The Glass Wall

A play in 3 Acts by EM Delafield - 1933

Act I
Play opens in Reverend Mother's sitting room in the Convent, which also runs a school.  Father Perry is shown in. As the conversation between him and REVEREND MOTHER proceeds, it is evident that FATHER PERRY is a cheerful, loud-voiced and unimaginative fanatic, completely obsessed by the interests of his Church and nothing else.  He is by no means REVEREND MOTHER's equal either in knowledge of the world or in intelligence, but of this he is innocently unaware".  He persuades Revd Mother to use her influence on one of the girls leaving school, Stella Mordaunt, to encourage her to become a nun rather than marry a rich protestant, Martin Faraday.

A year later we meet the Mordaunts. Morris Mordaunt is better educated than his wife, fond of her and of their children, but continually suspicious of their religion, which is not his, and resentful of its stong influence on their lives.  Stella has been visiting Rev Mother and her Father utterly forbids her to become a nun, swearing that if she does so he'll never speak to her again.  Her mother, though a devout catholic, is also appalled at the thought of her becoming a nun. Martin Faraday enters and discusses convent life with Stella. He thinks it's dreadful

MF: It's all wrong. I don't beleive anyone was ever meant to lead that sort of life. They didn't ever try to make a nun of you, did they?
S: They wouldn't try, of course, to make a nun of anyone. You don't understand. To become a nun - it's a special call - a - a vocation.
MF (sceptically) Is it?
S: Yes.
[They look strainght at one another in silence, for a moment. Then STELLA drops her eyes
MF: To go and shut oneself away from the world - isn't it like running away from life?
S (troubled) I don't think so. I don't know. Some - nuns - seem to keep in touch with the life outside.
MF: Do they? Do they really?
S (striving desperately after complete sincerity): No - I don't know - it's like a glass wall, between the people inside the Convent and - the ones outside. They can see out - and we can see in - but there's no contact.
MF: Don't ge behind that glass wall, Stella.
S: Sometimes I think I never could - but sometimes ...
MF: What, dear?
S: Sometimes I think I may - have - to go.
MF: No, not you. Not you of all people.
[STELLA lets him take her hands, moved by his earnestness, and her own wistful uncertainties.

Faraday declares his love for Stella, but she is ambivalent.  Mordaunt mentions to Faraday that he would have to promise to allow any children to be brought up as Catholic, and when Faraday wants to discuss this with Stella she says "there is nothing to discuss".

Six months later we're in Rev Mother's parlour. She rebukes a young nun: "You're not here to think for yourself, you know, but to obey. Try to remember that"  Stella comes in and has decided to become a nun - she has turned down Faraday because he is not a catholic.  Rev Mother tells Stella that she entered the convent because of a disappointed love.  Stella says: "I want to be your child always. Let me come here to you." and enters the convent.

Act II
10 years later we are at the convent in Brussels (it is not explained why the convent has moved to Brussels - or indeed whether the convent always was in Brussels, but how come they had no-one but English girls?)  Stella and another nun quarrel over who should do some service for Rev Mother. Rev Mother tells Stella that she (RM) has been ordered to found a convent in South America and they will probably never see each other again. 

S: When I left hom I thought it was because God had called me.  But that wasn't the real reason. The real reason was because you were a nun - and you were the most wonderful person I'd ever met - and you told me that God had given me my vocation to safeguard me from the temptations of the world.  And I made myself believe that it was true. But it wans't true - it couldn't have been. It wasn't God I loved - it was you, It's you now.

Stella asks to be released from her vows. Revd Mother is deeply disturbed, and having failed to talk Stella out of this (during which we learn that S's mother is dead and that her father is living in sin with another woman) RM relinquishes the charge of her soul absolutely.  She will never see her nor speak to her again.

3 months later, Stella comes to the family home, now occupied by her brother Tony, his wife (and Stella's former friend) Agnes and their children.  Tony gladly welcomes Stella but Agnes, encouraged by Father Perry, wants to get rid of her. Stella is completely crushed and desperate for somebody to love. Agnes won't let her spend any time with the children.  Finally Morris Mordouant arrives, summoned by a letter from Agnes, to take Stella away.   Tony is appalled
T: You can't go with him. You know how he's been living, since mother died. He's got a - a woman with him.
M: That will do. We're going to get this straight, Stella, you and I. Never mind anybody else. It's true enough that there was a woman. She's left me now, though - I'm by myself. She wasn't a bad sort. She was kind to me, after your mother died.
T: Keep my mother out of this.
M: She would have understood better than anyone. (To STELLA) I don't know whether you can - I suppose not - but --
T:  You've no business to --
M(to S): You see - I couldn't have gone on - without anyone - to love.
S (as if suddenly recognising him): Daddy!

This was produced in Feb 1932 at the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage. It was preceded by Strindenberg's one-act play The Pariah.

Marda Vanne played Revd Mother, Mary Casson (Sybil Thorndyke's daughter) was Stella,  Max Adrian played Tony and Douglas Burbidge (the original Dr Dale in Mrs Dale's Diary) played Morris Mordaunt.  The other parts were Ann Stephenson (Sr Dominic), Aubrey Dexter (Fr Perry), Christine Silver (Mrs Mordaunt), , Eric Berry (Martin Faraday), Jane Grahame (Agnes Sullivan), Betty Geary, Barbara Tallerman, Efga Myers, Anne Bolt, Myrtle Richardson, Lilian Mason, Mazel Carnegie, Rita Cave, Elisabth Croft, Dorothy Dale, Claire de la Grange, Margaret Dewar, Joan Duan, Evie Evers, Sena Harcourt, Patience Rentoul, Stephaine Rivers, Nancy Worsfold.  NB lots of parts for women, true to EMD's feminist principles.

Notices were respectful rather than enthusiastic, and the play never reached the West End. It was published by Gollancz in 1933