Friday, February 19, 2016


Bosworth Crocker (1861-1946) is the pseudonym of Mary Arnold Crocker Childs Lewisohn.  Childs was the family name of her first husband and Lewisohn was her second husband’s.*  Bosworth was her father’s middle name.  She was born in England, but her family moved to the United States when she was a child. 

Bosworth Crocker began her playwriting career during the first decade of the twentieth century. By the time she wrote Pawns of War, a three-act play, several of her one-act plays were staged and/or published. Pawns of War is a tribute to the nation of Belgium and its suffering under the boots of Germany during the first days of the 1914 invasion. Although it may have been written during the early years of the war, the play was not published until January, 1918.  The publisher was Little, Brown and Company, Boston.  John Galsworthy (1867-1933) the noted British playwright and novelist wrote the Forward for the book. (Galsworthy’s World War One play titled The Foundations is discussed in my post dated June 18, 2015.)

Galsworthy considered “Pawns” to be “very gripping”.  He also proclaimed it to be “so lifelike and so forceful.”  It is a realistic play that has the ability to grab ones emotions particularly as its moves toward the conclusion. The German General in this play is written in a manner that allows a reader to have a degree of pity for him. Through him one can understand that individuals on both sides of a war may be pawns in a piteous situation. 

A review of the play that appeared in The Dial, Volume 64, April 25, 1918 states: “Mr. Crocker, almost completely avoids the polemical emphasis.  The dramatist does not flinch from portraying the full horror of the whole brutal business, as that nationwide horror is reflected in the lives of one small household.”  This reviewer also mentioned that the final scene was “an eloquently restrained and pathetic climax.”

A review by Walter Prichard Eaton in the November, 1918 issue of The Bookman takes an opposite position.  He considered Pawns of War to be “a bald narrative, in dramatic form, with the subject-matter so horrible that your response is a shudder of nausea.”  He believed an audience in the theatre would not be able to stand this play since “it is too stark and murderous.”

Pawns of War has many plot similarities to other invasion of Belgium plays. Act One is set in the entry room of Doctor Albert Esterlinck’s home.  He is a surgeon and the burgomaster of the village of Aerschel, Belgium.  He is a fourth generation surgeon in his family and his father also had been burgomaster of this village. Esterlinck’s family consists of his wife, their adolescent daughter, and an adult son who has been ill. A young teenage son, who never appears on stage, was killed by the Germans as he attempted to get word about the invasion of his village to the Belgium government. This act begins to set-up the specific situation for the drama when the German General, Ludwig von Wahlhayn, commandeers the Doctor’s home for his headquarters. The family learns there is to be a proclamation written that states if any member of a household fires at a German soldier, the entire household will be put to death.

The second act is set the same as the previous one; however, it is later in the same day and the German General and his staff are in the dining room having supper. The proclamation has been written and it is to be posted immediately. The General and the Doctor leave the house. The only remaining soldier on the premises is the General’s Chief of Staff, named Falkenhorst. He has consumed too much wine.  He is attracted to the Doctor’s daughter and makes unwanted advances. She is frightened and her brother shoots him dead.

Act Three is also set in the same location.  It is this act I found the most original and moving. I have set the scene and established the conflict, but I do not want to reveal the conclusion of the play.  It is a fast read and the play is available in a digitized version on-line.

The publication of Pawns of War occurred during a productive time in Bosworth Crothers playwriting career. Her one-act play The Last Straw, written in 1916, was produced in August, 1917 by the Washington Square Players. Another one-act play The Baby Carriage was produced in 1919 by the Provincetown Players.  Five of her early one-act plays were published in 1923 under the title Humble Folk that includes The Baby Carriage. Most of these plays relate to issues encountered by impoverished immigrants living in the United States.  Crothers remained active as a playwright, drama critic and poet until the late 1930s.

·                * In 1906, Crothers married Ludwig Lewisohn (1882-1955).  He is remembered as a prolific novelist, scholar and critic. His autobiographical novel The Case of Mr. Crump (1922), considered by many critics as a major literary work, was not published in the United States until 1947.  Bosworth Crocker entered a libel suit, in the early 1920’s, to keep the book from being released in the United States.  She was angry about the fictionalized version of herself as depicted in this novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment