Study Guide

Candida

by George Bernard Shaw

Candida Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Candida: A Mystery is included among “Plays: Pleasant” in George Bernard Shaw’s first collection of plays, Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). Like each of the other “Plays: Pleasant” (Arms and the Man, The Man of Destiny, and You Never Can Tell), Candida presents a youthful figure whose informal moral reflections help other characters to understand their lives better. This youth is the nervous eighteen-year-old nobleman Eugene, who returns with Candida to her house and husband in London. Candida’s husband is the socialist reverend Morell, a famous speaker who also runs his household in an egalitarian fashion; since there is only one maid, Morell, his wife, and his secretary assume some of the household chores. Morell seems very much in control of his world until Eugene tells him that he (Eugene) is in love with Candida and that she is probably repulsed by Morell. Eugene’s revelation and reflections undermine Morell’s apparent security and control and show his fragility. An additional complication arises when Morell’s despised father-in-law, the unscrupulous businessman Burgess, comes to talk to Morell for the first time in three years. Burgess is appalled at Morell’s suggestion that they would get along fine if they agreed to be honest with each other. Morell should openly consider Burgess a scoundrel and Burgess should openly call Morell a fool.

Morell and Eugene ask Candida to choose between...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Candida Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Act 1. In his London home, the Reverend James Morell, a popular speaker for Christian Socialist causes, is arranging lecture dates with his secretary, Prossy, who is secretly in love with him. His curate, the Reverend Alexander Mill, enters and announces that Morell’s father-in-law, Mr. Burgess, is coming to see him. While Morell briefly leaves the room, Mill and Prossy argue about Mill’s tendency to idealize Morell and his wife, Candida. When Burgess enters, Mill leaves. Burgess has not seen Morell, whom he regards as a fool, for three years. Morell despises Burgess for being interested only in money and for paying low wages to his help. Morell was instrumental in getting the county council to turn down Burgess’s bid for a construction contract. Burgess says that he changed his ways and now pays higher wages, but Morell suspects that Burgess only wants to bid on other contracts. Candida returns from a vacation with her children, accompanied by Eugene Marchbanks; Burgess, impressed to discover that he is the nephew of a peer, leaves, promising to return that afternoon. Candida, too, goes out, and Morell invites Marchbanks to stay for lunch. Marchbanks announces that it is incredible that Morell should think his marriage to Candida a happy one; he himself loves Candida, and he dares Morell to tell Candida what he said. Morell begins to get angry when Marchbanks asserts that Candida is too fine a spirit for a life with Morell. Saying that he will not tell Candida of their talk, Morell instructs the young man to leave. Candida returns and invites Marchbanks to stay for lunch.

Act 2. Later that same afternoon, Prossy berates Marchbanks for fiddling with her typewriter. Marchbanks talks poetically of love until Prossy, who is at first exasperated, admits that she, too, is in love. Burgess enters and asserts that Morell is mad. When Morell comes in with the news that Candida is cleaning the house and the lamps, Marchbanks is horrified to think that his...

(The entire section is 811 words.)