Dear Brutus

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Characters Discussed

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Will Dearth

Will Dearth, who in the drawing room is a shaky, watery-eyed relic of what was once a good man. An artist at one time, he and Alice Dearth had loved madly. In the woods, he is a successful artist and the father of a daughter named Margaret. He claims credit for all of his daughter’s charm, except her baby laugh; this she lost when he allowed her to lose perfect faith in him. Back in the drawing room, he grants that he is not the man he thought he was. The Dearths, probably the only ones to gain by their revelation, may be able to breast their way into the light.

Alice Dearth

Alice Dearth, Will’s wife. In the drawing room, she is a woman of fierce, smoldering desires. Hers is a dark but brave spirit, a kiss-or-kill personality. In the woods, she becomes a vagrant woman, a whimperer who warns Dearth to take good care of Margaret, for her kind is easily lost. Returned to the drawing room, she lies about what happened in the woods. Although she resents losing her might-have-been station as “the Honorable Mrs. Finch-Fallowe” and her husband’s contentment with a might-have-been daughter, Mrs. Dearth shares his present interest in painting. She will try for compatibility, despite her avowal that her husband will not get much help from her.


Margaret, who in the woods is a beautiful and bewitching young girl. Her knowledge that “they” will take Dearth away stands between her and Dearth, to cloud their joy.

Mabel Purdie

Mabel Purdie, in the drawing room a good companion for her philandering husband. Feigning other interests, she is apparently indifferent to his affair with a woman of their set. In the woods, she becomes a charmer who carries on passionately with her husband. Again in the drawing room, she sees her husband for what he is. Indifferent, she pledges to stay by him as long as she cares to bother.

Jack Purdie

Jack Purdie, in the drawing room a brilliant, intellectual man accepted—in fact, liked—despite his unfaithfulness to his wife. In the woods, he walks alone. No woman can plumb the well of his emotions. Once more in the drawing room, he sees himself objectively; he is a philanderer with no prospect of change in store for himself.

Joanna Trout

Joanna Trout, in the drawing room a woman attractive in face and figure but dull and humorless in love. She imagines herself the natural mate for the strong-hearted Purdie. In the woods, married to Purdie, she is drab and complaining because he is unfaithful. Back to the here and now of the drawing room, she recalls the might-have-been experience sufficiently to realize that she and Jack are hardly worth sorrow.


Matey, in the drawing room the perfect butler, a general favorite among those who know him, despite his being a pilferer. In the woods, he becomes James Matey, a dishonest business tycoon, and the husband of the disdainful Lady Caroline. Among his real satisfactions is being called “Jim” by Lady Caroline. Back in the drawing room, although he returns reluctantly to normality, he makes the full change quickly. Confronted by a coffee tray, he picks it up and goes to the pantry.

Lady Caroline Laney

Lady Caroline Laney, in the drawing room a snobbish aristocrat, not so taken as others are by the thieving Matey. In the woods, she cavorts, uninhibited, with her handsome, brawny husband, Matey, answering gladly to his “Caroliny.” In the drawing room, like Matey, she retains her role into the return and is shocked when her Jim picks up the coffee tray. She then assumes her former manner.

Emma Coade

Emma Coade, an elderly, rounded woman called “Coady,” as is her husband. She is the most congenial of the ladies gathered at the scene. Mrs. Coade did not go to the woods, but she knows that the others did. She senses that Lob, their host, is behind these fantastic happenings. The fact that she is Mr. Coade’s second wife adds to her sadness when she learns of her husband’s second-chance experience.

Mr. Coade

Mr. Coade, in the drawing room a gracious, older man with a gentle smile. Comfortably well-to-do, he has always meant to write a book but is always conveniently distracted. In the woods, he becomes a jolly, ne’er-do-well old bachelor. Later, in the drawing room, he is still gentle with Mrs. Coade in the same empty way; he sees himself as a genial, lazy old man who gained nothing by his second chance.

Mr. Lob

Mr. Lob, the wizened, ageless host to his guests, all of whom want a second chance. He is Puck from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in disguise, and he introduces his guests to the Midsummer Eve of what might have been.


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Barrie’s thesis—that the exigencies of human life are the fault of the individual, not of so-called Fate—is fancifully developed in DEAR BRUTUS by means of a folk superstition concerning Midsummer Eve. The play is fantastic and realistic at the same time, fantastic in that its characters are transported into the realm of the unreal, realistic in the perfectly candid way in which the various relationships among the characters are set forth.


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The play opens in a drawing room at the manor of a rather mysterious character named Lob—not Mr. Lob, just Lob. The room itself is dark, but through the French windows at the back of the room one sees Lob's garden bathed in bright moonshine. Into the dark room Lob's guests begin to appear, entering from the adjoining dining room, where they have just finished the evening meal. Someone finds the light switch and illuminates the room. But the moonlit garden is still predominant. The setting of act 2 is the bright garden, or rather a moonlit wood, which has magically replaced the garden. Here most of the characters appear in their "might-have-been" lives. In the last act, the dream of the midsummer night is over and the setting is once again the dark drawing room in Lob's house. As the characters return from their midsummer night's experience in the bright wood, someone again finds the light switch and illuminates the room. Here reality returns. Temporarily still in their dreams, the characters find in Lob's drawing room the familiar furnishings, tea sets, and Lob himself to help them awake into reality.

Literary Qualities

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Formally, Dear Brutus is a dramatic comedy. Complications are introduced in act 1, reversed in the magical woods in act 2, and resolved in act 3. Like Shakespeare and Keats before him, Barrie uses the myth of the magical midsummer night's dream to represent the abstract concept of love. No one can explain biologically why humans, like Mr. and Mrs. Coade, fall in love and stay in love over many years. No one can explain how human beings can be desperately in love with someone one moment, like Jack Purdie and Joanna Trout, and desperately at odds the next. For some, "the course of true love" does not run smoothly. In act 3, Barrie appears to agree with Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream— "Lord, what fools these mortals be."

Barrie also uses the symbols of light and dark effectively. Lob's sitting room is almost constantly dark, and when it is illuminated, the light is harsh and artificial. The natural moonlight that illumines the garden and the magical woods is always brighter, intruding as it does into the supposed reality of Lob's room. The audience is left with the question of which setting is real and which is illusion.

Social Sensitivity

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Dear Brutus does not employ sensational or shocking devices. The plot does include mate-swapping and is therefore clearly in the modern tradition. But although John is having an affair with Joanna Trout while he is married to Mabel (and an affair with Mabel while he is married to Joanna), the whole idea of infidelity is represented by nothing more scandalous than an occasional furtive kiss.

As in his play The Admirable Crichton, Barrie again pokes playfully at the aristocratic social structure of monarchical England. Alice Dearth finds no happiness in being the Honorable Mrs. Fred instead of the wife of the seedy painter Will Dearth. And the pretentious Lady Caroline Laney is most happy when she is the wife of the butler Matey, although, like Lady Mary in The Admirable Crichton, she cannot accept social disgrace when she returns to the "real" world of act 3.

For Further Reference

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Geduld, Harry. Sir James Barrie. New York: G.K. Hall, 1971. Geduld offers elaborate plot summaries of all the major works. Barrie's dramatic techniques are, however, best dealt with elsewhere. Geduld tries to root Barrie's fantasies in his psychological experiences. Contains a useful bibliography.

Hammerton, J. A. Barrie: The Story of a Genius. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1929. Hammerton, disturbed by the sloppy scholarship on Barrie, undertook to separate legend and anecdotal stories 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 J. M. Barrie and His Books, first 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 expands upon the work done by Hammerton.

Moult, Thomas. Barrie. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927. Moult uses Hammerton's early work as the basis of his book, but provides no index, which limits its usefulness. The discussions of Barrie's works is mostly paraphrase, with little useful analysis.

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

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