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  • Review from The Times, 28th September 1897.

Synopsis

by Arthur Robinson

Gilbert's play opened in Birmingham on 27 September 1897, but never made it to London.

The major characters are: the VICOMTE ARMAND DE BRÉVILLE, a young and impoverished French aristocrat; his friend SIR CUTHBERT JAMESON, a "middle-aged Baronet"; DIANA CAVEREL, an Australian heiress; the DUKE OF DUNDEE, an "octogenarian peer," and his much younger bride, the DUCHESS ("née Euphemia S. Van Zyl of Chicago"); MR. BARKER, the Duke's courier; MR. and MRS. DUDLEY COXE-COXE, two British tourists; Armand's parents, the MARQUIS and MARQUISE DE BRÉVILLE, and his lawyer, M. LACHAUD.

Act I

Act I takes place on the ship "Africa." As the play begins, two passengers, Sir Cuthbert Jameson and his friend Armand de Bréville, are fencing; the latter is impressed with the former's skill. The ship is awaiting the arrival of two new passengers: the Duke and Duchess of Dundee. The Duke's courier, Barker, appears; Mr. Coxe-Coxe, an accomplished snob, carefully cultivates his acquaintance, believing that he is the Duke. Barker persuades Coxe-Coxe to give him money so that he can play for him at the tables at Monte Carlo (he claims he has such an infallible system, it would be unfair for him to profit by it himself). Armand confides to Sir Cuthbert that he once proposed to a wealthy American woman for her money, but after accepting him, she left him for another man — the elderly Duke of Dundee. He claims he has learned his lesson and will not marry for money. But he seems interested in Diana Caverel, an Australian heiress who is also on board. He is not alone; Sir Cuthbert proposes to Diana, but she turns him down, although informing him he is "the best, the truest, the most valued friend I have ever possessed."

The doddering Duke arrives, accompanied by the Duchess, who embarrasses the Duke with her lack of dignity and grammar. After the Duke leaves she encounters Armand, and apologizes to him for having treated him badly. He does not seem too crushed; within minutes of the Duchess's departure, he proposes to Diana, who accepts him.

Act II

Act II takes place a year later, in Armand's apartments in Paris, where Armand is meeting with a money-lender and breaking to him the sad news that Diana's fortune has vanished. He promises that within a year he will repay his debt. Later, he informs his lawyer, Lachaud, that he is planning to nullify his marriage. When he had married Diana he was 24; by the French Civil Code of the time, a Frenchman under the age of 25 could not marry unless he had obtained the consent of his parents (if living), and if he married without their consent, either the husband's parents or the husband himself could "apply to the Courts for a decree of nullity." Armand tells Lachaud that he is convinced his poor but aristocratic parents will refuse their consent, and that they will apply for this decree; to spare them this burden, he says, he will do so himself. He then leaves for Naples, telling Diana that if "a calamity" should occur while he is away and she should find herself "husbandless," she should remember that he is "not worth weeping for." Diana, who has believed her husband does not love her, is overjoyed at this apparent evidence that he does.

After Armand leaves, Sir Cuthbert arrives, and happens to mention that the Duchess of Dundee is in Naples. Diana is convinced that her husband is having an affair with her. Sir Cuthbert protests that the Duchess would never have an affair with a married man, but Diana points out that she might not know of their marriage — in fact, her husband has only recently sent news of it to his parents.

At this point the parents in question, the Marquis and Marquise de Bréville, arrive and begin to interrogate Diana about her background. On learning the shocking news that her father was an Australian merchant who actually worked for a living, the Marquis declares that he would have forbidden their engagement had he known of it. He reveals that Armand was under the legal age at the time of his marriage. Then a letter from Armand to Diana arrives, informing her that he was not of age when they married and, since he is convinced his parents will apply to have the marriage decreed null and void, he is doing it himself. Armand's parents then declare that, although they have the legal right, they never had any intention of compassing "the ruin of an honourable lady"; that they will disown their son for his infamous act; and that as they no longer have a son, they will accept Diana as their daughter.

Act III

Act III takes place six months later, in the Duchess's villa at Monte Carlo, eight months later. She is planning to return to Chicago and marry Armand. Mr. and Mrs. Coxe-Coxe appear; he hopes to get back the money that he entrusted to the "Duke," whom he describes as an old friend. Instead the Coxe-Coxes find themselves arrested for attempting to obtain money on false pretenses, until Armand appears and confirms Coxe-Coxe's story, explaining to Coxe-Coxe that his old friend the Duke was actually the Duke's courier.

Alone with the Duchess, Armand confesses to her that he is already married; he explains that he has begun proceedings to nullify his marriage but has now regretted this and is staying the proceedings. She is upset, but offers to pay Armand's debts.

After the Duchess departs, Diana appears, to Armand's surprise. To his even greater surprise he learns that she has just had a son, and has come to plead with him to stay proceedings to save their child from the stigma of illegitimacy. He is moved, and tells her that he has already taken steps to stay proceedings, then implores her to take him back. She refuses scornfully and leaves.

Lachaud arrives, and Armand instructs him to stop his application for a decree of annulment, which is scheduled to come up in a few days. Lachaud informs him that his application will in fact come before court that day, and it is impossible to stop it, even by telegram. Armand points out that there is one way to stop it — by his death. He attempts to drink from a small phial, but Lachaud intervenes, and the phial breaks in the struggle.

As Armand tries to break away from Lachaud, a servant announces the arrival of Sir Cuthbert Jameson. Armand declares that his old friend will "help me out of this." Sir Cuthbert treats Armand coldly and charges him with having lied about his parents' intention to nullify his marriage, but offers to satisfy his creditors "to facilitate an understanding between Madame Bréville and yourself." De Bréville produces swords and challenges Sir Cuthbert to a duel because of his insult in charging him with lying. Sir Cuthbert refuses, until Armand insinuates that he has had ulterior motives in accompanying Diana, and is "compromising her good name." Enraged, Sir Cuthbert duels Armand; as the former lunges, the latter deliberately puts himself in the path of the blade. As he dies, Armand tells the others who have appeared that it is he himself, not Sir Cuthbert, who is responsible for his death; as he dies, he asks Sir Cuthbert to "take good care of Diana."



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