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ACT SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
(The play consists of four acts with no scenes.)
The play opens with an exchange between Mr. Roebuck Ramsden, an older gentleman, and a younger man, Octavius Robinson. Ramsden is consoling Octavius, whose guardian, Mr. Whitefield, has recently passed away. Octavius tells Mr. Ramsden he was never able to fully express his gratitude to Whitefield for treating him "like a son." Mr. Ramsden soothes him, then smoothly broaches the subject of Whitefield’s daughter Ann. The older man has been appointed guardian for both of Whitefield’s daughters and thinks Octavius would be an excellent match for Ann. Octavius, however, is extremely shy and believes he lacks the ambition he thinks a lady like Ann requires. For his part, Mr. Ramsden is certain it is a good match and encourages Ovtavius to act on it. Casually, he also mentions to Octavius that he disapproves of one of the young man’s friends, a fellow by the name of John Tanner. It seems Tanner is the author of a political handbook, and Mr. Ramsden finds him highly unacceptable.
The maid comes in and announces that John Tanner has come calling. Upon his entrance, Tanner announces that he has been appointed as joint guardian to Ann, a duty he must share with Mr. Ramsden. Tanner seems as aggrieved by this charge as Ramsden, though it soon becomes clear that Tanner’s distaste stems more from caution over Ann than from personality conflicts with Ramsden. He reveals that he is partially responsible for this unwelcome charge; at one point he told Mr. Whitefield that Ramsden "has defunct ideas" and that he should never be allowed to govern Ann’s life without some help from a younger, more progressive man. Evidently, Whitefield chose him as that progressive assistant.
Ann enters with her mother. She is a lovely young woman, full of expression and life. She commands both attention and affection from nearly everyone she meets. Ramsden, whom she calls "Granny," thinks she is near perfection. Still, both he and Tanner appeal to her to choose one of her appointed guardians; it seems neither wants to serve out his obligation with the other. Ann sweetly insists that her father’s will be followed exactly; in reality, she is acting on her own will, for she is in love with Tanner.
It is announced that Octavius’ sister, Miss Violet Robinson, is pregnant and further, that she refuses to name the father of her child. Ramsden, Octavius, and Mrs. Whitefield go in search of Violet, leaving Ann and Tanner alone. Ann and ‘Jack’ (as she affectionately calls him) talk about their long history together; evidently they have been friends since childhood. As children, Ann seemed to have the ability to get Tanner to confide everything to her. Now, as an adult, John seems more resolute, set to defend himself against Ann and her blatant manipulations of everyone, including himself. He is determined to resist her appeals.
Violet enters, followed by Miss Ramsden, Roebuck’s spinster sister. Miss Ramsden voices her puritanical disapproval of Violet and insists that she leave at once or confess and repent her transgression. Violet is anything but repentant though; in fact, she seems almost proud. John Tanner applauds her condition, thinking she is blatantly disregarding the conventions of society by being an unwed mother. Violet turns to him and announces that she is not an unwed mother. Instead, she claims she is actually married, but refuses to reveal the name of her husband. She proceeds to give the rest of the characters a tongue lashing for judging her harshly.