Saturday, July 16, 2016


Douglas Goldring (1887-1960) was a well-known British novelist and critic during the first quarter of the twentieth century. He did try his hand at playwriting at least once and the result is The Fight for Freedom. Goldring states in his Introduction to The Fight for Freedom that this play “was written in loneliness and exile during the last three months of the war.” In 1918 he was living in Ireland and feeling removed from being “a London man-about-town.”

At the outset of World War One, Goldring enlisted and within a short time was invalided. In 1916 he began to oppose the war and believed the British government should negotiate peace with Germany.  Opposition to war became an integral part of Goldring’s lifelong intellectual attitude.

The Fight for Freedom is a four act play set in London during the first week of August, 1918.  During this week the actual events of the war had the Allied Forces winning. This was when the Second Battle of the Marne was won by the Allied Forces. Also on various other fronts, the Allies were pushing the enemy armies back from their previously victorious positions.

Act One occurs in the dining-room of Miss Eleanor Lambert’s house located in Chelsea.  Miss Lambert is a sixty year old with a willowy figure and a political position on all issues.  She is hosting a small evening party. The five characters who remain chatting in the dining room after supper are The Very Reverend Samuel Slaughter, known as the Dean of Devizes, his wife—Mrs. Slaughter, Mrs. Lambert—Eleanor’s sister-in-law, Margaret Lambert—Eleanor’s twenty-two year old niece and Philip Henderson—the thirty-six year old brother of Margaret’s fiancĂ©. This group is firmly divided between those with conservative views verses Margaret and her Aunt Eleanor who hold revolutionary ideas. A late arrival to this group is Oliver Beeching--a thirty year old Socialist, who loves Margaret.  During this act, the characters chat and discuss their political positions.

Act Two is the following afternoon. The setting is the comfortable sitting-room in Phillip Henderson’s flat. Phillip is home with his younger brother, Captain Michael Henderson, who is home on a short leave from the trenches in France. Michael has learned from Phillip that Margaret is breaking off their engagement since she loves another man. Margaret comes to the flat.  After Phillip leaves, Margaret is left alone with Michael to discuss their situation. Michael puts a drug into her glass flute filled with Moet Champagne. He ravishes her when she is unconscious.

Act Three takes place the next day in Mrs. Lambert’s drawing-room. The Dean of Devizes and his wife are announced.  Mrs. Lambert has called them to give her advice regarding poor Margaret’s situation.  There is much discussion. Eventually the Dean determines that Margaret must marry Michael immediately. Once Margaret enters the scene, she disagrees with the verdict on several levels.  She plans to marry Oliver, who she believes will be supportive as well as understanding.  The marriage discussion is based on Victorian ideas about women and Margaret will not cave to those standards.

Act Four takes place in the drawing-room of Eleanor Lambert’s house. It is the next day and Margaret is waiting for Oliver to come to visit. She has found some comfort being with her Aunt. Oliver arrives and he spouts Socialist positions on the situation. He is a big disappointment to Margaret.  Finally she declares she will make her own fight for freedom—“Freedom to be myself.”  The end of the play comes with two more surprises.  It is best to read it since it has many moments that could resonate with a contemporary reader. 

The Fight for Freedom was published in England (1919) and in the United States (1920). The New York publisher was Thomas Seltzer (1875-1943). Seltzer started his publishing company in 1919 and he was interested in bringing outstanding young British and European authors to American readers.  In 1920 Seltzer published both this play and Goldring’s novel titled Morgot’s Progress, which was an extremely successful book. Since 1912, Goldring’s writings were well-known in North American.  Seltzer was not taking a big gamble with Goldring’s novel. Seltzer also was interested in drama.  It was reported in the Atlanta Constitution on September 26, 1920 that Seltzer liked to publish the “repertory theater type of play.”

The American edition of this play includes a Preface written by Henri Barbusse (1873-1935).  He was a significant French war author whose recognition commenced in 1910. Barbusse stated: “When the International People’s Theatre is founded, one of the first plays it ought to put on is Douglas Goldring’s beautiful drama, The Fight for Freedom. Barbusse was interested in the proletarian movements that were taking place in a number of countries. He applauded The Fight for Freedom since it presented the English Socialist Revolution as an in-progress movement that had momentum. 
Half-way through Goldring’s Introduction in the American publication, he takes up the idea that England needs a “Drama League” or International People’s Theatre movement.  He does not believe The Fight for Freedom will be produced in the commercial theatres of England, but he mentions that it was translated into German and published in Die Weissen Blatter—a leading monthly magazine.  Goldring believed that The Fight for Freedom would be produced by a Frankfort theatre during the winter of 1920.  He also mentioned signing an agreement for the play to be translated into Hungarian. Whether these plans were realized, I do not know.

I did find The Fight for Freedom interesting to read and believe it is informative about some of the British political attitudes in 1918-1919 as well as the prevailing women’s issues.   Please contact me if you find any records regarding a production of this play either in the 1920’s or a more recent production.

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