A cigarette holder (similar to the one seen above) is a very prevalent prop in Private Lives. In the 1950’s, It was often depicted with famous actresses as they pose for magazines and fashion shots.
Private Lives by Noel Coward was a curious little play. It induced a lot of false hope. One would think to themselves, “Maybe Elyot and Amanda will make it work this time around,” but sadly they do not. Then the audience was left with the heartbreak of a failed relationship as well as a gloomy outlook for the future of the younger spouses. It’s true that the play ends with a hopeful circumstance; the last thing the audience sees is Amanda and Elyot tiptoeing away together. Nevertheless the audience knows they will never work out. A happy marriage just wasn’t plausible for these love birds. This essay will expound on whether this play offered an accurate depiction of a marriage relationship in the United States in the 1930’s.
Private Lives premiered in August of 1930, and the setting in the play is around that time; possibly the late 1920’s. In the 1920’s the divorce rates started a steady decline, although it was still required that abuse, adultery, or abandonment be present in order to file a divorce. From 1916 to 1925, the divorce rate in the United States was approximately 10% to 15% (Jones.) From 1925 to 1930 it increased, but only by 1%. All of these numbers could potentially have been higher but divorce records were not really counted for until the turn of the century. The 1930’s took a little bit of a hit due to the depression. Many couples may have wanted a divorce, but stayed together because they couldn’t afford the aftermath. When unemployment finally started to decrease; divorces increased. This means that the majority of couples seeing Private Lives were most likely content, married couples, with an average age difference of 3.9 years between them (Ellis.)
In the 1930’s marrying a younger man was not unheard of but it was certainly uncommon. So the relationship described between Amanda and Victor was more shocking than Sibyl’s and Elyot’s’. The age difference in Private Lives between the main characters and their newly acquired spouses was most likely not as shocking as the fact that they ran off together still legally married to the young honeymooners. All in all most audience members probably couldn’t relate to the characters on a very personal level, what with the racy and sensual act two and the head-spinning arguments. In fact, just the reverse is true. Audience members left feeling exhilarated. Woman were left thinking “well at least my husband and I don’t argue that much,” and men left elated saying “The first good show I’ve seen in a long while” (Mathew.) The truth was audience members could relate; so the show had to be fairly similar to their lives. Perhaps people saw themselves arguing on stage, or making love in the bedroom. The point is that if they enjoyed it so thoroughly, it had to be fairly accurate.
Private Lives may not have been the best depiction of couples in the 1930’s, but it certainly wasn’t a stretch. People enjoyed the show! And it has since been made into a movie and the show was last performed in 2011. If a show that premiered in the 1930’s is still being performed in 2011 that is something to be proud of.
Jones, Audrey. (n.d.).
Ellis-Christeiensen, T.. N.p.. Web. 14 Nov 2013. http://www.wisegeek.org/how-has-the-average-age-at-marriage-changed-over-time.htm
Mathew, Murray. Broadway Reviews. 28 April 2002. http://www.talkinbroadway.com/world/PrivateLives02.html