The Man of Mode Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One morning, Dorimant is lounging in his room when an orange-woman appears. In the course of buying some fruit, Dorimant, who has a remarkable reputation as a lover, hears that a young woman of quality and fortune from the country had fallen in love with him at sight, despite her mother’s attempts to keep her daughter away from thoughts of loving any heartless man of the fashionable world. Although he is in the process of ending an affair with Lady Loveit and beginning a new one with Bellinda, Dorimant is interested. Shortly afterward he receives his friend Bellair, a fop who is very much in love with a young woman named Emilia and wishes to marry her instead of the wealthy bride his father has picked out for him. The father’s choice is Harriet, the young woman who was so taken with Dorimant.

To complicate matters for young Bellair, his father arrives in town to hasten the marriage. Lodging in the same house with Emilia and unaware of his son’s affection for her, the old gentleman has fallen in love with her and wishes to make her his own bride. Young Bellair, with the help of his aunt, Lady Townley, hopes to win his father’s consent to marrying Emilia.

Meanwhile, Lady Loveit is beside herself at the neglect she suffers at the hands of her lover. She complains bitterly to Bellinda, not knowing that it is Bellinda who has won the recent attentions of Dorimant and is about to become his mistress. True to his promise to Bellinda, Dorimant visits that afternoon and notifies Lady Loveit that he is finished with her. His action frightens Bellinda, although the deed was done at her request.

At Lady Woodvill’s lodgings that day, the lady herself is preparing Harriet to meet young Bellair, for Harriet’s mother is as anxious for the match as is his father. That Harriet does not wish to marry him makes little difference to the mother. When the two young people meet, they quickly confide their dislike of the match to each other. Then they proceed to play a mock love scene for the benefit of the parents, to throw them off the track.

That same afternoon, Bellinda and Dorimant meet at the home of Lady Townley. Dorimant makes Bellinda promise to have Lady Loveit walk on the Mall that evening so that Dorimant can confront her with Sir Fopling Flutter, a fool of a fop, and accuse her of being unfaithful. As they speak, Sir Fopling Flutter enters the company and then demonstrates what a fool he is by the oddities and fooleries of his dress, deportment, and speech.

That evening, young Bellair and Harriet go for a walk on the Mall. There they meet Dorimant, who is forced to leave when Harriet’s mother appears. Lady Loveit tries to make Dorimant jealous by flirting, but only succeeds in bringing Dorimant’s reproaches on her head.

Later that same...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)

The Man of Mode Overview

The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter is a comedy by George Etherege that satirizes the behavior of the libertines, courtiers, and wits of London during the seventeenth century. First performed in 1676, the play is characterized by the studied carelessness of its characters as they pursue amours, seductions, betrayals, and revenge. Etherege sustains a tone of wit and elegance in the language of the play as his characters promenade through the glittering world of upper-class Restoration London. It is the fashionable world of theatricals, parks, drawing rooms, and bed chambers, of people who can sleep through the morning, of masks, flirtations, stylish clothing, and sexual intrigues that returned to London after the fall of the Commonwealth, the period of Puritanical government that ended in 1660 with the restoration of the English monarchy. It is a world of people for whom life is a game and a series of poses. The Man of Mode (mode is another word for fashion or style) presents a society in which a person’s quality is measured by the cut of his or her clothing, the elegance of his or her stance, by the appearance he or she makes as a member of society, and by the quality of wit and detachment evident in his or her speech. At the center of its presentation of foppery and idle pleasure seeking, where regard for morality or the feelings of other people is considered to be bad form, is the conflict between bachelorhood and matrimony.

A great success when it was performed, The Man of Mode acquired historical significance because of its influence on the Restoration drama that followed it, giving rise to the comedies of William Congreve and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, comedies of wit that reflect and satirize the manners and morals—especially in their habits of love, courtship, and domesticity—of the members of the upper class during the Restoration.

The Man of Mode Extended Summary

Act I
Dorimant in his dressing room rereads a note he has written to Mrs. Loveit deceptively professing his love and making excuses for his recent neglect. As he dresses and spars verbally with his servant, he receives the morning trades people. The fruit peddler informs Dorimant that a beautiful young woman, whom she refuses to name, has just come to London with her mother, has seen Dorimant at a fashionable London market, and is attracted to him. Dorimant refuses to pay her for her fruit until she brings the woman to him. When she describes the mother, who “talks against the young men o’ the town,” and calls Dorimant “an arrant devil,” Dorimant’s friend, Medley, recognizes Lady Woodvill and her daughter Harriet and confirms that Harriet is an heiress and a remarkable beauty with a spark of “wildness” in her that is camouflaged by the “demureness” of her manner. Dorimant pays the orange seller and tells her to tell Harriet he wants to meet her.

Medley turns the conversation to Dorimant’s affair with Loveit, noting how passionate she is in love and in jealousy. Dorimant shows Medley his letter. Medley warns that if anyone tells Loveit that Dorimant has been seen flirting with a masked woman at the playhouse, she will not believe his excuse for his absence. Dorimant explains that is what he wants: he enjoys quarrelling with a woman who has grown tiresome. Medley offers to visit Loveit and inform her of Dorimant’s infidelity, but Dorimant says there is no need. Bellinda, the masked woman herself, wishes Dorimant to break off the affair and will visit Loveit an hour before Dorimant, gossip about him, and arouse Loveit’s jealousy.

Dorimant dispatches the note to Loveit. Young Harry Bellair enters. Medley teases him about the bad impression he will make on his beloved, Emilia, by associating with dissolute companions like Dorimant and himself. Bellair assures them she will not be disturbed and excuses himself for having neglected them recently. Harry throws off their taunts about the risks of cuckoldry in marriage.

Harry’s compliments to Dorimant’s sense of fashion and the way he carries his clothing lead the conversation to the recent arrival of Sir Fopling Flutter from Paris and the excesses of his wardrobe and deportment. Harry notes that Sir Fopling visited his aunt, Lady Townley, the day before and flirted with Loveit. Dorimant is delighted: he will accuse her of being untrue to him.

Harry asks Dorimant how his seduction of Bellinda is going. Dorimant complains that she has refused to visit him at home. Their conversation is interrupted by Harry’s servant with news that Harry’s father, who knows Harry is in love but not with whom, has just arrived in London. Harry’s father has planned for his son to marry an heiress—not the woman that Harry himself has chosen.

Act II
Lady Townley tells Emilia she feared that her brother, Old Bellair, came to London and took lodgings in the same house as Emilia because he had discovered Harry’s plan to marry her. Emilia confesses she is afraid of that and is glad that they had time before his arrival to warn everyone to keep their secret. Townley assures Emilia that she believes her brother does not know of their impending marriage, but Emilia wonders why old Bellair has been inquiring about her and why he keeps telling her he does not like her and then patting her affectionately. Lady Townley suggests that he actually dotes upon her.

Harry tells Lady Townley and Emilia that his father insists he marry someone else, that if he refuses, his father will marry and disinherit him, and that he has pretended to be obedient in order to give himself and Emilia time to wed. Old Bellair enters, sends Harry on an errand, and expresses his own interest in Emilia by claiming that he cannot “abide” her and adding that he is only fifty-five and still moved by feelings of sexual attraction. Harry returns and Bellair takes him to Lady Woodvill’s to visit Harriet, whom he intends Harry to marry. He lauds her fortune and scolds his son for his reported liaison with a loose woman of London, unaware it is Emilia whom Harry loves. The scene concludes with a visit from Medley and gossip about the fashionable habits of the smart set.

In the second scene, Loveit and her maid, Pert, discuss Dorimant’s recent absence and his reputation for seducing and abandoning women. Pert deplores him; Loveit, despite his infuriating neglect, still adores him. Bellinda arrives and after complaining about the tediousness of a visit with acquaintances from Wales, mentions that she saw Dorimant with a masked woman at a playhouse. She assumed it was Loveit, she says, because of the respectful way he behaved. Loveit is furious and wishes Dorimant’s new conquest (unaware that it is Bellinda) all the anguish she now experiences.

When Dorimant arrives and sees Loveit’s agitation, he takes her hand as if joining her in a dance. She pushes him away. He teases her and calls her distress trivial. Enraged, Loveit asks Dorimant who the woman at the theater was. He confesses that he is as eager as she to know since the lady would not lower her mask. Dorimant, pretending anger, reproaches Bellinda for having agitated Loveit and in remarks full of ambiguity vows to revenge himself on her by pursuing her everywhere, and, in a lower voice, ends by telling Bellinda to meet him later at Lady Townley’s. Bellinda agrees. Although she has not heard what he has said, Loveit is jealous because Dorimant is paying attention to Bellinda. The more she rails against him, the greater Dorimant...

(The entire section is 2307 words.)

The Man of Mode Summary

Act 1 Summary

This comedy of manners opens with Dorimant, a libertine, seated at his dressing table, reciting verses from a Spanish battle.  He converses with a market woman who sells oranges; the dialogue is ribald and risque: Dorimant refers to her as a "flasket of guts" and "Doutle Tripe." This orange-woman tells Dorimant about a young gentlewoman who has come to town with her mother.

Dorimant's friend, Medley enters, saying, "My darling sin,"  kissing him.  Medley identifies the young lady and her mother who have recently come to London.  Devilishly, Dorimant is intrigued by the goodness of the mother and beauty of the girl.

The orange woman departs and the two men converse about Mrs. Loveit, Dorimant's lover, whom he wishes to be rid of. He has a new lover in the person of a friend of Loveit and they plan to stir up Loveit's jealousy to the point that she will leave Dorimant. The shoemaker arrives, suggesting in bawdy terms that Dorimant "strike his shoe" in the same manner as he loves his mistress.

Then, a handsome young man, Bellair, enters and tells Dorimant about his love, Emilia. Medley and Dorimant ridicule his "faith" and innocent devotion to the woman.  Medley continues jesting by relating the affectations of a Sir Fopling Flutter, a man of acquired follies who imitates the French, calling him a "coxcomb."

Before Bellair leaves, Medley and Dorimant urge him to marry so the town can laugh since this marriage is against his father's wishes.

A letter arrives for Dorimant from Loveit; after a disparaging remark, he departs, singing verses.

Act 2 Summary

Townley and Emilia discuss their secret:  Old Bellair is in love with Emilia and has no idea that his son is in love with her as well.  Even though Lady Townley tries to dissuade Old Bellair from loving Emilia becasue she is "melancholy," he refuses.  He tells his son not to fret about marrying Harriet because she's rich.  Young Bellair admits that he has written a letter of obedience to his father that will deceive him.

Medley appears, and Emilia is excited to listen to his gossip.  Townley admits that Medley exaggerates and speaks of Loveit's jealous rage.  Meanwhile, Medley jokingly mocks the newest examples of literature until Townley demands to hear only gossip.  They exit in order to discuss.

Loveit is in a jealous rage over Dorimant who is paying her no attention.  Pert tries to convince Loveit to stop, admitting Dorimant is in love with someone new.  Bellinda enters and tells Loveit that Dorimant has been entertaining a "tall and slender" masked woman.  They conspire to ruin her.  When Dorimant enters, he admits that men can't be faithful, accuses them of spying, reveals that even he doesn't know who the masked woman was, and tells the audience that his plan is working.  Dorimant then accuses Loveit of flirting with Flutter.  She denies it.  Belinda admits that Dorimant has given proof of his love, but wonders if he will someday use her in the same way.

Act 3 Summary

After arguing with Busy about makeup and beauty, Harriet admits that Bellair is fashionable, but still admits that he is a "blockhead" who is simply well-bred.  Young Bellair and Harriet decide to "pretend to be in love with one another" just to see what transpires.  Sure enough, they fool Woodvill and Old Bellair.Emilia reveals to both Belinda and Townley that she likes Dorimant as well.  Bellinda is angry with Dorimant for his cruelty to Loveit, but is swayed by his persistence.  He also asks Bellinda to persuade Loveit to walk in the Mall so that she can meet Fopling and be caught in the act of flirtation.  Dorimant and Fopling discuss fashion and flatter each other in that regard.  Dorimant, of course, speaks unkindly about Fopling behind his back and lies to Fopling about Loveit liking him.  Fopling is hesitant because Loveit resisted his flirtations the first time, but agrees to meet her anyway.  Dormant guesses that it was Harriet behind the mask and vows to win her.  Harriet, however, does not cower to Dorimant's whims as most women do.  Bellinda is distressed to learn that Loveit plans to continue the flirtation with Fopling in order to make Dorimant jealous.  Loveit’s plan works and Bellinda begins to wonder about Dorimant's affections.  Medley bids Dorimant come to a dance that Harriet is sure to attend and disguise himself as "Mr. Courtage," hoping that Harriet will take his mind off Loveit.

Act 4 Summary

At the dance Dorimant (disguised as "Courtage") and Woodvill are agreeing about how women neglect their looks these days. Dorimant, then, sways even Woodvill to his side, and the company laughs as she chides "that wicked Dorimant." Emilia encourages Dorimant to win Harriet, but she is being as obstinate as always.  Dorimant admits that he loves Harriet, but Harriet spurns him until "your love's grown strong enough to make you bear being laughed at." When Fopling appears, he almost blows Dorimant's cover. Dorimant is convinced that Fopling knows who the girl was behind the mask earlier.  Harriet is impressed by Fopling, and Dorimant becomes jealous; however, he still leaves at the appointed time to meet Bellinda.

Amid lots of insinuation, Dorimant and Bellinda talk in his "lodging." She is still jealous of Loveit, and demands that Dorimant swear "you never will see her more," and yet Bellinda can never seem to refuse him. After the gentlemen suspect his tryst, Dorimant admits to it, but he does not reveal the details. Fopling admits at being surprised by Loveit's advances. Young Bellair thinks that his father loves Emilia, thinks that Harriet loves Dorimant, and tells him so even though "without church security, there's no taking up there." The difference between Young Bellair and Dorimant is revealed near the end of the act when Dorimant says, "You wed a woman, I a good estate."

Act 5 Summary

Scene I: Leaving Dorimant's house in a chair at 5:00 a.m., Belinda arrives at Loveit's; however, Loveit knows the chair as the one she has taken from Dorimant's and becomes suspicious. Belinda lies about her whereabouts in order to save her reputation. But, when Dorimant is announced, she faints and is taken to Loveit's room.  Mocking Sir Fopling as he enters, he meets criticism by Loveit; she and Dorimant accuse each other and exchange witticisms in Truewit fashion.

Loveit informs Dorimant she is aware that he feigns jealousy in order to give himself time with another while Dorimant accuses her of exchanging 'confidences ' with Sir Fopling.  Loveit acts indifferently, but cannot let him go:  "Equisite fiend!  I know you came but to torment me."  Belinda then enters, accusing Dorimant of  villainies, and Loveit wants Dorimant followed to expose his "masks."

Scene II: Emilia and Busy tell Harriet they know of her composed song, making Harriet blush.  As Dorimant arrives, Emilia tells him to mind his affairs with Harriet. He declares,

I will open my heart, and receive you where none yet did ever enter you have filled it with a secret.

Dorimant promises to renounce drink and all other women, but Harriet will not commit to marriage. In rushes Old Bellair, hoping to marry his son to Harriet--too late.  Now the "masks" of deception are removed from many of the characters:

  • Lady Woodvil learns Dorimant is not Courtage
  • Loveit learns that the violence of her nature has ruined things
  • Belinda is the "mask" with whom Dorimant deceived Loveit
  • Dorimant reveals his love for Harriet and renounces all interest in other women.

Dorimant agrees to leave London and go to the country with Harriet although he still has some debt and affairs in London to clear up.  The epiloque states, "Yet every man is safe from what he fear'd/For no one fool is hunted from the herd."

Noelle Thompson, Ed. Scott Locklear