Historical Context

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At the time that Hellman wrote The Children's Hour, in 1934, the United States was still mired in the economic doldrums of the Great Depression. Europe, too, was struggling with economic collapse, fomenting a political struggle between fascism and other economic/political systems that would finally erupt into World War II in 1939.

The chief figures in the political upheaval in Europe were Adolph Hitler in Germany, Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union, and Benito Mussolini in Italy, all of whom held expansionist dreams of world conquest. But there were other players, too. It was in 1934 that Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss sought to stem political opposition on the left by suppressing all political parties except his Fatherland Front, while in Bulgaria, supported by the king, fascists staged a coup and grabbed political control. Even France, a staunch democratic republic, stood on the brink of civil war because of political corruption condemned by factions representing both the extreme left and right. In Germany, meanwhile, the National Socialist Party (Nazis) conducted a blood purge, destroying dozens of party members accused of plotting to kill Hitler and eliminating Ernst Rohm and Gregor Stresser and their more radical wing of the Nazi Party.

Hellman, a cosmopolitan writer who had spent some time in Paris in the 1920s, was very concerned with what was happening in Europe in the 1930s. Her German-Jewish heritage and liberalism made her a dedicated anti-fascist, and she would, in succeeding years, give time, money, and artistic dedication to that cause, returning to Europe in 1937 to witness the loyalist struggle against Franco and the royalists in the Spanish Civil War. However, most of bread-line America was basically disinterested in the increasingly unstable political situation in Europe. Many still adhered to the isolationist policy that gained favor in the aftermath of World War I, believing that America should concern itself with solving its own problems before worrying about what was happening abroad. There was a strong "America First" movement determined to keep the United States free of new foreign entanglements.

The nation was also too busy trying to cope with poverty and unemployment. In order to solve the Depression's negative impact on writers, in 1934, as part of the Works Project Administration (WPA), the federal government, under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the Federal Writers' Project, run by Henry G. Alsberg. It provided work for hundreds of writers, many of whom, from a conservative perspective, were much too radical. By that date, too, the Group Theatre had been in operation for three years, producing plays of "social significance," some of which, like Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty (1935) and Awake and Sing (1935), advanced socialistic views. The new thirst for social consciousness in serious art helped diminish the reputation of playwrights like Eugene O'Neill, whose works largely ignored political issues while probing the human psyche and becoming increasingly autobiographical in content

Although The Children's Hour lacks a political theme, it does indicate that Karen Wright and Martha Dobie have had to struggle to make a go of their school, hinting that the economic situation in America would put such a venture at grave risk. They have in fact had to depend on the support and good will of Mrs. Tilford, a very influential dowager. In general, however, the moral focus of the play transcends specific economic and political concerns. In some of her later works, notably Watch on the Rhine (1941) and Another Part of the Forest (1946), Hellman would evidence her political views.

The frank lesbian theme brought the play its notoriety, not the political views of its author. At the time, various groups, including federal, state, and local agencies, engaged in some form of censorship. An important example was the Hays Office, created in 1934 as a self-policing production code oversight agency by the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of American, Inc. (MPPDA) and headed by former Postmaster General Will H. Hays. Hellman, in deference to the dictates of the Hays Office, had to eradicate all traces of the lesbian theme in her film adaptation of the play.

The Play

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The Children’s Hour opens in the living room of the Wright-Dobie School for girls, on a late afternoon in April. Mrs. Lily Mortar reclines with closed eyes as seven girls sit sewing and an eighth girl, Peggy, reads Portia’s speech on mercy from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (pr. c.1596-1597). Mrs. Mortar establishes herself as affected and insincere amid the chatter of the girls and is easily manipulated by Mary, who enters late with a wilted bouquet. When one of the owners, Karen Wright, comes into the room, the atmosphere changes to one of respect from all the girls except Mary, who, having been caught in a lie, complains that Karen treats her unjustly and faints, grabbing at her heart.

Karen carries Mary offstage and then converses with her partner, Martha Dobie, about Mary’s troublemaking and about Mrs. Mortar’s unwelcome presence at the school. When Karen mentions that she plans to marry Dr. Joe Cardin later in the spring, Martha becomes nervous and accuses Karen of deserting her. Just then, Joe enters and goes to examine Mary, while Martha offers to send her aunt, Mrs. Mortar, to London. The aunt’s anger at her niece’s proposal climaxes when she accuses Martha of always having been “unnatural” in her feelings for women friends, an accusation which two of the schoolgirls overhear; the eavesdroppers reveal their presence by dropping a book.

When Joe reenters and discusses his marriage plans with Martha, she curses him and then cries on his shoulder. Karen returns and has Martha send for Mary and her two roommates, whom she assigns to separate quarters. Left alone, Mary forces her two friends to disclose the details of the conversation they have just overheard. She then determines to return to her grandmother and twists the arm of one of the girls, making her relinquish her allowance for Mary’s taxi fare.

In act 2, scene 1, Mary encounters her grandmother’s maid, Agatha, to whom she lies regarding her return home. Agatha has little sympathy for the girl and reluctantly summons Mrs. Tilford from her bath. Playing on her grandmother’s love for her, Mary complains about the conditions at school, embellishing her story about the supposedly unnatural relationship between her two teachers until she finally whispers unmentionable details. Mary’s story so convinces Mrs. Tilford that she telephones both her nephew Joe Cardin and the mother of one of the other schoolgirls.

Scene 2 begins with Agatha’s instructions to Mary that she welcome Rosalie, one of the girls, for the night. In the ensuing conversation between the two girls, Mary, who knows that Rosalie has stolen a bracelet at school, makes her promise that she will be Mary’s “vassal” and say whatever Mary demands.

Joe arrives and refuses to believe his aunt’s tales about his fiancee, who soon enters with Martha. The young women reveal that Mrs. Tilford has told all of their students’ mothers that their teachers are in love with each other; the mothers have removed their daughters from the school. Mrs. Tilford refuses to listen to the young women’s protestations of their innocence, so Joe summons Mary.

The girl reiterates her story but states that she looked through a keyhole in Karen’s door and saw Karen and Martha kissing. When Karen reveals that her door has no keyhole, Mary declares that she is merely trying to protect Rosalie, who peeked through Martha’s keyhole and circulated the story. Rosalie, when questioned, is initially confused, then denies the story; however, when Mary says something about the stolen bracelet, Rosalie becomes hysterical and admits that she saw her teachers embracing.

Act 3, set in November in the living room of the school, opens with a desultory conversation between Karen and Martha that reveals that they have lost a libel suit against Mrs. Tilford and, consequently, have been ostracized by the townspeople. Even the grocery boy giggles at them when he makes his delivery. Mrs. Mortar arrives from an acting tour and is surprised by her niece’s cold reception, caused by her refusal to answer the young women’s request that she return and testify on their behalf at the trial.

Joe enters and informs Karen that he wants to get married immediately and take her and Martha to Vienna, where he studied medicine. Throughout the conversation, Joe clearly feels uneasy about the future, and when he finally asks Karen if she and Martha have indeed loved each other, Karen sends him away for doubting her innocence.

Martha reappears, asks for Joe, and upon hearing his doubts regarding the young women’s relationship admits that she has indeed loved Karen in an unnatural way, although she had not been conscious of having done so until Mary had suggested the possibility. Karen cries, tells Martha to lie down and rest, and soon hears a gunshot: Martha has killed herself. Mrs. Mortar rushes in, and Agatha arrives, followed by Mrs. Tilford, who has been trying to telephone for six days.

Rosalie’s mother has found the stolen bracelet, and Mary’s story has unraveled, leaving Mrs. Tilford contrite, eager to explain and to apologize publicly. Karen decides that she will leave town after Martha’s funeral, and although she finally allows the older woman to help her financially, they part coolly, leaving only a hint that Joe and Karen may reconcile.

Dramatic Devices

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The methods which Lillian Hellman uses to characterize her most actively evil character, Mary, contrast with her subtler methods in the characterization of Karen. Mary is associated with a number of specific details: wilted flowers, a stolen bracelet, a broken vase, a twisted arm, and a faked heart attack. Such concreteness in imaging evil follows Dante’s technique in the Inferno. Karen, whose last name, Wright, is perhaps intentionally symbolic, comes to life in contrast to the more volatile Martha, who curses both her aunt and Mrs. Tilford. In characterizing Karen, Hellman relies not on specifics but on abstractions such as gentleness, dignity, pleasantness, attractiveness, and warmth, a device used by Dante in his Paradiso. Karen seems in touch with the internal world when she compares her ostracism to the “black mess” of dreams, the nightmare state which contrasts to the “solid world” of wakefulness. It is, however, the solid world, shown at its most destructive in Mary, which threatens to destroy Karen’s dreams.

Hellman also relies heavily on suspense, foreshadowing, audience involvement, and confrontation. She early reveals Martha’s jealousy of Joe, expressed not only to Karen but also to Joe and through Mrs. Mortar. The stolen bracelet is mentioned from the play’s beginning, when Karen expresses concern to its owner, Helen. The bracelet resurfaces regularly, so that the reiteration prepares the audience for its climactic use at the end of act 2. Mary’s lies also begin early in the play and gain intensity until they succeed in completely defeating Karen and Martha. Mary first lies about the wilted flowers, which had belonged to her teachers, then escalates from telling her grandmother how she had walked most of the way home to whispering her damning accusations in her grandmother’s ear.

The fact that Mrs. Mortar initially believes Mary’s lie that she has picked the flowers for her reinforces the gullibility with which Mrs. Tilford reacts to Mary’s tales. Because the audience is provided with a clear vision of characters such as Karen and the maid Agatha, who at once see through Mary’s deceit, it can react with indignation at Mary’s manipulations and her victims’ belief. Hellman does not hesitate to present head-on confrontations, such as those between Karen and Mary, between Martha and Mrs. Mortar, and between the teachers and Mrs. Tilford and Mary. These devices provide a fast-paced, tight, explosive plot.

The setting of The Children’s Hour, beginning in April and ending in November, comments indirectly on the growth from innocence to maturity implicit in the play. The faded flowers that Karen and Martha discard are recycled by Mary with devastating results; spring has lost its freshness, and only winter’s cold, which Karen welcomes as feeling “very good,” can end the cycle of decay and prepare the way for the eventual growth of fresh flowers.

Finally, the much-debated moralistic ending, indicative of Henrik Ibsen’s influence, is a typical Hellman device. Calling herself a moralist, she has explained that she likes to spell out the meaning of the issues her play has raised. Whether the play would have been more effective had it ended with Martha’s suicide is a matter of personal taste.

Places Discussed

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Wright-Dobie School

Wright-Dobie School. Girls’ school, near the fictional town of Lancet in rural New England, that is the play’s principal setting. A modest but comfortable private residential school, it uses a large converted farmhouse that contains both residential units and classrooms for a small group of middle-school girls. Karen Wright and Martha Dobie, the teachers and owners, also live in the building.

Although the action of the first and third acts occurs in the living room, the layout and location of the school are significant. Especially important is a lack of privacy. The schoolgirls easily overhear adult conversations that can be misinterpreted—to the detriment of Karen and Martha. The malicious schoolgirl Mary Tilford persuasively claims that she and other students have witnessed or overheard a sexual encounter between the two teachers.

The school’s rural isolation is important in the third act. The two accused teachers live alone, cut off from the village culture that rejects them and leers at them, making them feel they are prisoners on display. This isolation contrasts with the hope of escaping to Vienna, Austria, that Karen’s fiancé, Joe Cardin, offers near the end of the original script. In her 1952 revision of the script for a revival during Congress’s infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings, Lillian Hellman changed Joe’s proposed escape to a place even bleaker than the empty school—an unspecified American farming country in the middle of nowhere.

Amelia Tilford’s living room

Amelia Tilford’s living room. Home of Mrs. Tilford, the grandmother of the malicious Mary. The fact that Mrs. Tilford is wealthy but old-fashioned is reflected in her home, which appears to be in the village of Lancet; however, this is not made clear in the script. The size and comparative emptiness of her house are important in the play’s second act, when Mary has the opportunity to be alone with her schoolmate Rosalie, whom she intimidates into confirming her own story about Karen and Martha’s alleged sexual encounter. The house’s location near the center of village life and the visual evidence of Mrs. Tilford’s social and moral authority help to establish her power to close the school and to win the libel suit brought by Karen and Martha.

Literary Style

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Setting
The Children's Hour employs two settings. The first, used in the opening and final acts, is the living and study room of the Wright-Dobie School for girls, located in a converted farmhouse about ten miles from Lancet, a rural town in Massachusetts. The second, used in both scenes of the second act, is the living room of Mrs. Tilford's house, presumably in the town of Lancet.

The setting plays a significant role in the play, for it posits a small-town attitude and closeness—a place where news travels fast—which is evident in the snickering of the grocery boy in the third act. The community ostracizes Karen and Martha, which helps create the oppressive atmosphere that makes Martha's suicide believable. Because the women are sensitive to their community's censure, they come to believe that their alleged behavior will follow them wherever they go, that they will be unable to escape from their notoriety.

Structure
The Children's Hour has a conventional, linear plot, consisting of three acts, the usual format employed by playwrights at the time. The formal divisions into acts and scenes is used to demarcate a change of time, but each formal segment also ends at a decisive moment, following the tradition of strong scene closures at the curtain. These elements all contribute to what is referred to as a well-made play. It is a time-honored technique, fundamental to melodrama, whether good or bad.

Within the structural design of the play, time is handled in a strict chronological order. The action covers a period of about eight months, opening in April and ending in the following November. A key event that occurs in the interval is the civil suit brought by Karen and Martha against Mrs. Tilford. It is not presented on stage, but its dreadful impact resonates throughout the last act of the play.

Realism
Hellman works entirely within the limits of the realistic problem play. The Children's Hour is very suited to the box set, with the invisible fourth wall through which an audience witnesses the work in progress. It uses no devices or techniques to dispel the total illusion of that reality.

From beginning to end, the characters behave and talk like real people in a situation that seems entirely credible. Their dialogue, although very focused and congruous, captures the idiom and cadences of real speech, and the action, though hardly typical, is wholly within the realm of the possible. Even Mary's psychopathic behavior, though not accounted for, is uncomfortably realistic and its results entirely plausible.

Foreshadowing
To maintain the complete illusion of reality, Hellman eschews the use of various theatrical devices and conventions. However, she prepares her audience to accept events as plausible from clues or hints preceding them. Hellman foreshadows actions largely through character revelation, particularly in the cases of Lily Mortar, Mary Tilford, and Martha Dobie.

Lily reveals her self-centeredness from the very beginning of the play. Her vanity is fed by the flattery of her students, and she proves to be easy prey for Mary. She lives on her imagined triumphs of the past, retreating from present obligations. Her failure to respond to Karen and Martha's request that she return from Europe to testify at the trial therefore becomes almost inevitable.

Mary's lies, cajoling flattery, feigned heart attack, and abusive treatment of her classmates all prepare the audience to accept her vicious slander against Karen and Martha as completely consistent with her character. Although Karen and Martha recognize that there is something seriously wrong with the girl, Mary easily dupes Lily Mortar and intimidates most of her classmates. Agatha, Mrs. Tilford's maid, and Dr. Gardin are also wise to Mary, but their counsel is ignored by the girl's grandmother once she is convinced that Mary could not have fabricated her damning story.

Martha's eventual disclosure of sexual attraction for Karen and her suicide are also partly foreshadowed by her behavior earlier in the play. Her nervous agitation and angry recrimination towards her aunt suggest a troubled soul. It is obvious that she fears estrangement from Karen, as is evidenced in her jealousy of Joe Cardin and her ambivalent feelings towards Karen and Joe's impending marriage. Mrs. Mortar's biting remark about the "unnatural" feelings that Martha has exhibited towards Karen and earlier friends also echoes through the play, bearing a grain of truth that erupts m Martha's confused confession of her feelings in the last act.

Irony
Hellman also uses irony in The Children's Hour, a device often employed by realists because it need not destroy the illusion of lifelike fidelity while contributing greatly to dramatic impact. Dramatic irony exists in scenes in which there is a discrepancy in the levels of knowledge of the characters or the characters and the audience (what the audience expects of the characters). Such scenes are often suspenseful, for the audience awaits an inevitable "recognition," that moment at which a character is made aware of his or her ignorance. The effect can be devastating. The best example in The Children's Hour occurs in the third act, when Mrs. Tilford confronts Karen, completely unaware that Martha has killed herself. The disclosure breaks down all of Mrs. Tilford's reserve, for in that instant she realizes the irreversible damage she has caused and the guilt she must carry to the grave.

Irony in a lower key also exists at the end of the second act, when Rosalie Wells confirms Mary's claims that it was actually Rosalie who witnessed the lovemaking between Martha and Karen. The situation is doubly ironic, for Rosalie's credibility gains strength from the fact that she has been no friend to Mary and was deliberately chosen by Karen to become Mary's roommate because Mary seemed to have no influence over her. That Rosalie is being blackmailed by Mary is a fact known only to the two girls and the audience.

Form and Content

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Lillian Hellman structures The Children’s Hour into three acts. The first act presents events on an April day at the Wright-Dobie boarding school for girls. Fourteen-year-old Mary arrives late for her period with Lily, a teaching assistant, and lies about the reason for her absence. In reality, she was finishing Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835), by Théophile Gautier, a novel that includes scenes of homosexuality. Karen, one of the owners of the school, later catches Mary in this lie, and a struggle develops over whether Mary will admit it. Mary fakes a heart attack to prove her absence legitimate, and Karen’s fiancé, Dr. Joe Cardin, is called to look at her. Joe’s arrival brings out the discomfort of Martha, the school’s other owner and Lily’s niece, with his impending marriage to Karen. Lily’s clumsiness in dealing with Mary and the other girls leads Karen to suggest that they send her to London. Lily has talked often of her wish to go, and Karen believes they can afford to keep her there. Lily focuses on their wish to be rid of her, ignoring the better of their intentions, and blurts out her belief that Martha is doomed to unhappiness when Karen marries because of her “unnatural” love for Karen. Genuine privacy being almost impossible in the farmhouse school, the girls observe and hear some of what goes on between the adults. Mary later coerces this information out of the other girls and then decides that she will leave the school to avoid punishment.

The two scenes of act 2 are set at the home of Amelia Tilford, a society matron who is Joe’s aunt and Mary’s grandmother. In the first, runaway Mary looks for a way to avoid returning to school. Eventually, she hits upon a story that her grandmother simply must believe, that Karen and Martha are lesbian lovers. Amelia then telephones the parents of the other students. In the second scene, Joe, Karen, and Martha demand an explanation and then a retraction of the lesbianism charge. Meanwhile, Mary, by threatening to report a petty theft, forces Rosalie Wells, a fellow student spending the night at Mrs. Tilford’s, to support her story. Certain that Mary could not have made up this charge, Amelia refuses to retract it, and the teachers promise a libel suit.

The third act takes place in November, more than a week after Karen, Martha, and Joe have lost their suit against Amelia. Ostracized and ridiculed in their community, the teachers cannot bring themselves to go outside their now-empty school. Joe has remained loyal, but he cannot help his suspicions. He would like for all three of them to start a new life in Vienna, but Karen believes that this is impossible and sends him away to think for a few days about whether they should end the engagement. Martha tells Karen that she now believes she really does love Karen sexually, and Karen, attempting to deny any such feelings, makes it clear that her love for Martha is not sexual. Ruined, isolated, and despairing, Martha shoots herself. Then the deeply repentant Amelia arrives, having discovered Mary’s lie, to learn that she cannot undo the damage.

Context

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The Children’s Hour was the first and most successful of Hellman’s produced plays, with a long first run of 691 performances. The play received mixed reviews, was banned in several cities, and was passed over for a Pulitzer Prize, though later critics tend to agree that it was the best American play of 1934. Nevertheless, the play earned Hellman a small fortune and led to a well-paid screenwriting position with Samuel Goldwyn, where she quickly achieved further success with her screenplay for Dark Angel (1935). In 1936, she wrote her own well-received screenplay of The Children’s Hour, called These Three, taking out the lesbianism and substituting a love triangle, and ending the story with Karen joining Joe in Vienna after misunderstandings are cleared up. This early work established Hellman as the foremost of a small group of American women dramatists that included the older Susan Glaspell, along with Zoë Akins and Rose Franken.

During most of Hellman’s lifetime, The Children’s Hour remained important mainly as a good play by a woman, and it helped to sustain her reputation as a writer, activist, and social critic. During the years when the shadow of the House Committee on Un-American Activities lay over artistic life in the United States, the play in revival joined similar works, such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953), that commented on the power of ideologically motivated lies to distort social order and destroy dissent. In later years, the play became increasingly important for its presentation of sexual themes, such as the social control of female sexuality and the silence about and repression of lesbianism.

Hellman used the sexual themes as key parts of the social order out of which the play emerges, but there is little direct exploration of those themes in the play, suggesting that Hellman’s own feelings about lesbianism were quite complicated. Nevertheless, her portrait of the restraints and silences, the terrors and compulsions surrounding the lesbian theme rings true and thereby helps to open up the fruitful and more complex exploration of this subject that has followed.

Bibliography

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Armato, Philip M. “Good and Evil’ in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour.” In Critical Essays on Lillian Hellman, edited by Mark W. Estrin. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Bigsby, C. W. E. 1900-1940. Vol. 1 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. A chapter on Hellman evaluates The Children’s Hour’s themes and explores its relationship to Hellman’s life.

Falk, Doris. Lillian Hellman. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978. A biographical study that includes summaries of Hellman’s works and information about the composition, production, and reception of her plays.

Lederer, Katherine. Lillian Hellman. Boston: Twayne, 1979. This critical examination of Hellman’s works includes a good discussion of her sources for The Children’s Hour, as well as a biographical chronology and sketch and an annotated bibliography.

Moody, Richard. Lillian Hellman: Playwright. New York: Pegasus, 1972. This early biography includes information about the composition and two main New York productions of The Children’s Hour and stills from several productions.

Reynolds, R. C. Stage Left: The Development of the American Social Drama in the Thirties. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1986. Examines Hellman’s literary world and the contribution made to it by The Children’s Hour.

Rollyson, Carl. Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. This literary biography offers a full account of the complex and elusive playwright. The Children’s Hour receives extensive treatment. Contains many photographs of Hellman and her associates.

Wright, William. Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. This readable popular biography is less concerned with analysis of her work than with a detailed narrative of Hellman’s life. Contains an interesting selection of photographs.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Atkinson, Brooks. Review of The Children's Hour in the New York Times, December 19,1952, p. 35.

Atkinson, Brooks. "The Play—The Children's Hour, Being a Tragedy of Life in a Girls' Boarding House" in the New York Times, November21,1934,p 23.

Beaufort, John "Tragic 'Children's Hour'" in the Christian Science Monitor, December 27,1952, p. 4.

Bentley, Enc. "Hellman's Indignation" in the New Republic, Vol CXXVH, January 5,1953, pp. 30-31.

Bentley, Enc. "The American Drama 1944-1954" in American Drama and Its Critics, edited by Alan S Downer, University of Chicago Press, 1965, p 199.

Gniber, Ide. Review of The Children's Hour in Golden Book, Vol. XXI, February, 1935, p. 28A

Hammond, Percy. "The Theatres—'The Children's Hour,' a Good Play about a Verboten Subject" in the New York Herald Tribune, November 21,1934, p. 16

Hellman, Lillian. Pentimento, New American Library, 1973, p. 127

Hellman, Lillian "Introduction" in Six Plays, Modern Library, 1960, pp viii- IX

Hobe. "Plays on Broadway; The Children's Hour" in Variety, December 24,1952, p 50

Krutch, Joseph Wood ''Drama, The Heart of a Child'' in the Nation, Vol. 139, December 5,1934, p 657.

Krutch, Joseph Wood "The Tragic Fallacy" in Tragedy Vision and Form, edited by Robert W. Corngan, second edition, Harper & Row, 1981, pp 227-37.

Miller, Arthur "Tragedy and the Common Man'' in Tragedy Vision and Form, edited by Robert W Corngan, second edition, Harper & Row, 1981, pp. 168-70.

Further Reading
Adler, Jacob H. Lillian Hellman, Southern Writers Series, No. 4, Steck-Vaughn, 1969. A 44-page pamphlet, this brief study gives much of its limited space to a discussion of The Children's Hour, The work "also analyzes Hellman's artistic indebtedness to both Ibsen and Chekhov and the critical judgment that her plays often "lapse into melodrama."

Estnn, Mark W. Lillian Hellman, Plays, Films, Memoirs A Reference Guide, G K. Hall, 1980. A primary source book for research, this is a recent annotated bibliography on Hellman, part of the "Reference Guide to Literature" scenes.

Falk, Dons V Lillian Hellman, Fredenck Ungar, 1978. A critical biography gleaned from Hellman's work, this study presents a synopsis of each of Hellman's plays and also features discussions of realism, and the impact of the Depression and World War II on Hellman's craft.

Lederer, Katherine. Lillian Hellman, Twayne, 1979. A useful bio-critical study of Hellman, this work provides an excellent base for further study of the playwright's work. It starts with a biography, then covers all of Hellman's plays and nonfiction It also includes a chronology and selected bibliography.

Moody, Richard Lillian Hellman, Playwright, Pegasus, 1972. Both a biographical and critical study, the work covers all of the playwright’s dramatic works. It includes a helpful summary of "Closed Doors, or, The Great Drumsheugh Case" (pp 38-40) on which Hellman based her play.

Rollyson, Carl Lillian Hellman Her Legend and Her Legacy, St. Martins, 1988. The most up-to-date, comprehensive and detailed biography of Hellman, this study stresses the playwright's complex character, especially her many contradictions as seen in her various affairs and feuds. Several photographs are included.

Roughead, William Bad Companions, Duffield and Green, 1931. This book includes the essay "Closed Doors, or, The Great Drumsheugh Case," which provided Hellman with the idea and basic situation of The Children's Hour.

Turk, Ruth, Lillian Hellman- Rebel Playwright, Lerner, 1995. A study designed for young adults, but useful for the general reader and recommended as a quick overview of Hellman's career It includes several photographs and a brief bibliography of works suitable for younger researchers.

Wright, William Lillian Hellman, Simon & Schuster, 1986 Published two years after Hellman's death in 1984, this critical biography, attempting to tie the "image" of Hellman to the "woman," draws an intimate and respectful picture of the playwright, despite the fact that she fought to obstruct Wright's research.

Bibliography

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Armato, Philip M. “Good and Evil’ in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour.” In Critical Essays on Lillian Hellman, edited by Mark W. Estrin. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Bigsby, C. W. E. 1900-1940. Vol. 1 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. A chapter on Hellman evaluates The Children’s Hour’s themes and explores its relationship to Hellman’s life.

Falk, Doris. Lillian Hellman. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978. A biographical study that includes summaries of Hellman’s works and information about the composition, production, and reception of her plays.

Lederer, Katherine. Lillian Hellman. Boston: Twayne, 1979. This critical examination of Hellman’s works includes a good discussion of her sources for The Children’s Hour, as well as a biographical chronology and sketch and an annotated bibliography.

Moody, Richard. Lillian Hellman: Playwright. New York: Pegasus, 1972. This early biography includes information about the composition and two main New York productions of The Children’s Hour and stills from several productions.

Reynolds, R. C. Stage Left: The Development of the American Social Drama in the Thirties. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1986. Examines Hellman’s literary world and the contribution made to it by The Children’s Hour.

Rollyson, Carl. Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. This literary biography offers a full account of the complex and elusive playwright. The Children’s Hour receives extensive treatment. Contains many photographs of Hellman and her associates.

Wright, William. Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. This readable popular biography is less concerned with analysis of her work than with a detailed narrative of Hellman’s life. Contains an interesting selection of photographs.

Compare and Contrast

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1930s: The Great Depression brings great suffering to America, with attempts to blunt the hardship with the ''New Deal" policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Reforms include social welfare programs designed to alleviate the plight of the poor and dispossessed. Conservatives condemned such measures as socialistic, and some of the reforms were blocked by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

Today: A fairly robust economy and nearly full employment contrast sharply with the conditions current in the Great Depression. Civil rights reforms and social welfare programs, some with a lineage that goes back to the liberalism of the 1930s, are now under attack from moderates and conservatives alike. Although it re-elected Democrat Bill Clinton president in 1996, the nation revealed its anti-liberal mood by installing a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

1930s: Private and public agencies exert powerful control over the arts. Common in theaters are "bannings," particularly in cities like Boston, where the mayor, supported by religious groups, threatens to close down productions that violate the community's sense of moral decorum. In film, the Hays Office imposes strict regulations on movies, prohibiting nudity, suggestions of sex acts or seduction, any unconventional (passionate) kissing, and the use of profane or obscene language.

Today: Although codes for rating films do exist, they serve largely as parental guides and not restrictions on what filmmakers can include in their art. Violent behavior, obscenity, nudity, and graphic sex are now common in R- and X-rated films. Commercial television avoids graphic nudity, sex, and language due to pressure from the religious right and fear of a drop in advertising revenue. The stage, however, freed itself from prevailing community standards even earlier, allowing nudity and vulgarity as early as. the 1960s.

1930s: In America, an open same-sex relationship is impossible. Most homosexuals remain "closeted," knowing that public exposure would costs them their livelihoods and community acceptance. Branded as degenerates and perverts, many homosexuals bear a powerful sense of moral shame and self-loathing.

Today: Many homosexuals have been "outed" in the gay liberation movement, and political correctness now argues that "alternative orientations" should be treated with respect equal to heterosexual ones, not just tolerated. Although some still view homosexuality as a perversion, there is little public condemnation of gays, and many celebrities, including political figures, have acknowledged their homosexuality. The AIDS crisis has contributed to the public awareness of the gay movement.

1930s: Although public education is on the rise, many children attend sexually segregated private schools, some of which are very small and exclusive. Such institutions proliferate due to poor public school funding

Today: There are still some private, sexually segregated schools left, but the number has dwindled considerably, despite the fact that support for private education was for a time rekindled by the racial desegregation of public schools. The cost of private schooling has become prohibitive for most American families, some of which resort to home schooling as an alternative to public education.

Media Adaptations

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 239

The Children's Hour was first adapted to film in 1936, released under the title These Three. It was produced by United Artists and Goldwyn Pictures, directed by William Wyler, and written by Hellman, who was obliged to remove the lesbian theme entirely The film features Miriam Hopkins as Martha Dobie, Merle Oberon as Karen Wright, Joel McCrea as Dr. Joe Cardin, and Alma Kruger as Mrs. Tilford. The film is available on video from Sultan Entertainment and through the Internet Movie Database (http:// uk.imdb.com).

The play was again adapted to film in 1961, released under alternative titles: The Children's Hour and The Loudest Whisper. It was produced by United Artists and the Minsch Company, and again directed by William Wyler. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Karen Wright, Shirley MacLaine as Martha Dobie, James Garner as Dr. Joe Cardin, and Faye Bainter as Mrs. Tilford. The film is available on video from MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Facets Multimedia, and through the Internet Movie Database.

A 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet, based on a 1981 book by Vito Russo, examines gay themes (often subliminal) in motion pictures and covers the 1961 film version of The Children's Hour. Narrated by Lily Tomlin, the documentary was directed and produced by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and features a host of celebrities offering commentary on the masked and open cinematic treatment of homosexuality. The documentary is available from Sony Classics and through the Internet Movie Database.

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