Madame Arcati: You say she’s visible only to your husband?
Ruth Condomine: Yes.
Madame Arcati: Visible only to husband. Audible too, I presume?
Ruth Condomine: Extremely audible.
Blithe Spirit, written in 1941, is a light comedy about a writer, Charles Condomine, who is looking for new material for a book and invites an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to dinner with friends at this house in the country.
The dinner goes well, with hosts and guest being both interested in and slightly mocking Madam Arcati’s powers. Of course, no one believes in the supernatural. And no one takes the seance seriously. Not even when Madame Arcati enters a state of trance.
When the party winds down, Charles begins to see and hear the spectre of his dead wife, Elvira. Unfortunately, no one else can. Especially not his current wife, Ruth.
Charles Condomine: I haven’t forgotten Elvira. I remember her very distinctly, in deed. I remember how fascinating she was and how maddening. I remember how her gay charm when she’d achieved her own way over something and her extreme acidity when she didn’t. I remember her physical attractiveness, which was tremendous, and her spiritual integrity which was nil.
Ruth Condomine: Was she more physically attractive than I am?
Charles Condomine: That’s a very tiresome question, darling. It fully deserves a wrong answer.
While some of the dialogue is dated, there is still something fun and fresh about the interaction between the characters – especially once Elvira’s presence in the house can no longer be denied.
The most fun of the characters, however, is Madame Arcati. With her no-nonsense approach to life, her fondness for exercise, and her obvious interest in the occult, she is as contrary as she is forceful, and her portrayal always strikes me a combination of a games mistress and an ethereal tree worshipper. She is also a successful author of children’s books.
Violet Bradman: Can you foretell the future?
Madame Arcati: Certainly not. I disapprove of fortune-tellers most strongly.
Violet Bradman: Oh, really – why?
Madame Arcati: Too much guesswork and fake mixed up with it – even when the gift is genuine – and it only very occasionally is – you can’t count on it.
Ruth Condomine: Why not?
Madame Arcati: Time again. Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked.
Ruth Condomine: You mean because it has never yet been proved that the past and the present and the future are not one and the same thing?
Madame Arcati: I long ago came to the conclusion that nothing has ever been definitely proved about anything.
Blithe Spirit is not my favourite of Coward’s plays, but it is one I love to come back to all the same.