Because of censorship by the Lord Chamberlain, public performance of this play was delayed by over three decades. Shaw's purpose in tackling as sensitive a subject as prostitution was not just to shock the Victorian public, but to argue that women could only with the greatest difficulty achieve success in society without resorting to prostituting themselves, either as harlots – or as wives (as such it was intended as a corrective to Pinero's The Second Mrs Tanqueray). He also suggested, as Brecht does in The Threepenny Opera, that illegal activities like prostitution merely reflect the acceptable exploitation of society by capitalism. But Shaw is not writing a political tract: the final confrontation between mother and daughter, whose priggishness prevents her becoming a tiresomely idealized figure, has considerable emotional power, which has assured the play continuing popularity.
Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).
Related content in Oxford Index
George Bernard Shaw (1856—1950) playwright and polemicist