Places Discussed

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Loam House

Loam House. Home of the earl of Loam in London’s Mayfair district—one of the most expensive districts of London, where the cream of the English aristocracy maintained their town houses in the days before World War I. Loam House, like its eponymous owner, is apparently not of the...

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Loam House

Loam House. Home of the earl of Loam in London’s Mayfair district—one of the most expensive districts of London, where the cream of the English aristocracy maintained their town houses in the days before World War I. Loam House, like its eponymous owner, is apparently not of the highest rank. It contains several reception rooms of varying quality, some of which are to be “lent for charitable purposes,” while those reserved for private use are lavishly furnished. Act 1 takes place in the most luxurious of the rooms, which is lavishly equipped with a carpet, couches, and cushions. Its walls are decorated with paintings by well-known artists. A thousand roses are distributed in basins, while shelves and tables contain library novels, illustrated newspapers and, as the play opens, all the paraphernalia required for the serving and consumption of that hallowed English tradition, high tea.

By the time this room reappears in act 4, its decor has changed considerably. Various animal skins, stuffed birds, and the weapons used to kill them have replaced the paintings, and other items have been replaced by mementos of Crichton’s castaway experience. The tale tacitly told by these exhibits is, however, transparently false. Labels attached to the trophies on the walls emphasize the fact that all Crichton’s achievements have been rudely appropriated by the aristocrats, who are his social betters. However, the true story behind the sham can be perceived now, much more easily than in act 1.

Island

Island. Desert island on which various members of the Loam household are shipwrecked, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Its shore is fringed by a thicket of bamboo. Trees, including coconut palms, are abundant, and its fauna includes monkeys, snakes, and wildcats. In act 2 the only edifice that the castaways have erected is a half-finished hut, and the only person working constructively on it is Crichton. When act 3 opens two years later, the castaways have moved to a larger log cabin, set on higher ground close to a stream. A mill wheel erected on the stream provides the cabin with electric light.

The furniture of the cabin’s main room stands in careful contrast to that of the reception room in Loam House. Improvised spades, saws, and fishing rods are placed on the joists supporting the roof. Cured hams are suspended from hooks, while barrels and sacks of other foodstuffs are lodged in recesses. The floor is bare save for a few animal skins. Although various pieces of wreckage have been put to new uses—the ship’s steering wheel is now a chandelier, and a life buoy provides a back for one of the chairs—most of the furniture is the result of “rough but efficient carpentering.” Its main door consists of four swinging panels, and its unglazed window is equipped with a shutter. There are several sleeping rooms and a work room.

At the first appearance of this miracle of improvisation, its architect, the butler, is conspicuously absent, while other cast members drift in and out, emphasizing by their conduct that they are now entirely subservient to his mastery. The meal that is eaten when he does appear is an extreme contrast, in terms of its constituents, its apparatus, and the roles of its participants, to the tea served in the reception room of Loam House. The spontaneity of the after-dinner dancing, to the tune of a makeshift concertina, contrasts sharply with the stiff formality of social intercourse at Loam House. What kind of social progress is it, the play meekly wonders, that has transformed one setting into another, and how can such perverse artificiality possibly survive?

Setting

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The play opens in late nineteenth-century London, in a drawing room at the house of the Earl of Loam. Lord Loam has invited family members and guests to take tea with his household servants. The servants, ill at ease in the formal drawing room, sit or stand stiffly until the ordeal is over. The topic of conversation focuses on an upcoming trip aboard Lord Loam's yacht, Bluebell Loam, his three daughters, his nephew, and a clergyman are to make the sea voyage, and because of Loam's revolutionary desire to do away with "excessive luxury," his daughters are to have but one maid to accompany them, and he but one manservant.

The second and third acts occur on a deserted island in the Pacific where the passengers of the Bluebell find themselves after their ship is wrecked in a storm. After some rearranging of authorities and duties, the castaways build a comfortable house lit with electricity and construct devices to signal any ship that might pass. Eventually, the former butler Crichton rules the island, making sure that everyone is well fed, healthy, and happy. At the end of the third act, however, the castaways spot a ship, and Crichton triggers the signal devices, effecting the rescue of his subjects.

The final act returns the action to Lord Loam's drawing room, where mementoes from the island—skins, stuffed birds, and hunting weapons—decorate the walls. The members of the noble family immediately resume their trivial pursuits, such as reading the society page of the newspaper and cutting the pages of books no one ever reads, but they are uncomfortable any time Crichton, once again the butler, is in the room. When Crichton gives notice of his intent to leave Lord Loam's service, everyone in the family is much relieved. After Crichton tells Lady Mary that he has in no way changed his faith in the natural order of things, he turns the light out and the play ends.

Literary Qualities

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As a work of art, The Admirable Crichton is simple, consistent, and complete. Formally, it is dramatic comedy with a rather unusual twist at the end. Crichton and Tweeny are obviously members of society with whom the audience is meant to sympathize. Lord Loam and the other nobles are mostly shallow people in a shallow society where playing cricket and uttering epigrams is as serious as life gets. On the island, life suddenly becomes more fundamental. A new society crystalizes, with the morally correct character as leader. The old, unreasonable rules have been replaced by more natural rules in a more significant society. But in the end the social boundaries of the London drawing room are reestablished. Crichton and Tweeny are again blocked from realizing their full potential. Still, Crichton can resign, thus escaping the disappointing Lady Mary and his untenable position in the Loam household. He ultimately wins the conflict, because he is right and knows he is right.

Tweeny, the illiterate young servant, grows from being speechlessly shy in the presence of the nobles to being critical and aggressive on the island. She is even able to scold Lord Loam when the situation calls for it. But Barrie does not make the mistake of making her too noble. Although she is more capable of coping on the island because of her practicality, she never miraculously becomes a "sudden scholar." She is illiterate in London, and she continues to be so on the island.

Lady Mary behaves inconsistently in the play, but this flaw defines her character. She clearly discerns Crichton's qualities, and loves him for them. She has little in common with the foppish Lord Brocklehurst, but he is a lord. In London such social position is more important to her than her love for Crichton. She even shows an awareness of her shallowness when she describes herself as "the sort of woman on whom shame sits lightly."

Social Sensitivity

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The Admirable Crichton deals with a single social problem: the natural selection of leaders in any society. Women are viewed as neither inferior nor superior to men. Lady Mary is easily the brightest, most competent woman in the play; and although her hunting ability surpasses that of Crichton, she does not quite match his talents generally. Tweeny, on the other hand, although illiterate, is easily a match for the men who pursue her; she quickly sees through Ernest and refuses his marriage proposal.

The Admirable Crichton criticizes a society where leaders are selected on the basis of heredity rather than on the basis of ability. Only when the characters are shipwrecked and social barriers stripped down is the natural leader of the group, Crichton, allowed to fully use his talents to benefit the group as a whole.

For Further Reference

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Geduld, Harry. Sir James Barrie. New York: G. K. Hall, 1971. Geduld offers plot summaries and extensive analysis of all the major works. Barrie's dramatic techniques, however, are better addressed elsewhere. Geduld tries to show that the sources of Barrie's fantasies in his works are his own psychological experiences.

Hammerton, J. A. Barrie: The Story of A Genius. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1929. Hammerton undertook to separate legend and anecdote about Barrie from verifiable fact. His illustrations of places and people important to Barrie and his works make this an important study. This is an update of Hammerton's earlier book, J. M. Barrie and His Books, published in 1900.

Mackail, Denis. The Story of J. M. B. London: Peter Davies, 1941. Published at the request of Barrie's two literary executors, Mackail's work acknowledges and supplements the work done by Hammerton.

Moult, Thomas. Barrie. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927. Moult uses early work by Hammerton, published in 1900, as the basis of his book, but it has no index, which limits its usefulness. The discussion of Barrie's works is mostly paraphrase, with little analysis.

Roy, James A. James Matthew Barrie. New York: Scribner, 1938. This book is an old, but perceptive discussion of Barrie's life and works. Roy styled his work as "An Appreciation" of Barrie.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 108

Birkin, Andrew. J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. London: Constable, 1979. Discusses the way in which Barrie, playing castaways with the Llewellyn Davies boys, was inspired to write The Admirable Crichton.

Blake, George. Barrie and the Kailyard School. London: Barker, 1951. Places Barrie’s work in its social and literary context.

Darlington, W. A. J. M. Barrie. London: Blackie, 1938. An appreciation of Barrie’s work by a noted drama critic.

Roy, James A. James Matthew Barrie: An Appreciation. London: Jarrolds, 1937. A useful commentary on Barrie’s works.

Walbrook, H. M. J. M. Barrie and the Theatre. London: F. V. White, 1922. The first detailed survey of Barrie’s dramatic work.

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