Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tiger tyger

  1. How can a tiger be ”burning bright”?
  2. What does the phrase “fearful symmetry” describe?
  3. Why does the writer refer to the “distant deeps or skies?”
  4. What are the wings that the tiger aspires to?
  5. Why does the poet refer to the “shoulder” of “art”? What does this have to do with a tiger?
  6. The writer refers to hands and feet in the third stanza.  Whose hands and feet are they, and why are they in the poem?
  7. What does the hammer and chain refer to?
  8. Why would the stars “throw down their spheres?
  9. Who or what is the Lamb?
  10. Why does the writer end the poem by repeating the first stanza+

Sunday, February 25, 2018

John Donne questions

The Good Morrow by John Donne

  1. What did the speaker and his lover do, till they fell in love?
  2. What is the ‘Seven Sleepers Den?’
  3. What is ‘the dream’ that the writer describes?
  4. Why are the ‘waking souls’ of the writer and their lover not fearful?
  5. How does love control everything?
  6. How can one little room seem like ‘an everywhere’?
  7. The writer describes love as superior to seas and maps. How can it be?
  8. Explain the link between the face and ‘plain hearts’.
  9. Where can the writer find ‘two better hemispheres’ without traveling?
  10. What is the advantage of love ‘mix’d equally.’?



The 1944 film has a more obvious propaganda purpose compared to Coward’s later films.  A portrait of a working class family in the London suburbs between 1919 and 1939, it begins and ends with the theme ‘London Pride,’ one of Coward’s favourite morale-boosters of World War Two.  It has occasional sententious moments, often involving Robert Newton, the paterfamilias, referring to the strength of the family and how it sustains itself, whatever happens to it.  And goodness; what a lot happens: marriages, births and deaths, one of the children absconding without telling the parents, the neighbour leaving for the British coast, plus the usual internal family squabbles that involve everyone.  Yet Newton has the time to make a comment about the British capacity for doing things in their own time, unpestered by others.  This might seem maddening, but the British do get things done, unlike members of other (unnamed) races.

Yet the film is not necessarily interesting on account of such statements.  It is a testament to the strength of one family to survive everything that is thrown at it, whether domestic or political, due to its inner strength.  None of its members are especially ambitious, except for daughter Queenie (Kay Walsh), whose social ambitions drive her out of the house without telling her parents.  Her mother Ethel (Celia Johnson) doesn’t want her name mentioned in the house any more, but the two are reconciled when Queenie returns to marry her childhood sweetheart Billy (John Mills), son of neighbour Bob (Stanley Holloway). The family remains the stable rock that doesn’t change, even while times do.

This might seem old-fashioned, were it not for the link between the family and Great Britain as a whole.  One sequence shows them crowded round the radio, as they listen to the announcement of the death of George V in 1935, and subsequently they all join the crowds in filing silently past the royal coffin.  This is why the country remains stable, despite the sufferings, food shortages, strikes and the like: it sticks together through thick and thin.  The link between family and country is reinforced at the film’s beginning, with lengthy pans of the London suburban landscape showing small houses toe to toe, with families in each of them going about their daily business.  There is a certain degree of historical truth in this: but THIS HAPPY BREED makes no mention of war damage, or the fact that many of these trim suburbs were destroyed by German bombs.

Maybe this was deliberate, as director David Lean consciously tries to recreate the atmosphere of prewar Britain for a 1944 release, to remind people that what existed prior to 1939 could easily be recovered, if the people were willing to work at it.  The stability of the family isn’t just due to houses and gardens, or ordered suburbs, but the people who inhabit them.  They have their occasional losses of temper, or moments of impetuosity, but they are fundamentally good-natured to one another and look our for one another in moments of crisis.

This is what gives the film its lasting charm.  The situations might be very different today, but the characters have a kind of innocence as well as an integrity that keeps them going.  Frank Gibbons’ (Robert Newton’s) determination to spend at least some time during the week cultivating his garden contrasts with Celia Johnson’s dedication to housework: not because they have to, but rather because they realise that’s what families do.   Work or leisure-time does not occupy the whole time.  Frank has to tell his son Reg (John Blythe) off, ending the talk with some sound advice.  Ethel (Johnson) has to offer motherly comfort to at least two of her daughters, as well as swallowing humble pie so as to readmit Queenie into the family.  And the family has to learn how to cope with the unexpected death of Reg and his wife Vi (Eileen Erskine), as well as complaining Granny Mrs. Flint (Amy Veness).

The actors handle these moments with such sensitivity that it’s hard not to start crying oneself.  This is what transhistoricity truly means: the ability to be able to communicate across time and space.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Still Live by Noel Coward


  • This is the original source from which Brief Encounter originated.  One of the Tonight at 8.30 series of playlets originally performed in the mid-1930s, it tells similar tale as the film yet gives more prominence to Albert, Mrs. Baggott, Beryl and Stanley. They are employees of the station who have their own marital plans in mind. Albert (Norman Rossington) is a northern cheeky chap pie with a yen for Mrs. Baggott (Joan Collins), who rules the cafeteria with a rod of iron, yet yearns for another man to sweep her off her feet, so she can marry for a third time.  She is the kind of independent woman who yearns to dominate a husband. EVentuslly she agrees when Albert presents her with an engagement ring, and promises tea “and afters” as a reward. 
Beryl (Diane Langton) and Stanley (Steve Nicholson) are the flirty types, who enjoy the pleasure of ten minutes together at the end of the day. Stanley is cheeky to Mrs Baggott, but in a very mild way.  it is clear that both are as interested in the romance of Mrs. Baggott as they are in their own affairs.

The third romance between Laura Jesson (Jane Asher) and Alec Harvey (John Alderton) is very clandestine - so clandestine that we don’t initially notice them talking in a corner of the room. Director Sydney Lotterby has done this deliberately to emphasise that the romance isn’t publicly subversive; no one would really notice from the outside that the couple are in love. The real nitty-gritty occurs in whispered comments, and eyes staring at one another, or Laura’s tendency to look away from Alec and down at her hands. When she goes outside to look at the express, and attempt suicide, no one takes any notice. It is only when she returns that Dolly Maitland (Moyra Fraser) observes her state of deshabille on her return that Dolly orders a restorative brandy.  But this is a temporary moment of solicitude; Dolly is soon prattling away, leaving Laura staring blankly at the ground.

in truth, there is almost too little detail here to understand the depth of Laura and Alec’s love-affair. They seem tremendously fond of one another, but there is something keeping them apart.  Maybe this is due to convention; in a society at the end of the war, an extra-marital affair was common, even though frowned upon in British society.  And as respectable members of middle-class society, neither Laura nor Alec can entertain the idea.



The story of BRIEF ENCOUNTER is so straightforward it cries out for radio adaptation.  Yet the effect on listeners can be very different from the stage version.  

This phenomenon is very evident in two versions from different historical periods - the Lux Radio Theater”s version from 1948, and the BBC World Service drama production from 1983.

The Lux Theater Version is presented in the formal associated with all American radio drama of the time; in three acts with commercial breaks as well as words from the sponsors.  Recorded live in front of an audience, with a live orchestra providing the background music, it is “event radio,” a prestigious form of drama broadcast in prime time every Sunday. The orchestra has its own score that forms a backdrop to many of the major speeches, reminding us of the prestigious nature of the production as well as setting the mood.

This version is narrated by Laura (pronounced “Lara” in this version), who is sitting in the chair at home by the fire with Fred opposite her. Fred completes the crossword puzzle, leaving Laura to reflect on the traumatic events of the previous few weeks.  Everything we hear has been filtered through her consciousness. Hence we understand far more the magnitude of what she has done (in her view, at least) and how it has changed her outlook for ever. As performed by Eileen Erskine, she comes across as an ordinary woman trying and failing to cope with extraordinary events, the kind of things she never thought would happen in a million years.  Some of them have been life-changing; others have led to indescribable humiliation.  The sequence where she escapes from the flat after Alec’s friend unexpectedly enters is particularly traumatic, with Erskine’s voice becoming particularly jerky as she recounts the event.  Alec (Van Heflin) is no real help, just telling her to “forget it” as unimportant, as her identity was not revealed.  This response demonstrates a breathtaking lack of sensitivity, as the man deprives the woman of her identity just to ensure her safety. 
From the tone of Erskine’s response, it’s clear that she would rather have had events brought out into the open: it might have adversely affected her public image, but she would have expressed her true identity in public.

This was one side of Erskine’s interpretation, the other focused on her desire to keep the family together, despite not having any passionate love for her husband. Fred was a good man, ever solicitous about his wife’s health, but completely insensitive to her feelings.  He perceived the whole incident as a tempest in a teacup, easily forgotten in the process of family life where Laura had her appointed duties of looking after the house and children.  Like Alec, he regularly protests that he loves her, but obviously doesn’t understand the complexity of her feelings.

This production spares us nothing in her description of her suffering. She talks about running the streets of the city after being discovered, knowing nothing about where she is going, but just wanting to be alone.  She ends.up sitting in the town square, the rain lightly plashing down, staring into space, not thinking about anything except her humiliation. She eventually goes home on the train with her friend Dolly Messiter, but cannot listen to a word.  The radio adaptation has Dolly prattling insensitively away in the background as Laura describes her feelings to listeners, making us painfully aware of just how insensitive other people are, even when they try to be kind. Perhaps the only way is to remain silent and to allow Laura to reflect for herself; and if she wants to talk, to listen rather than comment.

Squeezing all the emotions of BRIEF ENCOUNTER Into a forty-five minute adaptation is no easy task.  Maybe that’s one of the functions of the musical accompaniment that underpins much of the dialogue; to reduce the rawness of Laura’s plight and hence render it acceptable to mass audiences listening at 14.30 on a Sunday afternoon (or on one of the pdf recordings currently on the internet).  This is perhaps the most stark of all recordings of Coward’s play, with the two-malnutrition moment of Erskine’s silence on the train home suggesting that she might be considering suicide.

This episode might be part of a long-running anthology series, and probably very quickly rehearsed before broadcast, but the spontaneity of the performances give it the kind of edge to that even transcends the Lean movie.

The BBC version follows the movie script pretty closely, with little time given over for verbal flourishes or silences.  Cheryl Campbell is particularly concerned to mask her feelings to everyone - especially the listeners - so her performance is a little one-note.  But we should not fault the actor for this, but remind ourselves of Laura’s ordeal, and how every actress has to find a way of communicating it to audiences. If she chooses to mask her true emotions as best she can, we ought to admire her for it, rather than censure her.  

Ian Holm made rather a specialism of playing tortured souls, as he also played Crocker-Harris in THE BROWNING VERSION and Mr. Winslow in THE WINSLOW BOY, both for BBC’s Play of the Month series.  In the BRIEF ENCOUNTER for radio, he comes across as sympathetic yet imperceptible; the kind of man who loved his wife yet sees her as an unpaid servant with the responsibility of providing his dinner at the proper time, and keeping the house clean and tidy.  Without actually saying anything, the thoughts behind his ovoids are evident; Laura, you have abnegated your responsibilities as a wife and mother.  Please resume them as soon as possible.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The impossibility of love in BRIEF ENCOUNTER

This is the original David Lean film based on the Noel Coward text Still Lifw with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.  Johnson gives a quite remarkable performance as the suburban housewife plunged into a love-affair she never expected, and ending up born between feelings pleasure and intense guilt as a result.

The film is very much of its time, with soldiers coming into the station buffet and demanding whiskey, even though it is well past opening hours.  They amuse thermselves by insulting Mrs. Baggot (Joyce Carey) who looks after the bear.  Every emotion is kept under careful control: Mrs. Baggot affects an upper class accent, though it’s clear she is as common as nucjk.  Daisy, her waitress companion, has a playful love affair with the station porter, but both are careful to restrict their dalliancing to after hours.  Mrs. Baggot has a love-affair with station porter Stanley Holloway, but they are careful to restrict their activities to the occasional kiss or a smack on the bottom.  In the moral scheme of things, they are allowed the odd moment of outrageous behaviour, as they are from the working class.

Not so Laura and Alec.  They are firm members of the middle class, and are expected to remain respectable.  We only know the effect Alec has on Laura through the tiniest facial gestures that would be imperceptible were it not for Ronald Nedame’s camera focusing on close-ups of her face (from Alec’s point of view) during their conversations.

The morality is straightforward.  As a happily married women with.a devoted husband and two children, Laura has responsibilities, which she feels she neglects by falling in loved with Alec.  This might be perfectly justified, but it’s clear that Fred, Laura’s husband (Cyril Raymond) doesn’t’ understand her at all, and treats her as a domestic convenience to bring up the children and keep the home going, with an afternoon per week to go out shopping and visit the pictures.  He does not always understand that she is a passionate woman, dying for something or someone to lighten her life.  In this film, we know what Laura will do, but doubt whether this is the best decision for her.  When Alec departs for South Africa, the affair will of necessity come to an end, leaving her with memories of frustration and heartache.  Maybe it takes a homosexual to understand these feelings more closely than his heterosexual contemporaries.

The contrast between Laura and Mrs. Baggot is evident.  As a ‘mere’ bartender she is permitted the odd expression of love for true station porter, with perhaps the odd bit of slap and tickle.  By contrast Laura has to bottle up her feelings, or let them out on her own in the street as she goes to the station.  Coward stages at least two sequences where the lovers are interrupted: in one, Alec’s flatmate unexpectedly returns home.  Laura manages to get out unseen, but the flatmate confesses that he is unimpressed with Alec’s behaviour.  Maybe the two of them should have shared a joke.  In the second interruption, Laura and Alec’s final conversation is interrupted.by Laura’s friend Dolly, who shows spectacular insensitivity by talking incessantly and not noticing the lovers’ desire for her to go.  Dolly’s reaction sums up the general expectation: women such as Laura are not expected to have love-affairs, and hence their friends continue on their merry way as if nothing had happened.

The two lovers’ characters are finely distinguished.  Despite his protestations  of love for wife and family, Alec always wants more.  He keeps telling Laura how much he loves her, and initiates the idea of spending some time alone at his flatmates.  Maybe he is trying his luck a bit, especially since he does not appear to listen to Laura’s doubts.  Undoubtedly attractive - especially to Laura - he claims that he will never forget her, even in South Africa, but we wonder whether this is a cliche designed to placate her.  Laura, on the other hand, is far more cautious.  She never comes out direct with the phrase “I love you” and although communicating her true feelings in the voiceover that spans the entire narrative (which communicates what she would like to say to Fred, but cannot summon up the courage to do so), she remains taciturn to Alec, even while embracing him.  She accepts his advances, but makes little comment herself.

Seventy years on, we have to take the story as a period-piece, but still Johnson’s performance is astonishing, as she shares her agonies with us, and undergoes much the same emotions as we do if we happen to fall for someone not our wives.  It proves the oft-told dictum that times might change, but people’s reactions don’t.  This is s film about real people in real situations, situations that occur throughout time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Patriarchalism in BLITLE SPIRIT (New York, 1947)

The US Steel-sponsored revival of BLITHE SPIRIT was first broadcast in 1947, and starred Clifton Webb and Mildred Natwick from the original Broadway production. To those familiar with the original play, there were some significant textual Alterations in this revival.  It began with Webb addressing the audience direct, ostensibly from the ship of a steamer taking him to New York.  He had escaped from both his wives, and was now going to tell the entire story.  Unlike the David Lean film from 1945, Charles survived at the end to life a wife-free existence, suggesting that the cause of women’s rights was far from the author’s mind.  Or maybe the male survivor was something that US producers considered more acceptable to audiences.

In fact, Charles had a relatively easy time in this revival.  He escaped being killed by Elvira, and avoided the indignity of a sprained arm due to falling down the stairs.  The maid Daisy - renamed for this production got concussion from falling down the stairs, but Charles listened to Ruth for once, and escaped punishment.  He lived to continue telling the tale.

The production had other changes.  Madame Arcati was not only a medium but worked with the Girl Guides, so as to make it seem as if she wasn’t wasting her time. She was also a basketball referee, a somewhat curious profession, given that basketball was probably seldom played by British Girl Guldes In the 1940s. Netball, yes: but not basketball.  This attempt to Americanise the text a little, so as to make Madame Arcati more normal didn’t appear to jar, even though it might have been slightly inaccurate.

The production made slight textual economies, which conjured up fascinating images.  Charles and Elvira’s lovers were reasssigned; now they were Dr. and Mrs. Bradman.  This gave the seance a sexual angle completely foreign to Coward’s text; in alternative circumstances the participants might have paired off and had some extra entertainment, so to speak.

But that might have been too much, especially following the scene between Charles and Elvira, which was full of heavy breathing and suppressed eroticism as Elvira seduced her late husband.  It was evident that he preferred Elvira to Ruth as he spent the night on the sofa having his head caressed by Elvira.  In fact, Charles didn’t emerge from this production with too much credit, as he ended up intellectually unscathed, sailing to New York to begin a new life which would probably be as complicated as his old life.  

This evident conservatism might have been imposed by the sponsors, fearful of a too radical content. Or perhaps the Theatre Guild built the production around Clifton Webb’s rather sexless screen and stage persona.  He appreciated flirting but nothing more; especially from women.  He was someone pursuing his own life on his own terms, and his wives would have to agree to it, or else leave. This created another contradiction; at one point Ruth observed how Charles was easily manipulated by women,and that his assertions of authority were purely bogus.  But that was not the impression cast by Webb’s characterisation, which put him in position of authority. Perhaps this strategy was deliberate, to show that Charles, Ruth and Elvira had different views of Charles’s character, that significantly influenced their behaviour.  the arguments between them were aggressively handled in this production, with few soft voices and lots of aggression.

Recorded in front of a live audience, this production generated a fair proportion of laughs, thereby vindicating its popularity.  Perhaps it was of its time, in its reassertion of male authority at thread, but it revealed how the text could be slightly rearranged at no cost to its overall effect. In a sense it is actor- and director-proof.