Clare Boothe Luce’s social satire The Women was a smash hit when first performed on Broadway in 1936 and has enjoyed several revival productions during the 1970s and 1990s.
The Women is set in the world of high society wives in New York City during the height of the Great Depression. Mary Haines, the protagonist, learns from a gossipy manicurist that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair with a shop-girl named Crystal. After the news of Stephen’s affair is published in a gossip column, Mary decides to divorce him. To obtain her divorce, she travels to Reno, Nevada, where liberal divorce laws attracted many society women wishing to downplay any potential for scandal. While she is in Reno, Mary learns that Stephen has married Crystal. Two years later, Mary, now living back in New York with her children, learns that Crystal has been unfaithful to Stephen. With the help of her friends, Mary sets out to expose Crystal’s infidelity in order to win Stephen back.
Although men are at the center of the lives of the women in The Women, no male characters appear in the play, which is set in such locations as beauty parlors, women’s clothing stores, and other predominantly female environments. The Women addresses themes of the modern woman, marriage and divorce, female friendship, beauty standards, gossip, and socioeconomic class.
The Women has been criticized over the years as a work that portrays women as shallow, conniv ing, ‘‘catty’’ creatures whose lives revolve around their efforts to look beautiful so as to obtain and hold onto wealthy husbands. Others, however, have regarded The Women as a feminist text that addresses lasting issues about women’s status in society.