The Au Pair Man by Hugh Leonard

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Introduction

(Drama for Students)

The Au Pair Man, by the Irish author Hugh Leonard (John Keyes Byrne), was first produced and published in 1968. It is the first play in the collection Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard, which was published in 1992. The play is a reversed-gender Pygmalion, a 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw in which a professor makes a bet that he can turn a working-class flower girl into a lady. In The Au Pair Man, Eugene, a rough Irish bill collector, becomes a sexual slave to Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, a wealthy English lady, who tries to turn him into a gentleman. The play is a satirical allegory regarding the battle between Britain and Ireland. It is also a witty comedy of Anglo-Irish manners, full of amusing observations reminiscent of the styles of George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

Summary

(Drama for Students)

Act 1
The Au Pair Man opens in the London home of Mrs. Rogers. The doorbell rings, chiming the English national anthem. Mrs. Rogers answers the door. Her visitor is Eugene, an Irishman employed by the furniture company Weatherby and Fitch. He has come to collect payment on a wall unit that she bought some time before but never paid for. She is using it as a room divider, though it should be put against a wall. Mrs. Rogers explains that there was once a wall behind the unit, but it fell down. The wall unit is holding up what is left of the ceiling. Mrs. Rogers denies that she bought the unit, claiming it was a gift. Eugene says that Weatherby and Fitch have sent him, the newest employee, to collect Mrs. Rogers’s debt as an initiative test.

Mrs. Rogers plies Eugene with whiskey. She admires his fountain pen and asks to borrow it. She says that she has no intention of paying for the wall unit but acknowledges that if he fails to collect on the bill, he will be fired. She reassures him that there are other jobs. In fact, she is advertising for an au pair man. Her husband is often away selling his collection of stamps from the British colonies and needs someone to keep his collection in order, write letters, and pay bills. She emphasizes that she needs an au pair, not a secretary, as a secretary is paid but an au pair is not. She adds that Eugene would not be suitable. Eugene at first says he does not want the post as he wants a job with prospects, but then he demands to know why he is not good enough. She lists his failings, including dirty fingernails, ungrammatical speech, and body odor. Eugene is irritated that she is discriminating against him on the grounds of class.

Eugene tells her that some time ago, a previous employee of Weatherby’s called Wilson took all her records and went to her house to collect the money that she owes. He did not return for a long time. When he finally reappeared, he looked emaciated and worn out. He offered to return Mrs. Rogers’s address to the firm in return for being reinstated in his job. Mrs. Rogers reveals that Wilson was her previous au pair man. Wilson had begged her to give him the job, but she had found him lazy, and his fountain pen defective. Two days earlier, he had left without saying goodbye. Though Wilson had told her that he had torn up her records, he was evidently lying.

Eugene says that he would never tell her that he had torn up the papers but would do so in front of her. He does so. Each time he makes a tear, Mrs. Rogers lets out a little groan. He asks her to make him her au pair man. Mrs. Rogers is evasive and vanishes into her bedroom. Eugene, thinking he will have to go back to Weatherby’s, tries to piece together the torn papers. Mrs. Rogers’s head appears through a hatch. She warns him that she is watching him. She asks him who he is. Eugene tells her a story of how he went to the cinema and was groped sexually by an unknown girl. He had reciprocated, but when the lights came on at the end of the film, the girl had looked at him and shouted, “You’re not Charlie.” Mrs. Rogers enters, wearing a negligee. Eugene tells her with some shame that he is not Charlie. She picks up the torn papers and puts them in...

(The entire section is 2,051 words.)