Extended Summary

Act 1, Scene 1

The action of the play opens on the living room of Dr. Givings and his wife, Catherine. Adjacent to their living room is an operating theater wherein the Doctor practices medicine. The period is sometime in the 1880s, at the advent of electricity. Catherine holds their infant and laments her inability to provide enough milk to feed the baby; the Givingses plan to find a wet nurse for the child. Upon the arrival of a sensitive new patient, Dr. Givings sends his wife and child out of the room while his assistant, Annie (a midwife), shows in Mr. Daldry and his wife, Sabrina. Mr. Daldry and Sabrina follow the doctor into the operating theater and relay her emotional distress.

In the middle of the meeting, Sabrina returns to the living room and encounters Catherine and the baby. After exchanging introductions, Catherine lets Sabrina hold the baby. Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Mr. Daldry his wife suffers from hysteria and will need one-hour treatments. He sends out Mr. Daldry and Sabrina reluctantly returns the baby and goes into the operating theater. Mr. Daldry and Catherine introduce themselves and decide to go for a walk around the grounds despite the threat of rain. Meanwhile, Dr. Givings explains the treatment to Sabrina, uses the vibrator on her to produce a “paroxysm,” and leaves her in Annie’s care. Following her paroxysm/orgasm, Sabrina weeps, admits she hasn’t been able to conceive a child, and sleeps while Annie comforts her.

Mr. Daldry returns with a drenched Catherine, who has discovered she likes to be in the rain without an umbrella. Mr. Daldry tells the Givingses of an African-American woman who works for him and has recently lost an infant. Despite Catherine’s initial concerns about Elizabeth’s race, Dr. Givings and Mr. Daldry agree to set up a meeting to consider Elizabeth as a wet nurse. Mr. Daldry escorts his rested wife out and Dr. Givings reassures Catherine about using Elizabeth as a wet nurse.

Act 1, Scene 2

The second scene starts in the operating theater as Dr. Givings does a physical exam of Elizabeth to ensure her fitness as a wet nurse. In the living room, Sabrina arrives for her appointment and chats with Elizabeth. Somewhat renewed from her treatment, Sabrina plays a sad song on the piano. Mrs. Givings asks her to play the song again and then sings along, making up lyrics as she goes.

Dr. Givings brings Elizabeth out and introduces her to Catherine. Elizabeth somewhat reluctantly discusses her recently deceased son, which noticeably distresses Sabrina. Dr. Givings takes Sabrina into the theater for her treatment as Catherine brings the baby to Elizabeth. A tearful Catherine watches as Elizabeth silently weeps while feeding the child; embarrassed, Elizabeth retreats to the nursery to finish the feeding.

In the theater, Dr. Givings begins the treatment on Sabrina, but it does not produce a paroxysm. When an electrical short stops the machine from working, Dr. Givings asks Annie to manually...

(The entire section is 1277 words.)