When For Services Rendered opened at the Globe Theatre in London in 1932, Somerset Maugham had been heralded as the most successful playwright in England. Maugham was praised for his adept storytelling skills, which had entertained audiences for thirty years. This night, however, English audiences were not prepared for the anti-war focus of his new play, and, as a result, it closed after just seventy-eight performances.
Appreciation for the play has grown over the years since its first production. Now For Services Rendered is acclaimed as one of Maugham’s best plays. The story, which so shocked early audiences, focuses on the devastating effects of World War I on an English family. As Maugham chronicles the damaged lives of each member of the Ardsley family and their friends, he presents a scathing indictment of the war and the governments that convince young men to sacrifice their lives in the name of glory.
The entire play takes place in the home of Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley, situated in a small country town outside of Canterbury, England. One afternoon, Mrs. Ardsley takes tea with her son Sydney, who has become blind as a result of war injuries. She tells him that her daughter Ethel has arrived and that her husband, Howard, will pick her up later. The two discuss Howard’s drinking problem and his relationship with Ethel.
Ethel arrives with Gwen, a family friend, whose pitying tone toward Sydney becomes quite annoying. Mrs. Ardsley’s younger daughters, Lois and Eva, soon come in from playing tennis with Wilfred Cedar, Gwen’s husband, and Collie Stratton, another family friend. As Eva leaves to get the maid, the others discuss the fact that Eva never got over losing her fiancé during the war. Gwen makes ignorant remarks about class in front of Ethel, who has married beneath her, and the others upbraid Gwen for it.
Wilfred decides to stay and play another game of tennis and talks Gwen into leaving him there, which she reluctantly agrees to do. Sydney tells the others how much he appreciates how well Eva takes care of him. Collie and Wilfred discuss Lois’s limited marital prospects in the small town. Collie admits that he is having financial problems with his auto business and asks Wilfred for a loan, but Wilfred refuses.
After Wilfred leaves, Eva appears with tea and they discuss her care of Sydney. She tries to encourage Collie to find a wife, but he rebuffs her suggestion. Leonard arrives; he offers his sympathy and advice about Collie’s financial problems. After the rest leave, Mrs. Ardsley discusses her medical problem with her brother, a doctor.
When they are alone, Wilfred tells Lois that he is “crazy about” her and suggests that she run off with him. Lois refuses his advances, insisting that he is old enough to be her father. Howard arrives and, after quickly assessing the situation, tells Wilfred to leave Lois alone. When Gwen appears, Wilfred becomes livid, calling her a fool for her jealousy and insisting that she leave immediately. After Howard falls into a drunken sleep, Ethel tries to defend him to Eva. Eva soon leaves to play chess with Sydney, a game she admittedly loathes.
Eva gets increasingly agitated as she and Sydney argue while playing chess until finally, she throws all the pieces on the floor. Eva declares that she does not want to be his caretaker any longer and is sick of “being a drudge.” Mrs. Ardsley tries to get Eva to sympathize with Sydney’s situation, but Eva cannot, insisting that she has already given enough—the man that she loved. Eva fears that she will never have another opportunity for marriage. After she rushes out of the room in tears, Sydney tells his mother that he understands Eva’s feelings and does not blame her for them.
Gwen arrives and tells Mrs. Ardsley that she thinks her husband is in love with Lois. Mrs. Ardsley advises her to...
(The entire section is 1240 words.)