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Theatre / The Old Maid

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The Old Maid is a 1935 play by Zoë Akins, based on a novella by Edith Wharton.

It is set in the American South between the years 1833 and 1854. Delia and Charlotte Lovell are cousins, society princesses of wealth. On the day of Delia's wedding her caddish old boyfriend Clem has the poor timing to show up in town after two years away. Delia, panicked, sends Charlotte off to intercept Clem at the train station. Naturally, the demands of melodrama result in Clem impregnating Charlotte that night. Charlotte keeps her pregnancy a secret, delivers a daughter, Tina, and houses Tina with another family. Years pass, and Charlotte becomes engaged to Delia's brother-in-law Joseph—but a selfish, scheming Delia decides to obstruct the relationship.

Made into a 1939 film directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Bette Davis as Charlotte and Miriam Hopkins as Delia.


  • Doorstop Baby: Tina is passed off as this.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Although Delia rejects Clem she is jealous of Charlotte for her relationship with him. This is why she ruins Charlotte's engagement.
  • Maiden Aunt: Everyone thinks Charlotte is this.
  • Old Maid: Charlotte becomes this, living in Delia's household, Tina's parentage a closely guarded family secret.
  • Orphanage of Love: Charlotte's orphanage, even if she does love one particular child there a tiny bit more than the rest.
  • Quitting to Get Married: Charlotte's fiancee Joe insists she quit her job at the orphanage, which is a problem for Charlotte, as her daughter Tina is one of the orphans.
  • Title Drop: Charlotte describes herself as this. She deliberately plays this role, in fact, acting the bitter old maid to stop Tina from guessing her parentage.
  • Uptown Girl: Tina was a foundling, so Lanning's rich, snooty parents are against the match.

Tropes found in the 1939 film:

  • Chick Flick: Typical of the "women's films" Bette Davis made during this era, and maybe the best example of this trope in that there is no male lead. Instead it's a film about two female cousins and their complicated relationship.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the movie, Clem is killed at Vicksburg. In the play, he simply leaves town.
  • Door-Closes Ending: Ends with Charlotte and Delia going back into the house arm-in-arm, having reconciled, and the door closing behind them.
  • Setting Update: The film is moved up to the 1860s and The American Civil War. The location is moved from somewhere in the South to somewhere in the North as well.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Charlotte's baby, after Clem is killed in the war.
  • Time Passes Montage: A few shots of soldiers in trenches as years pass by gets the Civil War across. It includes a gravestone to let the viewers know Clem didn't survive the war. Another has Tina walking along in progressively more "grown-up" dresses to illustrate her passage into young adulthood.