Near the beginning of Harley Granville-Barker’s THE MADRAS HOUSE, the protagonist, Philip Madras, says “what are the two most important things in a man’s character? His attitude towards money and his attitude toward women.” That states the subject matter of this lively, provocative drama—money, women, and the relationship between them in Edwardian England. Although the play is loosely structured around the pending sale of Madras House, the real action of the play centers on two dynamic characters who challenge the social and moral assumptions of upper-class English society: Miss Yates, an employee of the firm and a soon-to-be unwed mother, and Constantine Madras, the returning black sheep of the Madras family.
Marion Yates’s assault on Edwardian propriety comes from the fact that she refuses to accept either of the roles assigned a girl in her situation; she is neither a “bad girl” nor a “victimized” one. She asks no favors, declines to name the prospective father, and, finally, refuses all offers of financial aid.
Constantine presents a different kind of moral challenge. An incorrigible philanderer, he left his wife in England and went to a country, Southern Arabia, where he could indulge his sensual instincts free from social restraints. He found a religion, Muhammedanism, which allowed him to do so without hesitation or guilt. His casual sexuality shocks his proper English relatives, but his rational defenses of...
(The entire section is 566 words.)