Study Guide

The Cocktail Party

by T. S. Eliot

The Cocktail Party Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Chamberlaynes are giving a cocktail party in their London flat. The atmosphere is somewhat strained because Lavinia, the host, is not there, and Edward, her bumbling husband, hastily invents a sick aunt to account for her absence. As usual, Alex has an exotic story to tell, for he travels widely and knows everyone. Julia, a sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued family friend, misses the point of his tale and wonders why Alex and the Maharaja are up a tree. Julia usually misses the point of stories she hears.

The assembly demands that Julia give her inimitable imitation of Lady Klootz and the wedding cake. They have all heard the story before, except possibly Edward, who forgets stories, and an unidentified and unintroduced guest. Somehow Julia goes off on a family who has a harmless son, and the story never gets told. The harmless son is a fascinating person: He can hear the cries of bats. Then Peter tells of a scenario that he wrote and that, unfortunately, never was produced.

To Edward’s relief, the guests prepare to leave. Only the stranger remains. He drinks gin with Edward for a while, and Edward is compelled to confide in him. Lavinia is not really at her aunt’s house; she simply left with no explanation. The stranger points out that her leaving might be a blessing, since she is demanding and practical, but Edward is uneasy, without knowing exactly why he wants her back. The stranger promises that the erring wife will return within twenty-four hours if Edward will ask for no explanations. He warns also that both Lavinia and Edward might be greatly changed. The stranger, full of gin, breaks into song as he leaves the apartment.

Julia, returning for her glasses, has Peter in tow. The glasses are in Julia’s bag all the time, and she departs again, leaving an agitated Peter behind. The young man wants to confide in Edward. He fell in love with Celia after attending many concerts with her, and she was very friendly. Lately, however, she is unresponsive. He asks if Edward will intercede for him. At this juncture, Alex comes gaily back. Edward is irritated. He asks Peter and Alex to lock the door when they leave so no one else will wander in. Alex archly goes to the kitchen, intent on whipping up a meal for the lone Edward. He succeeds in using up all the fresh eggs in some outlandish concoction.

At last, after answering the phone several times, Edward settles down in solitary comfort to play patience. Then the doorbell rings and in comes Celia. She divined that Lavinia left Edward, and now she thinks it would be a good time for Edward to seek a divorce so that he and Celia can marry. Edward agrees, but despite his repeated assurances of continued love, Celia is uneasy, for she senses a change in him. Edward then confesses that Lavinia is coming back and that he almost wants her back. He scarcely...

(The entire section is 1161 words.)

The Cocktail Party Summary

Act I Summary

The first act of The Cocktail Party is the only one divided into three separate scenes. The first scene opens on a party in the...

(The entire section is 619 words.)

Act II Summary

Act 2 takes place in the consulting room of Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly, a psychiatrist; he is the Unidentified Guest of the previous act. He...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Act III Summary

Act 3 takes place in the same place as the first one, two years later. Edward and Lavinia are preparing for another cocktail party. They act...

(The entire section is 215 words.)