The Chamberlaynes in The Cocktail Party
Table of Contents
Their Unhappy Married Life
Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne have been married for five years. Their married life has not been a happy one, they have frequently indulged in bickering, as is common with an average married couple. Each has blamed the other. Edward has felt that Lavinia was a woman whom nobody could love and Lavinia, on the other hand, was of the opinion that Edward was a man incapable of loving. Therefore, in order to assure himself that he is capable of love, Edward turns to Celia and makes her his mistress. Similarly, Lavinia, in order to prove to herself that she could be loved, carries on a clandestine affair with Peter. Conditions deteriorate so much that to live under the same roof becomes impossible. Lavinia, therefore, in desperation turns to Julia for help. Encouraged and abetted by Sir Reilly, the psychiatrist, she disappears from her home for some time.
The Disappearance of Lavinia
Her disappearance gives Edward a rude shock. His settled round of life is disturbed. He now realises that he had taken his wife and himself too much for granted. He now realises how much he depended on her. Without her he is nothing, there can be no life for him without his wife. “Eliot illuminates the Cliche and gives it new force.”
The shock, which is thus administered to, him, leads to self-exploration, and in this he is helped and guided by Reilly, who tells him that, such is human nature, a man is constantly changing and becoming different from what he is:
“We die to each other daily,
What we know of other people,
Is only our memory of the moments,
During which we knew them.”
It means, in other words, that the process of understanding one’s own self as well as others is a continuous process. He did not really know his wife, nor did he know himself either. Therefore, he is keen to get her back to know himself and her, in the real sense of the word. This is the first sign of spiritual re-birth.
He renounces his mistress, and begins to come to terms with himself. He is at least honest with himself, and his real self now begins to come out. After re-union with his wife, who had deserted him only to give him a shock, he feels that she, “was an angel of destruction”, and had forced upon him an unreal role. In her presence, his real self begins to dissolve and melt away. His dilemma is,
“I cannot live with her that is now intolerable;
I cannot live without her, for she has made me incapable
Of having any existence of my own.”
Lavinia, practical as ever, suggests to him to see the psychiatrist; who advises him to see his problem not in isolation but as part of a, “total situation”, as a part of the human condition which is suffering. He brings them face to face, strips them of all pretences, and makes them see, “how much (they) have in common”. Each of them now blames himself, and not the other one. Edward realises that he is a man who, “could not love any woman”, and Lavinia realises that, “no one could love her”. This realisation of the truth about their respective natures is a further stage in their spiritual regeneration.
The New Life: Their ‘Choice’
They are now ripe for beginning life anew with each other. They are advised, “go in peace, and work out your salvation with diligence”. They are reconciled to, “the human situation”, and go to,
“Maintain themselves by the common routine,
Learn to avoid excessive expectation.”
They were offered a choice, they have chosen ordinary, human life, and their spiritual awareness lies in the fact that they have accepted it with all its limitations. In short, they have to make the best of a bad bargain. The last Act shows them living the ordinary life of give and take. They have been trans- humanised. In this they are helped by the saint’s, Celia’s, martyrdom.