The Corner

Film & TV

“As Reactionary a Person as You Could Hope to Meet”

I’m very much enjoying Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard: A Life, an in-depth authorized biography about England’s greatest playwright since Shakespeare. I didn’t think it was possible to love Stoppard more than I already did (Kevin Williamson is also a big fan), but then I came across this passage about how Stoppard started to draw enemies among Marxist intellectuals and theater people in the late 1960s, when he started to implicitly rebuke everything they stood for. Having been born in Czechoslovakia (his family fled both the Nazis and then, in Singapore, the Japanese), Stoppard was fully aware that he might have grown up behind the Iron Curtain and had zero sympathy for the view that the Soviet Union was some sort of misunderstood noble cause. Moreover, he thought the kind of stridently didactic art then in fashion in theater (just as it is now, with the emphasis switched to identity politics) amounted to a category failure. He told Lee that in his 30s he was “beginning to be noticed by my peers as someone who was politically dubious” because he said things like, “I burn with no causes.” He added,

I am as square and traditional, let’s say as reactionary, a person as you could hope to meet because I operate on the premise that a theatre’s job is to prevent people leaving their seats before the entertainment is over. . . I’m not impressed by art because it is political, I believe in art being good art or bad art, not relevant art or irrelevant art.