Places: The Confidential Clerk

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1954

First produced: 1953

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy of manners

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedMulhammer’s house

Mulhammer’s Confidential Clerk, The house. Stately London home that represents high society while also housing many illusions and self-deceptions. Although most of this house is not shown in the play, its grand business room gives the impression that the entire house is similarly grand. One entire room is devoted to Sir Claude’s own pottery and his dream of becoming a first-rate artist–a goal he knows he will never achieve. The house is thus devoted to his attempt to overcome his artistic failings with business successes. Colby Simpkins is brought into the home to be the new confidential clerk, largely because Sir Claude thinks Colby is Sir Claude’s illegitimate son, and in part because Sir Claude thinks Colby is another second-rate artist who must find his success in the business world.

By the end of the third act of the play, again set in the business room, all characters’ illusions are dispelled, and the play’s changelings have found their true identities. Colby proves to be the son of a disappointed church musician, so Colby pursues a church profession in Joshua Park, the part of London in which Mulhammer’s former confidential clerk, Eggerson, lives. Barnabas Kaghan is the misplaced foundling of Lady Elizabeth, so he proudly joins the family as Lucasta’s fiancé. Only Sir Claude, who at first seems most in charge, ends in speechless despair as his illusions crumble around him at a hearing he himself has called.

Mulhammer’s flat

Mulhammer’s flat. Bachelor’s apartment renovated for Colby Simpkins. The main room’s most prominent furnishings include a fine piano and a desk with a typewriter, thus symbolizing the tension in Colby’s life between the world of art and the world of business. It is in this apartment in the second act that Colby realizes that his world contains too many illusions and that he must find the truth before he can choose his profession.

BibliographyBrowne, Elliot Martin. The Making of T. S. Eliot’s Plays. London: Cambridge University Press, 1969. The classic testament to the writing and production of Eliot’s plays from the man who collaborated in their staging and provided invaluable help and criticism to the dramatist at every stage.Jones, David Edwards. The Plays of T. S. Eliot. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960. Provides a useful chapter-length analysis of The Confidential Clerk as well as an introductory discussion of the genre of poetic drama.Smith, Carol H. T. S. Eliot’s Dramatic Theory and Practice. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963. A good basic account of Eliot’s ideas of dramatic theory and practice, which gives the reader a sense of what Eliot intended to achieve in his work.Smith, Grover. T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meanings. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974. An essential reference guide for any interested reader of Eliot’s work, which provides details of his sources and inspirations as well as a comprehensive analysis of the explicit and implicit meanings.Ward, David. T. S. Eliot Between Two Worlds: A Reading of T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. Provides a useful reading of the conflicts and complexities in Eliot’s thinking, a discussion that is relevant to an understanding of the play.
Categories: Places