Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1520
Act IMiss Lulu Bett opens in the Deacons’ dining room, where most of the family is gathering for the evening meal. Over the course of the meal, Mrs. Bett appears, then Di’s friend Bobby, who is looking for a job mowing the lawn, and finally Di accompanied by Mr....
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Miss Lulu Bett opens in the Deacons’ dining room, where most of the family is gathering for the evening meal. Over the course of the meal, Mrs. Bett appears, then Di’s friend Bobby, who is looking for a job mowing the lawn, and finally Di accompanied by Mr. Cornish, who is carrying her party favors. After dinner, when Di and Mr. Cornish have already left, Dwight notices a letter on the shelf, which both Ina and Lulu forgot to tell him about. The letter is from Dwight’s brother Ninian, who lives in Oregon, and announces that he will arrive for a visit sometime the following week. Dwight teases Lulu that Ninian would have come sooner had he known how pretty she was. Then he and Ina leave for their study group. Soon thereafter, Bobby comes in from having cut the grass and Di returns home. Di flirts with Bobby, then tells him to leave, and she gets a snack to bring to Mr. Cornish, who is waiting on the front porch. Mrs. Bett and Lulu talk about how easily Di manipulates Bobby and wonder if Ina knows about this romance.
Scene ii opens a week later in the dining room. Di is talking tenderly to Bobby through the window. Then Lulu and Monona come into the room. Monona tells Lulu that Ninian had been talking to Dwight about her; Ninian said hers was the best cooking he had ever tasted. Lulu is disgusted because men only notice her for her cooking. When Ninian comes into the room, he asks Lulu if she has ever married, and she says, no, from choice. Ninian tells Lulu that her family treats her like a slave and that she should have a life of her own. Although Lulu protests that the Deacons treat her well, she eventually admits that she would rather live under different circumstances, perhaps get an education or obtain a job where people appreciate her. Ninian hits upon the idea of taking Lulu to a show and dinner in the city, along with Dwight and Ina. Lulu protests that she should not go, but Ninian will not hear of it. He goes off to arrange the excursion, and he invites Mr. Cornish and Di as well.
When Dwight comes home, like his wife, he is surprised that Ninian convinced Lulu to make the trip. As Ninian explained to Ina, it is simple: he invited her. Lulu comes back, dressed for the theater, and soon the entire party has assembled. It is too early to leave yet, and Dwight jokes that they must find something amusing to do, otherwise ‘‘They’ll begin to read the funeral service over us.’’ Ninian asks, why not the wedding service, and says he would not object. Then he asks Lulu if she would. Ninian says, ‘‘I, Ninian, take thee, Lulu, to be my wedded wife,’’ and over Dwight’s protest, Lulu says her part. Dwight informs them that they now are married. He is a magistrate, and they have just performed a civil wedding, which is legally binding. At this news, Ninian expresses his pleasure at being married to Lulu. Although surprised that Ninian would want to marry her, Lulu agrees to stay married and go on a honeymoon in Savannah before returning to Oregon. When Mrs. Bett hears the news, she wonders who will do the work around the house.
Act II opens a month later. Di wants to go to the library, but Ina does not want to let her go since she has been out every night this week. Dwight says he supposes Bobby will be at the library. After Di has left, Dwight and Ina remark that they have not heard any news from Lulu and how they miss having her around the house. Suddenly Lulu appears, alone. She says that Ninian is on his way to Oregon. She left him after finding out he has another wife. Though he had not seen the wife in fifteen years and thinks she is dead, he is not sure, so Lulu could not stay with him. Ina sends Lulu to bed, and the family talks about the problem. Ina exclaims it is a good thing that no one knows about the scandal, which surprises Lulu. Dwight agrees with Ina, saying it would bring disgrace to the family. Lulu is concerned that the townspeople will think she had not been a good wife, but Dwight tells her that if she expects to return to live with them, she had better not tell anyone the truth. Lulu argues that the truth is better, but Dwight asks if he showed Lulu any proof that he had been married. Dwight says that Ninian was always making up stories and maybe he just wanted to get rid of Lulu.
The next night finds the family again bickering over Di’s trip to the library. Di asks what happened with Lulu and Ninian, and Dwight tells her that Ninian deserted her aunt. Lulu enters and asks Dwight for Ninian’s address in Oregon. She wants to know the truth: if Ninian was married or if he was just lying to get rid of her. Dwight does not want to give her the address, and Lulu threatens to tell the whole town the story. Even Dwight’s threats to turn her out of the house do not deter her. In the end, Dwight volunteers to write Ninian himself, and Lulu mails the letter. However, Dwight and Ina are going to visit Dwight’s aunt, and Lulu wants to open Ninian’s letter should it come while Dwight is away. Dwight refuses. Lulu acquiesces, but after she goes inside, Dwight and Ina remark how changed she is since Ninian’s arrival. Dwight further calls Lulu a ‘‘brazen’’ woman for marrying Ninian in the first place.
A week later, the letter from Ninian sits on the piano while Lulu and Mr. Cornish are playing the instrument. Mrs. Bett opens the letter and inside is an old newspaper clipping announcing Ninian’s marriage. Lulu is thankful to find out that Ninian had not lied to her and that he did not just want to get rid of her. As Mr. Cornish gets ready to leave, he asks Lulu to marry him. Mrs. Bett encourages her to accept the proposal, but Lulu refuses, and he leaves. Then Di appears with a traveling bag, ready to elope with Bobby. Lulu urges her to wait for her parents and get married at home, but Di says that her parents would simply laugh at the idea and ignore her wishes. Bobby shows up and tells Di they cannot get married because they are underage. While Di wants to lie about their age, Bobby will not lie about so serious a matter. Just then Dwight and Ina return. They want to know what is going on, and Mrs. Bett reveals that the whole town is talking about Di and Bobby wanting to get married. Di denies the rumor, and Dwight turns to Lulu for the story, but she will not tell. Bobby, upset that Di denied their affair, breaks up with her.
Dwight asks Lulu if a letter came for him and is upset when he sees it is open. When Dwight learns what Ninian has to say, he thinks Lulu is worse off, for she lived with Ninian without being married to him. Lulu and Dwight argue about whether or not she will keep the truth from the townspeople. She wants people to know that Ninian has a first wife, but Dwight feels it will bring disgrace upon him and the family. Only when Dwight points out that Ninian could go to prison for having committed bigamy does Lulu agree to keep the affair secret.
Later that day, Lulu has made her decision to leave. She does not want to stay and have the townspeople think that Ninian did not care for her, nor does she want to resume work in Dwight’s kitchen. With the blessing of her mother, Lulu departs for the train station. When the family comes down, they discover that breakfast is not ready. Eventually, Mrs. Bett tells them that Lulu has left. She says that Lulu wanted to get away from them, as Di did when she set out to elope with Bobby. No sooner has everyone left the room then Ninian enters. He has come to tell Lulu that his first wife is dead—and he has a letter to prove it. Upon finding out that Lulu has run away, he dashes off to the train station to catch up with her. Almost immediately, however, Lulu returns, and Mrs. Bett sends Monona to bring back Ninian. Lulu has heard from the station agent that Ninian is in town and she wants to know why. Dwight and Ina come in. They ask Lulu to remain with them, but she refuses. Ninian returns, and he affirms that his first wife is dead. He asks Lulu to forgive him, and she does, agreeing to go back to him.