Jitta's Atonement

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Jitta's Atonement
George Bernard Shaw 1934-12-06.jpg
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Siegfried Trebitsch
Date premiered 1923
Place premiered Broadway
Original language English
Subject a woman must atone for her extramarital affair
Genre tragi-comedy
Setting Vienna

Jitta's Atonement (1923) is an adaptation by George Bernard Shaw of the play Frau Gitta's Sühne by Siegfried Trebitsch. It is about a woman who has to atone to her husband for having an affair with his best friend. The atonement of both Jitta and other characters take unexpected forms. Shaw dramatically rewrote the last part of the play, giving it a more characteristically Shavian tone.

George Bernard Shaw Irish playwright, critic and polemicist, influential in Western theatre

George Bernard Shaw, known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Siegfried Trebitsch Austrian author and translator

Siegfried Trebitsch (1868–1956) was an Austrian playwright, translator, novelist and poet. Though prolific as a writer in various genres, he was best known for his German translations, especially of the works of the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, with whom he kept up a long and detailed correspondence. He is also known for translations of French writers, especially Georges Courteline.



The Austrian playwright Siegfried Trebitsch was Shaw's translator for German language productions of his works. Shaw believed that Trebitsch had helped to launch his career in Central Europe, which had provided Shaw with a solid income before he was successful in Britain. [1] Shaw offered to translate his play Frau Gitta's Sühne, which was originally an Ibsenesque tragedy. Shaw made a number of significant changes, especially in the last act, which turned it into a tragi-comedy with a more positive ending. Shaw insisted that his changes "affect, not the story itself, but only the key in which it ends". Critic Bernard Dukore says that "The claim is disingenuous. Shaw's 'variations' pervade and alter the entire play." [2]



The main character Jitta Lenkheim is the wife of a university professor. She has been having an affair with Bruno, a psychologist who is friend and colleague of her husband. She has become alienated from her husband because he has abandoned his ideals to pursue his career. She meets her lover in a sleazy bordello, where he dies of a heart attack. She flees in embarrassment to avoid scandal. Before he died, Bruno, aware of his ill health, had asked her to have his unpublished book published under her husband's name. He hopes that by giving him his book he can atone for taking his wife.

When the truth comes out everyone is affected. Bruno's wife and daughter are devastated. Jitta's husband, Alfred Lenkheim, is at first appalled by the idea that he should take someone else's research and publish it as his own, and remains angry about his wife's infidelity. However, he finally demonstrates that he epitomises the very noble ideals to which she aspires. He agrees to edit the book and to get it published, even though he is not convinced that it is as brilliant as its author thought. No longer the bombastic conformist he appeared to be, he accepts that he must do what is right to allow his wife and Bruno to atone for their betrayal. In the end he confesses that he too has had an affair — with a friend of Jitta's.

Shaw's changes

According to Dukore, Shaw changes the last scene significantly, but he also "alters and embroiders every scene, every page, virtually every line". He changed the spelling Gitta's name to emphasise that it should not be pronounced with a hard G. He also changes the husband's name from Alphons to Alfred, possibly because Alphons sounds slightly too comic in English. [2] Shaw repeatedly undercuts the romantic fervour of the original in which Gitta is left at the end to brood on her guilt. In Shaw's version, Alfred assures Jitta that her guilt is a form of self-indulgence: "How you enjoy being miserable, Jitta.... You think yourself such a jolly romantic figure... yet you are ashamed of yourself because you were not found stretched on his dead body, with the limelight streaming on your white face, and the band playing slow music." [2] For Dukore, this undercutting of moral posturing allows the characters to genuinely interact in a way that is absent in the original play. The characters "begin to understand themselves and each other, try to come to terms, make an effort to arrive at a decision and to act upon new knowledge". Shaw also alters the sub-plot about the unpublished book. In Trebitsch's version, Alphons wishes to destroy the book, which is presented as a radical masterpiece, but Gitta forces him to accept it. In Shaw's version he is not convinced that it's a masterpiece at all, and thinks no-one would ever believe he wrote it.


The play was first produced on Broadway in New York in 1923, starring Bertha Kalich as Jitta. It has been revived sporadically. In 1996 there was a production starring Elizabeth Franz playing the mother and Calista Flockhart as her daughter. [3]

Bertha Kalich Actress in American Yiddish Theatre

Bertha Kalich was a Jewish American actress, born in Lemberg, Galicia. Though she was well-established as an entertainer in Eastern Europe, she is best remembered as one of the several "larger-than-life" figures that dominated New York stages during the "Golden Age" of American Yiddish Theatre during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Historians estimate that, during her career, Kalich performed more than 125 different roles in seven different languages.

Elizabeth Franz is an American stage and television actress.

Calista Flockhart American actress

Calista Kay Flockhart is an American actress. She starred as the title character in the legal comedy-drama series Ally McBeal (1997–2002), Kitty Walker in the drama series Brothers & Sisters (2006–2011) and Cat Grant in the superhero drama series Supergirl (2015–2017). She has also been featured in a number of films, including the comedy film The Birdcage (1996), the romantic comedy film A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), and the drama film Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (2000).

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  1. Blanche Patch, Thirty Years with G. B. S., Dodd, Mead, New York, 1951, p.69.
  2. 1 2 3 Dukore, Bernard F., Bernard Shaw, Playwright: Aspects of Shavian Drama, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO., 1973, p.203-10.
  3. Variety