ON THE eve of his second marriage Aubrey Tanqueray entertains his three closest masculine friends at dinner. He makes it in the nature of a farewell, for, as he succinctly puts it, married friends' wives frequently don't find each other congenial. In response to their questions as to whom he is to marry, he answers: "After tomorrow she will be Mrs. Aubrey Tanqueray."
His bachelor friend, Cayley Drummle, remains after the others leave and to him Aubrey confesses that he is marrying a certain "Mrs." Jarman, a woman with a "past." Shortly after Drummle, too, has gone, Paula Jarman arrives bringing Aubrey a letter confessing certain details of her past, a letter which he chivalrously burns unopened. After Paula's departure, Aubrey reads the letter from his convent-reared daughter which until now he has had no chance to open. It announces that his daughter has changed her mind and is coming to live with him.
A few months later finds Mr. and Mrs. Aubrey Tanqueray "at home" at Willowmere, Surrey, together with the seventeen-year-old Ellean. The situation is tense. The neighbors, although old friends of Aubrey's, have conspicuously refrained from calling. Ellean, too, senses something in Paula that repels her, while Paula is jealously anxious to win Ellean's confidence and friendship.
Finally Paula insists that since the neighbors will have none of them she is going to invite Lord George Orreyed and his chorus girl wife to be their guests. Horrified, Aubrey persuades her not to mail the letter of invitation. At this point their nearest neighbor does call but only to get permission to take Ellean to Paris and later to London for the season. When Aubrey gives this permission, admitting that they themselves cannot give Ellean the social background to which she is entitled, Paula defiantly mails her letter to the Orreyeds.
Paula finds herself badly bored with her guests, but refuses to make up with her husband. This is the situation when Ellean returns to ask her father's permission for her engagement to a Captain Ardale. Paula feels impelled to confess to Aubrey that the man who now wants to marry his daughter had been her lover. Ellean with uncanny instinct divines the situation and taunts Paula with the sort of "past" that she has already condoned in Ardale. In a final realization that for a woman with a "past" there can be no future, Paula kills herself.
"Yes," wails Ellean, "Yes, so everybody will say. But I know--I helped kill her. If I'd only been merciful!"
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray was first performed on May 27, 1893, at the St. James Theatre, London, with Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Paula.
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