Archive for June, 2017

In Love and War – Alex Preston

INAW(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Esmond Lowndes has been sent down from his Cambridge college after being caught in bed with another man. His father, a senior blackshirt, has found him a job establishing a fascist radio station in Italy. If the idea is to keep Esmond’s mind off hanky-panky, it doesn’t work. After walking in on his maid’s daughter naked, he ends up having nightly threesomes with her and her sometime boyfriend Gerald.

Goad’s speech with frequent ‘Humm’ is infuriating.

I well remember the paintings in the Uffizi which he mentions.

The Anglican chaplaincy is unusually high church (though St. Mar’s Florence does advertise high mass nowadays) and mention of ‘The Peace’ is anachronistic. (Similar to his attempts in ‘The Revelations’)

And why would a Roman Catholic cardinal give an Anglican chaplain a role?

I had to look up ‘pelf’ = money, especially when gained in a dishonest or dishonourable way; puttees = strips of cloth, which were worn wrapped around the lower leg in a spiral pattern, from the ankle up to below the knee. They provide ankle support and prevent debris and water from entering the boots or pants; kepis = a French military cap with a horizontal peak.

Torture is graphically described – I don’t think I would have lasted hong.

The author: I did a lot of skinny dipping when researching In Love and War. There’s some skinny dipping in the novel but I probably did more than I needed to.

Quotations:

`I never show my work to anyone; Douglas says. Writing’s like shitting. If someone’s cheering you on, it’s hard to get going, but give it time and space and it’ll come. And by the way, if you don’t eat well, you won’t shit well: He pauses. ‘Did you love this chap?’

Esmond turns to look out over the river. It is past eleven. A gentle breeze is blowing, stirring the hillside and making tight waves on the surface of the water.

historian in The Spectator who has identified only twenty-nine years since the Roman Empire when a war wasn’t being fought somewhere in the world. We lurch from crisis to crisis and we learn nothing from history.

By the end of 1940, all Europe will be German, soon after, all of the globe will fly the Glorious Swastika. I burnt your degenerate books, your limp-wristed writing because I knew the risk they’d pose for you in the coming years. (I suggest you burn this letter, too.) We – the British Union, those of us who have remained faithful to the cause – will be at the forefront of Nazi Britain and we can’t have bad eggs amongst us. I hope you see that, Esmond.

Douglas was right: Fascism is just a refuge from the powerlessness of love.

The talk at the Berensons’ was all of the war, of how Italy won’t be ready for combat for at least another three years. No auto­motive industry, an agricultural economy. They’ll have to sit it out with the tea and oranges, as pa would say, as the north falls apart. It looks to be a lengthy thing, none of that Panglossian “It’ll be over by Christmas” stuff this time.

He said it was the writer’s duty to speak for those who couldn’t speak, who were trapped or overlooked or oppressed. He said, in times like these, novels should be written with broken fingers, and all poets’ eyes should – be black.

I have always loved beauty and the gender of those I love matters to me as little as their shoe size. It seems odd to me that so many humans limit themselves, slavishly. For now, it is Ada.

We only know ourselves, he’d said, in crisis. Character is theoretical until we act. I think today, Esmond, you beheld yourself Not quite the hero your father was, eh?

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

ASND 3

(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Themes:

Masculinity – The sheer animal force of antagonist Stanley Kowalski is partly responsible for the fame of A Streetcar Named Desire. In this play, masculinity means aggression, control, physical dominance, and even violence. Accompanying these traits are a general lack of refinement, manners, and sensitivity. One point of view expressed in the play is that this sort of brute masculinity is primitive and sub-human; another is that it is attractive and sexually appealing.

Marriage – The central marriage in A Streetcar Named Desire operates on a tumultuous combination of hero-worship, aggression, sexual attraction, and a difficult class difference between husband and wife. Despite the challenges, we never doubt for a moment the intensity of love these two feel for each other.

There’s something primitive or almost animal in the ferocity of their interactions – both fighting and love-making – that makes their relationship difficult for some other characters to understand. In this marriage, we definitely see traditional gender roles of a dominant husband who brings home the money and pays the bills; and the doting housewife who is responsible for making dinner, cleaning up, and raising a child.

Society and class – A Streetcar Named Desire deals with class differences in New Orleans during the 1940s. One point of view is that of a fading Southern belle, with outdated ideals about the socially elite and those she considers “beneath” her social rank—like second or third-generation immigrants. Contrast this with the opposing, more modern (at the time) point of view that Americans are Americans, and that immigrants are a foundation of the U.S.

Fantasy’s inability to overcome reality – Alcohol is used as a means of escape in A Streetcar Named Desire. Main character Blanche DuBois uses booze to distract herself from reality and to retreat further into a world of fantasy and cleverly contrived artifice. Habitual drinking isn’t ideal for a woman’s reputation in the 1940’s, so the habit is often hidden or disguised. For the male gender, alcohol is very much tied to physical aggression and plays a part in the play’s worst violence.

The relationship between sex and death – Sex is essentially a destructive force in A Streetcar Named Desire, though this destruction takes a variety of forms, including literal death, physical violence, mental degradation, the sullying of a good reputation, and even financial ruin. It’s very much tied to physical aggression, both in the sexual relations between husband and wife, but also in the play’s rape scene. Death features prominently and is very much connected to lust. Sex seems to be responsible for much of the death—literal and figurative—that we see in the play.

Oddly enough, characters also turn to sex to comfort themselves in times of loss, which only leads to… more destruction. Death comes in all varieties in this play: the loss of reputation, sanity, physical well-being, relationships, and youth.

Appearances – For main character and fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois, appearances are important. They’re also generally fake. Consumed with the need to appear younger and more innocent than she actually is, every personal interaction is a series of machinations and contrivances designed to reveal the truth, regarding both looks and reputation.

Madness – A Streetcar Named Desire features a gradual descent into madness, brought about by loss, depression, financial ruin, and the cruelty of others. At first, this so-called “madness” is just an attempted escape from reality—an altered self-image and a polished persona that doesn’t accurately reflect the character below.

As the play progresses, however, this self-deception intensifies and deviates further and further from reality. By the play’s conclusion, the main character can no longer distinguish between her fantasies and the world around her. “I don’t think I ever seen you in the light. That’s a fact! [..] You never want to go out in the afternoon. […] You never want to go out till after six and then it’s always some place that’s not lighted much. […] What it means is I’ve never had a real good look at you.”

We get another layer of meaning to this lights business when Blanche discusses her former husband, Allan. She describes falling in love as though “you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me” (6.120). When she caught him with another man, later confronted him, and discovered his suicide, she claims that “the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this—kitchen—candle…”

Blanche also uses light imagery to describe the benefits of poetry, music, and art – in contrast to what she considers to be Stanley’s primitive nature. She tells Stella, “There has been some progress since then! Such things as art—as poetry and music—such kinds of new light have come into the world since then! […] In this dark march […] don’t — don’t hang back with the brutes!”

motifs  · Light – Blanche makes a big deal out of never being seen in direct light—if she’s out in the daylight, she’d glow all sparkly-like, because she’s actually a vampire.

bathing; drunkenness; dependence on men

symbols  · Shadows and cries; the Varsouviana polka (Music used throughout scenes nine through eleven); “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Ella Fitzgerald); meat

Much of the pathos found in Williams’s drama was mined from the playwright’s own life. Alcoholism, depression, thwarted desire, loneliness, and insanity were all part of Williams’s world. His experience as a known homosexual in an era unfriendly to homosexuality also informed his work. Williams’s most memorable characters, many of them female, contain recognizable elements of their author, Edwina, and Rose. His vulgar, irresponsible male characters, such as Stanley Kowalski, were likely modeled on Williams’s own father and other males who tormented Williams during his childhood.

The characters are trying to rebuild their lives in postwar America: Stanley and Mitch served in the military, while Blanche had affairs with young soldiers based near her home.

The title is taken from a Hart Crane poem titled “The Broken Tower.”:

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice

An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
Crane was one of Williams’ icons. His use of this quotation is apt, as Crane himself often employed epigraphs from his own icons, including Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, and Blake. Williams felt a personal affinity with Crane, who, like himself, had a bitter relationship with his parents and suffered from bouts of violent alcoholism. Most important, Williams identified with Crane as a homosexual writer trying to find a means of self-expression in a heterosexual world.

Williams was influenced by Crane’s imagery and by his unusual attention to metaphor. The epigraph’s description of love as only an “instant” and as a force that precipitates “each desperate choice” brings to mind Williams’character Blanche DuBois. Crane’s speaker’s line, “I know not whither [love’s voice is] hurled,” also suggests Blanche. With increasing desperation, Blanche “hurls” her continually denied love out into the world, only to have that love revisit her in the form of suffering.

As its title indicates, A Streetcar Named Desire explores the destinations to which desire leads.

Blanche DuBois, a schoolteacher from Laurel, Mississippi, arrives at the New Orleans apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski. Despite the fact that Blanche seems to have fallen out of close contact with Stella, she intends to stay at Stella’s apartment for an unspecified but likely lengthy period of time, given the large trunk she has with her. Blanche tells Stella that she lost Belle Reve, their ancestral home, following the death of all their remaining relatives. She also mentions that she has been given a leave of absence from her teaching position because of her bad nerves.

Though Blanche does not seem to have enough money to afford a hotel, she is disdainful of the cramped quarters of the Kowalskis’ two-room apartment and of the apartment’s location in a noisy, diverse, working-class neighbourhood. Blanche’s social condescension wins her the instant dislike of Stella’s husband of Polish descent named Stanley Kowalski who deals in an auto-parts supply. It is clear that Stella was happy to leave behind her the social pretensions of her background in exchange for the sexual gratification she gets from her husband; she even is pregnant with his baby. Stanley immediately distrusts Blanche to the extent that he suspects her of having cheated Stella out of her share of the family inheritance. In the process of defending herself to Stanley, Blanche reveals that Belle Reve was lost due to a foreclosed mortgage, a disclosure that signifies the dire nature of Blanche’s financial circumstances. Blanche’s heavy drinking, which she attempts to conceal from her sister and brother-in-law, is another sign that all is not well with Blanche.

The unhappiness that accompanies the animal magnetism of Stella and Stanley’s marriage reveals itself when Stanley hosts a drunken poker game with his male friends at the apartment. Blanche gets under Stanley’s skin, especially when she starts to win the affections of his close friend Mitch. After Mitch has been absent for a while, speaking with Blanche in the bedroom, Stanley erupts, storms into the bedroom, and throws the radio out of the window. When Stella yells at Stanley and defends Blanche, Stanley beats her. The men pull him off, the poker game breaks up, and Blanche and Stella escape to their upstairs neighbour Eunice’s apartment. A short while later, Stanley is remorseful and cries up to Stella to forgive him. To Blanche’s alarm, Stella returns to Stanley and embraces him passionately. Mitch meets Blanche outside of the Kowalski flat and comforts her in her distress.

The next day, Blanche tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley for a better man whose social status equals Stella’s. Blanche suggests that she and Stella contact a millionaire named Shep Huntleigh for help escaping from New Orleans; when Stella laughs at her, Blanche reveals that she is completely broke. Stanley walks in as Blanche is making fun of him and secretly overhears Blanche and Stella’s conversation. Later, he threatens Blanche with hints that he has heard rumours of her disreputable past. She is visibly dismayed.

While Blanche is alone in the apartment one evening, waiting for Mitch to pick her up for a date, a teenage boy comes by to collect money for the newspaper. Blanche doesn’t have any money for him, but she hits on him and gives him a lustful kiss. Soon after the boy departs, Mitch arrives, and they go on their date. When Blanche returns, she is exhausted and clearly has been uneasy for the entire night about the rumours Stanley mentioned earlier. In a surprisingly sincere heart-to-heart discussion with Mitch, Blanche reveals the greatest tragedy of her past. Years ago, her young husband committed suicide after she discovered and chastised him for his homosexuality (the term ‘degenerate’ is used in the script). Mitch describes his own loss of a former love, and he tells Blanche that they need each other.

When the next scene begins, it’s a month later and Blanche’s birthday. Stella is preparing a dinner for Blanche, Mitch, Stanley, and herself, when Stanley comes in to tell her that he has learned news of Blanche’s sordid past. He says that after losing the DuBois mansion, Blanche moved into a fleabag motel from which she was eventually evicted because of her numerous sexual liaisons. Also, she was fired from her job as a schoolteacher because the principal discovered that she was having an affair with a teenage student. Stella is horrified to learn that Stanley has told Mitch these stories about Blanche.

The birthday dinner comes and goes, but Mitch never arrives. Stanley indicates to Blanche that he is aware of her past. For a birthday present, he gives her a one-way bus ticket back to Laurel. Stanley’s cruelty so disturbs Stella that it appears the Kowalski household is about to break up, but the onset of Stella’s labour prevents the imminent fight.

Several hours later, Blanche, drunk, sits alone in the apartment. Mitch, also drunk, arrives and repeats all he’s learned from Stanley. Eventually Blanche confesses that the stories are true, but she also reveals the need for human affection she felt after her husband’s death. Mitch tells Blanche that he can never marry her, saying she isn’t fit to live in the same house as his mother. Having learned that Blanche is not the chaste lady she pretended to be, Mitch tries to have sex with Blanche, but she forces him to leave by yelling “Fire!” to attract the attention of passers-by outside.

Later, Stanley returns from the hospital to find Blanche even more drunk. She tells him that she will soon be leaving New Orleans with her former suitor Shep Huntleigh, who is now a millionaire. Stanley knows that Blanche’s story is entirely in her imagination, but he is so happy about his baby that he proposes they each celebrate their good fortune. Blanche spurns Stanley, and things grow contentious. When she tries to step past him, he refuses to move out of her way. Blanche becomes terrified to the point that she smashes a bottle on the table and threatens to smash Stanley in the face. Stanley grabs her arm and says that it’s time for the “date” they’ve had set up since Blanche’s arrival. Blanche resists, but Stanley uses his physical strength to overcome her, and he carries her to bed. The pulsing music indicates that Stanley rapes Blanche.

The next scene takes place weeks later, as Stella and her neighbour Eunice pack Blanche’s bags. Blanche is in the bath, and Stanley plays poker with his buddies in the front room. A doctor will arrive soon to take Blanche to an insane asylum, but Blanche believes she is leaving to join her millionaire. Stella confesses to Eunice that she simply cannot allow herself to believe Blanche’s assertion that Stanley raped her. When Blanche emerges from the bathroom, her deluded talk makes it clear that she has lost her grip on reality.

The doctor arrives with a nurse, and Blanche initially panics and struggles against them when they try to take her away. Stanley and his friends fight to subdue Blanche, while Eunice holds Stella back to keep her from interfering. Mitch begins to cry. Finally, the doctor approaches Blanche in a gentle manner and convinces her to leave with him. She allows him to lead her away and does not look back or say goodbye as she goes. Stella sobs with her child in her arms, and Stanley comforts her with loving words and caresses.

Blanche is a loquacious and fragile woman around the age of thirty.  Though she has strong sexual urges and has had many lovers, she puts on the airs of a woman who has never known indignity. She avoids reality, preferring to live in her own imagination.

Stanley is the epitome of vital force. He is loyal to his friends, passionate to his wife, and heartlessly cruel to Blanche. With his Polish ancestry, he represents the new, heterogeneous America. He sees himself as a social leveller, and wishes to destroy Blanche’s social pretensions.

Mitch is more sensitive and more gentlemanly than Stanley and his other friends, perhaps because he lives with his mother, who is slowly dying.

Allan Grey is the young man with poetic aspirations with whom Blanche fell in love and married as a teenager. One afternoon, she discovered Allan in bed with an older male friend. That evening at a ball, after she announced her disgust at his homosexuality, he ran outside and shot himself in the head.

A Young Collector  is a teenager who comes to the Kowalskis’ door to collect for the newspaper when Blanche is home alone. The boy leaves bewildered after Blanche gives him a passionate farewell kiss. He embodies Blanche’s obsession with youth and presumably reminds her of her teenage love, the young poet Allan Grey.

Elysian Fields, the Kowalskis’ street, is named for the land of the dead in Greek mythology. The journey that Blanche describes making from the train station to the Kowalski apartment is an allegorical version of her life up to this point in time.

Blanche makes derogatory and ignorant remarks about Stanley’s Polish ethnicity throughout the play, implying that it makes him stupid and coarse. In Scene Eight, Stanley finally snaps, correcting Blanche’s many misapprehensions and forcefully exposing her as an uninformed bigot. His declaration of being a proud American carries great thematic weight, for Stanley does indeed represent the new American society, which is composed of upwardly mobile immigrants. Blanche is a relic in the new America. The Southern landed aristocracy from which she assumes her sense of superiority no longer has a viable presence in the American economy, so Blanche is disenfranchised monetarily and socially.

Blanche’s dependence “on the kindness of strangers” rather than on herself is the reason why she has not fared well in life. In truth, strangers have been kind only in exchange for sex.

In the English Touring Theatre’s production at the Bristol Old Vic. the set is simple: two minimally decorated rooms separated only by a thin partition. The use of roof space added to the claustrophobic feeling of the apartment, a boxed in room surrounded by unhappy couples. The deteriorating state of the house effectively represents Blanche’s own mental decline- both house and woman possess interiors in a state of collapse, that, despite any attempts to decorate or dress up, are breaking at the very foundations.

There’s a veritable mish-mash of accents.

One reviewer suggested: The show’s only weakness is its attempt at modernising an already relatively recent play. As a result, the nine months of Stella’s pregnancy feel closer to nine decades. The production is littered with unclear references, from landline phones to KFC to Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’.

The director sees it in the light of the me-too campaign and doesn’t mention homosexuality. Yet Blanch is in the closet just as her husband was, and they’re both outcasts as a result of their sexual desire. The homosexual has to die for his sins, while the wanton woman is systematically beaten down and ultimately neutralized; her sexuality obliterated, violently and deliberately.

Her final exit is one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema, as she innocently takes the hand of the doctor who will commit her.  As homosexuality was classified as a mental illness until 1973, gays knew all too well that Blanche’s fate — or the fate of her unseen husband — could easily be their own.

And what drag queen hasn’t screamed this while sorting through a pile of discarded wigs and support hose?

Blanche’s splendid final line, “Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” has become, “at least among gay males a clichéd expression of homosexual alienation,” writes David Van Leer

A Streetcar Named Desire is, to a large degree, a queer text. Williams may well have been a self-hating queer, but he survived and wrote about it. Is Blanche a survivor? Is she totally destroyed at the end? Is her beingcommitted to a  psychiatric asylum “simply” the end result of a truly tragic process? Can the asylum be seen as a form of death or not? Some critics are still arguing the point. Bronski writes, But the truth is that the majority of his women characters are survivors. Williams himself saw Blanche as a survivor. He claimed, ‘I am Blanche DuBois.’ It was Williams’s life as a gay man that enabled him to create a character who survives by rejecting the sordidness  of this world and creating a better one of her own. [Bronksi, 115}

As Frederick Suppe writes, [The] cultural and artistic contributions of queers were decidedly subversive, countering attempts to smother gays and lesbians into cultural invisibility with films, plays, literature, music and art that revealed and made public a gay sensibility that spoke to queers everywhere even when the plots and vehicles used to deploy that sensibility were disguised as heterosexual. Suppe then exemplifies “Thus most of Tennessee Williams’s plays—especially Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire —focus on struggles with homosexuality in a very straight society”

ASND 2Quotations:

…] a peculiarly tender blue, almost a turquoise, which invests the scene with a kind of lyricism and gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay. […] In this part of New Orleans, you are practically always just around the corner […] from a tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers. […] New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races

Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a red-stained package from a butcher’s.

You see, under the Napoleonic code – a man has to take an interest in his wife’s affairs – especially now that she’s going to have a baby. [Blanche opens her eyes. The “blue piano” sounds louder.]
BLANCHE Stella? Stella going to have a baby? I didn’t know she was going to have a baby!

The gaudy seed-bearer, […] he sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he looks at them.

STELLA It’s a drive that he has.

BLANCHE On the contrary, I saw him at his best! What such a man has to offer is animal force and he gave a wonderful exhibition of that! But the only way to live with such a man is to – go to bed with him! And that’s your job – not mine!

STANLEY [bellowing] Hey there! Stella, Baby!

STELLA Can I come watch?

STELLA Yes. A different species.
BLANCHE In what way; what’s he like?
STELLA Oh, you can’t describe someone you’re in love with!

STELLA I can hardly stand it when he is away for a night…
[…] STELLA When he’s away for a week I nearly go wild!
[…] STELLA And when he comes back I cry on his lap like a baby…

STELLA…You come out with me while Blanche is getting dressed.
STANLEY Since when do you give me orders?

STELLA No. Stanley’s the only one of his crowd that’s likely to get anywhere.
[…] STELLA It isn’t on his forehead and it isn’t genius.
[…] STELLA
It’s a drive that he has.

BLANCHE I’m terrified!
MITCH Ho-ho! There’s nothing to be scared of. They’re crazy about each other.

STELLA Stanley doesn’t give me a regular allowance, he likes to pay bills himself.

Stella has embraced him with both arms, fiercely, and full in the view of Blanche. He laughs and clasps her head to him. Over her head he grins through the curtains at Blanche.

STELLA Blanche, do you want him?
BLANCHE I want to rest! I want to breathe quietly again! Yes – I want Mitch… very badly! Just think! If it happens! I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem…

BLANCHE What you are talking about is brutal desire—just—Desire! The name of that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another…
STELLA Haven’t you ever ridden on that street-car?

BLANCHE It brought me here.

They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!

Her appearance is incongruous to the setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district.

 

EUNICE A great big place with white columns.

 

BLANCHE …I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your – Polack!

 

BLANCHE Please don’t get up.
STANLEY Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t be worried.

 

BLANCHE That one seems – superior to the others.
STELLA Yes, he is.
BLANCHE I thought he had a sort of sensitive look.

 

BLANCHE It’s a French name.
[…] MITCH You’re French?
BLANCHE We are French by extraction. Our first American ancestors were French Huguenots.

 

BLANCHE Stop it. Let go of that broom. I won’t have you cleaning up for him!
STELLA Then who’s going to do it? Are you?
BLANCHE I? I!
STELLA No, I didn’t think so

 

STANLEY That’s how I’ll clear the table! [He seizes her arm.] Don’t ever talk that way to me! “Pig – Polack – disgusting – vulgar – greasy!” – them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! What do you think you two are? A pair of queens? Remember what Huey Long said – “Every Man is a King!” And I am the King around here, so don’t forget it!

 

STANLEY You showed me the snapshot of the place with the columns and how you loved it.

 

… but contains a folding bed to be used by Blanche. The room beyond is a bedroom.

 

Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens. […] He sizes women up with a glance, with sexual clarifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.

 

STANLEY My clothes are stickin’ to me. Do you mind if I make myself comfortable? [He starts to remove his shirt.] Be comfortable is my motto.

 

Blanche moves back into the streak of light. She raises her arms and stretches, as she moves indolently back to the chair.

 

Blanche waltzes to the music with romantic gestures. Mitch is delighted and moves in awkward imitation like a dancing bear.

 

STANLEY [with heaven-splitting violence] STELL-LAHHHHH!
[The low-tone clarinet moans. The door upstairs opens again. Stella slips down the rickety stairs in her robe. Her eyes are glistening with tears and her hair loose about her throat and shoulders. They stare at each other. Then they come together with low, animal moans. He falls to his knees on the steps and presses his face to her belly, curving a little with maternity. Her eyes go blind with tenderness as she catches his head and raises him level with her. He snatches the screen door open and lifts her off her feet and bears her into the dark flat.]

 

STELLA Why on our wedding night – soon as we came in here – he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light-bulbs with it.
[…] BLANCHE And you – you let him? Didn’t run, didn’t scream?
STELLA I was – sort of – thrilled by it

 

STELLA But there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark – that sort of make everything else seem – unimportant. [Pause]
BLANCHE What you are talking about is brutal desire – just – Desire! – the name of that rattle-trap street-car that bans through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another…

 

BLANCHE Well you do, honey lamb! Come here. I want to kiss you, just once, softly and sweetly on your mouth!

 

She springs up and crosses to it, and removes a whiskey bottle. She pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down. She carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink.

 

BLANCHE …Now don’t get worried, your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard, she’s just all shaken up and hot and tired and dirty!

 

BLANCHE No, one’s my limit.

 

BLANCHE …I’ll show you shuperficial – Listen to me! My tongue is a little – thick! You boys are responsible for it. The show let out at eleven and we couldn’t come home on account of the poker game so we had to go somewhere and drink. I’m not accustomed to having more than one drink. Two is the limit – and three! [She laughs] Tonight I had three.

 

The rapid feverish polka tune, the “Varsouviana,” is heard. The music is in her mind; she is drinking to escape.

 

BLANCHE [She rushes about frantically, hiding the bottle in a closet, crouching at the mirror and dabbing her face with cologne and powder.]

 

MITCH I told you already I don’t want none of his liquor and I mean it. You ought to lay off his liquor. He says you been lapping it up all summer like a wild-cat.

 

Blanche has been drinking fairly steadily since Mitch left. […] As the drinking and packing went on, a mood of hysterical exhilaration came into her and she has decked herself out in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed silver slippers with brilliants set in their heels.

 

BLANCHE And turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!

 

BLANCHE …You know I haven’t put on one ounce in ten years, Stella? I weigh what I weighed the summer you left Belle Reve. The summer Dad died and you left us…

 

STELLA And admire her dress and tell her she’s looking wonderful That’s important with Blanche. Her little weakness!

 

STANLEY Compliments to women about their looks. I never met a woman that didn’t know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they’ve got. I once went out with a doll who said to me, “I am the glamorous type, I am the glamorous type!” I said. “So what?” (

 

BLANCHE …After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion…

 

STANLEY Well this somebody named Shaw is under the impression he met you in Laurel, but I figure he must have got you mixed up with some other party because this other party is someone he met at a hotel called the Flamingo.
[…] BLANCHE I’m afraid he does have me mixed up with this “other party.” The Hotel Flamingo is not the sort of establishment I would dare to be seen in!

 

BLANCHE It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I – I’m fading now! I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick.

 

STELLA She is. She was. You didn’t know Blanche as a girl. Nobody, nobody was as tender and trusting as she was. But people like you abused her, and forced her to change.

 

BLANCHE A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding can enrich a man’s life – immeasurably! I have those things to offer, and this doesn’t take them away. Physical beauty is passing. A transitory possession. But beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit and tenderness of the heart – and I have all of those things. […] But I have been foolish – casting my pearls before swine!

 

BLANCHE …I want to be near you, got to be with somebody, I can’t be alone! Because – as you must have noticed – I’m – not very well… [Her voice drops and her look is frightened.]

 

BLANCHE I, I, I took the blows in my face and body! All of those deaths! The long parade to the graveyard! Father, mother! Margaret, that dreadful way! So big with it, it couldn’t be put in a coffin! But had to be burned like rubbish! You just came home in time for the funerals, Stella. And funerals are pretty compared to deaths. Funerals are quiet, but deaths—not always. Sometimes their breathing is hoarse, and sometimes it rattles, and sometimes they even cry out to you, “Don’t let me go!”

 

BLANCHE The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left — and Stella can verify that! — was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.

 

STELLA You are as fresh as a daisy.
BLANCHE One that’s been picked a few days.

 

BLANCHE The first time I laid eyes on [Stanley] I thought to myself, that man is my executioner! That man will destroy me.

 

BLANCHE Yes, that’s where I brought my victims. […] Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allan — intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty hearty with

 

BLANCHE Yes. [During the pause she looks up at the sky.] There’s so much – so much confusion in the world… [He coughs diffidently.]Thank you for being so kind! I need kindness now.

 

BLANCHE Young man! Young, young, young man! Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Prince out of the Arabian Nights! [The Young Man laughs uncomfortably and stands like a bashful kid. Blanche speaks softly to him.]

 

BLANCHE I guess it is just that I have – old-fashioned ideals! [She rolls her eyes, knowing he cannot see her face.]

 

BLANCHE I don’t want realism. I want magic! [Mitch laughs] Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! – Don’t turn the light on!

 

BLANCHE Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart…

 

STELLA I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.

 

BLANCHE You know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die – with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond mustache and a big silver watch. […] And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard – at noon – in the blaze of summer – and into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes!

 

BLANCHE I was on the verge of — lunacy, almost! So Mr. Graves—Mr. Graves is the high school superintendent — he suggested I take a leave of absence.

 

There are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years, affecting Belle Reve as, piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications—to put it plainly! . . . The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left—and Stella can verify that!—was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.

 

Oh, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume, but maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve.

 

I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack.

Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

BLANCHE (singing) Say, it’s only a paper moon, Sailing over a cardboard sea—But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! […]  It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be— But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! […] Without your love, It’s a honky-tonk parade! Without your love, It’s a melody played in a Penny arcade… […] It’s only a paper moon, Just as phony as it can be— But it wouldn’t be make-believe If you believed in me! […] It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, Just as phony as it can be

 

MEXICAN WOMAN Flores.
BLANCHE Death—I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as closer as you are… We didn’t even admit we had ever heard of it.
MEXICAN WOMAN Flores para los muertos, flores—flores…
BLANCHE The opposite is desire.

‘I don’t want realism, I want magic’.

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Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.
What Tom has observed among the Sioux is that men can choose to dress as squaws at home but, in battle, still be warriors. This thought becomes his guide. He feels at home in a dress but, as a soldier, follows orders even when they are treacherous, learning that there are good men and bad on any side.

Tom, John and Winona survive battlefields and atrocities, trek across America’s great plains into the agonised, villainous aftermath of the war between the states. Barry makes us understand how. Grief may freeze the heart, the body be tested to extremes, but where there’s life there’s hope, and love is what makes life worth living, a sentiment that, we are told in other reviews, links Barry’s novels across all their times and places.

There are vast open spaces and extreme weather

The world is seemingly indifferent yet the love for each other gives it some meaning.

Because we were nothing ourselves, to begin with” – is later amplified by the nightmarish tale he hears from a fellow Irishman whose passage to the New World ends with corpses floating in the bilges, immured and abandoned. “That’s why no one will talk,” reflects Thomas, feeling that what has happened is simply not accounted as a subject. “That’s because we were thought worthless. Nothing people. I guess that’s what it was. That thinking just burns through your brain for a while. Nothing but scum.”

They appear merely as two teenage soldier boys until this sentence is casually dropped in: And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.

The image of a country populated by spectral figures, devastated by conflicts that leave men “making the noises of ill-butchered cattle”, their limbs hanging by a thread, their bodies emaciated and withered, is in sharp contrast with the landscape that inspires awe in both Thomas and Barry, and which seems to demand an equal grandeur in the observer: “A vicious ruined class of man could cry at such scenes because it seems to tell him that his life is not approved.”

The descriptions are very visual- you can almost imagine it as a film.

The language is beautiful.

The book is full of questions about identity. The Indians who fight like savages one day leave food for starving soldiers the next. The kindly major leads a vicious assault on an Indian village out of revenge.

The war is reminiscent of the Old Testament command to out everything under the ban – everyone and every crop to be destroyed.

One of our members said: Having childhood memories of playing cowboys and Indians I’ve now come to see how the conquest of the American west with the dispossession of the native peoples was a crime. So I couldn’t get into the book despite its acclaim in many reviews as a good gay book read.

Another got fed up with the violence and nearly gave up three times but accepted that the violence wasn’t gratuitous.

Barry lives in County Wicklow with his wife, Alison, and their three children, Coral, Merlin and Toby. Barry has stated that Toby coming out as gay was important to the writing of Barry’s book Days Without End, and that Toby’s experiences informed the gay relationship in that book

McNulty is gay – not that the word would have meant anything in 19th-century America. That, says Barry, is one reason why the book is short: his narrator did not have the words or the notions to make it longer. McNulty falls in love with a young American man, cross-dresses and marries him. They adopt an orphaned Native American girl and build an unlikely family in Tennessee – a paradise created after the hell McNulty and his lover experience when they join the army.

Days Without End is dedicated to Barry’s son Toby – and McNulty’s sexuality is also a tribute to the teenager. “Three years ago, when he was 16 and I was doing the reading for this book, Toby was very unhappy, and when a young man is unhappy we must take note. I was desperately trying to find out what was wrong, but you can’t ask him directly. You have to be a sleuth, a kind of Sherlock Holmes of his unhappiness.”

At the time of the 2015 referendum in Ireland on same-sex marriage, Barry wrote an open letter – with his son’s permission – in support of a yes vote. “I felt I had to do something,” he says, “so I wrote to the Irish Times, which is the default action of the middle-aged Irish Catholic. I showed the letter to Toby and he just wept, which is unusual because he is a very mensch-like person.”

Later Toby was threatened on a train after kissing his boyfriend goodbye on the platform. “He was very frightened by that and it led to more unhappiness, so I thought we’re on a bit of a war footing here.” Toby discussed drag with Barry and how gay men from tough backgrounds sometimes used it as a form of empowerment. Those ideas seeped into the book, though not, Barry is at pains to point out, as a manifesto.

The character of McNulty grew out of a reference his grandfather Jack O’Hara made to a great uncle who emigrated to America to escape the famine. O’Hara, who fell out with the author over the literary airing of family secrets, is himself the mainspring of another Barry work, The Temporary Gentleman.

Barry has described his childhood as a “singular mess”. He says he and his three siblings were farmed out to relatives, which is how Barry heard the stories about the first world war, the Easter Rising and the civil war in Ireland that he has used to such effect in his novels. This obsessive winnowing of family secrets suggests a search for certainty after a childhood that had little.

 Quotations:

I am thinking of the days without end of my life…’

 “It was a mad world but a lucky one too, now and then”

We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world

“The whole town was perishing like stray cats.”

“We were nothing. No one wanted us. Canada was a-feared of us. We were a plague. We were only rats of people. Hunger takes away what you are.”

“time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending.

We washed our shirts and trews and when we went out to get them off the bushes, they were as stiff as corpses in the cold. Some poor cows froze where they were standing like they had peered into the face of old Medusa. Men lost the wages of three years hence at cards. They bet their boots and then pled for the pity of the winner. The piss froze as it left our peckers and woe betide the man with an obstruction or hesita­tion to their shit, because soon they had a brown icicle on their arse. The whiskey continued its work of eating our livers. It was as good a life as most of us had ever knowed.

When all the bodies were in, we covered over the pits with the soil we had left, like we were putting pastry tops on two enormous pies.

John Cole’s long face, long stride. The moonlight not able to flatter him because he was ready beautiful.

we respectfully drop the men into their holes and then we cover them up with a bedding of earth and every man in due course has a mound of the same earth over him like eiderdowns in a fancy hotel.

“Hunger is a sort of fire, a furnace. I loved my father when I was a human person formerly. Then he died and I was hungry and then the ship. Then nothing. Then America. Then John Cole. John Cole was my love, all my love.”

You can rise up out of your saddle and sort of look down on yourself riding, it’s as if the stern and relentless monotony makes you die, come back to life, and die again.

“Oftentimes in America you could go stark mad from the ugliness of things. But now in the far distance we see a land begin to be suggested as if maybe a man was out there painting it with a huge brush.”

We would gladly put our hands over our ears but our muskets are raised and trained along the line of the wig­wams. We are watching for the rat-run of the survivors. There is a stretch of time as long as creation and I can hear the whizzing of the shell, a spinning piercing sound, and then it makes its familiar thud-thud and pulls at the belly of heaven and spreads its mayhem around it, the sides of wigwams torn off like faces, the violent wind of the blast toppling others flat, revealing people in various poses of surprise and horror.

Then they are pulling knives from their waists and hollering and -there is a sort of mad joyous desper­ation in it that kindles a crazy fire in the heart. We are not lovers rushing to embrace but there is a sense of terri­fying union none the less, as if courage yearns to join with courage. I cannot say otherwise. No fighter on earth as brave as a Sioux brave. They have their squaws and kindred sheltered and now at the last desperate moment they must risk all to defend them. But the shells have done terrible damage in the camp. Now I can see plain the broken bodies and the blood and the horrible butch­er shop of carnage that those bursting metal flowers have manufactured. Young girls are strewn about like the vic­tims of a terminous dance. It is as if we have stopped the human clock of the village, that’s what I were thinking.

“We worked back and forth through the milling bodies and tried to kill everything that moved in the murk,” he says. “Two, three, four fell to my thrusts, and I was astonished not to be fired on, astonished at the speed and the horror of the task, and the exhilaration of it, my heart now not racing but burning in my breast like a huge coal. I stabbed and I stabbed.”

“South don’t got uniforms, grits, or oftentimes shoes. Half of these fierce-looking bastards in bare feet. Could be denizens of a Sligo slum-house. God damn it, probably are, some of them.”

“John Cole says he loves me more than any man since the apes roamed.”

There’s a half-blind preacher in a temple called Bar-tram House and I don my best dress and me and John Cole go there and we tie the knot. Rev. Hindle he says the lovely words and John Cole kiss the bride and then it’s done and who to know. Maybe you could read it in their holy book, John Cole and Thomasina McNulty wed this day of our Lord Dec. 7th 1866. In the euphoria of war’s end we reckon a craziness is desired. God don’t mind we know because that day of deep winter is clement, clear and bright. Then as if a token of God’s favour we get a letter from Lige Magan. We been sending missives back and forth while we putting meat back on-our bones. He’s struggling with his farm. The men that his pa freed been killed by militia long since but two. His whole country ruined by war and like a waste of ghosts. The coming year lies heavy on his mind and how he to burn the land alone in January? Been set in grass six years and now it ripe for baccy. If we not otherwise engaged could we come and help him in his hour of need? He says all his cold district is a swamp of mistrust and he trusts me and John. Going to be hard years but maybe we could fed there were something to win. He got no kin but us.

“Don’t tell me a Irish is an example of civilised humanity. He may be an angel in the clothes of a devil or a devil in the clothes of an angel but either way you’re talking to two when you talk to one Irishman.”

Kill them all. Leave nothing alive. Everything was killed. Nothing left to tell the tale. Four hundred and seventy. And when the men were done killing they started to cut. They cut out the cunts of the women and stretched them on their hats. They took the little ball sacks of the boys to be dried into baccy pouches.

Let’s say my ward, my care, the product of some strange instinct deep within that does rob from injustice a shard of love. The palms of her hands like two maps of home, the lines leading homeward like old trails. Her beautiful soft hands with tapering fingers. Her touches like true words. A daughter not a daughter but who I mother best I can.

“a whole corpse gathered up into one tight fist of fear and fright.”

“no one wants to do it and everyone does it.”

“no such item as a virtuous people”

“Everything gets shot at in America, and everything good too.”

“a little kingdom…pitched up against the darkness”

“God in his farmer’s apron, scattering the great seeds of yellow brightness.”

“Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on forever…”

riding like ghosts through the spectral lands.”

“In the euphoria of war’s end we reckon a craziness is desired.”

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