first encounter between Professor Henry Higgins, the brilliant,
crotchety, middle-aged bachelor who is England's leading phoneticist,
and Eliza Doolittle, the little cockney gutter sparrow, takes
place near the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, late on a cold
March night. Eliza is selling violets. Higgins is out on his endless
quest for new dialects of London's speech. A handsome young aristocrat,
Freddy Eynsford-Hill, takes no notice of her when she tries to
sell him violets. Colonel Pickering, also a linguistic expert,
comes to stay with Higgins at his flat. Eliza's squalid father,
Alfred Doolittle, outlines his optimistic if somewhat unorthodox
philosophy of life in the rousing With a Little Bit of Luck.
Eliza comes to Higgins' flat to be instructed in the English language,
in order to transform herself into a "lidy." Pickering challenges
Higgins to "metamorphose the guttersnipe into a paragon of verbal
correctitude." Higgins looks upon her not as a person but as raw
material for his experiment; he drills Eliza for weeks. As no
hint of progress is made Eliza loses her courage, Higgins loses
his temper and even Pickering's patience wears thin. In her anger
and futility, Eliza creates a set of mean fantasies involving
At last she improves, and they all proclaim the victor in The
Rain in Spain. In the flush of his first success, Higgins puts
Eliza to a preliminary test. He will introduce her to his mother's
snobbish guests at the Ascot Race Meeting the following week.
Eliza expresses her own towering exaltation in I Could Have Danced
All Night. While not romantic, her sense of triumph is tied up
with a new feeling for Higgins. Eliza, strikingly pretty in her
new gown and hairdo, appears at the races. Instructed to restrict
her conversation to the weather and everyone's health, she says
her little set pieces flawlessly. The illusion is shattered when
her enthusiasm for the horse she is backing impels her to indulge
in a bout of violently unladylike cheering.
Freddy Eynsford-Hill falls hopelessly in love with the new Eliza,
and later pours out On the Street Where You Live at her window.
Six weeks later Higgins, in a crucial test, presents Eliza at
a full-dress Embassy ball. She is the object of admiration and
everyone speculates on her identity. It becomes obvious that Eliza
must charm Karpathy, a European phonetics expert. At the height
of the ball, Karpathy invites her to dance and comments on the
pureness of her English.
Pickering and Higgins, back at the flat, indulge in self congratulation.
Neither of them takes into account Eliza's personal accomplishment
in the matter. Eliza has absorbed the sophistication and the courage
to see the unfairness of this, and she blows up, demanding recognition.
The Professor is not so much affronted as astonished; it is as
though a statue had come to life and spoken.
Infuriated and frustrated, Eliza storms out of the house. She
encounters Freddy and turns her fury on him. Eliza aimlessly walks
the streets of the town, the remainder of the night. She encounters
her father, drunk and dressed for a fashionable wedding. He has
become wealthy, and Eliza's mother is marrying him at last. Doolittle
gives an account of his celebrations in Get Me to the Church on
Higgins discovers that he is hurt because Eliza left him. He meets
her at his mother's flat where she has gone for advice. They argue
violently and she storms out. It is only a moment after her departure
that Higgins finally wakes up to the fact that Eliza has become
an entirely independent and admirable human being. He realizes
that he will have a difficult time getting on without her. This
he admits to himself in I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.
Back at his flat he sinks into his chair prepared to face a bleak, lonely future.
But just then-a moment before the final curtain falls-a figure emerges from the
shadowy corner of the room, and Higgins recognizes Eliza. He leans back with a
long, contented sigh and speaks softly: "Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?"
-Copyright©1962 by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe