Critically examine Shaw's attitude to "The Woman Question" with particular reference to Candida.

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kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The phrase 'The Woman Question' relates to the feminist issues concerning the rights, liberties and roles of women in Europe in the later half of the 19th century.

Shaw's 'problem play', Candida, deals with 'The Woman Question' in so far as it is a play about the issue of freedom of a domestic woman who is at the centre of the dramatic discourse. Her very name, Candida, suggests openness/frankness of her mind. She is a middle aged home-maker, the wife of a socialist clergyman, James Mavor Morell. Morell enjoys popularity and fame as a public speaker and a social reformist, but he is absolutely dependent on Candida who has to protect and help her husband out. There comes a young poet, Eugene Marchbanks, who informs Candida about another world, a world of poetry and imagination beyond the routine of domesticity. Morell becomes suspect of a 'calf love' between the poet and his devoted wife. He feels scared because his stable status of a successful husband depends a lot on Candida's self-sacrifice in the role of a wife. Morell has always believed himself as strong, though his strength is a false impression born of a patriarchal mindset. The climax is reached in the 'auction scene' at the end of the play. Candida places herself at an auction before her husband and her young lover. Morell offers her all that relates to the so-called social-domestic status of a woman, wheras Marchbanks offers her all that relates to passion and imagination. Candida chooses 'the weaker of the two', and Morell looses his sense believing that she has chosen her poet-lover. Morell is indeed weaker than Marchbanks who leaves Candida to mingle with the darkness of the night.

Shaw uses a trite love-triangle only to turn it upside down in his characteristic iconoclastic manner. The woman in this three-some relationship comes out triumphant: she neither leaves her husband to go with her lover; nor does she apologise for her mistake to stay back; nor is she driven out by her husband. A radical feminist shall never be happy with the Shavian resolution, for Candida is still not liberated from domestic servility. But Shaw's Candida must be a very different woman who has realised and registered her clear control and supremacy over her husband. Now on, Morell has to live as 'the weaker' of the two.

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