Heartbreak House

Heartbreak House

Written by
George Bernard Shaw

Date premiered
November 1920

Place premiered
Garrick Theatre, New York

Original language

A dinner party at an eccentric household during World War 1

Chekhovian tragicomedy

England, World War I

Heartbreak House: A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes is a play written by George Bernard Shaw, first published in 1919 and first played at the Garrick Theatre in November 1920. According to A. C. Ward, the work argues that “cultured, leisured Europe” was drifting toward destruction, and that “Those in a position to guide Europe to safety failed to learn their proper business of political navigation”.[1] The “Russian manner” of the subtitle refers to the style of Anton Chekhov, which Shaw adapts.


1 Characters
2 Plot summary
3 Relation to Chekhov
4 Major themes

4.1 Society
4.2 Character traits
4.3 Fate
4.4 Play in performance

5 Editions
6 References
7 External links


Ellie Dunn
Nurse Guinness
Captain Shotover
Lady Utterword
Hesione Hushabye
Mazzini Dunn
Hector Hushabye
Boss Alfred Mangan
Randall Utterword
Burglar (Billy Dunn)

Plot summary[edit]

Albert Perry as Shotover and Elisabeth Risdon as Ellie Dunn in the original 1920 production. This scene was inspired by Millais’ painting The North-West Passage.[2]

Geraldine Fitzgerald and Orson Welles in the 1938 Mercury Theatre production [3]

Ellie Dunn, her father, and her fiancé are invited to one of Hesione Hushabye’s infamous dinner parties, to be held at the house of her father, the eccentric Captain Shotover, an inventor in his late 80s who is trying to create a “psychic ray” that will destroy dynamite. The house is built in the shape of the stern of a ship. Lady Utterword, Shotover’s other daughter, arrives from Australia, but he pretends not to recognise her. Hesione says they are running out of money. Shotover needs to invent a weapon of mass destruction. His last invention, a lifeboat, did not bring in much cash. Ellie intends to marry businessman Boss Mangan, but she really loves a man she met in the National Gallery. Unfortunately, her fiancé is a ruthless scoundrel, her father’s a bumbling prig, and it turns out that the man she’s in love with is Hector, Hesione’s husband, who spends his time telling romantic lies to women. Marriage to Mangan will be the sensible choice.
A burglar is captured. They say they do not want to prosecute him, but he insis