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Conversations with Stoppard.

A twin volume to Mel Gussow's Conversations with Pinter (1994; see WLT 69:2, p. 368), Conversations with Stoppard is a handsome edition, featuring photographs of subject and author, one seated on the front and the other on the back of the jacket, as though in conversation. Beyond its appearance, however, the volume features a Stoppard so at ease with himself and his interviewer that he speaks more freely of his personal life, his creative process, and his writing habits than heretofore seen in the many articles he has written and interviews he has granted. Half of the interviews had appeared in part in the New York Times from 1972 through 1984. The other half, with book publication in mind, took place in December of 1994 and February of 1995.

Two criticisms have dogged Tom Stoppard's career, one in regard to his political conservatism and his avoidance of political involvement in his plays, and the other concerning the absence of emotionally satisfying characters. He tells of his early admiration for Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch, adding that the latter, a hero to him ten years ago, is now a "very bad influence on English, or indeed global, cultural life." After his political plays such as Professional Foul and Squaring the Circle, he has returned to his disengaged plays of ideas in Hapgood and Arcadia. He admits to his "idyllic" view of life and to happiness as "a passing shift of emphasis," a matter of self-reliance, cultivating one's own garden "without being pulled, without having one's sleeve tugged by what's happening outside the wall." On the subject of intimacy in his plays, he refers to his latest work, In the Native State (a television play), and its stage version, Indian Ink, but lays claim to the "lit" and the "phil" (and more recently the "sci" and "phy") as "what he is made up of."

Stoppard's remarks about his writing habits and the sources of ideas for his plays are as freewheeling and as fascinating as the debates in his plays. Commenting on specifics such as the source of names for his characters, he disclaims Benedict Nightingale as the source of Bernard Nightingale in Arcadia, announces the demise of the names of Boot and Moon, and admits the use of his secretary's name (Chamberlain), thinking to "wake her up," and of J. C. Squire in Indian Ink as a real person, a former literary editor at the New Statesman and London Mercury, a man who stood for the "Real England." Still a voracious reader of books and newspapers - providers of "acorns" for his fertile imagination - he anticipates writing another play about journalism, having become older and more conservative about the press.

Of all the many theories in the many books about Stoppard's plays, one need go no further than Gussow's conversations with the author to have a curiosity-satisfying peek into the thinking and the creative processes of one of England's two major dramatists of the second half of the twentieth century.

Susan Rusinko Bloomsburg University
COPYRIGHT 1996 University of Oklahoma
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Author:Ruinko, Susan
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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