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Top Girls begins on a Saturday night. The protagonist, Marlene, is hosting a celebratory dinner for six people at a London restaurant. All of Marlene’s guests are famous women from the past. The first to arrive is Isabella Bird, who congratulates Marlene on her recent promotion to Managing Director of the Top Girls Employment Agency (the reason for the party). Then, Lady Nijo arrives. At this point the dialogue begins to fracture. As the remaining three guests – Dull Gret, Pope Joan, and Patient Griselda – arrive over the course of Act 1, they recount their life stories, constantly interrupting each other and interweaving their comments and narratives. They drink several bottles of Frascati wine and order a three-course meal, while their conversation becomes more animated. Churchill presents these disparate threads in a kaleidoscopic structure that lacks a clear linear progression. What follows is a summary of each guest's individual narrative as it emerges over the course of Act I.
Summary of Isabella Bird’s Story:
Isabella Bird’s grew up in 19th Century England, the daughter of an English clergyman. Her family moved to Scotland when she was young, and Isabella grew up reading Latin, studying hymnology and metaphysical poetry, and doing needlework, but mostly she loved doing manual work such as cooking, washing, and mending. She had a tumor removed from her spine, which caused her to spend an extended part of her childhood lying on the sofa. At the age of forty, she went on cruise to Australia to improve her health, but the trip only worsened her condition and she hated Australia. From Australia she went to the Sandwich Isles, where she fell in love with the sea and woke up happy each morning. Isabella mentions that a man named Rocky Mountain Jim proposed to her, but she refused him because he was unsuitable as a husband. A year later, Jim died from a bullet to the brain - and on that same day, Isabella saw a...