Top Girls

by

Caryl Churchill

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Isabella Bird Character Analysis

Isabella Bird is a real-life, nineteenth-century English explorer, writer, and naturalist. Isabella is the only character at the dinner party who never bore children, and the only character whose work was honored in her lifetime. Churchill no doubt includes Isabella as a dinner party guest for this very reason—she shows how motherhood has, unfortunately, been regarded throughout history as a burden and an albatross. Isabella, whose life featured instances of tragedy but little abuse or control at the hands of a man, is an optimistic and brash woman who always speaks her mind. Isabella spent her life navigating traditionally male spaces, and partaking of traditionally male pursuits—adventuring and exploring to her heart’s content, and engaging with both nature and the written word free of constraint. Isabella was a success in her own right—and thus the reason Churchill “brings” Isabella to the dinner party is perhaps to show Marlene, and the audience as well, that true success is not always dictated by financial gain or corporate power.

Isabella Bird Quotes in Top Girls

The Top Girls quotes below are all either spoken by Isabella Bird or refer to Isabella Bird. 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:
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bloomsbury edition of Top Girls published in 1982.
Act One, Scene One Quotes

MARLENE: Magnificent all of you. We need some more wine, please, two bottles I think, Griselda isn’t even here yet, and I want to drink a toast to you all.

ISABELLA: To yourself surely, we’re here to celebrate your success.

NIJO: Yes, Marlene.

JOAN: Yes, what is it exactly, Marlene?

MARLENE: Well it’s not Pope but it is managing director.

JOAN: And you find work for people.

MARLENE: Yes, an employment agency.

NIJO: Over all the women you work with. And the men.

ISABELLA: And very well deserved too. I’m sure it’s just the beginning of something extraordinary.

MARLENE: Well it’s worth a party.

ISABELLA: To Marlene.

MARLENE: And all of us.

JOAN: Marlene.

NIJO: Marlene.

GRET: Marlene.

MARLENE: We’ve all come a long way. To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements. (They laugh and drink a toast.)

Related Characters: Marlene (speaker), Isabella Bird (speaker), Lady Nijo (speaker), Dull Gret (speaker), Pope Joan (speaker), Patient Griselda
Related Symbols: Top Girls Employment Agency
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Top Girls LitChart as a printable PDF.
Top Girls PDF

Isabella Bird Character Timeline in Top Girls

The timeline below shows where the character Isabella Bird appears in Top Girls. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene One
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...a bottle of wine from a waitress, and then welcomes her first dinner party guest, Isabella Bird, a nineteenth-century writer, explorer, and naturalist. They greet each other like old friends, and... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...concubine who eventually became a Buddhist nun. Marlene greets Nijo excitedly, and introduces her to Isabella. The waitress returns and pours all the women some wine—Marlene remarks that she could use... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
As Nijo tells her story, Marlene and Isabella interject with their own opinions. Isabella recalls once meeting the Emperor of Morocco, while Marlene... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Isabella remarks that she never saw her own father drunk, as he was a clergyman. She... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Dull Gret arrives at the party. Marlene introduces Gret to Nijo, while Isabella greets Gret as if they already know one another. The waitress has brought the women... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Nijo interjects that she herself comes from a line of eight generations of poets. Isabella states that she was always more suited to manual work such as cooking, mending, and... (full context)
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Isabella attempts to engage Gret in conversation, asking if she ever had any horses. Gret replies... (full context)
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The conversation turns to death, as Isabella recalls her father’s death, and Nijo recalls her father’s, too. Joan states that “death is... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Isabella reflects on a time when she thought her life was over—at forty, she was sent... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...to study in Athens, but women were not allowed in libraries in the Middle Ages. Isabella states that in all her travels she never dressed as a man. Marlene says that... (full context)
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Isabella tells the women about a mountain man she encountered in her travels through America who... (full context)
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Nijo begins telling Isabella the story of Ariake—she met him when she was still at court. He was a... (full context)
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Isabella says that she never fell in love with the mountain man—rather the loves of her... (full context)
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Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
Isabella was only married for a short time before her husband also fell ill and died.... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...isn’t present, she says that she wants to make a toast to the gathered women. Isabella points out that they are all gathered to celebrate Marlene’s success. Joan asks what exactly... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...if the child died, too, Joan says that she doesn’t know what happened to it. Isabella blithely states that she never had any children and was instead fond of horses. Nijo... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
Marlene asks aloud why she and her guests are “all so miserable.” Isabella talks about her extensive charity work in England, which she undertook between adventures around the... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...another. Griselda says it would’ve been “nicer” if her husband hadn’t taken away her children. Isabella asks everyone why she should be made to live as a lady. Nijo reflects on... (full context)
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Joan resumes her chanting. Isabella describes returning to Morocco on one last journey, in her old age. Nijo begins laughing... (full context)