather than Bellamant and he is led off, swearing a very unlikely revenge. 

Lord Richly’s plan to destroy Bellamant is ruined when Captain Bellamant and Lady Charlotte turn up, having just been married. Lady Charlotte being his daughter, he can’t destroy Bellamant without ruining his daughter and with Lady Charlotte married, Gaywit is free to marry Emilia. Lord Richly’s amorous plans are foiled but it’s no huge worry to him, plenty of other weak-willed people out there. He leaves declaring that the couples“will be so many mutual plagues on one another”. If the younger generation’s experience is anything like their parent’s, then his prediction shall probably be correct. 

The Modern Husband is not the easiest play to love, it has a sarcastic, bitter tone and for a comedy, is rather light on laughs but the characters have a greater depth to them, some of them are delightfully bitchy and some of them even game out as somewhat likeable.

It’s not till the epilogue that Mrs Modern’s fate is confirmed, she’s stuck in the country playing the skilled game of all-fours, rather than the much discussed quadrille. I was going to write a guide to playing the game but I’m not much of a cardsharp myself and couldn’t understand it. So here included is a guide to quadrille 

The Modern Husband

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