Smoke Screens by Herold Brighouse | Author Summary Questions & Explanation

Smoke Screens by Herold Brighouse

Smoke Screens | One-Act Play

About the author

Harold Brighouse (26 July 1882 — 25 July 1958) The writer of smoke screens was an English author and playwright. He is known for his famous play Hobson’s Choice. He was distinguished and prominent along with Allan Monkhouse and Stanley Houghton. They all belong to a group known as the Manchester School of Dramatists.

Brighouse also composed novels, Hepplestalls that concerns a Lancashire mill-owning family in the 19th century. Moreover, he also wrote many reviews and other pieces of literature for the Manchester Guardian.

He was a member of the Dramatists’ Club and in 1930—31 was chairman of the Society of Authors’ dramatic committee. After 1931 he wrote no more full-length plays. He wrote the autobiography What I Have Had which was published in 1953.

Characters of the Play

Lucy Auston

Lucy Auston is a forty years old woman. She divorced her husband and lived with her daughter Primrose. She is a hard-working and graceful lady. She loves and cares for her daughter intensely.


Charles was the husband of Lucy Auston. We come to know that Lucy had divorced him. He was unfaithful and disloyal to his wife. He had illicit relations with many women.


Susan is Lucy Auston’s sister. She lives in the countryside and comes to meet her sister.


Primrose is the central character of the play. She is the protagonist. She is a representative of a new generation. She intends to marry an ugly man against the will of her mother. Her mother accepts her at last and permits Primrose to marry John.


Clarice is John’s sister. John wants to marry Primrose. Clarice comes to Primrose’s house and convinces Primrose’s mother for John and Primrose’s marriage.


John is an ugly person. He wants to marry Primrose. At the last of the play, Lucy agrees to Primrose and John’s marriage.


The play Smoke Screens is a social comedy of conflict among three generations the old, middle, and the young. The play starts with a scene in Lucy Aston’s sitting room. The curtain rises with the appearance of Susan. She is 50 years old.

She selects a record and plays it on the gramophone. She has come to meet her sister Lucy Aston from the countryside. Suddenly, Primrose, Susan’s niece enters and begins to search her bag.

Susan turns off the gramophone but Primrose asks her to continue listening to it, as she is just leaving the house after finding her bag which contains only lipstick and three pounds of cash. Susan hides her bag under her seat in order to keep Primrose at home.

Susan does not like Primrose going out alone at night. Susan wants to talk to her and advises her to mend her manners. But Primrose does not like the interference of her aunt. Susan is shocked to see Primrose smoking openly.

Susan also remarks that the cigarette tastes like all the sins of Asia. Primrose suspects her aunt and asks her to stand up rather than she will drag her down on the floor. When Susan leaves the sofa, Primrose gets her bag and runs out.

After Primrose goes out, Susan’s sister Lucy arrives. Susan complains about the impoliteness of Primrose. Susan suspects her to be visiting any nightclub or bad company that may ultimately lead her to the devil.

But Lucy defends her daughter saying that she does not understand the requirements of the young generation as she lives in the countryside. Susan appreciates her sister Lucy Susan appreciates Lucy and calls her a hard-working lady who has fought life like a heroine.

She tells Lucy that she has a mistake by divorcing her husband and raising her daughter without a father. Her husband Charles was a charming man but he divorced her and she left him, Lucy is worried about his rude behavior of Primrose.

After she divorced her husband, Lucy had worked for fifteen years. She has a car, three garages, and many taxicabs. Lucy tells her sister that the new generation does not care about morals and manners and their attitude towards old people.

Lucy tells her sister that the new generation has its own values and views. Lucy admits that it is the result of unavoidable circumstances that Primrose has become liberal and rude. The conversation between both sisters, Lucy and Susan is continued when Clarice, the sister of John enters the room.

She is a friend of Primrose. Suddenly she talks about her ugly-faced brother John. She says that John is an international football player and is running an advertising business successfully. She tells that his weight is one hundred and ninety pounds.

She makes it clear that Primrose has decided to marry John at all cost. After some time Primrose enters the room and she declares that she is going to marry John. Meanwhile, Susan goes out. After her departure, Lucy tells her daughter that it is not right to marry an ugly man like John.

Primrose her mother that he is a very nice and sincere man. She convinces her mother by saying that all men are not alike. She explains that John is not like her father Charles. Primrose says that in marriage, love is more important than physical beauty.

Firstly, Lucy objects to the choice of Primrose but later she agrees with her. Soon John enters the room. Lucy warns him that if he does not treat her daughter nicely, she will shoot him. So Lucy allows her daughter to marry John and the play comes to an end.

Critical Aspects of the Play

Significance of the title Smoke Screen

In this play, the writer has shown that human beings have smoke screens of sophisticated behavior over their outward personality under which their real self is hidden. It is a device to mislead others by obscuring reality.

It means that in modern times you cannot straight away judge another person because understanding another person is not an easy task. Appearance is often deceptive. Primrose has a smokescreen of rude and rough behavior to hide her actual motive before her aunt.

Her rude and rough behavior is only a smokescreen behind which there is a thoughtful young girl who wants to be a good wife and wants to spend life respectfully after marriage. She appears to be ultra-modern in her behavior but at heart, she is a well-balanced lady.

He has absorbed good characteristics in her personality from past and present cultures. Likewise, Susan has a smokescreen of a successful businesswoman living a prosperous and protected life, but inward she feels sore for the future of her daughter.

To hide her inner grief and misery she is showing herself as outwardly strong, but inwardly she feels dissatisfied. Becoming an earning woman was not her choice but a compulsion. Again keeping herself behind the smokescreen, she can easily open her heart to John.

She tells him that he will not allow injustice or unkind behavior with her daughter, and if he does so, he will be shot. The such outright talk will not have been possible on John’s face, but from behind the screen, she has easily conveyed her head’s feelings.

The concept of love has changed

We see that the concept of the modern generation about love and romance has changed. Now the concept of love is not abstract. It is not confined to charming appearance. It is neither one-way traffic ending in a blind alley.

It is now a give-and-take affair. The modern woman prefers an ugly but sincere husband. He should be healthy and must provide social and economic protection to his wife.

The modern woman will admit her foolishness if she makes a mistake in the choice of her match. Women do not like to be dominated by men. They want to make decisions for themselves. Lucy and Primrose are modern in their respects.

The generation gap is a reality

In the play, three generations are represented by the characters of Susan, Lucy, and Primrose. All three have different concepts of life. Fifty years old Susan is the symbol of the Victorian Era when people led a peaceful life. Susan accepts the dominance of men in society.

Lucy represents modern cultural values. She believes that women should be free and liberal to live according to their own decisions. Primrose is the representative of the third generation. She is true and straightforward in recognizing the facts of life. She has a very balanced personality.

Questions and their Answers

Question 1:

Discuss the title of the play Smoke Screens.

How would you explain the significance of the title of the play SmokeScreens by Harold Brighouse?

What symbolic purpose does the title serve?


The title of the play Smoke Screens has symbolic significance. In the play, the word Smoke Screens occur twice. Firstly when Primrose tells Susan that she is hiding her ideas and ways from her as the smokescreen hides something from the person.

Secondly, at the end of the play, Lucy takes soot of cigarette and gives off smoke from her mouth, and says that she is behind that smoke to shoot John if he is unkind to Primrose. In fact, a smokescreen is a device that troops use for purposes to conceal their movements.

Similarly, almost all the characters use smoke screens to conceal their identities, their feelings, and intentions. They appear one but prove the other. We find a contrast between their former and latter behaviors, inner and outer self, and their private and public life.

Handsome Charles is a smokescreen of a bad person. Lucy Aston is a smokescreen of a good and loving mother. Primrose is a smokescreen of a thoughtful and intelligent girl. Ugly John is a smokescreen of a good man.

Clarice is a smokescreen of a loving sister and sincere friend. She calls John the ugliest person only on the purpose. The title of the play smoke screens is relevant to the story because every character in the play is a smokescreen.

In short, it is true to say that all the characters hide their intentions and they are not what they seem. They have consoled their true identity. They use their outward face as a smokescreen to hide their inner nature.

Question 2:

Briefly describe the theme of the play is titled Smoke Screens.

What is the ‘theme of the play? Is love more important than physical beauty in marriage?


The primary theme of the play rests on the choice of physical beauty and spiritual

beauty or love entering into the marriage bond. It may be conceded that physical beauty coupled with a love bond is really a blessing for durable marriage. It is a blessing in this world and the world to come.

Flirtation and unfaithfulness both from either side are most likely to corrode and worsen life. It may become a hell in actual life, embittering the relations in life. That is why Lucy boldly decides to divorce her husband than to forbear the hardships of life and heart-burning for an indefinite period.

It is best to acknowledge one’s blunder and rectify it as soon as possible. In the male-dominated society, Lucy’s decision seems drastic, which was quite consistent and appropriate to the given circumstances.

The message of the play is clear that one should not take oneself to be the target of worldly cruelties for no sound grounds. The play shows that the outward behavior of people is quite different from their inner feelings.

Even the title of the play Smoke Screens clearly indicates the hiding and screening of actual ideas possessed by each of the characters concealing from others.

All the main three characters have their own views and opinions about life, in accordance with their age groups as well as experiences. They are actually the representatives of their times, trends, and modes of thinking.

Question 3:

The modes, manners, and speeches of Smokescreens are brought but harsh to some people. Discuss.

What types of Primrose, Lucy, and Susan are represented?


Susan Merridew is 50 years old lady. She is living a happy and contented life in a village with her husband and truly obedient sons. She is the representative of the old classical Victorian morality. She criticizes the behavior of Primrose very hardly.

She hates Primrose’s habits of smoking, using lipstick, and going to night – clubs. She is strictly rigid in her temperament and does not like the free and frank attitude of Primrose. She eventually appreciates the hard work of her sister, Lucy.

Lucy Aston is 40 years old lady and the mother of Primrose Aston. She divorced her husband as he was disloyal and unfaithful. She is a self-made woman and has great self-respect. She has built a successful business of taxi cabs and garages or workshops.

Lucy Aston is a modern lady who does not believe in the morality of the Victorian Age. She has granted full freedom to her daughter for personal and social activities. Lucy Aston in fact stands midway between her elder sister, Susan Merridew, and her only daughter, Primrose.

Primrose Aston is twenty years old. She is a young and dashing girl. She believes in modernism and believes in no interference in each other’s affairs. She is very realistic and prefers spiritual beauty to physical beauty. She is ready to marry a positively ugly fellow, John.

Question 4:

Discuss the conflict between Primrose and her mother Lucy.

Why is Clarice in Smoke Screens so important about describing her.



Smoke Screens is an interesting social comedy. The play deals with the social problem of the generation gap. The writer has explained that one generation does not like the ideas of another generation. Lucy is the mother of Primrose. She is a self-made woman.

She has worked hard after her divorce. Her husband left her alone. She made a taxi cab to live a respectful life. Primrose is a beautiful young daughter of Lucy. Primrose declares to her mother that she is going to marry John, the famous ugly football player.

She also says that physically John he is an ugly person, but spiritually he is a sincere and good-natured person. She also declares that she is totally different from her mother. She thinks that John is a very happy and good person.

She tells that she wants to marry John because she loves him. Lucy objects to the choice of her daughter. She advises her not to marry John as he is an ugly person, but Primrose gives the example of her own mother’s marriage.

She says to her mother that she married a charming man, Charles, but he left her as he did not love her. She convinces her mother that John is a nice man. He loves her from the bottom of his heart. First, she refuses the choice of Primrose, but later she agrees.

Question 5:

Why does Primrose decide to marry the ugliest man in the city?

Why did Primrose decide to marry ugly John instead of marrying a charming man?


Primrose decided to marry ugly John instead of a charming man because of some reason. Firstly, she decided to marry ugly John just because of her mother as she believed that it would be an insult to her mother if she married a charming man. She said.

I’ve not insulted you. If l’d picked a charming man

Actually, her father was a charming man. Probably, she had told her daughter that all charming men were unfaithful. She divorced her father because of that. In fact, Lucy had told her so to justify her divorce. Now Primrose was a grown-up girl and she knew that not all men were equal.

That is why she decided to marry ugly John. Secondly, she thought of not marrying a handsome person because her mother would exert her influence on him and would not let her marry. She said to her mother,

Well, for a Charles, you’d have had the right to exert your influence

Thirdly, she considered her mother’s marriage to a handsome man a mistake.  She said that she would marry an ugly man who was different from her charming father. Therefore, it was a different mistake.

Fourthly, it was her thought that her mother had been emotional when she married a charming man, whereas she is not going to be sentimental. It shows that her decision of marrying an ugly man was a quite sensible and wise decision.

Lastly, she decided to marry an ugly person John because she was infatuated with him. She informed her mother about her decision that she was going to marry John because he brought her feel all funny inside. Therefore, these reasons led her to marry ugly John.

Question 6:

What happens when Primrose declares to marry an ugly man?

Lucy Austen divorces her handsome husband but her daughter chooses an ugly man as her husband. Comment in the light of play.


Primrose, Lucy’s daughter is a young girl of twenty. She believes in personal beauty and liberal values. As she remains deprived of parental love, she grows up as a headstrong, rude, and nonsense girl.

She is ultra-fashionable, smokes cigarettes, goes to nightclubs, and possesses a latchkey. Her love for individuality is taken for rudeness and waywardness. She loves John who is ugly but a sincere and rich fellow.

 Primrose also believes that it is love, not beauty that counts in marriage. When she announces to marry John, she is considered sentimental in her approach. But she is tactful and rational. Her views about marriage prove her maturity and wisdom.

She knows that her mother made a mistake by marrying a handsome but financially poor and morally weak person. That marriage was not based on love and honesty, so it flopped. Primrose thinks that her husband may be ugly but he is honest, sincere, and financially strong. She says,

In marriage, love is more important than physical beauty.

She urges her mother to admit that all men are not alike. Her mother accepts her views about marriage and allows her to marry John.

Question 7:

Lucy is a bold and daring modern woman who can fight life on her own. Discuss.

Draw a character sketch of Lucy Aston.


Lucy Aston is a self-made woman of forty years old. She is a divorced woman. She divorced her husband (Charles) because he was insincere to her. After her divorce, she worked very hard, She has three garages and a number of taxi cabs.

She stands for the dignity of labor and honest earning. The elder sister of Lucy Susan appreciates her by saying you beat the men at a Man’s own game. You have fought life like a heroine. Lucy is liberal in her views and believes in modern values.

She believes that the new generation has its own rules and regulation. Lucy is well aware of her mistake and wants to make up for the neglect of her daughter. Although in the past Lucy does not care for her daughter yet she is a loving mother.

She works hard for the sake of her daughter. She does not want that a bad fate like her, fall on Primrose too. Firstly, she objects to Primrose’s choice of John but later she agrees with her. When John enters Lucy warns him that if he does not treat her daughter nicely, she will shoot him.

Question 8:

Write a short note on the character of Primrose.

What is your estimation of the character of Primrose?


Primrose is a central character of the play. She is a young, beautiful, and modern girl. She is the daughter of Lucy. She is the representative of a new generation. She is about 20 and an independent and liberal girl. She believes in personal liberty and values. She was brought up as a headstrong, rude, and aggressive girl.

She is a fashionable lady. She used to smoke cigarettes go to nightclubs and possesses a latchkey. She is a very intelligent girl. She believes that in marriage, love and understating are more important than physical beauty.

She loves John who is ugly but a sincere and rich fellow. She knows that her mother made a mistake by marrying a handsome financially poor and morally weak person. Her marriage lacks love and honesty, but it flopped. She describes her views about marriage to her mother. Her mother accepts her views about marriage and allows her to marry John.

Explanation with Reference to the Context

Passage 1

I’m afraid this isn’t my evening for listening to a conversation of my aunt.

Reference and Context

This extract has been taken from the play Smoke Screens by Herold Brighouse. The play hints that modern civilization has made people individualistic in their approach. Even everyone thinks to keep things to himself.

This approach forces men to wear smoke screens or double faces. Hence, he appears one but proves the other. However, this smokescreen vanishes one day and his true identity and intentions are revealed.


In this play, the playwright has advised the elders not to thrust their ideas and decisions on their younger. Susan wants to talk to her and advises her to mend her manners. But Primrose does not like her aunt. In the given lines, Primrose tells her aunt Susan that she is now ready to go outside.

That is why she cannot talk to her. These lines reflect the rude nature of Primrose. She appears to us as an ill-mannered girl, who has no manner to talk to her aunt.

She does not care about the values set by her elders but is more serious about her cosmetics.

She does not like her aunt’s questions and wants to get rid of her aunt. Her aunt fails to convince her as she asks a few minutes from her. She refuses her aunt in a very disrespectful manner.

Passage 2

The Victorians had their parents. Security was going to last forever, so they treated their children harshly.

Reference and Context

Same as for the first passage


Smoke Screens by Brighouse is a domestic play that deals with the generation gap, a clash between Modern and Victorian values in the West. It also deals with the behavior of the neglected children of divorced couples. In these lines, Lucy Aston is talking to her elder sister, Susan.

She tells Susan the reason why she left her daughter, Primrose, so free. She tells her that in the Victorian Age the parents were generally very strict and harsh towards their children. They treated their children bitterly because they were going to be rich as their growing old.

Passage 3

I was piggish about your headache. I’m sorry, and when I got out, I saw we could not go on. 1 saw I absolutely had to have it out with Luey about John.

Reference and Context

Same as for the first passage


Smoke Screens by Brighouse deals with the neglected children of divorced couples, and the use of smokescreens to hide one’s intentions. These lines are part of a discussion that is going on between Primrose and her aunt, Susan.

Here Primrose tells Susan that her attitude about her headache is just like a pig, that is, dirty and greedy. Now she is sorry for that. She adds that when she gets out, she realizes that they can not continue to live together. She understands that she will have to talk plainly to her mother (Lucy) about John.

Passage 4

Primrose. Of course. I don’t mean marriage in general. I mean marriage with John. He makes me feel all funny inside.

Reference and Context

Same as for the first passage


In this play Smoke Screens, in the given lines, Primrose is talking ‘to her mother on the topic of her marriage with John, an ugly man. As she remains deprived of parental love, she develops rude and nonsense behavior. She is an ultra-mod girl who smokes cigarettes and is a regular visitor to nightclubs.

She loves John who is ugly but a sincere and rich fellow. She also believes that it is love, not beauty which is counted in marriage. When she announces to marry John, she is considered sentimental in her approach. She believes that John is physically ugly but he is a funny and very jolly person who will make her happy throughout her life.

Passage 5

Primrose: Go out naked? No, you may not think it, my dear but I do pay some attention to the responsibilities

Reference and Context

Same as for the first passage.


This extract is a part of Primrose’s dialogue with her aunt Susan, Susan has purposefully hidden her handbag of Primrose in order to restrain her from going out in clubs. Primrose is searching for her handbag containing items peculiar to girls after the fashion of the times.

In the meanwhile, the accent Susan busied herself with listening to a gramophone. Primrose is in a furious rage because a maid cannot go out without her bag with all items particular to a girl. The missing bag was going to cause disrepute and even endanger her reputation.

It is in line with modern life. Because it is equal to being naked without applying or having lipstick and being exposed in the bazaar. The girls consider it the criteria of modern life and without the formalities of beautifying items, they will be considered coarse and uncultured girls in society, clubs, etc.

She has a firm belief in all the formalities, befitting an ultra-modern girl. In that sense, she is right in saying the above-mentioned statement.  Primrose gives primary importance to her girlish paraphernalia which her aunt Susan of Victorian morality is not aware of. She considers it necessary or a responsibility to look beautiful, charming, and be ultra-modern.

Passage 6

Thank you for striking this blow for decency. Now well-loved niece need not go naked into the night with lips exposed to the bitter blast and the scandalized eyes of men.

Reference & Context

Same as for the first passage.


This extract of dialogue is spoken by Primrose to her aunt Susan. Susan has come

from the villagé to visit them. Susan has hidden her bag as she is ready to go out to the club. Her aunt wants to stop her from going out alone.

After an intensive search of the bag, she finally finds it, and she comes to know that her aunt has consciously hidden it. She is shocked and ironically thanks her aunt for her rude and vulgar behavior. She takes it as indecency and against morality, not expected of her aunt at all.

She really takes it ill. In fact, her bag contains some items of beautification, peculiar to the girls of the modern age, That is why she says, Thank you for striking this blow for decency. She says that without lipstick and painting her lips, it is equal to going out naked of which her aunt is not conscious at all.

With lipstick on her lips, she will be safe from the chilly wind as well as from the wilful looks of the men in the street and club, etc. Interestingly, aunt, Susan, and Primrose represent the sensibility of their times. Moreover, it draws a conflicting line between the young modern girl and a representative of Victorian morality as a so-called virtuous aunt.

Passage 7

On this occasion, she’s an enterprising young lady who puts on her best frock and calls on me to try to get her brother the job of advertising my taxi cabs.

Reference & Context

Same as for the first passage.


These lines have been spoken by Lucy the mother of Primrose. She is talking to

Clarice is the sister of John. Clarice comes to see Lucy and asks her for the job of her brother. She explains to her that she needs a job in taxi-cab advertising for her brother.

Lucy runs a taxi cab business after the divorce. Clarice also tells her that Primrose wants to marry John; even then he is not a beautiful and smart boy. His complexion is black. He is a chubby boy.

Lucy says to her that at this moment she is talking to a girl who is in her best frock and asking for a taxi cab advertising job for her brother. Lucy also says that she is not allowed to. Primrose to marry an ugly boy.

Passage 8

Lucy … yes, you were. You are the lucky one. You have a husband you can put up with and two sons who haven’t turned your grey hair. That’s luck, at fifty.

Reference & Context

Same as for the first passage.


In this extract of dialogue, Lucy addresses Susan, her elder sister on her fortunately happy matrimonial relations. Susan has come from a village to visit them. She is 50 years old, hale, and hearty, and is enjoying the best possible matrimonial life.

She has a husband and two sons without any blemish on her character. Susan is lucky to have good relations with her husband and two sons and no complaint or any cause of displeasure from anyone. As against Susan, Lucy was not as fortunate as Susan, Lucy was not as fortunate as Susan.

Lucy’s husband, though having physical beauty and charm, proved to be a fickle person with a shady character. Her husband was inconstant and unfaithful and kept extra-marital relations with a number of other women.

She was unable to reconcile with the situation, so she divorced her husband. On good grounds. She struggled hard with the most unfavorable circumstances. She became a self-made person, with an established and flourishing business.

It is, in fact, a comparative study of both sisters’ matrimonial positions. In this extract, Lucy praises Susan because she is living a happy and contented life in a village, whereas she is of all the marital joys and home life, She is envious of Susan.

Passage 9

Clarice: He’s got a face like the full moon with bristles on the top of it. That’s his hair, I mean. He’s clean-shaven. He is clean in every way, if you put a smudge in his nose it might improve it because then it would be visible.

Reference & Context

Same as for the first passage.


In this extract of dialogue, Clarice, the sister of John, is talking with Lucy, the mother of Primrose. Clarice has been asked by Primrose to approach her mother and tell her that she loves John and wants to marry him.

Clarice clearly gives the details of her brother’s appearance. She has quite established the salient points about her brother. She frankly and candidly tells that her brother is an ugly person without any charm or beauty.

In other words, he has got no physical beauty or charm. Moreover, he is one of the most successful advertising agents inland at his age, too. Clarice is expected to convey all the necessary details of her brother, in order to persuade Lucy to their marriage.

Passage 10

I’ll tell you what I did do, Susan. I remembered from my own schooldays that schoolgirls are spiteful little beasts. So I made the tactful inquiries, and Primrose went where I knew there were others. girls whose parents had divorced. I did that so that she shouldn’t feel unusual.

Reference and Context

The same is given in the first extract.


In this extract, Lucy is talking to her elder sister Susan, Lucy is a divorced lady who has to bring up her only child Primrose, She runs her house with the income she gets from driving a taxi. Though she has fed her daughter well, she is unable to teach her good manners.

Primrose is a careless girl who enjoys smoking and clubbing. Lucy shares her worries with her elder sister Susan that she is much worried about her daughter, When Susan asks her sister what Primrose tells the girls about her father when their fathers come to meet them?

Lucy says that she took pains in finding such a school for Primrose where all the girls are of divorced parents, The extract shows Lucy’s concern for her daughter. Apparently, she seems a much more caring mother, but unfortunately even doing all this, she fails in teaching her good manners.

About the Author

Anila Ibrahim

An educationist, web content writer, equipped with an LLB and a Master’s degree in English Literature, as well as a Master of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship. I have a comprehensive understanding of both the English language and the educational landscape. This academic background empowers Anila to deliver content that is not only informative but also thoroughly researched.

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