George Bernard Shaw was ahead of his time, and this play was banned when it was written (1893).
It exposes the hypocrisy of a society that condemns those who are not chaste, but does little to assuage the poverty that leaves some women few alternatives to survive (similar territory to JB Priestly's "The Inspector Calls", set less than 20 years later). Equally controversially, it makes a strident case for women's emancipation in general, whilst retaining Shaw's peppering of acerbic wit (Wilde with a social conscience, perhaps?). It also has a very modern ending, i.e. ambiguous and probably not happy.
Intellectual, highly educated and fiercely independent twenty-something Vivie is an only child who was farmed out to families and tutors, and barely knows her enigmatic but apparently respectable mother.
She learns that her mother used to be a prostitute and then made more serious money from running several profitable brothels in mainland Europe. Most of the play is concerned with Vivie trying to come to terms with this and how it affects her feelings towards the mother who wants to be loved unconditionally.
Vivie wants to be sympathetic, but struggles, "People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they cant find them, make them".
The main relationships are between parents and children, rather than lovers. The troubled mother and daughter relationship is contrasted in a minor way with a slightly awkward but mildly comical father and son relationship (Frank Gardener, and his father, the vicar). Less comfortably, there are dubious undertones of quasi-incestuous attraction and I'm puzzled at Shaw's motives for that.
Nevertheless, Shaw pushes a powerful message in an entertaining way. The fact that Vivie is not a warm character toys with readers'/audience's sympathies in a way that only enhances his case.