I recently saw the play The Children’s Hour performed in my hometown. The actors did a great job. Lillian Hellman is one of my favorite playwrights. I think she’s up there with Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, and Chekov.
The Children’s Hour was based on a true story about two women running a school in Scotland in the early 1800s. Back then most professions weren’t open to women, so this was their livelihood. One of the female students disliked a teacher. The girl spread a rumor that the teacher and her co-teacher were lesbians. In real life, the teachers took the matter to court and won. The only problem? Their reputations had been ruined.
Hellman’s play came out in 1934. It had numerous runs, but it was banned in certain cities because discussing homosexuality was taboo. However, I don’t believe the two female characters were gay. Women can and do love each other. Some women are jealous if a good friend marries. Back then, to be gay meant you could be thrown into prison for “indecent” acts or “unnatural” affections. When I first saw the movie with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, I thought the underlying theme was gossip: telling other people’s personal business, whether it’s true or false.
Gossip has destroyed churches, reputations; even marriages. Gossip is a sin, but let’s face it: people love gossip. Tabloid magazines make millions on it.
Well, times have certainly changed. Gays are accepted, but gossip is still deadly. Hellman’s play shows us how deadly gossip can be.