DH Lawrence's second play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, written in 1910 but unpublished until 1914, is an intense and powerful drama in the naturalist tradition, set in a Nottinghamshire mining town. It was staged for the first time in 1916, by the Players Producing Company at the Little Theatre in Los Angeles, USA. In 1920 it was staged in Britain, in an amateur production at the Garrick Theatre in Altrincham.
The play's action is set in the kitchen of a miner’s cottage. Elizabeth Holroyd is an educated woman with refined sensibilities, struggling to make a good home for her two children in the grime and poverty of a Nottinghamshire mining town. Poverty is not the only problem she faces, for her husband, a miner, is a brutish man, prone to fighting, drinking and spending his evenings in the pub. Blackmore, a mine electrician, recognises Mrs Holroyd as a kindred spirit, and asks her to leave her husband for him, promising to make a new life for her and her children in faraway Spain. Matters come to a head when Mr Holroyd arrives home from the pub one evening in the company of two strange women, ‘hussies’ who are his drinking and dancing partners. It soon becomes apparent that his relationship with one of the women, Clara, is more than casual, and that they have probably been having an affair. But Clara is her own woman, and her own history includes an unhappy marriage, which causes her to empathise with Mrs Holroyd’s situation. Recognising the hurt caused by her visit, Clara leaves, and the angry Mrs Holroyd then throws her husband out – only to have him return a few hours later for an angry confrontation with Blackmore. The action concludes when Mr Holroyd once again fails to return home after work. Believing that he has gone to the pub as usual, Mrs Holroyd begins to take Blackmore’s proposal more seriously. However, she then learns that there has been an accident at the mine, and that her husband was trapped. Finally she is told that he has been killed. The play ends with his wife and mother preparing his body for burial.
In the years following Lawrence’s death in 1930, his plays were performed only rarely. An Independent Television adaptation of The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd was broadcast in 1958, but theatre producers proved less interested in his drama. In 1965, however, director Peter Gill staged Lawrence’s play A Collier’s Friday Night for one night at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The production was a critical success and two years later Gill staged Lawrence’s The Daughter-in-Law at the same theatre, following this in 1968 with a season of Lawrence’s work, comprising A Collier’s Friday Night, The Daughter-in-Law and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd. Since Gill’s productions The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd has received several notable productions.
This edition of the play is edited by Colin Counsell.