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Enemies, A Drama of Modern Marriage: The Sexual Revolution Enacted

In the 1920s, new sexual ideologies reshaped prescriptions for marriage, incorporating moderate versions of feminism. Neith Boyce and Hutchins Hapgood shared the romantic radicalism of Floyd Dell and other Greenwich Village bohemians in the early 20th century. They practiced open marriage, though not without pain and confusion. Written in 1916 for the Provincetown Players, an innovative theater group that operated between 1915 and 1922, Enemies was an autobiographical meditation on the emotional struggles of a couple in a non-monogamous marriage. The characters expressed considerable bitterness, yet in the end affirmed their partnership. In the first draft of the play the characters bore the names of their authors, clearly suggesting its autobiographical inspiration.



SCENE: A living room

TIME: After dinner

Produced by the Authors

Setting designed by B. J. O. Nordfeldt

She is lying in a long chair, smoking a cigarette and reading a book. He is sitting at a table with a lamp at his left-manuscript pages scattered before him, pen in hand. He glances at her, turns the lamp up, turns it down, rustles his m.s.[manuscript],snorts impatiently. She continues reading.

HE: This is the limit!

SHE: (Calmly.) What is?

HE: Oh, nothing. (She turns the page, continues reading with interest.) This is an infernal lamp!

SHE: What’s the matter with the lamp?

HE: I’ve asked you a thousand times to have some order in the house, some regularity, some system! The lamps never have oil, the wicks are never cut, the chimneys are always smoked! And yet you wonder that I don’t work more! HOW can a man work without light?

SHE: (Glancing critically at lamp.) This lamp seems to me to be all right. It obviously has oil in it or it would not burn, and the chimney is not smoked. As to the wick, I trimmed it myself to-day.

HE: Ah, that accounts for it!

SHE: Well, do it yourself next time, my dear!

HE: (Irritated.) But our time is too valuable for these ever-recurring jobs! Why don’t you train Theresa, as I’ve asked you so often?

SHE: It would take all my time for a thousand years to train Theresa.

HE: Oh, I know! All you want to do is to lie in bed for breakfast, smoke cigarettes, write your high literary stuff, make love to other men, talk cleverly when you go out to dinner and never say a word to me at home! No wonder you have no time to train Theresa!

SHE: Is there anything of interest in the paper?

HE: You certainly have a nasty way of making an innocent remark!

SHE: I’m sorry. (Absorbed in her book.)

HE: No, you’re not. That last remark proves it.

SHE: (Absently.) Proves what?

HE: Proves that you are an unsocial brutal woman!

SHE: You are in a temper again.

HE: Who wouldn’t be, to live with a cold-blooded person that you have to hit with a gridiron to get a rise out of?

SHE: I wish you would read your paper quietly and let me alone.

HE: Why have you lived with me for fifteen years if you want to be let alone?

SHE: (With a sigh.) I have always hoped you would settle down.

HE: By settling down you mean cease bothering about household matters, about the children, cease wanting to be with you, cease expecting you to have any interest in me.

SHE: No, I only mean it would be nice to have a peaceful evening sometimes. But (laying book down) I see you want to quarrel—so what shall we quarrel about? Choose your own subject, my dear.

HE: When you’re with Hank you don’t want a peaceful evening!

SHE: Now how can you possibly know that?

HE: Oh, I’ve seen you with him and others and I know the difference. When you’re with them you’re alert and interested. You keep your unsociability for me. (Pause.) Of course, I know why.

SHE: One reason is that “they” don’t talk about lampwicks and so forth. They talk about higher things.

HE: Some people would call them lower things!

SHE: Well—more interesting things, anyway.

HE: Yes, I know you think those things more interesting than household and children and husband.

SHE: Oh, only occasionally, you know—just for a change. You like a change yourself sometimes.

HE: Yes, sometimes—But I am excited, and interested and keen whenever I am with you. It is not only cigarettes and flirtation that excite me.

SHE: Well—you are an excitable person. You get excited about nothing at all.

HE: Are Home and Wife and Children nothing at all?

SHE: There are other things. But you, Deacon, are like the skylark—

"Type of the wise who soar but do not roam

True to the kindred points of heaven and home."—

HE: You are cheaply cynical! —You ought not to insult Wordsworth. He meant what he said.

SHE: He was a good man. . . . But to get back to our original quarrel. You’re quite mistaken. I’m more social with you than with anyone else. Hank, for instance hates to talk, even more than I do. He and I spend hours together looking at the sea-each of us absorbed in our own thoughts—without saying a word. What could be more peaceful than that?

HE: (Indignantly.) I don’t believe it’s peaceful—But it must be wonderful!

SHE: It is—marvellous. I wish you were more like that. What beautiful evenings we could have together!

HE: (Bitterly.) Most of our evenings are silent enough, unless we are quarreling!

SHE: Yes, if you’re not talking, it’s because you’re sulking. You are never sweetly silent—never really quiet.

HE: That’s true—with you—I am rarely quiet with you—because you rarely express anything to me. I would be more quiet if you were less so—less expressive if you were more so.

SHE: (Pensively.) The same old quarrel. Just the same for fifteen years! And all because you are you and I am I! And I suppose it will go on forever—I shall go on being silent, and you—

HE: I suppose I shall go on talking—but it really doesn’t matter—the silence or the talk—if we had something to be silent about or to talk about—Something in common—That’s the point!

SHE: Do you really think we have nothing in common? We both like Dostoyevsky and prefer Burgundy to champagne.

HE: Our tastes and our vices are remarkably congenial, but our souls do not touch.

SHE: Our souls? Why should they? Every soul is lonely.

HE: Yes, but doesn’t want to be. The soul desires to find something into which to fuse and so lose its loneliness. This hope to lose the soul’s loneliness by union—is love. It is the essence of love as it is of religion.

SHE: Deacon, you are growing more holy every day. You will drive me to drink.

HE: (Moodily.) That will only complete the list.

SHE: Well, then I suppose we may be more congenial—for in spite of what you say, our vices haven’t exactly matched. You’re ahead of me on the drink.

HE: Yes, and you on some other things. But perhaps I can catch up too—

SHE: Perhaps—if you really give all your time to it, as you did last winter, for instance. But I doubt if I can ever equal your record in potations.

HE: (Bitterly.) I can never equal your record in the soul’s infidelities.

She: Well, do you expect my soul to be faithful when you keep hitting it with a gridiron?

HE: No, I do not expect it of you! I have about given up the hope that you will ever respond either to my ideas about household and children or about our personal relations. You seem to want as little as possible of the things that I want much. I harass you by insisting. You anger and exasperate me by retreating. We were fools not to have separated long ago.

SHE: Again! How do you repeat yourself, my dear!

HE: Yes, I am very weak. In spite of my better judgment I have loved you. But this time I mean it!

SHE: I don 't believe you do. You never mean half the things you say.

HE: I do this time. This affair of yours with Hank is on my nerves. It is real spiritual infidelity. When you are interested in him you lose all interest in the household, the children and me. It is my duty to separate.

SHE: Oh, nonsense! I didn’t separate from you when you were running after the widow last winter—spending hours with her every day, dining with her and leaving me alone, and telling me she was the only woman who had ever understood you.

HE: I didn’t run after the widow, or any other woman except you. They ran after me.

SHE: Of course! Just the same since Adam—not one of you has spirit enough to go after the apple himself! “They ran after you”—but you didn’t run away very fast, did you?

HE: Why should I, when I wanted them to take possession if they could? I think I showed splendid spirit in running after you! Not more than a dozen other men have shown the same spirit. It is true, as you say, that other women understand and sympathize with me. They all do except you. I’ve never been able to be essentially unfaithful, more’s the pity. You are abler in that regard.

SHE: I don’t think so. I may have liked other people, but I never dreamed of marrying anyone but you. . . . No, and I never thought any of them understood me either. I took very good care they shouldn’t.

HE: Why, it was only the other day that you said Hank understood you better than I ever could. You said I was too virtuous and that if I were worse you might see me!

SHE: As usual, you misquote me. What I said was that Hank and I were more alike and you are a virtuous stranger—a sort of wandering John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness!

HE: Preachers don’t do the things I do!

SHE: Oh, don’t they!

HE: Well, I know I am as vicious as man can be. You would see that if you loved me. I am fully as bad as Hank.

SHE: Hank doesn’t pretend to be virtuous, so perhaps you’re worse. But I think you ought to make up your mind whether you’re virtuous or vicious, and not assume to be both.

HE: I am both as a matter of fact, like everybody else. I am not a hypocrite. I love the virtuous and also the vicious. But I don’t like to be left out in the cold when you are having an affair. When you are interested in the other, you are not in me.

SHE: Why do you pretend to fuss about lamps and such things when you are simply jealous? I call that hypocritical. I wish it were possible for a man to play fair. But what you want is to censor and control me, while you feel perfectly free to amuse yourself in every possible way.

HE: I am never jealous without cause and you are. You object to my friendly and physical intimacies and then expect me not to be jealous of your soul’s infidelities, when you lose all feeling for me. I am tired of it. It is a fundamental misunderstanding and we ought to separate at once!

SHE: Oh, very well, if you’re so keen on it. But remember you suggested it. I never said I wanted to separate from you—if I had, I wouldn’t be here now.

HE: No, because I’ve given all I had to you. I have nourished you with my love. You have harassed and destroyed me. I am no good because of you. You have made me work over you to the degree that I have no real life. You have enslaved me, and your method is cool aloofness. You want to keep on being cruel. You are the devil, who never really meant any harm, but who sneers at desires and never wants to satisfy. Let us separate—you are my only enemy!

SHE: Well, you know we are told to love our enemies.

HE: I have done my full duty in that respect. People we love are the only ones who can hurt us. They are our enemies, unless they love us in return.

SHE: “A man’s enemies are those of his own household”—Yes, especially if they love. You, on account of your love for me, have tyrannized over me, bothered me, badgered me, nagged me, for fifteen years. You have interfered with me, taken my time and strength, and prevented me from accomplishing great works for the good of humanity. You have crushed my soul, which longs for serenity and peace, with your perpetual complaining.

HE: Too bad. (Indignantly.) Perpetual complaining!

SHE: Yes, of course. But you see, my dear, I am more philosophical than you, and I recognize all this as necessity. Men and women are natural enemies, like cat and dog, only more so. They are forced to live together for a time, or this wonderful race couldn’t go on. In addition, in order to have the best children, men and women of totally opposed temperaments must live together. The shock and flame of two hostile temperaments meeting is what produces fine children. Well, we have fulfilled our fate and produced our children, and they are good ones. But really—to expect also to live in peace together—we as different as fire and water, or sea and land—that’s too much!

HE: If your philosophy is correct, that is another argument for separation. If we have done our job together, let’s go on our ways and try to do something else separately.

SHE: Perfectly logical. Perhaps it will be best. But no divorce-that’s so commonplace.

HE: Almost as commonplace as your conventional attitude toward husbands—that they are necessarily uninteresting—mon bete de mari—as the typical Frenchwoman of fiction says. I find divorce no more commonplace than real infidelity.

SHE: Both are matters of every day. But I see no reason for divorce unless one of the spouses wants to marry again. I shall never divorce you. But men can always have children, and so they are perpetually under the sway of the great illusion. If you want to marry again, you can divorce me.

HE: As usual, you want to see me as a brute. I don’t accept your philosophy. Children are the results of love, not the cause of it, and love should go on. It does go on, if once there has been the right relation. It is not re-marrying nor the unconscious desire for further propagation that moves me—but the eternal need of that peculiar sympathy which has never been satisfied—to die without that is failure in what most appeals to the imagination of human beings.

SHE: But that is precisely the great illusion. That is the unattainable that lures us on, and that will lead you, I foresee, if you leave me, into the arms of some other woman.

HE: Illusion! Precisely what is, you call illusion. Only there do we find Truth. And certainly I am bitten badly with illusion or truth, whichever it is. It is Truth to me. But I fear it may be too late. I fear the other woman is impossible.

SHE: (Pensively.) “I cannot comprehend this wild swooning desire to wallow in unbridled unity.” (He makes angry gesture, she goes on quickly.) I was quoting your favorite philosopher. But as to being too late—no, no—you’re more attractive than you ever were, and that shows your ingratitude to me, for I’m sure I have been a liberal education to you. You will easily find someone to adore you and console you for all your sufferings with me. But do be careful this time—get a good housekeeper.

HE: And you are more attractive than you ever were. I can see that others see that. I have been a liberal education to you too.

SHE: Yes, a Pilgrim’s Progress.

HE: I never would have seen woman, if I hadn’t suffered you.

SHE: I never would have suffered Man, if I hadn’t seen you.

HE: You never saw me!

SHE: Alas—yes! (With feeling.) I saw you as something very beautiful—very fine, sensitive—with more understanding than anyone I’ve ever known-more feeling—I still see you that way—but from a great—distance.

HE: (Startled.) Distance?

SHE: Yes. Don’t you feel how far away from one another we are?

HE: I have felt it, as you know—more and more so—that you were pushing me more and more away and seeking more and more somebody-something else. But this is the first time you had admitted feeling it.

She: Yes- l didn’t want to admit it. But now I see it has gone very far. It is as though we were on opposite banks of a stream that grows wider—separating us more and more.

HE: Yes—

SHE: You have gone your own way, and I mine—and there is a gulf between us.

HE: Now you see what I mean—

SHE: Yes, that we ought to separate—that we are separated-and yet I love you.

HE: Two people may love intensely, and yet not be able to live together—it is too painful, for you, for me—

SHE: We have hurt one another too much—

He: We have destroyed one another—we are enemies— (Pause.)

SHE: I don’t understand it—how we have come to this—after our long life together. Have you forgotten all that? What wonderful companions we were? How gayly we took life with both hands—how we played with it and with one another!—At least we have the past!

HE: The past is bitter—because the present is bitter.

SHE: You wrong the past.

HE: The past is always judged by the present. Dante said, the worst hell is in present misery to remember former happiness—

SHE: Dante was a man and a poet, and so ungrateful to life. (Pause, with feeling.) Our past to me is wonderful and will remain so, no matter what happens—full of color and life, complete!

HE: That is because our life together has been for you an episode.

SHE: No, it is because I take life as it is, not asking too much of it—not asking that any person or any relation be perfect. But you are an idealist—you can never be content with it—You have the poison, the longing for perfection in your soul.

HE: No, not for perfection but for union. That is not demanding the impossible. Many people have it who do not love as much as we do. No work of art is right, no matter how wonderful the material and the parts, if the whole, the unity, is not there.

SHE: That’s just what I mean. You have wanted to treat our relation, and me, as clay, and model it into the form you saw in your imagination. You have been a passionate artist. But life is not a plastic material. It models us.

HE: You are right. I have had the egotism of the artist, directed to a material that cannot be formed. I must let go of you, and satisfy my need of union, of marriage, otherwise than with you.

SHE: Yes, but you cannot do that by seeking another woman. You would experience the same illusion—the same disillusion.

HE: How then can I satisfy this mystic need?

SHE: That is between you and your God, whom I know nothing about.

HE: If I could have stripped you of divinity and sought it elsewhere—in religion, in work—with the same intensity I sought it in you—we would not have needed this separation.

SHE: And we should have been very happy together!

HE: Yes—as interesting strangers.

SHE: Exactly. The only sensible way for two fully grown people to be together-and that is wonderful too—think! To have lived together for fifteen years and never to have bored one another! To be still for one another the most interesting persons in the world! How many married people can say that? I’ve never bored you, have I, Deacon?

HE: You have harassed, plagued, maddened, tortured me! Bored me? No, never, you bewitching devil! (Moving toward her.)

SHE: I’ve always adored the poet and mystic in you, though you’ve almost driven me crazy, you Man of God!

HE: I’ve always adored the woman in you, the mysterious, the beckoning and flying, that I cannot possess!

SHE: Can’t you forget God for a while, and come away with me?

HE: Yes, darling, after all you’re one of God’s creatures!

SHE: Faithful to the end! A truce then, shall it be? (Opening her arm.) An armed truce?

HE: (Seizing her.) Yes, and in a trice! (She laughs.)


Source: Neith Boyce and Hutchins Hapgood, “Enemies”-A Play in One Act, The Provincetown Plays, ed. George Cram Cook and Frank Shay (Cincinnati: Stewart Kidd Co., 1921).

See Also:"Love and Companionship Came First": Floyd Dell on Modern Marriage
"The Civilizing Force of Birth Control": Margaret Sanger Becomes a Moderate
"I Am Almost a Prisoner": Women Plead for Contraception
"No Gods, No Masters": Margaret Sanger on Birth Control