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Fascinating new insight into Mary Alice's life

The British Newspaper Archive has recently released some additional newspapers from their collection, among them: The Civil & Military Gazette; The Englishman's Overland Mail; Home News for India, China and the Colonies.

These titles enabled me to find further information about Mary Alice’s time in India between 1894 and 1896 when she was with her husband Charles.

We can follow Mary Alice’s location not from military records but through social records. 1893 and 1894 in Rawalpindi and Murree. 1895 in Simla. 1896 in Peshawar. Sometimes we find her in the audience of a play or attending a social occasion; sometimes taking part in a theatrical performance. We know she loved theatre and performance.

One theatrical from August 1895 fascinated me in particular. Mary Alice played the role of Janet Preece in the play “The Profligate” by Arthur Wing Pinero. The Profligate is a play that depicts women battling with their situation in society. Janet Preece is a girl whose life has been ruined by a cad called Duncan Renshaw. Duncan used a false name – Lawrence Kenward – to seduce her and made false promises of marriage then abandoned her. He holds the view that “Ladies …are like nations – to be happy they should have no histories.” It is a story of a man’s faithlessness and the terrible punishment, not only of the guilty but the innocent as well. A story of seduction and betrayal. Janet falls deeply in love with Duncan and “she would have died for him”. But Duncan leaves Janet with a broken heart and a blighted life because she has “a history”. The play raises the question of double standards of society that shrugs off a man’s sexual history as unimportant but prizes the innocence of women.

That Mary Alice should play such a part is interesting but comments from critics raise that interest to absolute fascination. The critics comment “her earnestness was intense” and “the finest exhibition of emotional acting that Simla has seen for yours”. Of course she was intense! Of course she was emotional! She was living the part. Her husband had from the outset of her marriage been unkind. He had had a string of affairs, that we know of, from just before the birth of their first child right though to the date of this performance in Simla...and beyond. Court papers presented in Lahore in 1898 allege that he confessed to a liaison with a German lady in Simla in the very same summer as this play. No wonder she turned in such a magnificent performance on the stage as a release from the pain of her betrayal.

Here's what the papers said:

Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore) – Tues 6th August 1895

“ “The Profligate” at Simla”

Mrs Spencer Warwick as Janet Preece gave a very fine exhibition of emotional acting. In her last interview with Mrs Renshaw, her earnestness was intense and she kept the entire house spell bound. …Mrs Spencer Warwick gave perhaps the finest exhibition of emotional acting that Simla has seen for years.

Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore) – Mon 12th Aug 1895

“Mrs Spencer Warwick deserves every praise for the way she played her part of the girl who had been wronged. The part is undoubtedly a difficult one, and all the more so in a place like Simla where people are absolutely callous in what they say.”

Englishman's Overland Mail - Tues 13th Aug 1895

Mrs Spencer Warwick as Janet Preece had a very hard part to play, but it was one which quickly won the sympathy of the audience and was excellently done, her acting being natural and easy. Perhaps if there was a fault it was in her get-up might have been attractive without any disadvantage. Mrs Spencer Warwick possesses a wonderfully clear voice, and, however low her tone, each word was distinctly heard at the other end of the theatre, and we shall hope to see her again later on .

From the opening of “The Profligate”:

It is a good and soothfast sow;

Half-roasted never will be raw;

No dough is dried once more to meal,

No crock new-shapen by the wheel;

You can’t turn curds to milk again,

Nor Now, by wishing back to Then;

And having tasted stolen honey,

You can’t buy innocence for money.

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