Patienceor, Bunthorne's Bride
Picture it — London, 1880
Queen Victoria is on the throne. She has taken to wearing black in mourning the death of her beloved Albert. But this has gone on for years. The British public, out of respect for their queen, have also worn somber colors. It was a dark, unattractive time in London. Very Dickens.
A small group of artists had had enough. Poets Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne and painter James Whistler (of Whistler's Mother fame) were part of an 'Inner Brotherhood' that preached the new religion of beauty as a reaction against the ugliness of the Victorian age — the Aesthetic Movement.
The Aesthetics believed in art, truth and beauty (very Bohemian) and that above all was love. They longed for a more Renaissance-like time, where clothing and hair fashions were more romantic, and flowers were considered 'ideal'. That one's language should be as ornate as those flowers, and be able to exclude those who were 'unenlightened'. That paintings should reflect a period of time prior to the artist Raphael (the Pre-Raphaelites). And that a person was not refined unless they gave their whole heart to love — often to the extent of being love-sick.
This, of course, was a shock to the general public, who did not understand this 'fad', let alone the phrases that were being used. Women would walk around moping, claiming to have found the ultimate love. Men would walk down the streets in velvet suits, staring at sunflowers. And people would often be posed as if they were the subject of a stained-glass window.
Our story revolves around the aesthetic poet Bunthorne and the rapturous maidens who hang on his every word. They listen to him with adoration, but he remains insensible to their passion. He only has eyes for the unenlightened Patience, the village milk-maid. Patience has never experienced this Aesthetic 'love', and she learns that true love must be "utter unselfishness."
The previous year, the officers of a regiment of the Dragoon Guards cavalry had been much loved by the maidens, but now they are accorded a different welcome. Bunthorne has 'idealized' the maidens, and their 'eyes are open'.
But Bunthorne has a secret. He admits to being an Aesthetic sham — he is only feigning aestheticism to gain admiration. But Patience still could never love him.
Patience remembers a boy who was her child-companion, and when the equally aesthetic Grosvenor appears she discovers it is he. They love each other, but Patience, in the belief that true love is "utter unselfishness," thinks she cannot marry one so perfect.
Bunthorne, dejected by Patience's rejection, has decided to put himself up to be raffled for amongst the other maidens. Just as the lot is to be drawn, Patience in her "utter unselfishness" says that she will marry him because "she detests him so."
The disappointed maidens then return to the Dragoons, but when they see Grosvenor, immediately transfer their affections to him because "he is aesthetic!"
Love triangles abound, and couples are formed and lost. Until the final question becomes, who will be Bunthorne's Bride?