The Second Mrs. Tanqueray

by Arthur Wing Pinero

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Aubrey Tanqueray, a wealthy widower, is to be married to Paula Ray, a woman younger than he and of questionable character. Aubrey’s first wife did not contribute a great deal to his happiness. A daughter, Ellean, was born to the Tanquerays shortly before the first Mrs. Tanqueray died of a fever, the only warmth, in the opinion of one of Aubrey’s friends, ever to have come to the woman’s body. Ellean has spent most of her life in a convent and is planning to take final vows.

Cayley Drummle, a friend of Aubrey, discusses with him the inadvisability of marriage between members of different social classes, but Aubrey, intent on having warmth and companionship in his home life, is resolute in his determination to marry Paula. Aubrey has momentary misgivings, however, when Paula appears late at night at his apartment. Such conduct does not become a lady, Aubrey charges; it will cause talk among the servants. Paula’s opinion, indicative of her treatment of domestics, is that servants are merely machines to do chores and to appear for testimony in the divorce courts. Despite her glib pretenses, Paula, too, feels somewhat unsure about the social abyss that she and Aubrey are attempting to bridge. While she goes to put on her cloak, Aubrey, reminded by his servant that he has not opened the day’s mail, reads a letter from Ellean in which she tells him that she has communed with the spirit of her mother, who has admonished her to return to Aubrey in his loneliness. Perplexed, he is unable to foresee happiness between his daughter and his wife-to-be.

Two months after their marriage, the unhappiness of the Tanquerays in their domestic life is apparent to all their friends. Paula is bored with the inactivity of country life at Aubrey’s house in Surrey, and Aubrey is apprehensive about Ellean and Paula’s incompatibility. Both women wonder why their neighbors do not call on them.

Since her arrival, Ellean has become a barrier between her father and stepmother because of her life in the convent. Although Aubrey tries to throw the two women together, they soon show that they have nothing in common. When Cayley Drummle, who is staying at an adjoining estate, calls on the Tanquerays, he becomes the confidant of both Paula, who expresses her wishes for the life she knew before her marriage, and Aubrey, who expresses keen disappointment regarding Ellean’s lack of interest in meeting eligible young men. Benevolent Drummle encourages Mrs. Cortelyon, his host at the neighboring estate and Aubrey’s longtime friend, to call on Paula. Although Aubrey sees through Drummle’s efforts, he appreciates Mrs. Cortelyon’s visit and her invitation to have Ellean as her guest in Paris during the Easter holiday.

Paula resents Mrs. Cortelyon’s attentions to Ellean, who makes no attempt to conceal her preference for a member of her father’s social set. Mrs. Cortelyon makes the situation more awkward when she courteously and straightforwardly tells Paula that her memories of Aubrey’s first wife can never be erased by the presence of another woman in the Tanqueray house.

Feeling excluded from her husband’s life, Paula spitefully sends a letter to Sir George and Lady Orreyed, the latter a friend of Paula in her former way of life. Aubrey had earlier forbidden Paula to send an invitation to the Orreyeds because he does not wish to have Ellean associating with such boisterous and unconventional people.

Ellean goes to Paris with Mrs. Cortelyon, and the Orreyeds come to visit the Tanquerays. During their visit they insult their hosts because of the limited supply of liquor in the house,...

(This entire section contains 1228 words.)

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break furniture in the heat of a marital squabble, and loll about in unbecoming positions. Their crudeness is offensive to Paula, but having invited them she cannot, under the circumstances, ask them to leave; she can only hate them.

Although Aubrey’s purpose in marrying Paula had been partly to show her kindness, he has been unable to do so because Paula, always on the defensive, will not accept his attentions. Drummle, having known Paula in her former situation, is seemingly capable of mellowing her. It is he who, on learning that Paula has intercepted letters from Mrs. Cortelyon and Ellean to Aubrey, convinces her that such conduct is only breeding much of the unhappiness that she is enduring. Paula gives the letters to Aubrey, who forgives her maliciousness in keeping the correspondence from him.

After Aubrey tells her of his disappointment and the frequent embarrassment he feels because of her common jokes and paltry cynicism, Paula admits that she has not been fair to him and Ellean, and she asks for another chance to prove herself when Ellean returns from Paris and London. Mrs. Cortelyon and Ellean return soon afterward, the older woman anxious because she has not heard from Aubrey regarding his reaction to Ellean’s romance with Captain Hugh Ardale. The courtship has been the subject of the letters Paula was intercepting.

Deeply in love with Ardale, a British soldier stationed in India, Ellean approaches Paula to share the story of her good fortune. Paula rebuffs Ellean at first, saying that the girl is being kind only because she is soon to be married. Then, after confessing her bitter jealousy, Paula reconciles with Ellean and expresses her joy for Ellean in her newfound happiness.

Ardale, who has accompanied Ellean and Mrs. Cortelyon home from Paris, arrives at the Tanqueray house from a nearby hotel. Paula, after telling Ellean that she and Ardale have met before, says that she wants to talk with him about Ellean. Alone, Paula and Ardale recall the time when she had been his mistress. When Paula tells him that Aubrey must be informed of Ardale’s past, Ardale threatens suicide if Paula interferes to prevent his marriage to Ellean.

Told of Paula and Ardale’s past relationship, Aubrey refuses to allow Ellean to see Ardale again. Shocked by her father’s attitude, Ellean guesses that Paula has influenced Aubrey against Ardale. When Ellean presses Paula for an explanation, Paula cannot bring herself to divulge her past life to her stepdaughter. Ellean then tells Paula that she can surmise what Paula has told Aubrey and that she has known from their first meeting that Paula is not a good woman.

Ardale sends a note to Paula, telling her that he is going back to Paris to await any word that she or Aubrey may want him to have and asking that they explain the situation to Ellean. After Aubrey has read the note, at Paula’s request, they discuss philosophically what the future might hold for them together. Paula says that the only great distances in the world are those that people carry within themselves, the distances that separate husbands and wives, and she predicts that Aubrey will tire of her in the future.

Drummle returns to discuss with Aubrey the affair of Ellean and Ardale. As the men talk, Ellean appears and asks her father to go quickly to Paula. After he leaves, the young woman tells Drummle that when she went to Paula’s room to apologize for her unkind remarks, she heard a body falling. Entering the room, she found Paula dying. Ellean says that she, in her unkindness, has helped to kill Paula.