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    How Does Alan Bennett Reveal The Speaker in A Lady of Letters Essay

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    However basic these opening stage directions to ‘A Lady of Letters’ may appear, they do in fact hint at the dominant theme of the monologue, loneliness. Alan Bennett uses stage directions minimally yet effectively throughout, on stage the actions speaking equally as loudly as the carefully chosen and structured words. The fact that Irene, the protagonist, is middle-aged and still a ‘Miss’ hints at the idea of her being a lonely person, and in addition the ‘simply furnished’ room physically displays the isolation Irene feels.

    With this lonesome atmosphere established it could be expected that the ‘Bay window’ would be a refreshing opening to the outside world, from which Irene is clearly cut off. However instead, it acts as a barrier making Irene a prisoner in her own home. The dramatist’s use of a monologue is an effective vehicle for conveying loneliness, and clearly reflects it, as is alone on stage, the intensity of the focus is on Irene, and this allows her character to be developed and revealed fully, with a feeling of intimacy created with the audience.

    The character is speaking to them directly in the mode of a soliloquy, engaging the audience to the maximum. In using this form the playwright also creates audience/actress interaction, with the viewers playing the role of the confidant, and the speaker confiding in them, becoming the friends that are lacking in the speakers life. One of the many things Irene reveals to the audience is the death of her mother, the only person to provide her with a sense of belonging. ‘My mother knew everybody in this street. ‘

    This then brings the audience to realise that it was this bereavement that triggered Irene’s obsessive letter writing, and that she subconsciously adopts this obsession as a means of gaining contact with the outside world, as well as gaining some kind of recognition. However in some instances her constant strive to be acknowledged accentuates a selfish element in her character. And, for example in the quotation below she sees the ramp as a monument to herself, not as an achievement for the disabled people whom it helps. ‘Whenever I pass I think,’ well, that’s thanks to you Irene,’ My monument that ramp. However Bennett does also use phrases like this to strike a desperate note in Irene’s character. Furthermore his use of mimetic language and reported direct speech bring the dialogue of others into the monologue, so that the audience can see Irene’s world in more detail, provoking both sadness and pity in them. Irene consciously confides the loss of her mother to the audience. However Bennett discloses more about both Irene and her personality through what she says unconsciously, using ellipses and non-sequiturs to make the character’s speech more life-like particularly in the form of humour.

    For example when being as suspicious as ever about a visiting vicar ‘I was still a bit dubious, then I saw he had cycle clips on so I let him in’ Humour is used by the dramatist at many levels throughout the monologue, and in the case of the conscious, humour reveals far more about the speaker than she intends or realises. Even Irene’s obsessive letter writing becomes hilarious as the distortion of proportion and the elevation of repetition becomes ludicrous. However as the playwright increases the entertainment value through humour he also increases the element of pathos, allowing the audience to hear what remains unspoken.

    This is demonstrated when she describes going to a funeral ‘At least it’s an outing’ As well as tingeing the humour with pathos, Bennett also largely incorporates ‘the shock factor’ into his humour, often creating a situation of unease within the audience as they do not know whether to laugh or not ‘We’re asking you because who was it who wrote the chemist saying his wife was a prostitute?….. Who was it gave the lollipop man a nervous breakdown? ‘ In instances like this Irene has unintentionally damaged others lives.

    However, by now the playwright has familiarised the viewer so effectively with the speaker, that Irene’s mistakes are understood and not despised. And as they have been guided through her history and past experiences, such as the death of her mother, they are provided with the details to understand that Irene is not a malicious person, just lonely and misunderstood. Eventhough Irene is misunderstood, she herself does a lot of misunderstanding also, majoratively in the form of stereotyping. However Irene fails to notice this flaw in her own character, and instead feels that she is the one being stereotyped. ‘I’m an atheist’… He was a bit stumped. I could see. They don’t expect you to be an atheist when you’re a miss. ” Throughout the monologue Bennett voices many stereotypes through Irene’s opinionative character, including views on people from different races and social groups. Ironically though it is these prejudices that reveal to the audience that Irene is infact a victim of her own narrow-mindedness, and therefore the audience feel sympathy, as she is segregating herself from all that surrounds her. Fortunately though, some of the speakers ‘opinions’ are less harmful, and these sweeping judgements extend the humour. He’s labour but it’s always very good notepaper and beautifully typed’ However Bennett has engaged the audience so intensely that they know that these ‘sweeping judgements’, all to quickly deteriorate to almost grotesque assumptions, created by Irene’s stereotypical views. The playwright states these stereotypical comments with bold, harsh language, invoking a more disturbing and callous humour. ‘If they were are caring young couple why did you never see the kiddy? If they were a caring young couple why did they go gadding off every night leaving the kiddy alone in the house’

    In the lines subsequent to this quote Bennett again uses the ‘shock factor’ technique as the viewer learns that the kiddy has not been at home alone but in the hospital, and the parents had not been ‘gadding off’ but going to visit it, and the reason she had not heard the kiddy crying was because, it died ”And that’s where the kiddy died. ‘ ‘I said what of ? Neglect? ‘ She said ,’No Leukaemia. ” . This deeply moves both the audience and the speaker herself, and on screen the event is performed in a particularly heart renching manner, with the so far stern, Patricia Routledge , breaking down into floods of tears.

    This act reinforces the element of pathos, which is ever present throughout the monologue. Yet often Bennett creates these ‘elements of pathos’ with great ambiguity, as in the following quote the pity for Irene re-emerges, as again she confirms herself as being a victim of her own narrow- mindedness. However it is inevitable that the audience should also smile and find humour in it, predominantly due to self-recognition. ‘Prison, they have it easy…. It’s just a holiday camp, do you wonder there’s crime? ‘ This specific quotation holds a particular irony, as it is in prison that Irene ends the play.

    However, the more important irony that the dramatist creates here, which provokes a more complex humour is that it is only when she is in prison that Irene actually feels free, is able to make friends and is eventually happy. ‘Lucille. This is the first taste of freedom I’ve had in years. ‘ Bennett uses irony throughout to portray Irene as a victim, the end of the monologue bringing great irony, as she is shown as a victim, yet put into prison. By putting Irene in prison, Bennett transforms her into a completely new character, which is a great achievement, as her pre-prison character was already strongly established.

    He allows Irene to lose many of the eccentricities that previously alienated her from her audience, and he demonstrates this dramatic change in a number of ways. The character now uses positive adjectives about negative and harsh surroundings. ‘Did away with her kiddy accidentally…. Bonny little face you’d never think it. ‘ And is completely reformed from her old self-righteous self. ‘I share a room with Bridget… She’s been a prostitute on and off Progressing from extremely judgemental, to extreme tolerance On screen, Bennett’s direction also displays a visual change in Irene.

    Her clothes are brightly coloured and less dreary, her hair is more bouncy and lively looking, as well as being in a more exciting lighter shade. Her gestures are more vigorous and expressive, and, she always has a smile on her face, even if it has taken going to prison to make her do so. Bennett’s skill with words gives a great authenticity to whatever Irene says, whether it is before or after she goes to prison, with the tone of Irene’s language before being cynical and depressive and after being cheerful and positive.

    It is this skill that convincingly depicts the redeemed and humbled Irene that develops within the ‘freedom’ of the prison walls. ‘There’s my little clock ticking and you can hear the wind in the poplar trees by the playing field and maybe it’s raining and I’m sitting there. And I’m so happy. ‘ Bennett also creates distinct contrasts between Irene’s Life in and outside of prison. As where as trivial things such as whether the neighbours had a tablecloth on or not used to anger her. She now talks at ease about people swearing and smoking and has infact adopted using both, on occasion I mean, I shan’t be a full-time smoker,I’m not that type….. but it means that if I’m ever in a social situation when I’m called on to smoke…. I shan’t be put off my stroke. ‘ This finally confirms Irene’s overcoming of her obsession of writing letters. However in a rather bizarre way this removes a key literary value from the text. This is because throughout ‘A Lady of Letters’ Bennett uses contrasting language, adopting a sophisticated language for Irene’s formal ‘letter-writing’, alongside ordinary every day language, which separates Irene from her letters.

    This allows the audience to then see just how much of Irene’s life is taken up by letter writing, and so although this clever contrasting use of language is no longer necessary, the viewer is extremely happy for Irene now that she is free of her burden, and in fact she is so busy in prison that she barely has time to write. ‘I ought to be writing up my diary… other girls can’t think what to put in theirs, me I can’t think what to leave out. Trouble is I never have time to write it up, I’m three days behind as it is. This shows that Irene’s unhappiness did indeed sprout from her obsession, as now that she has overcome it she is ‘so happy’. A tinge of pathos is again present in this statement as it infers that before prison she couldn’t be happy. The audience greatly sympathise with Irene due to this, and Bennett’s careful crafting of the final paragraphs allow them to almost feel her previous discomfort, and her newly found sense of belonging, invoking in them the compassion and insight to realise that Irene was a victim.

    She had disconnected herself so greatly from the rest of the world that all she had left was her ‘trusty platignum’ standing her ‘in good stead’ and becoming her only ‘real friend’. Irene was a victim of circumstances, of changing times, of society, of narrow-mindedness and above all a victim of, herself. And by showing that Irene was suffering Bennett causes the audience to be delighted when she is paradoxically incarcerated, yet freed from her troubles allowing her to become ‘the public spirited guardian of morals,’ she always had the potential to be.

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    How Does Alan Bennett Reveal The Speaker in A Lady of Letters Essay. (2017, Oct 08). Retrieved from

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