Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339
Elyot Chase, a handsome, thirtyish man. When the play begins, he is honeymooning at Deauville, France, with his second wife. Five years earlier, he had divorced Amanda, to whom he had been married for three tumultuous years, and then traveled around the world. When he sees Amanda again, he realizes that she is his true love. Together, they flee to Paris. Despite their bickering and fisticuffs, they remain reunited. Elyot, first performed by the playwright himself, represents the witty, irreverent, sophisticated Englishman that the playwright admired and saw himself as exemplifying.
Amanda Prynne, Elyot’s first wife, newly married to Victor Prynne. She, too, is honeymooning at Deauville as the play opens. She is the most vivacious character in the work. She is not only beautiful but also spirited, independent, and unconventional—a fit partner for Elyot.
Sibyl Chase, Elyot’s blond, attractive, twenty-three-year-old bride. Conventional, unimaginative, and innocent, she is Amanda’s antithesis and suggests the playwright’s dim view of the “nice” English girl. She implies to Elyot that she will tailor life to suit his whims.
Victor Prynne, a handsome man a few years older than Elyot. Stuffy and stodgy, he lacks a sense of humor. Like Sibyl, he is shocked by the elopement of Elyot and Amanda; when he and Sibyl catch up with the other couple, he chivalrously offers to divorce Amanda even though he deeply loves her. He wants to make over someone’s life and takes it upon himself to do so for his new wife. This drives her back into the arms of Elyot. Sibyl is his true soul mate, and their fierce quarreling at the end of the play, mirroring the battles between Amanda and Elyot, indicates that the conventional Victor will end up paired with her.
Louise, Amanda’s French-speaking maid. She makes a brief appearance in the third act. Her inability to speak English and her incomprehension of the bizarre occurrences in the apartment provide a number of laughs.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 810
Elyot Chase The witty and cynical Elyot is the male lead, whose love/hate relationship with Amanda forms the centerpiece of Private Lives. Though his occupation (if any) is unidentified, he is wealthy and fashionable, accustomed to luxury, and self-indulgent In conversation, his habit is to "be flippant" and mock traditional social conventions; if he has a philosophy, it lies in his refusal to ever be serious, in defiance of "all the futile moralists who try to make life unbearable." He holds to no Great Truths; everything is "nonsense'' in the long run, nothing is eternal, and the intelligent response is to live for the moment and savor all pleasures, to "be superficial and pity the poor philosophers" who search for higher meanings and moral truths.
For all his eloquent rebellion, however, Elyot has his insecurities, and is not unaffected by social expectations. At the play's beginning, he has willingly entered into a conventional marriage; though it appears doomed and promises to be unfulfilling for him, he is resigned (before meeting Amanda again) to acting out the shallow role of husband. Confronted by Victor in Act HI, he doesn't defend his actions, admitting that he is completely in the wrong, and that his flippancy is meant "to cover a very real embarrassment." Though he is wise to its hypocrisies, Elyot is not immune to society's demands—just as he is not immune to his attraction for Amanda, despite the bitter history of their marriage, and the violent jealousies they inspire in each other.
Sibyl Chase Sibyl is Elyot's second wife, seven years...
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younger than her husband; but although she is the newly wed "Mrs. Chase," she is quickly thrown together with Victor Prynne by their shared fate. From the end of the first Act, she and Victor become a kind of "couple," traveling together as they seek justice from their wandering spouses As a couple, they balance the central pairing of Elyot and Amanda, and while they are the "wronged parties,'' they are meant to receive little sympathy from the audience. As Coward has sketched them, they contrast unfavorably in every sense with the passionate, witty couple at the heart of the action.
In comparison to Amanda, Sibyl is shallow, inexperienced, and unreflective, dutifully acting out her social roles with a false, exaggerated femininity. As the blushing bride, she is bubbly and romantic, deferring to her husband and denying any intention to "manage" or run his life. Cast as the abandoned wife, she gives way to dramatic tears and self-pity, while demonstrating an ability to "manage" both Victor and Elyot in order to get her way. Coward leaves her character relatively undeveloped; like Victor, she is a superficial foil for the sophisticated protagonists, Elyot and Amanda.
Louise Louise is the maid at Amanda's Paris flat, a minor character; she appears briefly in Act in, primarily to serve breakfast to the four protagonists.
Amanda Prynne As Coward's heroine, Amanda is sharp-witted and glamorous, strong-willed and passionate. By abandoning Victor (and by being sexually active while unmarried), she defies the conventional, reserved, and subordinate role for her gender—especially as dictated by the society of the first half of the twentieth century. Her relationship with Elyot, though hopelessly plagued by their hateful bickering, also offers a more equal—and honest—alliance than that with the stodgy Victor: she and Elyot are intellectual equals and comfortable companions, at least in the moments between their violent conflicts.
Though she and Elyot mock the formalities of aristocratic manners, Amanda is well-versed in social conventions and their power to smooth over conflicts. If Elyot's philosophy is to "be flippant," hers is to "behave exquisitely"; like Elyot's, Amanda's strategy serves to cover the embarrassment of facing the consequences of their actions and to distance herself from the uncomfortable realities of their volatile relationship.
Victor Prynne Steadfastly conventional and self-consciously masculine, Victor is the conservative counterpart to Elyot's rebellious flippancy. Habitually "serious," proper, and moderate in all things, he is paternally protective of Amanda; yet his formal, dignified posturing seems to cover a bland and passionless nature. When he confronts Elyot in Act in, he strikes a belligerent pose, but Elyot sees through his blustering threats, calling him "all fuss and fume, one of these cotton-wool Englishmen"; unable to defend his own position, Elyot nonetheless expresses contempt for Victor: "[I]f you had a spark of manliness in you, you'd have shot me." In defense of his and Sibyl's "honor," Victor presents a caricature of manly chivalry, which evaporates completely when it is confronted and questioned by Elyot his violence is easily neutralized by Elyot's clever argumentation, but when his temper is roused, he is not above striking the woman he claims to defend. Like Sibyl, he is an underdeveloped character, a dull stereotype who serves as a background to highlight the brilliance of the unconventional protagonists