The School For Scandal

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The School For Scandal was published in 1949. It was the 13th book, and the first drama for the Folio Society. The book was printed and bound by Mackay, and illustrated by Cecil Beaton.

The dustjacket on my copy does show the ravages of age, but otherwise the book is wonderful. There is no foxing and the illustrations retain their vibrancy.

The Play

First performed in 1777, the Folio Society version is based upon a version produced by Sir Laurence Olivier.

Lady Sneerwell is a wealthy widow and the play starts with an exchange between her and Snake, an heirling and fellow mischief maker who likes spreading gossip.

Sir Peter Teazle is the informal guardian of the brothers Charles and Joseph Surface who are nephews of an old friend, Sir Oliver.  Sir Peter also has a ward, Maria. Joseph Surface, the older brother, is regarded as a pillar of society while Charles, the younger is thought to be an extravagant libertine. There is an expectation of a match between Lady Sneerwell and Joseph, but Lady Sneerwell tells Snake that she thinks Joseph is all pretence, and that her heart is really set on Charles. She also knows that Joseph is attracted towards Maria, but that Maria has an affection  for Charles.  Joseph knows too well that Lady Sneerwell feels more attachment to Charles and is happy to participate in the schemes to derail the Maria – Charles relationship so that his ambitions with Maria may be realized.

As the scene develops there is much gossip about various characters and we learn that Sir Oliver may be returning from the East Indies and that Charles is in a precarious financial situation.

Sir Peter Teazle is then introduced. Once a seemingly confirmed batchelor, he married a much younger woman. Lady Teazle regards this arrangement as an opportunity to spend Sir Peter’s money and become a member of the social set. Lady Teazle is feisty and intelligent and  feels no shame in exploiting her position. She develops an attachment towards Joseph.

Sir Oliver returns from the East Indies, and is bemused that his old friend Sir Peter has taken a young wife. Sir Oliver learns of his nephews reputations and decides that he will test them in disguise.

Sir Oliver ( disguised as Mr Premium), and Moses, a jewish moneylender, meet Charles at his house. Charles is in need of money. There is little left to sell apart from the family portraits and Sir Oliver buys all that are offered. There is one painting which Charles will not sell, which is a portrait of Sir Oliver who he thinks fondly of as his benefactor.

Lady Teazle visits Joseph, and as they are flirting with each other, Sir Peter is announced. Lady Teazle hides behind a screen and Sir Peter tells Joseph that he suspects his wife is having an affair with Charles. Next on the scene is Charles. Before he enters the room, Sir Peter entreats Jospeph to question his brother about the matter, and hides himself in a closet to overhear the conversation. Sir Peter almost discovers his wife behind the screen, but Joseph tells Sir Peter that it is a floozy who rushed to hide herself as Sir Peter came into the room.

Charles denies outright that he has had any relationship with Lady Teazle and that his affections are for Maria. In turn he then says that he is aware of of an attraction between Joseph and Lady Teazle. Joseph tries to silence him and then tells him that Sir Peter is in hiding and can overhear all. Charles calls Sir Peter out, and Sir Peter is relieved that the rumours of an affair between his wife and Charles are incorrect. Little does he realize that his wife is hidden in the same room and that she has been having an affair with Joseph.

A servant comes and quietly tells Joseph that Lady Sneerwell has arrived. Joseph goes out of the room to talk to Lady Sneerwell and while he is out Sir Peter and Charles talk and Sir Peter tells Charles that his brother is not as morally upright as he seems, and has a wench hidden behind the screen in the very same room. Charles decides to reveal the girl, and throws down the screen as Joseph reenters the room. Lady Teazle is revealed.

Charles leaves, somewhat gleefully. Joseph tries to explain away the situation, but Lady Teazle rebukes him and reconciles with Sir Peter, whose words  showing his feelings for her, she overheard.

The fifth act opens with Joseph receiving Sir Oliver, who is disguised as Mr Stanley, a poor relation seeking financial assistance.  Joseph tells this character that Sir Oliver never gave him any significant assistance and he is not in a position to help him.

Meanwhile rumours and gossip are spreading about the affair which culminates in a story that Sir Peter is dangerously wounded in a duel with Charles.

Eventually Sir Peter, Lady Teazle, Charles and Joseph meet at Joseph’s house. Joseph’s hypocrisy  stands against  Charles acknowledged faults.  Maria and Charles make marriage plans.  Lady Sneerwell is revealed as a mischief maker who used an accomplice, Snake, to forge letters between Charles and Lady Teazle in order to derail a match between Charles and Maria. Charles will become Sir Oliver’s heir, and Joseph is left with the company of his co-conspirator, Lady Sneerwell.

It is an amusing farce, and the scene where both Sir Peter and his wife are hidden, unbeknownst to each other in Joseph’s library is something which would only probably work on the stage, or a Marx brothers movie! Both Joseph and Lady Sneerwell get their “just deserts” in the end through exposure and humiliation. That this play continues to be performed is a tribute to the skill and imagination of the playwright.

There is another plot summary here

The Illustrator

Cecil Beaton was mostly known for fashion photography but also designed sets and costumes for plays.

The illustrations in this book are part of the costume designs and stage settings of the related tour of the Olivier produced play. The Folio Society continued this theme of the illustrations reflecting a stage production for some years to come, most famously with the Salvador Dali plates in “As You Like It” in 1953.

The Illustrations

All the women have impossibly narrowed waists, but I do like the designs!

Lady Teazle


Sir Peter Teazle

Charles Surface

Mrs Candour

Sir Oliver Surface