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Alan Bennett on ‘Smut’

January 10, 2012 | by

If Alan Bennett needs any introduction at all, I would need more than a paragraph in which to write it. I would start by explaining how, in the early 1960s, he formed the comic revue Beyond the Fringe, along with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Jonathan Miller. I would go on to describe his subsequent half-century of writing for television and the stage, which has included such hugely successful plays as Forty Years On, The Madness of George III, and The History Boys. Perhaps I would round things off by suggesting that he has provided the most authoritative introduction to his own writing life through his wry, tender, autobiographical writings, collected in Writing Home and Untold Stories. His latest book, Smut, includes two long stories, the first of which, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” concerns a formerly staid widower whose life is changed by some adventurous student lodgers. Meanwhile, The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes describes an intergenerational family romp that is set in motion by the marriage of attractive, vain, and gay Graham Forbes to the outwardly plain Betty, who nonetheless harbors secrets of her own. To find out whether this book represents the sort of “holiday from respectability” that his protagonists take, I talked to him over the phone last Friday morning.

Were these two stories conceived as a pair?

No. Most of the short stories I’ve written have started off because they wouldn’t turn into plays, and certainly the first one in this book, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” has quite a theatrical beginning. The other one probably dates back further. I wrote a play called Habeas Corpus and it’s a bit in that style. It’s a farce and not a realistic story. I think the notion, particularly in the first story, of somebody breaking out, like Mrs. Donaldson, who is breaking out after a fairly humdrum life, keeps recurring. Read More »

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