DISCLAIMER: I’m currently sick in bed with swollen and excessively painful lymph nodes and for the last couple weeks I’ve had some stuff happen. If this blog post sucks, blame the lymph nodes and the people who used to be my friends.
It’s that time of year again when people
send me flowers chocolate forget I exist.
For the rest of the world, it is Valentine’s Day, a holiday named after a guy who refused to stop telling everyone to be Christian, so he was beaten with clubs and beheaded in February 269. He also probably didn’t get any chocolates either.
St. Valentine’s Day is a one-act play about an aunt and niece’s expectations and reality on Valentine’s Day. The play was published in 1892, a year that saw Ellis Island opened for immigration, the world’s first fingerprinting bureau started and women finally got to take graduate courses at Yale, the Nutcracker ballet was first performed and the Dalton gang tried to rob two banks at once in Kansas and got obliterated, except for Emmett Dalton…
The basic plot of the play, as described earlier, consists of two women, a past-society’s-due-date aunt (Elinor) and her sprightly young niece (Letty). Apparently Elinor had a thing with a Mr. Morrison. But said Mr. Morrison wants a thing with Letty. A Valentine’s Day card arrives as does a twist ending.
It’s a compact and entertaining play that PLAYS way better than it READS.
It has also been source of numerous high school monologues.
Some reasons I’d recommend this play for a modern production:
- Characterization. Elinor really hasn’t gotten over anything in life actually. She’s not happy when the card arrives.
ELINOR: How very absurd and medieval on his part to send me a valentine! A real valentine with, I have no doubt, birds and hearts and cupids and true lover’s knots–and–arrows on it. I do not think I shall be entirely satisfied unless it has a heart penetrated by an arrow. There is something about a heart, in vivid color, penetrated by an arrow, that expresses an amount of sentimental suffering otherwise impossible to delineate. I used to be very fond of the openwork ones over colored paper, but I think now I should be able to do without the colored paper. My tastes have softened down with the faded aestheticism of the age. But I should like some of those appropriate legends “stuck” here and there; something simple but convincing, such as “True Love,” or “Mine is Thine,” “Think of Me,” or “From a True Friend.” I remember that even to the uncritical eye of youth these aphorisms had rather the air of being attached as a work of supererogation after the real valentine was finished. They suggest conventionalized emotion in a way that is charming, and Dick and I both like our emotion conventionalized.
That fatal romanticism that dooms one to a lifetime of solitude and broken dreams…
But her niece is young, sprightly and her dreams have yet to be broken….SHE loves a book – but one she can’t remember the title of…
LETTY: Say, Aunt Elinor, I’ve been reading an awfully interesting book.
ELINOR: Have you? (Aside.) This taste for reading has been suddenly developed. I hope it will last. (Aloud.) What is it?
LETTY: Oh, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but it is awfully interesting. It’s all about broken engagements and misunderstandings, and they go to the most elegant ball, and he sends her the loveliest flowers out of his own greenhouse, you know. I’ve forgotten what kind of flowers it is, but it is some particular kind, you know, that means something. It’s a sort of queer name. I wish I could think of it, so if anybody ever sent me any I’d know what it was. It was in England, you know, at a manor house. I wish I could think of it. It isn’t ylang ylang, you know, but–
ELINOR: (languidly) Stephanotis, perhaps.
LETTY: Yes, I guess that’s it — anyway, it’s just as good. I’ve forgotten what it meant anyway, so I guess I wouldn’t know. Well, he sends them to her, you know, and she doesn’t wear them — oh! there’s somebody else in the house that’s in love with him too, and she interferes — I think she mixes up the flowers, or something — she’s an awfully mean old thing, and I should think he’d have seen through her in a minute, and known she — the other one — wanted to wear the flowers — I would, I know, wouldn’t you, Aunt Elinor?
ELINOR: Oh, undoubtedly! There’s nothing easier than unmasking deception in books. (Aside.) One doesn’t have anything half so interesting to do in real life.
Characters in 1892 plays sure know a lot about flowers.
2. Conflict. Needless to say, an aunt and a niece in love with same dude creates comflict.
LETTY: Say, Aunt Elinor, did you know today was St. Valentine’s Day?
ELINOR: (somewhat startled) Why, yes — I remembered it. How did you happen to think of it?
Aha! Being coy, the aunt doesn’t pretends not to remember Valentine’s Day.
LETTY: Well, what I was going to say about Valentine’s Day was — you know that elderly Mr. Morrison, don’t you?
ELINOR: (with some indignation) Elderly? No; I don’t know any elderly Mr. Morrison.
LETTY: Oh, yes, you do too! Well, oldish then — real oldish.
ELINOR: (coolly) Do you mean Dick Morrison that comes here sometimes?
LETTY: Dick? Well, yes; I guess perhaps you call him Dick, though it seems awfully disrespectful.
ELINOR: (aside, devoutly) I am glad I can put my hand on my heart and say that Dick is five years older than I am! But how long — oh, how long — will it be before people will say that elderly — no, not that elderly — that oldish woman, Elinor Hartington. (She sinks into gloomy revery for a moment.) Well, what about Mr. Morrison?
LETTY: (consciously) Oh, nothing much — only it’s so funny that a man so old as he should know anything about Valentine’s Day!
ELINOR: Oh, certainly. He’s nearly forty. It’s high time he lost his faculties.
After Elinor jokes about being surprised that he is living….
LETTY: (unconsciously) Living? I should think he was! He goes ’round making calls ‘most all the time. All the young ladies think he is dreadful, and they skip out the side door when they see him coming; but there’s this other one, she’s just about as old as he is, and she’s always glad to see him. He always brings up at her house. Everybody laughs and says he always has.
He’s been making the rounds. I apologize for the wonky fonts. Blame the lymph nodes.
3. It can be mined for monologue material:
LETTY: Well, as I say, he’s talked with me a good deal since I came, and he said to me the other day — it was that day, don’t you know, that someone rang the bell when he was here, and he said your doorbell was always ringing, and you said something about its being the primary object of a bell, and he said the primary object of that particular bell seemed to be to interrupt him when he had anything important to say, and you said under those circumstances, perhaps he’d have better luck if he wouldn’t always be saying the same important thing, and he said he hadn’t suspected you of countenancing the chestnut bell, and you said you shouldn’t think he would hint at such an ordinary proceeding, and then Mr. Apgood came in, and you shook hands with him, and seemed so glad to see him, and I was so surprised, because I heard you tell Mrs. White the other day that you thought he was a dreadful bore, and he always came just when you didn’t want him.
ELINOR: I feel utterly dazed. The only idea that I seem to have saved from the general wreck is that there is an extreme likelihood of Richard sending me a comic valentine! And that’s something I had never thought of. What in the world does he send one to Letty for? Something she said suggested it probably. (Pauses.) Yet why do I refuse to put her own construction on it, — that he likes her! (Rises; walks restlessly about.) Why should he not? come, now — why should he not? She is pretty enough — in a way — fresh, naïve — just the sort of thing to fascinate a somewhat blasé man like Dick Morrison. What do men care for crudities of manner or speech, if a girl strikes them pleasantly? And how should he know that her grand passion is coconut cake? I have been told that he would tire sometime of fruitlessly playing the lover with me. He has not said a direct word of love to me since Letty came! not a word! He certainly did talk with her a long time the other day. And to promise to go to a social in Walkerville! That is equivalent to a threat of blowing his brains out from a more emotional character. (Throws herself into a chair.) Well, I ought to be glad. I think perhaps I am glad. I’m not in love with Richard Morrison. I said that half an hour ago — and I’ve said it any number of times before — and he only takes me at my word. And yet — and yet — (In a burst of impatience.) Letty! That child! How utterly absurd! Men have no right to abuse their privilege of being absurd! (A pause.) I do not know what to think. I will let the valentine episode decide the matter! He can’t be going to send the same one to both of us. When we have conned our respective valentines we may understand each other better.
LETTY: All right. (Exit ELINOR.) I think it’s sort of funny about that old Mr. Morrison. I guess he has been paying Aunt Elinor some attention. (With astuteness.) I bet you anything that’s what it is! But I heard her tell Mrs. Paine the other day, when she said something to her about him, that they were just nothing but friends; that they’d known each other always, and that it was perfectly ridiculous to say they were anything else. So of course she can’t care anything about him, or she wouldn’t say that! I suppose when he saw me he felt differently. (consciously), and there can’t be any harm in my just carrying on with him. Aunt Elinor won’t care, and I guess I can manage him. (A bell.) There! There’s a valentine now! (Runs toward the door.) Oh, if I was at home I’d just tear down and see who it was before they could get away, but Aunt Elinor said I’d better let Jane go to the door. I wonder if he’ll leave it on the step. (A pause; she opens the door and calls.) Jane! Jane! Bring it upstairs. (Another pause.) Who brought it? A telegraph boy? Oh.(Receives an envelope at the door and returns.) Why, it’s just addressed “To my Valentine.” Well, of course that means me, because Aunt Elinor wouldn’t expect any.
For samples of monologues from the play, check out Monday’s post.
4. Easy to stage. It’s two women in a parlor. So even those cheap-ass theatres have no excuse.
5. Twist joke ending.
And this…I admire their bravery putting this online, and I respectfully withold judgment.
You may find the entire play here.
About the author
For someone who wrote a bunch of books, details about her life are scarce. She was born in 1857 into a prominent family in Connecticut, USA. Note to self: man, a lot of these playwrights come from a background of privilege. Just sayin’. Her grandfather had made shloads of money in the whaling and sealing industry.
Her father was a politician and philologist. Her aunt and namesake was an author and entomologist. Her uncle was a philologist. Another uncle was an ornithologist and painter (and had the ever-so-awesome name of Gurdon). Another uncle founded the Sunday school movement. An uncle by marriage was a journalist and art historian.
The only biographical sketch of her I can find contains this information:
“When she was five years old, her parents moved to the brick residence where she lived, when not traveling, for the rest of her life.”
“At a young age, she began writing and crafted many short stories for magazines, such as Scribner’s, the Atlantic, the Outlook, New England Magazine, and Lippincott’s.”
“Contemporaries remembered her as the belle of Hartford.”
She also played tennis, did archery and hung out with Mark Twain.
She served as director of the Hartford library for 21 years.
She had a short film produced by Edison based on her story. And you can watch it below:
That’s it for Annie Eliot and St. Valentine’s Day. See you on Monday with a new monologue!!!!
For a list of all our other playwrights, go here.