The Way of the World

The Way of the World

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Mrs. Arabella Fainall Character Analysis

Known as Mrs. Fainall through much of the play, Arabella Fainall is Lady Wishfort’s daughter and Millamant, Witwoud, and Sir Wilfull’s cousin. She was once married to a rich man named Languish who died and left her his fortune. While a widow, she began an affair with Mirabell. They ended the affair before she got married to Fainall and remained close friends. Mirabell trusts and admires the steady and clear-thinking Mrs. Fainall immensely and tells her every detail of his plan. Mrs. Fainall esteems Mirabell in the same way and still seems to have feelings for him. However, she never reveals that she still loves Mirabell and doesn’t ruin his plan, though she does encourage Sir Wilfull to propose to her cousin, Millamant, and is noticeably less patient with Millamant as the play develops. Mrs. Fainall hates her husband immensely but doesn’t learn about his affair until Foible reveals it to her. She distrusts Marwood and suspects that she’s in love with Mirabell, too

Mrs. Arabella Fainall Quotes in The Way of the World

The The Way of the World quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Arabella Fainall or refer to Mrs. Arabella Fainall. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Way of the World published in 1993.
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

…if we will be happy, we must find the means in ourselves, and among ourselves.

Related Characters: Mrs. Arabella Fainall (speaker), Marwood
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Marwood and Mrs. Fainall have been walking in St. James' park, discussing the topics of men and romance. Mrs. Fainall tells Mrs. Marwood that if women want a chance at happiness, they must find it within themselves and the company of other women. This claim reveals Mrs. Fainall's maturity and wisdom, especially in comparison to the rest of the characters in the play (except Millamant), who are all obsessed with love, marriage, and infidelity. Indeed, although the play does conclude with the classical happy ending of an engagement between Mirabell and Millamant, the play's presentation of marriage is hardly idyllic. Judging from the character's actions, it indeed seems that most married people are not satisfied by their marriages, and seek relationships with other people.

Mrs. Fainall's words are also a remarkable statement on female independence. Feminists argue that the problem of women being taught to wait for a man to make them happy is still relevant within contemporary culture; it is thus extraordinary that Mrs. Fainall would make such a statement in 1700. Note how the play demonstrates the truth of her words as well. Women are often depicted socializing with one another, including the groups at Lady Wishfort's house and the scene from which this quotation itself is taken. Furthermore, despite being married to an unpleasant man whom she doesn't seem to get along with, Mrs. Fainall seems fairly content.

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Men are ever in extremes; either doting or averse. While they are lovers, if they have fire and sense, their jealousies are insupportable: and when they cease to love…they loathe, they look upon us with horror and distaste, they meet us like the ghosts of what we were, and as from such, fly from us.

Related Characters: Mrs. Arabella Fainall (speaker), Marwood
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Fainall and Mrs. Marwood are walking in St. James' Park, discussing men and love. Mrs. Fainall has stated that it is better for women to find happiness within themselves than wait to be made happy by a man. In this passage she further explains this view, claiming that men's treatment of women is always in one of two extremes; either they are so "doting" that they become paranoid with jealousy, or they "loathe" women, looking on them "with horror and distaste," and abandon them. This statement, though strikingly cynical, does reflect the behavior of many men in the play. It perhaps less accurately describes the fools, who seem to treat women with a combination of sexual interest and disrespect, but this attitude is of course hardly desirable either.

This passage suggests that perhaps Mrs. Fainall's cynical view of love has emerged from her mistreatment by the men with whom she has had relationships, including Mirabell and her husband, Fainall. Although Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall remain on friendly terms, and although Mirabell appears to have developed a more mature, committed attitude towards love in his quest to marry Millamant, Mrs. Fainall's words indicate that perhaps this will only be a temporary phase, and that once Mirabell's infatuation is over he will begin to treat even Millamant "with horror and distaste." 

Love will resume his empire in our breasts, and every heart, or soon or late, receive and readmit him as its lawful tyrant.

Related Characters: Marwood (speaker), Mrs. Arabella Fainall
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

While they are walking together in St. James' Park, Mrs. Fainall has told Mrs. Marwood that she believes that men love women to the point of suffocation and jealousy, before eventually growing to hate and abandon them, and that for this reason women should just learn to be happy by themselves. Mrs. Marwood, however, disagrees; she has admitted that it is a shame when love ends, but that "'tis better to be left, than never to have been loved." She adds that women can try to focus on their friendships with other women as replacements for relationships with men, but says this is doomed to fail, and in this passage claims it is inevitable that "love [of men] will resume his empire in our breasts." 

While Mrs. Fainall's words about the fleeting nature of love appeared cynical, Mrs. Marwood's views are arguably even more so. She claims that, try as they might, women can never be truly happy without men––even if men don't make them happy either. Her characterization of love as an "empire" and a "tyrant" depicts love as a brutal, masculine, even violent force, which exerts a ruthless power over women. Note the contrast of this depiction of love and traditional conceptualizations that construct love as a pleasant, gentle, feminine phenomenon. 

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

’Twas for my ease to oversee and wilfully neglect the gross advances made him by my wife, that by permitting her to be engaged, I might continue unsuspected in my pleasures, and take you oftener to my arms in full security. But could you think, because the nodding husband would not wake, that e’er the watchful lover slept?

Related Characters: Fainall (speaker), Mirabell, Marwood, Mrs. Arabella Fainall
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

The lovers Fainall and Mrs. Marwood have been discussing Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall. Mrs. Marwood has expressed concerns that Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall may still be conducting an affair, but Fainall has turned this around in order to accuse Mrs. Marwood, his own lover, of being unfaithful to him with Mirabell. He claims that Mrs. Marwood assumed he would not notice her supposed affair with Mirabell because Fainall's wife was also making "gross advances" on him. This passage reveals the comically complex web of attachments within the social circle the characters inhabit. It also proves correct Mrs. Fainall's earlier point about men's obsessive jealousy. Fainall seems to think that both his wife and his lover are secretly in love with Mirabell, a fact that conveys his possessive (and hypocritical) paranoia. 

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

While I only hated my husband, I could bear to see him; but since I have despised him, he’s too offensive.

Related Characters: Mrs. Arabella Fainall (speaker), Fainall
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as Mrs. Marwood and Fainall have been watching Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell walk together in the park, so have the latter couple been watching the former. In this passage, Mrs. Fainall tells Mirabell that during the time when she "only hated" Fainall, she could bear to look at him, but "since I have despised him, he's too offensive." This comic line shows the bizarre extent of the antagonism between the characters in the play, particularly husbands and wives. Mrs. Fainall expresses a degree of acceptance over the fact that she "hated" her husband, but also suggests that there is a point when this hatred becomes unbearable. It is somewhat ironic, of course, that while she remains on good terms with her former lover, Mirabell, she cannot even stand to look at her husband.

You should have just so much disgust for your husband as may be sufficient to make you relish your lover.

Related Characters: Mirabell (speaker), Fainall, Mrs. Arabella Fainall
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

While watching Fainall and Mrs. Marwood walk together in the park, Mrs. Fainall has confessed to Mirabell that she despises her husband so much that she cannot bear to even look at him. Rather than being shocked by Mrs. Fainall's words, Mirabell encourages her feelings of hatred. In this passage, he tells her that she should feel "just so much disgust" for Fainall as to make her "relish" her lover. Although a strange and humorous sentiment, this is also a strikingly practical one. As the play shows, men and women are able to tolerate the husbands and wives they hate because of the relief their lovers provide. Although perhaps not the most harmonious or moral social system, Mirabell's words show that the characters are nonetheless able to find some degree of happiness within it. 

Act 3, Scene 18 Quotes

You married her to keep you; and if you can contrive to have her keep you better than you expected, why should you not keep her longer than you intended?

Related Characters: Marwood (speaker), Fainall, Mrs. Arabella Fainall
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Marwood has confessed all that she knows about Mirabell's plotting, and Fainall has cursed the cause of events that inadvertently prevented him from receiving Millamant's fortune for himself. Although Fainall's knowledge of Arabella and Mirabell's affair could allow him to leave his wife he wanted, Mrs. Marwood urges him to stay with Arabella until they find another way for him to access the money. In this passage, Marwood schemingly tells Fainall that, considering he married Arabella for money in the first place, it shouldn't be difficult for him to stay married to her in order to get more money than he originally anticipated. 

Here Marwood emerges as a ruthless, calculating, Lady Macbeth-like character who encourages her husband to selfishly scheme even when he is reluctant to do so. Marwood's words highlight that, for many characters in the play, their relationships––whether marriages, friendships, or allegiances––are purely strategic and transactional. 

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Mrs. Arabella Fainall Character Timeline in The Way of the World

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Arabella Fainall appears in The Way of the World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
...to her by Mrs. Marwood, a close family friend to both Wishfort and her daughter, Mrs. Fainall (Fainall’s wife). Mirabell also hints that Marwood is more than just a friend to Fainall. (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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...mentions that he’s glad that tonight isn’t a “cabal-night.” He asks Fainall whether he allows Mrs. Fainall to attend these “cabal” gatherings of Wishfort’s. Fainall responds that he’s not jealous of the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
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...himself by traveling abroad. During this conversation, Mirabell learns that Sir Wilfull is related to Mrs. Fainall and Millamant—his mother is Wishfort’s sister. Fainall remarks that if Mirabell were to marry Millamant,... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
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...the conversation to Fainall, and compliments Fainall for having a happy marriage. Mirabell responds that Mrs. Fainall would draw a more accurate and vastly different picture of her marriage. (full context)
Act 1, Scene 9
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...words to use. Petulant, then, jokes that the three women are Witwoud’s cousins and aunt: Mrs. Fainall , Millamant, and Wishfort, respectively. Rather than being offended, Witwoud laughs off Petulant’s insult toward... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Two friends Mrs. Fainall and Mrs. Marwood walk in St. James’s Park, discussing men and love. Mrs. Fainall remarks... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall is surprised by Marwood’s philosophy, as it stands in contrast to the anti-men ideology of... (full context)
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Marwood switches her stance. She tells Mrs. Fainall that she, too, despises men and only lied about liking them to see if she... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall replies that it’s too bad, then, that Marwood isn’t married to Mirabell. Marwood blushes, and... (full context)
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Marwood insists that she hates Mirabell, because he’s so proud, but Mrs. Fainall insists Marwood is lying. Marwood responds that Mrs. Fainall also acts more like a friend... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall changes the subject, saying she feels sick because she has just spotted her husband walking... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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Mirabell and Fainall, also walking in the park, have just seen Mrs. Fainall and Marwood and head towards them. Before the men are within earshot, Marwood jokes that... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall ignores her husband’s remark and addresses Mirabell, telling him that she wants to hear more... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall then adds that she doesn’t want to walk with her husband, joking that by not... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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Marwood asks Fainall if he wants to follow Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell. Fainall does not. Yet Marwood encourages the idea because she has “a reason.”... (full context)
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
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...is trying to protect Fainall’s “honor.” Fainall realizes her insinuation, that she believes Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall are more than friends. Marwood replies that she believes Mrs. Fainall does not actually hate... (full context)
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Love and Money Theme Icon
...been so upset that she would’ve disinherited Millamant. Millamant’s fortune would then have gone to Mrs. Fainall and Fainall would have had access to that money to spend on Marwood. Marwood doesn’t... (full context)
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
...has with her. Then, he guides her down a different path to avoid Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall . (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
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Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell watch Marwood and Fainall take another path in the park. Mrs. Fainall remarks... (full context)
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Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Mrs. Fainall agrees, admitting she loved with “indiscretion.” Mirabell suggests a formula of sorts for hating her... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall is not satisfied with this explanation and reproaches Mirabell, telling him that she “ought to... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall is intrigued and asks him whom he has chosen to play the role of his... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall checks whether he would release her mother from the marriage by producing Waitwell’s marriage certificate... (full context)
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...to his marriage to Millamant and release Millamant’s fortune before he would produce the certificate. Mrs. Fainall , evidently in approval of the plan, informs Mirabell that her mother spoke just last... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall thinks Mirabell’s plan looks promising because her mother “will do anything to get a husband.”... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
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As he stands with Mrs. Fainall , Mirabell spots Millamant from afar. He compares the outfit she is wearing to a... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall changes the topic, asking Millamant, why she took so long to meet her at the... (full context)
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Mrs. Fainall enquires again what took Millamant so long to arrive at the park. Mincing reminds her... (full context)
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Mirabell’s outlook annoys Millamant, who exclaims to Mrs. Fainall about the “vanity of these men,” who believe that feminine beauty comes from the compliments... (full context)
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...wait until her death to repeat her. Millamant dismisses Witwoud story as “fiction” and urges Mrs. Fainall to depart with. But at Mirabell’s discreet request, Mrs. Fainall asks to speak with Witwoud... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 6
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Love and Money Theme Icon
Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud depart, leaving Mirabell, Millamant, and Mincing. Mincing is ignored for the entirety of... (full context)
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Millamant calls him tedious for being so serious and bids him farewell. She sees Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud from a distance and says that she is going to join them. (full context)
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
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...done thinking about that, then he should think of her. She leaves him to join Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud, taking Mincing with her before Mirabell can finish what he was trying to... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 6
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Love and Money Theme Icon
After Wishfort leaves the room, Mrs. Fainall enters to warn Foible that Marwood saw her with Mirabell in the park and will... (full context)
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Foible explains that she wasn’t sure whether Mirabell told Mrs. Fainall the entirety of his plan to marry Millamant. She compliments Mirabell for being such a... (full context)
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Before leaving the room, Foible asks Mrs. Fainall to give Mirabell an update about Wishfort’s interest in Rowland and that Marwood seems to... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 7
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Marwood comes out of her hiding place in the closet, having heard everything Foible and Mrs. Fainall said. She vows to watch Foible more closely and reflecting that her suspicion that Mirabell... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 16
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Wishfort and her daughter, Mrs. Fainall , join the group. Wishfort welcomes Wilfull and he greets his cousin, Mrs. Fainall. Wishfort... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 18
Jealousy, Deceit, and Intrigue Theme Icon
Men vs. Women Theme Icon
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
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...other means. She reveals another plan that would get Fainall the money. If he reveals Mrs. Fainall ’s former affair with Mirabell to Wishfort and threatens to leave Mrs. Fainall because of... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Female (In)dependence Theme Icon
Foible finds Millamant pacing about the living room, reciting poetry. Mrs. Fainall is there, too, watching Millamant. Foible informs Millamant that Mirabell has been waiting the last... (full context)
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...should send Mirabell away. Millamant changes her mind and decides to see Mirabell. She tells Mrs. Fainall to entertain Wilfull so that she can focus on memorizing the poem. Mrs. Fainall, curtly,... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
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As Mrs. Fainall is about to leave the house, Sir Wilfull arrives. Mrs. Fainall greets him, telling him... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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Sir Wilfull begs Mrs. Fainall through the door to let him out because he’s forgotten to wear his gloves. As... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
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...by the rules they have devised and Mirabell kisses Millamant’s hand to seal the contract. Mrs. Fainall approaches to bear witness to their agreement. (full context)
Act 4, Scene 6
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Still in the living room, Millamant looks to Mrs. Fainall and asks her for advice: should she marry Mirabell? She admits that she really wants... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall interrupts the happy couple to tell Mirabell that he has no time to talk or... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 7
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Once they are alone, Mrs. Fainall tells Millamant that Wilfull has gotten so drunk and noisy that her mother had to... (full context)
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Millamant, totally ignoring everything that Mrs. Fainall has just said, admits to Mrs. Fainall that she loves Mirabell “violently.” Mrs. Fainall is... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 8
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A drunken Witwoud joins the women in the parlor. When Mrs. Fainall asks him if Petulant and Wilfull, have made up, Witwoud responds that he had to... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 9
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Mrs. Fainall , then, asks Witwoud how the three men came to be so drunk and start... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 10
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Wishfort joins Millamant, Mrs. Fainall , and Witwoud. She has dragged along a very drunk and, apparently, smelly Wilfull to... (full context)
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...and asks her aunt to be excused before she faints from Willful’s stench. She urges Mrs. Fainall to leave with her. The two women exit, leaving Wishfort behind with Wilfull and Witwoud. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
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Mrs. Fainall enters the dressing room. Seeing Foible distressed, she tries to comfort her and find out... (full context)
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Mrs. Fainall realizes that, if her mother knows everything, then she also knows of her own affair... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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Mrs. Fainall orders Foible to tell Mincing that she must reveal what she knows about Marwood’s affair... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 4
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Mrs. Fainall enters. Wishfort condemns her daughter and tells her that because of her affair, she must... (full context)
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Wishfort apologizes to Marwood and scolds her daughter for her ungratefulness. Mrs. Fainall , however, sticks to her story and defiantly offers to stand trial to prove her... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 11
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Seeing the two servants enter together with Mrs. Fainall , Marwood instantly realizes that they are going to expose her affair with Fainall to... (full context)
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...angry and calls his wife to come forward. He threatens her with physical harm, but Mrs. Fainall seems unaffected by his words. She tells him that she despises him and that he... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 13
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...from trying to wheedle it out of her. Mirabell continues to explain that he warned Arabella Languish (Mrs. Fainall) of Fainall’s bad temper and reputation. However, she was fond of Fainall... (full context)
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...and his case against Wishfort and her daughter is no longer valid. Mirabell continues that Arabella’s precautions are “the way of the world” with the “widows of the world.” (full context)
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...between them and blocks Fainall. Fainall shouts that Mirabell hasn’t heard the last of this. Arabella addresses Marwood and tells her that she looks so upset that she better vent her... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 14
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Once the two villains leave, Wishfort turns to her daughter and praises her prudence. Arabella gives all the credit to Mirabell, her “cautious friend.” Wishfort, then, turns to thank Mirabell... (full context)
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...her that Fainall cannot hurt the family. Before Wishfort leaves, Mirabell returns the deed to Arabella, and advises her that if she uses it properly, it will be the best way... (full context)