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Mrs. Warren's Profession

by George Bernard Shaw

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Characters Discussed

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Vivie Warren

Vivie Warren, the independent, confident, self-possessed, twenty-two-year-old daughter of Mrs. Kitty Warren. After finishing a rigorous academic program with honors at Cambridge, Vivie plans to become an actuarial accountant. Unlike many young women of her day, she hopes for a highly successful business career. She has lived at boarding schools all of her life and has had little contact with her mother and no knowledge of the family business. Vivie has taken a country cottage in Haslemere to devote herself to reading law in preparation for her business endeavors. Mrs. Warren surprises Vivie by inviting not only herself but also several male friends to share Vivie’s holiday. During their encounter at the cottage, Vivie learns the truth about her mother’s profession and comes to admire her mother for her strength and determination. She cannot, however, fulfill the role of devoted daughter that her mother would now like her to play. She admits to her mother that they are too much alike but maintains her resolve that her world will be different from that of her mother and that they must part—a typically Shavian touch of having the child reject the parent.

Mrs. Kitty Warren

Mrs. Kitty Warren, alias Miss Vacasour, an aging but financially secure madam whose work in prostitution was a result of economic necessity, not moral weakness. Born in poverty, Mrs. Warren saw only two choices offered her by society and unashamedly chose the vagaries of prostitution over the certain death of working in the white-lead factory. Although she makes no apologies for her profession, she does keep the actual nature of her work a secret from her daughter for twenty-two years. Now, Mrs. Warren attempts to assert her “maternal rights” over her independent and strong-willed child. Ultimately, the mother reveals her life’s work to her daughter but tells her that the business is no longer active. Mrs. Warren breaks from her role of street-smart businesswoman when Vivie rejects her after learning that she still engages in the business that profits by the weakness of others.


Praed, a friend of Mrs. Warren, a self-confessed “anarchist,” and the first to arrive at Vivie’s summer cottage. He realizes at once that Vivie is more serious-minded than her mother and her friends and tries to prepare Vivie for the experience she is about to have. A devotee of the gospel of art, Praed represents the life of fine art and culture that could be Vivie’s if she could accept her mother and her mother’s money.

Sir George Crofts

Sir George Crofts, a longtime friend and business partner of Mrs. Warren and part of her entourage to the country. Crofts, who is about fifty years old, takes an unexpected and uninvited romantic interest in Vivie that she finds distasteful. He unwittingly reveals that the prostitution business is still very active, thus adding to the rift between mother and daughter. He represents the life of aristocratic high society that Vivie firmly rejects.

Frank Gardner

Frank Gardner, a dandy, Vivie’s twenty-year-old would-be beau. Frank embodies the convention of “love’s young dream.” His and Vivie’s relationship becomes increasingly complex when a jealous Crofts reveals that Frank and Vivie could be half brother and half sister. This mystery is never resolved.

The Reverend Samuel Gardner

The Reverend Samuel Gardner, Frank’s father, the rector of a church located not far from Vivie’s summer cottage. The elder Gardner is another of the gentlemen from Mrs. Warren’s past. Their chance meeting proves an embarrassment to the reverend, who struggles to have his son follow his now-respectable example.


Liz, the sister of Mrs. Warren who once...

(This entire section contains 671 words.)

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shared her profession but who has attained respectability and even high social status through marriage. Her present life is unattractive to Vivie, but Kitty Warren idealizes her. She remains unseen but is much discussed.

Honoria Fraser

Honoria Fraser, Vivie’s mentor in the actuarial business. She does not appear onstage, but her influence on Vivie speaks for her.


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Sir George Crofts
Sir George Crofts, a tall, powerfully built man of about fifty, fashionably dressed, is a ‘‘gentlemanly combination of the most brutal types of city man, sporting man, and man about town.’’ He appears to lack any strength of character, as Mrs. Warren orders him about. Crofts becomes more assertive, though, with Vivie, as he pleads for her hand in marriage. His viciousness emerges after she rejects him when he informs her that she and Frank may be brother and sister. He represents all the social hypocrisy that Vivie deplores.

Frank Gardner
Frank is Vivie’s love interest in the play and possibly her half brother. He is a charming, welldressed, ‘‘good-for-nothing’’ man of twenty with an ‘‘agreeably disrespectful manner,’’ especially toward his father. He has no profession and must turn to his father to clear his debts. His interest in Vivie is sparked by her mother’s money, but when he discovers how that money was earned, he becomes moralistic, refusing to share it. His good nature emerges, though, when he decides not to pursue Vivie, noting that she would have a difficult time trying to support him.

Reverend Samuel Gardner
Reverend Gardner is a pretentious, booming, but essentially harmless man, ‘‘hopelessly asserting himself as a father and a clergyman without being able to command respect in either capacity.’’ Frank admits that he means well but continually embarrasses himself as he tries to gain others’ regard.

Mr. Praed
Middle-aged, gentlemanly Praed has an ‘‘eager, susceptible face and very amiable and considerate manners.’’ He is gentle and kind and selfdeprecating, as when he first meets Vivie and exclaims, ‘‘I hope I’ve not mistaken the day. That would be just like me, you know.’’ He often ‘‘seems not certain of his way,’’ especially in the presence of the strong-minded Vivie. Although he insists that he appreciates Vivie’s unconventionality, he continually tries to avoid conflict and embarrasses easily. Vivie judges ‘‘his anxiety to please’’ as a weakness in his character. Praed is devoted to what he calls ‘‘the Gospel of Art’’ and continually tries to interest Vivie, to no avail, in the contemplation and appreciation of beauty.

The ReverendSee Reverend Samuel Gardner

Mrs. Kitty Warren
In his ‘‘Apology,’’ Shaw praises Mrs. Warren’s vitality and outspokenness, her thrift and good care of her daughter, and her business sense, all indicative of the strength of her character. Her story of her difficult childhood and struggle to gain a comfortable life for herself and her daughter illustrates her endurance, and her lack of regard for social restraints reveals her courage. She is often domineering, however, expecting to control every situation she finds herself in. The reverend alludes to this quality when he admits that when he asked her to return his letters, she refused, insisting ‘‘knowledge is power and I never sell power.’’

Mrs. Warren can sometimes play the actress when she does not get what she wants. Her best role is that of a devoted mother, which she trots out in front of Crofts when he expresses his intentions to marry Vivie and in front of Vivie when she shows no sympathetic understanding of her mother’s choice of profession. Her love for her daughter becomes evident, though, in the pain she feels when Vivie rejects her.

Ultimately, she appears to have been weakened by the lifestyle she has lead. She convinces herself that prostitution is not a bad life for a woman and that she is truly helping the women she employs to better themselves. Vivie, however, forces her to face reality, and Mrs. Warren must admit that she has grown too comfortable in the life her profession has afforded her, which Vivie determines makes her quite conventional after all.

Vivie Warren
Frank’s description of Vivie as ‘‘hard as nails’’ proves an apt one in most of her dealings with the other characters. Vivie is an attractive, sensible, highly educated young woman whose intense selfconfidence can sometimes be overwhelming. She refuses to act in a traditional feminine manner, always speaking her mind and demanding that others treat her as an individual.

Her strength of character emerges in her hard work at university as well as in her relationships with others. She is obviously attracted to Frank, but she sees the shallowness under his charm and so refuses to take him seriously. Her relationship with her mother is more complex. At first, she appears a moralistic prig in her disapproval of her mother’s profession, but she shows real sympathy when her mother explains the difficult circumstances that led her into prostitution. Vivie’s ultimate decision to turn her back on her mother after she discovers that she has not given up her profession appears cold, especially when she dismisses her mother’s real suffering and quickly and happily returns to her work at the end of the play.