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The story centres on the relationship between Mrs Kitty Warren, a brothel owner, described by the author as "on the whole, a genial and fairly presentable old blackguard of a woman" and her daughter, Vivie, an intelligent and pragmatic young woman, who has just graduated from college and come home to get acquainted with her mother for the first time in her life. The play focuses on the characters' relationships to each other as shaped by Mrs. Warren's choices, and the social hypocrisies relating to prostitution and the limited opportunities available for women in Victorian Britain. Vivie Warren, an educated, thoroughly modern young woman, has just graduated from the University of Cambridge with honours in Mathematics (equal Third Wrangler) and is available for suitors. Her mother, Mrs. Warren (her name changed to hide her true identity and give the impression that she is married) arranges for her daughter to meet her friend Praed, a middle aged, handsome architect, at her home. Mrs. Warren arrives with her business partner, Sir George Crofts, who is attracted to Vivie regardless of their age difference. Vivie is romantically involved with the youthful Frank Gardner, who sees Vivie as his meal ticket, and whose father, the (married) Reverend Samuel Gardner, has a history with Vivie's mother and is in fact Vivie's out-of-wedlock father, making Vivie and Frank half-siblings. Mrs. Warren successfully justifies to her daughter why she chose her particular profession (managing a chain of brothels throughout Europe) in order to support her daughter and give her every opportunity she never had. Vivie is at first horrified at the revelation but then lauds her mother as a champion. However, the reconciliation ends when Vivie discovers that her mother continues to run her business even though she no longer needs to. Vivie takes an office job in the city, dumps Frank, vowing she will never marry, and disowns her mother. Mrs. Warren is left heartbroken, having looked forward to growing old with her daughter.
- Performance history
- Adaptations and sequels
- The role of women in Victorian marriage and Shaw's representation of Vivie's sexuality