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The Children's Hour

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  11,468 ratings  ·  180 reviews
This is a serious and adult play about two women who run a school for girls. After a malicious youngster starts a rumour about the two women, the rumour soon turns into a scandal. As the young girl comes to understand the power she wields, she sticks by her story, which precipitates tragedy for the women. It is later discovered that the gossip was pure invention, but it is ...more
Paperback, Acting Edition, 75 pages
Published 1953 by Dramatists Play Service (first published 1934)
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 ·  11,468 ratings  ·  180 reviews

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Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book brings back memories of what a bad girl I was in school. When I left I was very pissed off, I'd been expelled yet again (drunkenness from mixing rum with yoghurt for lunch, conducting the school choir quite literally behind the headmistress's back, cheating in exams - took me ages to get caught, I already had a job and a place in art college and my father wouldn't let me leave school) and I so wanted my own back.

I went to an extremely academic girls' school where there was a very small
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, plays
It is 1934 and world is becoming polarized into two factions- fascism and communism. During the period between the two world wars, the United States maintained the stance of isolationism, not wanting to become involved in others' conflicts. In Europe, however, people who were regarded as different were already persecuted in the years leading up to World War II. It is in this light that New Orleans born Lillian Hellman penned her debut play The Children's Hour, about a vicious girl who falsely ...more
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014, classics, play
About 8 years ago, I had a sort of emotional crisis. I just couldn't deal with the compounded pressures of life, and most especially the breakdown of an intimate relationship, along with the sudden onset of serious illness of a parent. I quit my job, and camped out on my bed for a month watching the AMC and TCM network nonstop. I'm sure you're picturing an unbathed, unshaven me, in weeks old Garfield pajamas, and dirty cereal bowls piled precariously high on one nightstand. I assure you, it was ...more
I remember being floored by this play when I first read it in high school, not the least reason being we were assigned to read a play with a lesbian theme in a Catholic school. I would say that this is similar to "The Crucible" with a lesbian relationship substituting for witchcraft--except Hellman's play was written 18 years before Miller's. Ultimately it's about the devastating effects of malicious gossip.

I read online that Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss (from 'Mad Men') starred in a
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This tiny play is packed with tension. I knew the basic plot (at a 1930s boarding school for girls, one of the students starts a harmful rumor about the two women who run the school), and technically there's not much that happens beyond that. But Hellman is so skilled at building a creeping, chilling dread, and she creates an interesting portrait of a little girl who compulsively lies. Recommended for a quick, dark read.
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Abigail Williams (The Crucible) is one of the most hateful literary characters I've ever come across - she's high up on my top 5. Mary Tilford, the little demon, may just have kicked Abigail down a notch on my Characters I Hate the Most list. Although this is a work of fiction, it is scary to think how very possible it is for a bully to intimidate others into spinning a web of lies that can ruin people's personal and professional lives. How someone who has always done right by everyone and ...more
Rosanna Threakall
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: educational
I had to read this for my Uni Acting For Stage module in which I am directing and excerpt from this piece. I really enjoyed it! I'm really excited to get down and do some directing and hopefully we will all do really well!

The play is set in a boarding school for girls where a particularly bratty student starts a viscious rumour about two of the teachers.

It provides great social commentary and touches on the themes of LGBTQ+, secrecy, lies, suicide, gender and family.

A great read!
Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten*
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my second Hellman play, and I'm definitely interested in more of her work after being mesmerized by this and The Little Foxes. I connected with Martha's character right from the beginning -- her sarcasm, her cynicism, and by the end, her desperation were all wholly real to me.

I'm also glad to see I'm not the only one who envisioned a link between Mary Tilford and Abigail Williams from The Crucible. What a spiteful little brat.
Josh Kight
Nov 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This play has really stood the test of time to become one of the most horrifying and saddening plays ever written. Readers need to understand that the play is less about lesbianism and more about a specific lie. Maybe Hellman did consider lesbianism just a plot device. But "unnatural" love and society's disapproval of it are fundamental to the play, just as anti-Semitism is central to The Merchant of Venice. Readers still argue over whether Shakespeare was criticizing or endorsing the prejudice ...more
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: play-film, classic
Lillian Hellman's great play "A Children's Hour" is the story of two women who run a private school for girls and whose lives are ruined by the evil and vindictive accusations of one of their students. The implications of lesbianism and society's intolerance for differences are among the many themes addressed in this fine work. I believe it is timeless but others may see it as dated. Guilt by accusation remains as much a part of our society as ever...sadly. The inference that homosexuality is ...more
A harrowing play about how the lives and relationships of Martha Dobie and Karen Wright are changed when accused by a pupil of having a romantic relationship. It's a timeless play in that it explores the damaging effects of gossip and lies. And boy, did I hate Mary. I don't think there's very many fictional characters I hated as much as her in the span of 60+ pages.
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Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing

I first read The Children’s Hour in high school. I remember absolutely loathing Mary.

Rereading it as an adult and having a better appreciation for the work and effort it takes to build things like a school and a career, my lack of sympathy towards Mary remains much the same. What disturbed me more on this read, though, were the adult characters. That they blindly follow Mary and see little wrong with destroying the lives of two women based on gossip is a cold and powerful message.

Morgan M. Page
Sep 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour (1934) proves itself to be of perennial relevance. From HUAC to the Tumblrized call out culture of the 2010s, the little liars and exaggerators like Mary Tilford bully and blacklist and attempt to destroy anyone who gets in their way. THAT SAID, isn't it kind of funny that Lillian Hellman's most important play was all about the dangers of lying while the writer herself was accused of making up and exaggerating sections of her own memoirs? Although, to be ...more
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wonderfully evil, and so much better, I believe, than Miller's play, The Crucible on the same theme. The movie version of Heller's play has held up well.
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting story of how rumors and lies can destroy people's lives.
Karen and Martha run a girls's school, but when a young student becomes upset about being punished for some behavior, she accuses the two teachers of being romantically involved. And you can guess how it all turns out. But even though the reader can see what's coming almost from the start, it is still very sad, and really makes a person think about how all our behaviors can potentially affect others' lives.
Ellen Wilkey
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Children are the worst.
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: paperback
read in high school - One of my favorite plays ever.
Carla Seravalli
like I know i say this when I read/watch anything somewhat emotional but goddamn I am in SO MUCH PAIN
E.M. Murren
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a devastating account of women who own a school for girls and what happens when a spiteful child decides to tell tales. Brilliant play which has been filmed in various versions over the years. The original is always the best.
Compelling. This play is largely character driven and driven by an event caused by a large and dangerous shortcoming or one character. This character lies. The personalities of the characters are prevalent very early on. Hints are given about the characters and the state of their constitution from the very start of the play. The smallest events seem to add to the big picture of who each character is, so by the end of the first act, the reader knows exactly who each character is, the way they ...more
Apr 30, 2013 added it
Shelves: top-25
Summary: Martha and Karen are best friends running a school for girls in the early thirties. They have a very close relationship, and their extremely manipulative pupil, Mary, decides to play with this well known fact and start a rumor that they are intimately involved. This rumor starts total uproar as their lives, as they once knew them, are destroyed through prejudice and the power of gossip.
Why it was meaningful: This is an incredibly well written play, absolutely incredible. It blows my
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
Our setting is a school run by two women, friends since college. When they punish Mary, one of the students, for faking a heart attack, she runs to her grandma and tells her about how the two women are lesbians. It's an interesting, certainly sad story once everything plays out, but it never reaches the emotional height I was preparing myself for. Mary is perhaps the best character, incredibly devilish and controlling, but her disappearance from the second half weakens the whole structure--no ...more
Dec 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is frightening in so many ways. I teach in an all-girl high school and I have seen how gossiping can be so damaging but what it pains me the most it is the fact that most girls don't realize how their words can change somebody's life, usually for the worse.

Like Mary, everything is a game where they have to win no matter what, but behind their "victories" there is the worst side of human behavior. And like Karen, you try to make them realize that but sometimes it is a lost battle
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-to-film, play
A tragic story of how an angry, malicious lie can lead to absolute, far-reaching destruction for many people. It reminded me of the storyline of Atonement (at least the movie: I haven't been able to get through the book yet). Rumors spread and listened to, acted upon, can have disastrous consequences, and letting children get spoiled and not making them take responsibility for their actions can be just as detrimental.
Jul 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
When I took part in a production of this play in december, 2010, we discussed thoroughly the power of a lie. A lie told convincingly has the power to alter the opinions one holds of another. But an expertly crafted lie can also cause the victim to doubt themselves:"Why is it that so many people are so willing to believe this lie? Is there some truth within this lie?" A challenging play I was proud to take part in, even if I was only in the first scene).
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
A fantastic play -- recommended to me many years ago by an old acting coach -- about the nasty repercussions of lies, and just how how easy it is for malicious rumors to be taken as truths and spread throughout a community. Walter Scott summarized this play best several hundred years before it was even published: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practise to deceive!"
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Despite the use of homosexuality as trigger to drive someone to ruin, Hellman's play delivers a strong message about kindness and righteousness. Surely groundbreaking for its time, it feels slightly awkward, yet still sadly relevant today.
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-classics
Rumor has it...... Classic story of what can happen when a lie and a rumor gets out of hand. I kept hoping that an adult would see past the lies of a spoiled little girl.
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Books2Movies Club: The Children's Hour 6 32 Jan 02, 2016 04:45PM  

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Lillian Florence "Lilly" Hellman (June 20, 1905 – June 30, 1984) was an American dramatist and screenwriter famously blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) at the height of the anti-communist campaigns of 1947–52.

Hellman was praised for sacrificing her career by refusing to answer questions by HUAC; but her denial that she had ever belonged to the Communist Party was
“I'm too old to recover, too narrow to forgive myself.” 37 likes
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