Act 1 begins on a summer afternoon in a cottage garden near Haslemere, Surrey, not far from London. Vivie Warren, a middle-class, well-educated young woman, sits on a hammock reading and writing, with a pile of serious-looking books nearby. Praed, a friend of her mother, arrives and tells Vivie that her mother is coming down from London. Vivie hardly knows her mother, who lived abroad while the girl was sent away to school and college in England. Through the ensuing conversation, the audience learns of Vivie’s success in gaining a high mathematics degree at the University of Cambridge, and that she intends to use her expertise by securing employment in London, as either an actuary or an assistant to a barrister. Praed expresses regret that she appears not to have any romance or beauty in her life. She replies that she does not care for either.
Mrs. Warren arrives with her longtime companion, Sir George Crofts, a successful businessman. Immediately attracted to Vivie, Crofts asks Praed who her father is, but Praed does not know. Crofts is concerned that he may himself be her father. Young Frank Gardner, a charming but idle young man who is also keen on Vivie, joins the group and then sidles off to engage in some disrespectful banter with his clergyman father, the Rev. Samuel Gardner, a bustling, seemingly important man who is, however, incapable of winning anyone’s respect. It is revealed that Frank’s father was something of a rake in his youth and wrote some compromising letters to a woman; he warns Frank not to fall into the same trap. The act ends when the Rev. Gardner meets Mrs. Warren, who, to his great embarrassment, recalls him enthusiastically from days gone by.
Act 2 begins that evening in the cottage. There is a dispute over Frank’s wish to marry Vivie, which is opposed by his father (partly because he fears that he may be her father) and by Crofts. Mrs. Warren rebukes Crofts for his interest in Vivie and rules out Frank’s suit when she discovers that he has no money. Frank, however, is undaunted by her refusal. The climax of the act is a long discussion between Mrs. Warren and her daughter. Vivie declares her intention of earning her own living, but she wants to know about her mother’s occupation and who her father is. Mrs. Warren denies that her father is Crofts, but in a manner that does not reassure Vivie. Vivie’s attitude is dispassionate and indifferent, refusing to acknowledge her mother’s authority over her....
(The entire section is 1008 words.)