The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Blithe Spirit opens in the fashionable living room of the Condomines’ house in Kent. It is about eight o’clock on a summer evening. Charles Condomine, a novelist, and his wife, Ruth, have invited their friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman to join them for drinks and dinner with a local clairvoyant, Madame Arcati. Charles is planning a novel about a homicidal spiritualist and wants to observe the behavior of Madame Arcati during a seance after dinner. Before their guests arrive, Charles and Ruth discuss their maid, Edith, and their previous marriages (both were widowed in their mid-thirties). The fact is established that Charles, while he loves Ruth and is content, was also very attached to his first wife, Elvira.

The Bradmans arrive, eager to be entertained but decidedly skeptical regarding anything spiritual or occult. All four feel sure that Madame Arcati will be a harmless fraud. Madame Arcati, an older woman dressed somewhat eccentrically, enters, having parked her bicycle outside. She is vigorous and articulate, not at all the dotty village spinster; she drinks dry martinis and is abreast of village gossip.

After dinner, the seance begins around a small table in the living room. Madame Arcati traces her history of supernatural revelations back to her childhood and tells about Daphne, her child contact from “the other side.” Before she begins, she starts playing the record “Always”; Charles objects but is overruled. Much to the surprise of the two couples, there are supernatural manifestations—the table trembles, Madame Arcati falls into a trance, and Charles hears the voice of Elvira. Frightened, he wakes Madame Arcati, and the party breaks up. As Charles shows the Bradmans out, in walks the ghost of Elvira, gray from head to foot. Only Charles can see and hear her, and he and Ruth immediately quarrel about her presence. Believing that Charles is drunk, Ruth goes off to bed in a huff. The cross-conversation between Charles and Ruth and Charles and Elvira is quite amusing. Finally, the curtain falls on Charles lying on the couch while Elvira,...

(The entire section is 854 words.)