Dandy Dick Notes

Arthur Wing Pinero was born on May 24th, 1855, the son of a Portuguese-Jewish solicitor in London. At ten, Pinero left school to work in the family law office, but gave up studying law when his father died nine years later, electing to become an actor. He found work in Liverpool and Edinburgh, and was invited by Henry Irving, the legendary stage actor, to join the Lyceum Theater Company upon his return to London. During this time he had also begun writing plays, and in 1877 saw one of his brief one-acts used as a curtain-raiser at The Globe Theater. He premiered his first full-length play, also his first great success, The Squire, in 1881; realizing that he did better as a writer than as an actor, he gave up his career on the stage and devoted his time to writing and directing his own plays.
Pinero’s plays can generally be divided into three segments; his early work in farce, his serious period between 1893 and 1919, and his final years, where he tried unsuccessfully to draw an audience for his plays. Pinero came from the school of the pièce bien faite, or the “well made play”, which relies on tangled, but decisively resolved plot structures. The term is typically applied to farces and comedies, which constitute most of Pinero’s early plays. Some of Pinero’s best early works are The Magistrate (1885), The School Mistress (1886), and Dandy Dick (1887). Pinero himself accredited another English dramatist as inspiration for his plays; Tom Robertson was one of the first English playwrights to introduce more realistic sets into the theater and to do away with conventional dramatic devices such as the aside and soliloquy. Pinero carried these innovations into his own work, paying homage to Robertson with Trelawney of the Wells in 1898, in which he used doors with real knobs and hinges, fires in the fireplaces, and pointed comments about the ale and food in the pub scenes.
Pinero also hinted at a progressive attitude in his early comedies; he often criticized the Victorian double-standard against women, his plot lines frequently revolving around intelligent, witty women constrained by Victorian principles and the need to maintain their respectability. He also enjoyed turning traditional symbols of “decency” into comic figures; in Dandy Dick, for example, he portrays the Dean of a small town as an indebted ex-gambler, who is again tempted by the race track when a tip on a horse may enable him to give a promised donation of ₤1,000 to help rebuild the church spire. Pinero’s “witty woman” comes in the form of the Dean’s widowed sister, a fast-talking horse owner who goes by the name of George Tidd in the racing world. Unlike most of Pinero’s heroines, she is more concerned with her reputation on the track than in society, but when she becomes embarrassed at her feminine side, one can see it is a slightly different take on the same topic. During his serious period, Pinero examined Victorian society with more shrewdness than the casual, biting wit of his farces.
Pinero’s serious period began in 1889 with The Profligate, which was not a commercial success. He had better luck in 1893 with what has been hailed as his most important work, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. Admittedly dark in theme, the play had been written in 1891, but was not produced until 1893 because of the subject matter and the difficulty of finding an actress to play Mrs. Tanqueray. Finally produced with Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Mrs. Tanqueray, the play was a huge success. The plot was rather risqué in its day, tracing the downfall of Paula Tanqueray, whose less than virtuous past comes back to haunt her when her step-daughter becomes engaged to one of her former beaus. Facing public disgrace, Paula commits suicide, while the play’s male protagonists escape unscathed. While critics later condemned Pinero for his treatment of the heroine, he was actually making a rather pointed commentary about society’s double standard towards women. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the critic J. P. Wearing wrote of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and its relevance: “If the play seems tame to modern viewers, it should be remembered that Pinero managed to induce society audiences to watch a play which condemned the hypocrisy of which they were culpable.”
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and other mid-career works such as Trelawny of the “Wells” and His House in Order cemented Pinero’s place alongside other great dramatists of his time, such as Henrik Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Maurice Maeterlinck. After being knighted in 1909, Pinero continued to enjoy a great deal of success, though none of his successive plays would be considered with quite the same importance as Mrs. Tanqueray. He remained an important figure in the London theater circle; he served as secretary and provident of the Benevolent Fund for Actors, chaired the Royal General Theatrical Fund, acted as an examiner at his alma mater, which became Birkbeck College and part of the University of London, and sat on the Council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for 20 years. During World War I he chaired the First Battalion of the United Arts Rifles of the volunteer Central London Regiment. After the war, popular tastes turned decidedly away from the construct of the “well made play” and the subtleties of Pinero’s brand of Victorian-era playwriting. Though he continued to write until his death on November 23, 1934, he no longer enjoyed the resounding success of his earlier years. Today, Pinero is little known outside of literary circles, and is best remembered for The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, though the significance of the play is often lost on today’s audience, and his farces are more often produced than his dramas; an unfortunate legacy for one of the most successful playwrights of his time.