Review : `Harold Pinter: an annotated bibliography’

by Steven H. Gale. (G.K. Hall and Co, Boston. $24)


Review: ‘Where laughter stops: Pinter’s tragicomedy’

by Bernard F. Dukore. (University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London. £4.10)


Ronald Knowles


Steven Gale, the author of an extended recent study of Pinter’s work (Butter’s going up, Duke UP, 1977), has now compiled, with prodigious labour, the most extensive bibliography to date. Customary acknowledgement is called for: all scholars must be grateful for the provision of a work which renders predecessors redundant. A casual first encounter revealed two unknown Pinter collaborations—joint editor with John Fuller and Peter Redgrove of the 1967 P.E.N. anthology of New poems, and cosigner with Arnold Wesker and George Steiner of an appeal on behalf of the Jewish Quarterly. A further chance opening gleaned a review of The homecoming, tantalizingly captioned ‘Only one Kafka,’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer. But bibliographies are generally used with a purpose, not casually, and things are found by design, not chance, if the work is adequate: the criteria of adequacy are scope, accuracy and utility.


The scope of this bibliography is impressive. Within 244 pages are over 2000 entries, most of which have been personally examined by the editor. However, there are a few unnecessary entries and a few omissions. An American TV ‘Report on Warner Brothers refusal to permit Steve McQueen to film Old times’ would be much better replaced by The Times’ report (11.5.73) of Pinter’s statement concerning his legal injunction to halt Visconti’s vulgarized production of the play in Rome. Critical work ‘in preparation’ is acceptable, but surely unpublished ‘papers given’ and ‘speeches’ made (including four of Gale’s) are supererogatory: a bibliography should not be confused with a curriculum vitae. E.H. Mikhail’sbibliography of Contemporary British drama 1950-1976, though listed here, contains several chapters and articles on Pinter in German, Russian, Spanish and French which Gale has neglected to include independently or point out in his annotation. Robert Muller’s Daily Mail citation (2.8.60) of Donald Pleasance’s interpretation of Mac Davies’s character should have been included since it stresses the great importance gesture played in the first production of The caretaker. Again, Bernard Levin’s review of the same production (Daily Express, 2.5.60) should not be missed as it contradicts absolutely his later review of a 1977 revival: record should be kept of those who, while they shout about the king’s new clothes, are seen to be in motley. Michael Anderson’s entry on Pinter in A handbook of contemporary drama (London, 1972) is worth inclusion as Anderson has written interestingly of Pinter elsewhere. One of Gale’s works ‘in preparation’ is a `filmography’: it is to be hoped that Pinter’s terse letter to The Times (19.10.72) concerning his view of working with Joseph Losey will find a place there, though missing from this bibliography. Pinter’s short story `Tea party,’ broadcast in 1964 and published the following year in Playboy, as Gale notes, was also published separately in a limited edition by Josip Vanista, Zagreb, in 1965. On the other hand, included under Pinter’s ‘Shorter writings’ is ‘Art as therapy, hobby, or experience’ (in Essays in honour of William Gallacher). In his introduction Gale mentions ‘ghost’ entries in earlier bibliographies, and arresting as it is to think of Pinter contributing to a festschrift for a leading British communist, this particular old mole is out of Imhof’s cellarage and is by Arnold Wesker. In the same section ‘Harold Pinter Replies’ (New theatre magazine) is, in fact, an interview, and is indexed as such, reappearing elsewhere in the bibliography, though with a different volume number. However, perhaps this kind of slip is inevitable in such a large scale work?


More serious is the questionable design of the bibliography as a whole. Entries 1133 are devoted to Pinter’s writings: the remaining 1900 are lumped together, under author, in alphabetical order, as ‘Writings about Harold Pinter. Literary scholarship, critical articles, and reviews.’ As a consequence there are 262 entries under Anon! There are approximately 1600 reviews scattered throughout—clearly it would have been of much greater use to have classified these according to the various plays and films, possibly followed by related studies. Why are the Pinter interviews not grouped together? Theses and Dissertations? As it stands the usefulness of the bibliography rests almost entirely on the index which is, regrettably, inadequate, arbitrary and inaccurate.


For example, item 101, a volume of German translations of Pinter’s plays, including The caretaker, is not found in the index under Caretaker, The, sub-heading translations of, but under Pinter, Harold, sub-heading translations into, sub sub-heading German (but the play is not named) and under Pinter, Harold, sub-heading The caretaker (where 101 is given, but not the fact that it is a German translation). It takes some working out to realize that this last heading is really a sub sub-heading belonging to the sub-heading translations into. But why we need translations of and translations into in two different places in the index (if at all since Translations is clearly listed under Contents), I do not know.


The simple index entry under Melodrama gives 552, a relevant article on The dumb waiter, while Robert Heilman’s important book Tragedy and melodrama: versions of experience, though included in the bibliography, is not cited. Kenneth Tynan’s review of The caretaker is similarly missing from the index. Minor slips? Perhaps, but consider the section of the index devoted to Beckett, Samuel; items 803, 681, 548, 2013,1265 should read, respectively, 802, 618, 549, 2014, 1264, while several items in the bibliography referring to Beckett in the title or the annotation are not indexed at all.


It is to be regretted that the labour evident in this publication has not been matched by sufficient foresight, planning and care.


Dukore’s essay examines a major aspect of Pinter’s dramatic writing called here ‘tragicomedy’—and makes a number of very acute observations of an empirical kind in spite of serious weaknesses on the theorectical side, which Dukore perhaps sees as his major claim on our attention.


The study is marred by a poor opening. After initial quotation from Sidney’s Defense Dukore turns to the question of modern tragicomedy quoting Shaw, Eric Bentley and Ruby Cohn who ‘do not adequately provide a comprehensive definition of the nature and structure of the genre’ (1-2). Dukore would like ‘to attempt to construct a definition that would formulate a hypothesis about the nature and structural characteristics of this modern, mongrel genre and then test this hypothesis by applying it to the plays of . . . Harold Pinter’ (2, my italics). What does this mean? The statement implies that within a class of objects—‘modern tragicomedies’—there are definable characteristics with which Pinter’s plays may be compared. No examples from modern tragicomedy are given. A footnote refers to Dukore’s earlier articles on the topic, but this hardly constitutes adequate evidence here. The necessity of a posteriori definition is sidestepped, and an a priori mode takes over in the abstract distinctions adduced between comedy and tragedy: the outcome of tragedy, death, makes us sad: the outcome of comedy, marriage, makes us smile. These distinctions (attributed to a hypothetical ‘layman’) are, to Dukore, ‘not only essentially valid, they are crucial factors in the identification of dramatic genres, including tragicomedy’ (3). Pseudo-scientific methodological dressage really comes a cropper here. As the essay stands the reader is given the impression that the study of Pinter’s plays has led to a working definition which has been transposed into a retroactive ‘hypothesis’ and then applied to Pinter’s plays to prove its validity!


‘Theory’ aside, Dukore examines a large number of Pinter’s plays in terms of a plain, sound observation: the plays ‘deny the exclusiveness of the attributes of the comic genre with which they are primarily associated . . . Pinter’s tragicomedies not only begin in a comic manner and then reach a point where laughter stops, but from that point on, the sources of the noncomic are the same as those of the comic, and they deny the comic qualities they have established’ (4). Excluding A night out, Night school, The dwarfs, Landscape, Silence, Night and the revue sketches as non-tragicomedies, Dukore considers the rest of the Pinter canon chronologically in terms of the above statement. But The collection and The lover (both of which arguably belong to the comedy of manners) might also have been excluded, as might Monologue. And perhaps A night out should also be reconsidered for inclusion: the comic fussiness of the mother at the opening, for example, and that final ‘Albert!’ On the other hand, Dukore’s discussion of The birthday party is brilliant, and the criticism of The caretaker exceptional (I came across Where laughter stops on the point of completing my own essay on The caretaker, printed in this issue of JOBS). Even in less outstanding sections of the book and in spite of some overstatement, Dukore is consistently illuminating in his response to small detail in Pinter’s plays.


As a contribution to the theory of tragicomedy Where laughter stops is poor; as an empirical study of the structural significance of laughter and seriousness in Pinter’s plays it is a very useful study indeed.