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The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie (1945)

by Tennessee Williams

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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I love this play, but I hate it because I was that painfully shy girl who lived in her own world and it just felt like I was reading about myself that existed a few years ago, luckily I'm not like that anymore. The characters were great for the story Amanda, Laura and Tom don't seem like people who would come from the same family, but then you see how they interact and see why there is tension. The thing that I didn't like was how over the top descriptive Williams made it, sure it's great for visualizations and understanding the characters, but I would much rather learned about the characters by reading their dialog and actions instead of being told in the beginning who was who and everything about their personality. With that said, I am surprised how there are things that can be interpreted differently by people, usually when the characters are pinned down with straight forward descriptions, there isn't much wiggle room for thought on the plot. Whether or not Tom was selfish, I thought for sure, Williams would either make it clear which way he was, but left it open. ( )
  GrlIntrrptdRdng | May 14, 2015 |
Had to read this for school and I don't know why they insisted on us reading all the literature of the era I hate so much. But they did. What I don't get about this play is the weird screen with the symbolic pictures. It's supposed to be a memory, does the author have such a symbolic memory screen in his head? I don't like obvious symbolism, this was about as obvious as you can get. The story was the same bland, bleak, "were so disillusioned" story of the era. Ugh. The one thing I did like was the name. "The glass menagerie" just sounds pleasing. ( )
  locriian | Oct 27, 2014 |
Highly symbolic yet human. Laura is certainly the tragic character ... unable to spread her wings due to the dominance and overbearing attitude of a well-meaning mother, she is allowed to glimpse another world in which she is a whole person only to have it snatched from her. Truly tragic. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 19, 2014 |
I read this for my Classics Book Group. It was interesting to read a play for the group. There was only one time that I really enjoyed this play. That time was when my friend, Mary Jo directed it. For the first time I was able to see the human side of Amanda. I was very impressed. In the past this character had seemed like a cartoon of the evil mother. I'm very glad I had a chance to see this perspective.

I hadn't read Glass Menagerie since high school. I found it much more interesting this time. This edition had some interesting background in the introduction and afterward. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Tennessee Williams

The Glass Menagerie

Methuen, Paperback, [2009].

8vo. xcv+121 pp. With Commentary [xliii-xcii] and Notes [107-116] by Stephen Bottoms.

The Glass Menagerie first published by Random House, 1945.
First published by New Directions, 1949.
Methuen Student Edition first published, 2000.
Reissued with additional material and a new cover design, 2008.
Reissued with a new cover design, 2009.


Tennessee Williams, 1911-1983

- Autobiography or fiction?
- Earlier versions
- Theatrical magic
- Playing the roles

Further Reading

The Glass Menagerie

'The Catastrophe of Success'
Questions for Further Study


This is not a review of the play per se but of this particular edition. Knights of the Blue Flag, protect the moral integrity of LibraryThing.

As Methuen Student Editions go, this one has all main features but differs in certain details. The most notable difference is the Synopsis (usually called “Plot”). It is thirty pages long, and not only does it contain numerous passages that really belong to the Commentary, but it relates the story in totally intolerable detail. Now, I don’t mind having, in an edition like this, a summary of the play to refresh my memory about the basic events scene by scene and to have a bird’s-eye view of the work’s structure as a whole. But this must be kept as brief as possible. Otherwise it’s not just tedious but worse: it’s pointless. If you’re going to read thirty pages of synopsis, you had much better read the whole play. It’s only three times longer but infinitely more powerful.

The Further Reading is disappointing, less extensive and less well-organized than in other volumes, but the Commentary is surprisingly absorbing. Much unlike many of his colleagues, Mr Bottoms writes pleasantly trenchant and meaningful prose virtually devoid of obscure and pretentious garbage. He explores with judicious perspicacity the all-important parallels with Tennessee’s life, the complicated genesis of the play, the complexity of the characters, and the revolutionary stage effects. One can always profit by his sage and sane remarks. I know I did.

“The best autobiographies are confessions; but if a man is a deep writer all his works are confessions.” I am pleased to report that Mr Bottoms apparently kept in mind Bernard Shaw’s immortal words while he was writing “Autobiography or fiction?”, not the most promisingly titled section of his commentary. The no-man’s-land between a writer’s works and the facts of his life is notoriously prone to nonsense. This is usually done by biographers, though sometimes the critics can’t resist the temptation either, but in both cases the results often range from impressive superficiality to tremendous distortion of the writer’s personality and outlook. Mr Bottoms is a wonderful exception [1]. He doesn’t pull any punches and frankly declares that Menagerie is “Williams’ most blatantly autobiographical play”. But consider what follows:

However, as Williams himself once remarked, if it is true that all of his work is in some way autobiographical, it is equally true that none of it is. Menagerie is a fiction which draws heavily of Williams’ own experiences of young adulthood in St. Louis, Missouri (the city in which the play itself is set), but the details of the story are also fictionalised, enhanced and rearranged in numerous ways. The events of the play are not revelations of a personal history but the component parts of a distinct, poetic vision dealing with themes of memory and loss, isolation and interdependence, to name but the most obvious. Williams clearly drew heavily on personal experiences in constructing his narrative, but was in no way limited or bound by them.

It is illuminating to note some of the real-life events on which the play was based and how much – and why – Tennessee changed them.

To begin with, from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s the Williams family did live in a small flat in St Louis, much like the one in which the whole play takes place, described in the opening stage direction with “lyrical disgust” (now and then Mr Bottoms produces ravishing phrases that rival the sheer power of Tennessee’s poetry in prose). Edwina Dakin Williams, much like Amanda Wingfield, was a Southern belle obsessed with her distant past as a sex symbol. It is probably not too far-fetched to suggest that for those ladies the Civil War never really did happen. Both still lived in the Old South and received gallant gentleman callers. Both made the same mistake, too. They married, not a wealthy gentleman with aristocratic pretences, but a travelling representative of the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company. Laura’s playing old Victrola records, attending with disastrous results the Rubicam’s Business College (the name’s unchanged in the play) and being used as bait for the elaborate (but ultimately unsuccessful) matchmaking schemes of her mother also rest on historical fact.

The differences are more telling. As every creative writer, Tennessee was “a notorious fabricator” of his autobiography even in essays and interviews, let alone in his fiction. In Menagerie, he took vast liberties with his familial history. Dakin, his brother, is never even alluded to, neither did Cornelius, his father, ever leave the family for good. Indeed, the father’s character is profoundly changed; he is “a mysteriously romantic figure, a roamer of the world, rather than the stuffily unimaginative man that Cornelius seems to have been.” Mr Bottoms shrewdly points out the dramatic significance of this change, but I would like to gratefully disagree with him about the personal side:

Tom thus has a father figure he can aspire to emulate – and yet at the same time, the father’s selfish desertion of his family has entrapped Tom more tightly than Williams himself ever was. Tom has to be the main breadwinner for the family, and his own struggle whether or not to leave thus has far greater consequences than it actually did for Williams.

Judging by the essay “The Man in the Overstuffed Chair”, Tennessee’s most personal account of familial tragedy, he was by no means less “entrapped” by his father than Tom is in the play, neither were the consequences of his father’s influence less devastating. It should be noted that the essay was written circa 1960, at least 15 years after the play when Cornelius Williams was no longer alive, and it was first published still two decades later. Nevertheless, I think it’s relevant. This is outrageously unsupported speculation, but I have a feeling that in Menagerie Tennessee paid, if only unconsciously, a special tribute to his father. It is not so much the fact that he turned him into a romantic figure, deserting his family yet somehow escaping the reader’s indignation, but that he made Tom sharing his fate as well as the reader’s sympathy. Some 15 years later, Tennessee came to realise how much he owed his father – from the rabid use of drugs and booze to the urge for creative work – and perhaps he expressed that in Menagerie. It is fascinating, if not very convincing, to regard the play as Tennessee’s first, probably dim, recognition that he was a true son to his father. I am grateful to Mr Bottoms for suggesting, though unintentionally, this notion to me

The “glass menagerie” did apparently exist, but it belonged to one Mrs Maggie Wingfield, a resident of Clarksdale, Mississippi, during Tennessee’s childhood years (the town appears in several plays, including Menagerie, under the code name “Blue Mountain”). The playwright later claimed that the collection did belong to his sister, Rose, but Lyle Leverich, his most industrious and conscientious biographer, discovered otherwise: “the dramatist dramatizing himself” was his laconic conclusion. According to Dakin, Rose did have a glass collection of her own but it consisted of “just two or three pieces… very cheap little things, probably purchased at Woolworth’s.” Probably Tennessee later merged both recollections and convinced himself in the veracity of the story. Much of this is neither terribly convincing nor especially fiction-proof. The much more important point is that the glass menagerie in the play became a symbolic representation of “the fragile, delicate ties that must be broken, that you inevitably break, when you try to fulfil yourself” as Tennessee put it himself [2].

Mr Bottoms considers Tennessee’s decision to move the action of the play to 1937-38 “arguably the most telling” of all rearrangements. At first glance, this does look suspiciously superficial. The real events, such as they were, happened but a few years earlier than that. What good such a minor shift could do? In this special case, quite a bit. Mr Bottoms has two arguments, “one obvious and the other far more private”, and I think both are worth considering and best left in his own words (and quotations); I add his generous assessment that forms the conclusion of this section from the Commentary:

Clearly, there is a wish to relate the events of the play to the broader historical realities of 1938, with the sense of foreboding and the threat of war which seemed to be in the air at the time: Williams wanted to parallel the domestic crisis of the play with far greater crises in the world at large, creating an interwoven narrative of public and private calamity. Moreover, as Christopher Bigsby has pointed out, the allusion to Chamberlain – the British Prime Minister who thought he had secured ‘peace in our time’ by dealing with Hitler – ‘is an invitation to read the events of the play ironically.’ With historical hindsight and distance, we see that, in their own ways, each of Williams’ characters is as guilty as Chamberlain of blinding himself or herself to the stark realities of their situation, and of indulging ‘the desire to live with comforting fictions, rather than confront brutal truths, a doomed and ultimately deadly strategy’ (Bigsby, 1997, p. 35).

On a still more personal level, the choice of 1937-8 also perhaps implies that Williams is attempting to deal, in his own allusive way, with the greatest tragedy of his family life – Rose’s descent into schizophrenia. It was this event, more than any other, which troubled Williams for the rest of his life, not only because of his own helplessness to do anything about it, but because of a sense of guilt: he himself had been too preoccupied at this period – in trying to complete his stop-start university career and to find publishers for his writing – to be of much assistance to Rose at the time when she most needed his love and help. In subsequent years, Williams repeatedly attempted to exorcise the memory of his sister’s decline through his writing, and it can be no mere coincidence that Tom Wingfield’s abandoning of his helpless, shy sister to face the future alone shares exactly the same historical timetable as Tennessee Williams’ failure to prevent his schizophrenic sister being committed to a sanatorium. (Rose was to remain institutionalised for the rest of her long life.)

The Glass Menagerie, then, can be read on one level as an attempt to find a way of dramatising the undramatisable. Not wishing to humiliate his beloved sister further by depicting Laura as insane, Williams imaginatively translated the memories of Rose’s decline into a different, quieter kind of tragedy. The depiction of Laura’s shyness and vulnerability – of the shattering of her tiny unicorn and of her fragile hopes for love – stands in as a kind of personal metaphor for the still more delicate state of Rose’s mind. (Laura’s crippled leg is also, of course, indicative of her fundamental difference and isolation from the rest of the world.) Crucially, though, Laura’s situation is also far more comprehensible to an audience than is actual madness: we can sympathise with her as a person with acute emotional difficulties, whereas a schizophrenic character on stage would inevitably be viewed as something frighteningly alien to most people’s experience. By hitting on the story of the gentleman caller, Williams found a way not only to face his own family’s demons but to translate them into terms which seem universally accessible and applicable. This, surely, is a hallmark of great writing.

Few things I would like to add. Tennessee’s desire to link the family tragedy with this of the world at large is supported by a very strong allusion to Hitler and a direct mention of Chamberlain’s name (“Suspended in the mist over Berchtesgaden, caught in the folds of Chamberlain’s umbrella – ”) in Scene 5. For me, personally, this has always been the meaning of the memorable phrase “for nowadays the world is lit by lightning!” which comes in the very last lines of the play. The Notes interpret these words as a poetical representation of “the brash modern era of bright lights and noise, in which Laura’s extreme delicacy is hopelessly out of place”, and though I think this is a perfectly valid interpretation, I am inclined to accept them as an ominous sign of the impending World War. After all, lightning is usually followed by thunder. And thunder is usually followed by storm.

In addition to “exactly the same historical timetable”, the dramatist has also confirmed himself that the play has a lot do with his sister’s mental decline: “I guess Menagerie grew out of the intense emotions I felt seeing my sister’s mind begin to go.” [3] I disagree with the interpretation of Laura’s crippled leg, too. I think it is exactly what Tennessee said it is in his prefatory note: the main reason for, not a symbol of, the pathological self-consciousness that ultimately leads to her fundamental isolation. Last but not least, Christopher Bigsby is the author of the essay “Entering The Glass Menagerie” which is reprinted in The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams, ed. Matthew C. Roudané, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

“Early versions” is not the ordinary and quite superficial parallel with “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” one might expect. Mr Bottoms does, of course, mention this short story and the all-too-obvious plot similarities with the play, but his main point is much more subtle. He observes that one “noticeable difference” is that the character of Laura became more elusive in the play; we are told very little about her, she has the fewest lines to speak, yet she is the character around whom the whole action revolves. This is seldom noticed and it makes for an illuminating contrast. It was a stroke of genius on Tennessee’s part to make Laura “more mysteriously shy” in The Glass Menagerie than she had ever been in earlier versions such as “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” or the totally obscure, still unpublished, one-act play If You Breath, It Breaks, presumably an even closer autobiographical account of his early life.

The editor goes a great deal further, and he is remarkably convincing about matters that often go astray in lesser hands. He makes an excellent case that Rose was actually the exact opposite of Laura. She was anything but shy, talked nineteen to the dozen, had countless suitors yet they all prove fickle in their affection, apparently put off by her incessant chattering. Can you imagine Laura as a flirtatious chatter-box? I certainly can’t. This may be the strongest nail in the coffin of “autobiographical fiction” I have ever come across. To get back to Rose, once she even had the audacity – “an unforgivable breach of social customs” at the time – to propose sex to one of her gentleman callers. What an outrage! Presumably inspired by his sister, Tennessee explored similar “sexually provocative or taboo-breaking” examples of the female psyche in one short story, “The Dark Room”, and two one-act plays, The Long Goodbye and The Purification, more, all of them written circa 1940. In later years, he continued to dramatise other aspects of Rose’s character, including some that came dangerously close to her schizophrenia, for example a girl named Willie in the one-act play The Property is Condemned (1946) and Catharine in Suddenly Last Summer (1958). Finally, Mr Bottoms goes as far as suggesting that the doomed romance between Laura and Jim may have stemmed, at least partly, from Tennessee’s not exactly successful teenage flirt with Hazel (see his Memoirs for a vastly entertaining account of her "delicious shoulders", Tom's putting his hand around them and – "I "came" in my white flannels"). This is going a little too far, but the rest of “Early versions” makes for a very stimulating read.

“Theatrical magic” deals with the “minor revolution of stylistic innovation” that Tennessee created with The Glass Menagerie, so different than the “staid, naturalistic fare which was standard in the American theatres in the 1940s.” The section is seriously flawed by the author’s insistence on quoting the critics (pointless, all of them) and his relying heavily on description (worthless, just read Tennessee’s own Production Notes; reprinted in this volume, of course). Nevertheless, Mr Bottoms makes several exceedingly interesting points as regards Tennessee’s elaborate stage directions and devices – from the stylised movements and the deliberately understated delivery of the actors to the use of transparent curtains and magic lantern by the producer – which usually have writers hopelessly wallowing in the vague morass of “expressionism” and “surrealism”. Much to his credit, he defends Tennessee’s suggestive (but often dismissed by arrogant directors) use of words and images that are supposed to be projected at crucial moments during the play. To stage Menagerie in a straightforward way is to do it a great disservice: at best, you end up with an ordinary drama; at worst, with a tawdry melodrama. But if one goes along with Tennessee’s passion for creating a dream-like, emotionally heightened atmosphere, purified from everyday trivialities, one may be surprised how relevant are all those details disparagingly called “theatrical effects”. It’s pleasant to meet an editor who clearly recognises this.

For reasons not clear to me, this section does not discuss production history and movie versions. I think this is regrettable. I am not familiar with the former, but I should like to say a few words about the latter. There have been three notable films over the years, and though all of them are rather obscure and certainly none comes even close to recreating the wistful lyricism of the original, they are worth seeing. (There is a fourth version from 1966 that looks rather promising cast-wise – Shirley Booth (Amanda), Pat Hingle (Jim), Hal Halbrook (Tom) and Barbara Loden (Laura) – but I have never seen it.) None of the four movies, so far as I know, has ever been released on DVD.

The 1950 version is a very free adaptation, with plenty of omissions, rearrangements and changes, but apart from the ridiculous second gentleman caller in the end (not really shown but certainly suggested) and one or two misguided innovations more, it is fascinating and entertaining historical curiosity. Despite solid efforts from Gertrude Lawrence (Amanda), Jane Wyman (Laura), Arthur Kennedy (Tom) and Kirk Douglas (Jim), it should be said that the characters are not really those created by Tennessee Williams. The reasons for this unfortunate discrepancy are complex but they may be traced, among other things, to the clipped dialogue that tends to oversimplify Tennessee’s creations. This detrimental effect is especially pronounced in the cases of Amanda and Tom; both are reduced to stock characters and neither Lawrence nor Kennedy is able to do anything about that. Laura and Jim fare better, mostly because Kirk Douglas offers a remarkably subtle and sensitive performance, free of obnoxious macho posturing; Jane Wyman is generally fine, but she overdoes the limp and suffers from Irving Rapper’s directorial neglect. Oddly enough, though we have plenty of additional scenes in the movie (e.g. Laura’s disastrous speed test in the Rubicam College, the lavish balls in Amanda’s youth in a flashback, Tom’s working at the warehouse and his friendship with Jim there), in the end we actually know less about the characters than we do after reading the original play.

The other two adaptations are chamber works. Both are much closer to the original and deliberately stagy in the best sense of the word. Both are mixed bags but well worth your time.

The 1973 version boasts Katherine Hepburn as a memorably vivacious Amanda, but the rest is hit-and-miss affair. There are several highly questionable cuts, most notably Tom’s opening monologue which is completely omitted; the scene is beautifully shot, with Tom’s roaming the night streets haunted by familiar sounds and delusional sights, but that doesn’t make the omission less unforgivable. That said, it seems to me, skimming through reviews, that this movie has been criticised more harshly than it deserves. For Hepburn’s eloquence alone, it is a must for anybody not indifferent to the play. She indeed makes the dialogue “sound better than it is by a matchless beauty and clarity of diction, and by a fineness of intelligence and sensibility that illuminates every shade of meaning in every line she speaks”, as Tennessee once wisely observed [4]. Sam Waterston is a volatile and hammy Tom; he captures well the ironic streak in the character, but he misses its depth and complexity. The perfectly gorgeous Michael Moriarty and the very pretty Joanna Miles do well as Jim and Laura, respectively, but neither is particularly memorable, not least because their romance falls very flat indeed. I also feel that Moriarty, perhaps afraid not to turn Jim into the brash caricature he is often victim of, consciously downplays his self-assurance – and this is surely fatal to the character.

The 1987 movie is directed by Paul Newman himself and has the strongest cast overall, but many scenes leave something to be desired. Visually, it is beautiful and haunting, with subdued lighting and claustrophobic sets that seem to symbolize the unreality and the hopelessness of the play. Some minor changes are imaginatively handled. For example, Tom’s opening monologue is spoken (directly into the camera) while he is visiting their old flat, now abandoned and ruined, and is illustrated by compelling flashbacks. John Malkovich (Tom), Joanne Woodward (Amanda), Karen Allen (Laura) and James Naughton (Jim) all give fine and subtle, but deliberately understated, performances. As an unfortunate side effect, however, the play becomes a little bland: the dramatic scenes are not intense enough, while the comic scenes are rather dull. The most memorable moments are the wordless ones, so I guess Paul Newman did the best job of all. Also worth of note, Henry Mancini’s original score uses the “Glass Menagerie” theme composed by Paul Bowles in 1944.

Perhaps The Glass Menagerie is that rare kind of play that comes off live in the theatre and nowhere else. So it should be seen produced on the stage; or better still, inside your head.

The last part of the commentary is the longest but least convincing. It finishes at the very end of pardonable vanity by discussing in some detail the author’s own production of the play. But let that pass. What is actually worse is that Mr Bottoms, together with the actress who played Laura, deliberately tried to turn the play’s bleak conclusion into something like happy end. He argues that “there is nothing in the play besides Tom’s narrative to suggest that Laura has been consigned to a similarly hopeless fate” and that the brother’s – and Jim’s – leaving her may be a “blessing in disguise”. This is a very original interpretation, but it strikes me as being different for the sake of difference, the most common and the gravest artistic crime: the misguided search for originality. Nobody can be original by trying; it doesn’t work this way. To even suggest such ending is almost as bad as to present Laura with a brand new gentleman caller to replace Jim, as did the first movie version from 1950. At the time, Tennessee was outraged and claimed that this ruined the whole play. And quite right he was.

Such “unexpectedly hopeful” interpretation is, to my mind, not viable for a number of reasons. First of all, there is nothing in Tom’s narrative to suggest that. And if we are going to doubt his words, we may just as well dismiss the whole play because everything in it is presented through his own eyes. Furthermore, it is not true to say that “there is nothing in the play besides Tom’s narrative that Laura has been consigned to a similarly hopeless”. On the contrary, the whole play points that way. Laura’s painful shyness is not the result of her one-sided infatuation with Jim in high school; it has deeper roots in her being crippled and, perhaps, naturally introverted and self-conscious. Even if she did “get over him” and utter her last “Yes!” with a smile wishing him all the best, there is no reason to suppose, based on the rest of the play including Laura’s relatively advanced age, that the incident will work out as a kind of instantaneously miraculous cure for her condition. Nahum Tate’s happy-ending King Lear is far more credible, and so is Streetcar with Mitch and Blanche happily married in the end. I would suggest as a much more probable interpretation precisely the opposite of Mr Bottoms’. The “Jim episode” is the final straw in Laura’s personal isolation; and with her brother gone forever, the situation is made even worse. From now on, she can only withdraw further into her illusions. If she smiles at Jim when he leaves, it is the smile of madness. She’s been on the verge of it for quite some time.

Mr Bottoms admits that their interpretation was “partially inspired” by Paula Killen’s one-woman show Still Life with Blue Roses (Chicago, 1997), “one of the growing number of creative responses” to the original play. I would love to see this show, but its influence on Mr Bottoms is a fine example of one of the most pernicious effects of spin-offs. They may stimulate interpretations that are not supported by the original text. A masterpiece very often illuminates the spin-offs it inspires. The opposite is by definition impossible, except in the extremely rare cases when the spin-off happens to be another masterpiece. I can’t think of a single example. In pretty much all cases, the spin-off is either greatly inferior to the original and suitable for nothing more than light entertainment, or greatly superior to it and thus a completely original work on its own. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has been much praised, to my chagrin, but a nearly non-existent minority would prefer it over Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Few people today read Gaston Leroux’s tedious Gothic romance The Phantom of the Opera, but everybody knows Andrew Lloyd Webber’s magnificent musical (or at least Joel Schumacher’s visually glorious but vocally flawed movie adaptation).

There is a good deal more in “Playing the Roles” which is not even worth reading, let alone worth disagreeing with. Is it really such a “controversial issue” that it’s never explained where Tom goes at night? (Not true, by the way. He says he goes to the movies, we have no reason to doubt his words, and he obviously does the bars.) The important point is that Tom compulsively runs away from reality; the means are quite irrelevant. And what is the point of speculating about his being gay and the play being a “closet drama”? (Oh dear, not again!) To Mr Bottoms’ credit, he has the audacity to refute this rubbish. But at another place he laments that Tennessee does not explore Amanda’s racism. Of course he doesn’t. It’s not essential for the play. But he does mention it casually because he knows it’s part and parcel of her character. Now this is great characterisation. Stick to point, and whenever you can, cut, as Somerset Maugham wisely observed [5].

The Notes in the end “are intended for use by foreign-language students as well as by English-speaking readers.” This explains why they contain many definitions of quite easy words, phrases and names (e.g. “fiasco”, “glamour magazine”, “Garbo picture”, “go steady with”, “jalopy”) as well as of some rather obscure topical references (e.g. “Dizzy Dean”, “Dardanella”, “Milk Fund”, “D.A.R.”). The latter are especially helpful.

All in all, this is an excellent edition of Tennessee’s first true masterpiece. It contains the complete text of the 1949 New Directions edition (very few minor differences with the First Edition by Random House, 1945), his “Production Notes” and “The Characters”, both of critical importance for the proper understanding of the play, and the magnificent essay “The Catastrophe of Success”, reprinted as a preface ever since the First British Edition (London: John Lehmann, 1948) and containing Tennessee’s trademark combination of candid autobiography and profound reflections on matters of universal import. The Commentary of Stephen Bottoms, warts and all, is what makes this book significantly better than many other editions – including the three dedicated to Tennessee’s plays in the Methuen Student series; their editorial contributions leave much more to be desired.


[1] Another wonderful exception is Robert Bray who, in his Introduction to The Glass Menagerie (New Directions, 1999, p. xi), offers this poetic yet astute observation:

In searching for autobiographical connections to Williams’s plays, then, one should come to regard Williams’s oeuvre not as a duplication of actual experience but as an organic holograph, synthesized and embellished from experience, analogous to Monet’s series of cathedral studies or Gauguin’s depictions of island life.

[2] Conversations with Tennessee Williams, ed. Albert Devlin, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986, p. 10, as quoted by Mr Bottoms.

[3] “Tennessee Williams, The Art of Theater No. 5”, an interview with Dotson Rader, The Paris Review, Fall 1981, No. 81. Fans of Tennessee Williams who are not familiar with this interview would do well to give it their full attention.

[4] See the essay “Five Fiery Ladies” (1961), reprinted in Where I Live: Selected Essays (1978), eds. Christine R. Day and Bob Woods.

[5] W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938), Chapter XXXV. ( )
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Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands. -e.e. cummings
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The Wingfield apartment is the rear of the building, one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of lower middle-class population and are symtomatic of the impulse of this largest and fundamentally enslaved section of American society to avoid fluidity and differentiation and to exist and function as one interfused mass of automatism.
You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it!
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This work refers to separate editions of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Scholarly editions that do contain the complete text of the play, in addition to critical commentary, belong here. Please do not combine with adaptations, movie versions, York notes or omnibus editions that also contain other plays.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811214044, Paperback)

No play in the modern theatre has so captured the imagination and heart of the American public as Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie.

Menagerie was Williams's first popular success and launched the brilliant, if somewhat controversial, career of our pre-eminent lyric playwright. Since its premiere in Chicago in 1944, with the legendary Laurette Taylor in the role of Amanda, the play has been the bravura piece for great actresses from Jessica Tandy to Joanne Woodward, and is studied and performed in classrooms and theatres around the world. The Glass Menagerie (in the reading text the author preferred) is now available only in its New Directions Paperbook edition. A new introduction by prominent Williams scholar Robert Bray, editor of The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, reappraises the play more than half a century after it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award: "More than fifty years after telling his story of a family whose lives form a triangle of quiet desperation, Williams's mellifluous voice still resonates deeply and universally." This edition of The Glass Menagerie also includes Williams's essay on the impact of sudden fame on a struggling writer, "The Catastrophe of Success," as well as a short section of Williams's own "Production Notes." The cover features the classic line drawing by Alvin Lustig, originally done for the 1949 New Directions edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:24 -0400)

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The only single edition now available of this American classic about a mother obsessed with her disabled daughter.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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