Society and Life : Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer

Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer , an anti – sentimental comedy, is at least partly a revival of the traditional comedy of Manners, and therefore, presents a vivid picture of the life and attitude, modes and manners of contemporary society. But while the Restoration comedy of manners had been rooted in the 17th century and presented only the degenerate life in the cosmopolitan cities such as London in The way of the world, Goldsmith’s comedy presents the relatively quaint and even innocent life in the countryside in the 18th century Further, while the comedies of Manners presented only the aristocratic classes Goldsmith present the entire spectrum of rustic life, and even city – bred personalities ultimately find their entry into the play. Goldsmith might well have polishes for his motto the dictum mores hominum multorum vidit (Poetica), ‘the moves and manners of many people are to be seen’. Beginning in the household of a country squire it etches a complete picture of country life. 

She Stoops to Conquer 

at Williamstown Theatre Festival

The country life is, in general, monotonous for most people, and this often necessitates a journey to centres of culture and fashion. The inhabitants usually live in old-fashioned ‘mumbling mansions’ lacking the architectural novelty of the city houses. The fact that new buildings were rarely built in the country side and most country squires had fallen into hard times with the industrialism is evident from the comments of Marlow who points out that with demise of feudalism the country squires had been compelled to utilize their old mansions as inns.
London is a particular source of attraction, especially from the viewpoints of fashion and culture. Mrs. Hardcastle repeatedly expresses her desire to visit London to ‘rub off the rust a little’ and takes care to keep in touch with the in fashion in London, even if it is only at second hand. Marlow and Hasting reveal their elegant London fashionableness when they debate about which waist coat to wear, the winter fashion etc. The life of the women folk in the countryside is vividly presented. The average intelligent woman like Kate spent her time in keeping such pets as birds in cages or fish in the aquarium, and also in occasionally reading extremely sentimental novels. This latter is evident from Miss Neville’s question: ‘Or has the last novel been too moving? Although Kate has to put on a housewife’s dress, it is obvious that most of the household work was done by the maids and the cook. They therefore spent their time in putting on expensive clothes  and in falling in love.

Tony in representative of the country squire who did not receive any education since he did not have to earn living. Such sons were invariably idle and luxurious. Tony is absolutely illiterate, being unable to decipher a letter, and spends his time in the inn. It is father, like most other contemporary fathers, was his role model, and was unparalleled for his boisterous ways: ‘For winding a straight horn, or beating a thicket for a hare or a wench, he had never his fellow.’ Tony, too would love to keep ‘the best horses dogs and girls in the whole country’, thereby imitating the Restoration immortality.
So vivid and detailed is the presentation of contemporary society that even minor observation such as the woeful condition of the roads the peril from highway are not  ignored in this magnificent panorama of 18th century country life.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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