Act 1

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

It is an October morning in a suburb near London, a city full of an “intolerable monotony” of brick houses and stone streets filled with tired people unwillingly going about their daily work. The suburb is generally unattractive, but near the end sits Victoria Park, an “oasis.” 

Overlooking the park is St. Dominic’s Parsonage, where the Reverend James Mavor Morell resides. Morell, an energetic, well-liked “Christian Socialist clergyman of the Church of England,” works in the sitting room with his typist, Proserpine Garnett. The pair discuss Morell’s busy schedule, and it’s clear that he is a very popular man whose presence is highly requested at lectures and meetings. 

As they confer, the Reverend Alexander Mill, referred to by his nickname Lexy, arrives at the parsonage late for work. Lexy is a curate and clergy member known for his immaturity and peculiar speaking style. 

Morell tells Lexy that his wife, Candida, is going to be arriving today from outside of the city to check on the men and retrieve some clothing for their children. Lexy admits that he doesn’t understand Candida, and Morell insists that all Lexy needs to do to understand is to find a good woman of his own—if he does, he’ll receive a “foretaste of what will be best in the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

Lexy lets Morell know that his father-in-law, Mr. Burgess, will be arriving at the parsonage soon to speak to Morell. Morell is shocked by this news, as it’s been years since Burgess came to the parsonage, and he leaves the sitting room. 

Proserpine begins complaining to Lexy about Morell’s affection for Candida, claiming he’s “making a fool of himself about her.” Lexy defends Candida and accuses Prosperine of simply being jealous, and in return, Candida accuses Lexy of constantly trying to copy Morell through imitation of his mannerisms and speaking style. 

Mr. Burgess, Morell’s father-in-law and Candida’s father, arrives at the parsonage. Proserpine fetches Morell, and Lexy leaves to begin his work. Morell is quite angry with Burgess, complaining about how he hasn’t come to visit Morell in three years and berating Burgess’s treatment of his clergy members. 

 Morell and Burgess fight about how to treat employees and servants properly and only manage to tentatively agree after Burgess admits that he has raised the wages for his employees. The two shake hands, and Burgess explains that he doesn’t want to be on bad terms with his daughter’s husband. As they’re shaking hands, Candida appears in the doorway. 

Morell and Candida passionately embrace as he apologizes for not picking her up from the train station. Candida greets her father and stops Morell’s apology by telling him that she did not travel alone but rather was accompanied by the young, timid poet Eugene Marchbanks. 

Marchbanks arrives inside with Candida’s luggage. Burgess offers to walk him home, but Morell invites him to stay for lunch. Burgess leaves alone, and Candida, Morell, and Marchbanks remain inside the parsonage. 

As Candida leaves to freshen up, Marchbanks attempts to decline the lunch offer, saying that Candida warned him it wouldn’t be a genuine offer. However, Morell insists that he is “very fond” of Marchbanks and demands he stay. 

Marchbanks suddenly becomes agitated and tells Morell he is in love with Candida. Extremely shocked, Morell quickly breaks out into “uncontrollable laughter.” He tells Marchbanks that one day he will find a wife of his own to love, but the two begin to argue aggressively, and Morell bans Marchbanks from ever coming back inside the parsonage. Marchbanks prepares to leave, but Candida returns and insists that he stay for lunch.

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Act 2