Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
James Barrie’s best plays are those in which he treads the thin line between “reality” and “fantasy” with the touches of fantasy adding a lively, imaginative dimension to the essentially realistic situations (except for PETER PAN, where touches of reality sharpen the meaning of the fantasy). QUALITY STREET is a charming “realistic fantasy” about a prolonged love affair that finally succeeds against the obstacles of time, age, and human misunderstanding.
Even in 1902, the subject matter and attitudes present in the play would have seemed dated, had Barrie not taken the edge off of the play’s realism with a number of adroit theatrical devices. His touch is light, sentimental, and gently ironic so that one is moved by the plight of the spinster sisters, but does not take them too seriously. By placing his story in an English provincial village during the Napoleonic wars and emphasizing period settings and costumes, Barrie further distances his action from the modern world and so justifies actions and speeches for his characters that would be excessive and trite in a modern context. But the appeal of the play can probably best be accounted for by the fact that in mood and feeling it is close to a fairy tale.
The specific fairy tale is “Cinderella.” Phoebe Throssel is the girl kept from her Prince Charming, Valentine Brown, not by conniving stepsisters, but by her intended’s perversity in enlisting in the...
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