Smut: Two Unseemly Stories – Alan Bennett

smut(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

We think we know how conventional, middle-class ladies behave but we don’t know what really goes on behind net curtains.

Sex wasn’t invented in 1968, despite what Philip Larkin said. The woman in the first story seems more like a 1950s character. However, as another reviewer points out: “Occasionally, there is a conscious effort to encompass modernity. In a hospital, someone says of a patient on a life-support machine, ”if we switched her off it would reduce her carbon footprint”. But, on the whole, this is old Bennett territory in which elderly incontinence is called ”a little accident” and a young wife (in the year 2011!) is seen as ”the little woman” by her husband and referred to as ”your good lady” by work colleagues.”

The first story, “The Greening of Mrs Donaldson”, was not as funny or absorbing for me as for some reviewers. However, I started to read it amid some distractions and it suddenly, a few pages in, made me sit up and take note that things were becoming incredible. Is this how some people behave? Is truth stranger than fiction?

I suppose previously conventional people, when the constraints are taken away and a new opportunity presents itself, may branch out into new territory.

I also realise that many of us live double lives to some extent.

I wondered of Duncan Ballantyne was a conscious parody of the entrepreneur Duncan Bannantyne

In the second story, there are neat and short character descriptions, e.g.: Graham’s father having nothing to say, said nothing. (Later): Graham’s father was understandably sensitive to this spelling (of Greene) , being something of a silent he him­self.

Mrs Forbes dislikes Catholics because they have lots of children. As one reviewer has pointed out: This has not been true in England for 40 years.

“For Graham’s mother there was little to choose between Jews and Catholics. The Jews had holidays that turned up out of the blue and the Catholics had children in much the same way.”

Another reviewer wrongly suggested that the groom’s father wants the wedding to: be according to The Book of Common Prayer: he doesn’t like the modern service because ”one has to shake hands with one’s neighbour”. But in fact this is not the case in the modern marriage service, only in the communion. – that’s the point. That is what they will witness when they attend church on the Sundays when their bans are read, though someone else points out that it won’t be too onerous as there are usually only four people there.

If parents want the best for their children, they’d not go for superficiality: face facts, Edward. He’s very good looking; she isn’t. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership. Good-looking people marry good-looking people and the others take what’s left…..`She may have money.’ `A hole in her cardigan and the same tights three days running? I’ve seen no sign of it. `Her parents are dead. `That doesn’t stop her going to the dry cleaners. If only she’d had some parents we’d have a better idea.

While I know what this sentence means, there seems to be something missing in the grammar: There were no bridesmaids, what few women Mends Betty had not really bridesmaid material.

Is this an allusion to the groom having lots of gay friends?: At the reception both Betty and her new mother-in-law were surprised by what good dancers many of Graham’s friends turned out to be.

An interesting theory about mental health: at first if he was having a breakdown before deciding he wasn’t imaginative enough for that.

It’s not until towards the end that I realised this story was set in Leeds, with mentions of Roundhay and Alwoodley.

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