Well, Eliza, old thing, you said a mouthful with that one, didn’t you?
This is one of my favorite quotes from George Bernard Shaw’s witty, wise, and completely charming 1912 comedy, Pygmalion. If you know Miss Doolittle only from the story’s musical version, My Fair Lady — magnificent as it is — you’ve missed a little something of Eliza’s true nature. In Pygmalion, she’s somewhat more spunky, a bit more self-possessed, especially in the end, than the creators of the musical, who romanticized things a trifle more, allowed her to be.
This quote, more or less in identical form, appears in both versions of the story. And, to me, it’s pretty much the crux of the play’s message. Eliza delivers this seemingly gentle speech to Col. Pickering, the colleague of Professor Henry Higgins, who has helped to teach Eliza to “walk and talk and act like a lady”. The occasion is the morning after she has pulled off the feat of appearing as a perfect and somewhat mysterious lady of regal bearing and high standing in front of the cream of London society, belying her roots as a Cockney flower seller. Eliza genuinely means what she is saying to Pickering, whom she holds in esteem, but she’s also tossing a barb over her shoulder at Higgins, who is in the room, too. (Eliza has left the home of Higgins and Pickering after they rudely and cruelly ignored completely her part of the accomplishment and have taken sole credit for her success. She has retreated to the home of Mrs. Higgins, the professor’s mother.)