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Children's Hour


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A: Lillian Hellman Pf: 1934, New York Pb: 1934 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Boarding school and Mrs Tilford's home, New England, 1930s C: 122m, 12fWith stretched finances, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie run a girls' school. When they punish Mary, a difficult pupil, for lying, she pretends to have a heart attack. Martha tries to get her aunt Mrs Lily Mortar, who has a dubious influence on the girls, to go to Europe, and Lily angrily retaliates by accusing Martha of being jealous, because Karen is about to marry Mary's cousin, Dr Joe Cardin. Hearing of this accusation, Mary runs away from the school and tells her grandmother Mrs Tilford that Karen and Martha are lesbians. Horrified, Mrs Tilford informs the other parents, who begin to withdraw their daughters from the school. Joe manages to expose Mary's lies, but she first pleads confusion, then calls on another pupil, whom she blackmails into lying to support her story. Seven months later, the school has closed, and Karen and Martha have lost their libel case. Joe asks Karen to leave with him for Vienna, but she refuses when she realizes that he too had his doubts about her sexuality. Martha admits that perhaps she did love Karen, and, overwhelmed with guilt, goes next door and shoots herself. Mrs Tilford, now aware of Mary's lies, comes and tries to make amends, but it is too late.

A: Lillian Hellman Pf: 1934, New York Pb: 1934 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Boarding school and Mrs Tilford's home, New England, 1930s C: 122m, 12f

The Children's Hour was the first play by Hellman, who was after O'Neill the most important American dramatist of the inter-war years. Controversial and often banned because of its open references to lesbianism, the main focus of the play is on the mechanisms of lying and gullibility. Karen's and Martha's lives are destroyed not so much by the mendacity of a disturbed young orphan but by the willingness of supposedly informed adults to join a conspiracy of suspicion, by which even the otherwise admirable Joe is corrupted. It is an irony that Hellman was later persecuted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Subjects: Theatre — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Lillian Hellman (1905—1984) American dramatist


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