English and Drama blog

3 posts from January 2019

18 January 2019

Graham Greene and the curse of the sausage roll: an image of class and disgust in Brighton Rock

by Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Studies. You can read more about the Library's holdings related to Brighton Rock here

Dust jacket for Brighton Rock

Students of Brighton Rock in the BL can read, in addition to the original novel, the French, Polish and Finnish translations, and consult the draft script of Terence Rattigan’s screenplay.

The novel tells the seamy tale of Pinkie Brown, murderous teenage micro-gangster, his marriage to the innocent waitress Rose in order to prevent her testifying against him, and his pursuit by good-time girl Ida.

You might expect the chief alimentary image in Brighton Rock to be Brighton rock itself:

    [Rose to Ida:] ‘People change,’she said.

    ‘Oh, no they don’t.  Look at me.  I’ve never changed.  It’s like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you’ll still read     Brighton.  That’s human nature.’  (200)

But a more persistent food image which escaped me when I first read the novel, but which haunted me on a recent second reading is that of the sausage roll. The criminals live in a guest house (Frank’s), where Pinkie’s bedsit, which he inherited from his predecessor, is the common room.

Here is an anthology (page references are from the 1998 Penguin paperback edition (BL H.98/1446))

    'The Boy went to his bed and swept off the crumbs of Cubitt’s sausage roll.  ‘What’s this,’ he said, ‘a meeting?’ (54)

    The Boy got up.  A few crumbs stuck to his wet suit.  (55)

    ‘That’s right, Pinkie,  He’s [Colleoni] running the business in a big way.’  A big way – it was like an accusation, a reminder     of the brass bedstead at Frank’s, the crumbs on the mattress.  (58)

    Don Colleoni is a big-time gangster who stays at the swell Cosmopolitan Hotel.  Brass bedsteads also have a traumatic     sexual charge for Pinkie as they remind him of sharing a room with his parents.

    The Boy lay on the bed. A cup of coffee went cold on the washstand, and the bed was sprinkled with flakes of pastry.  (61)

    His sleep was functional.  When Dallow opened the door he woke at once.  ‘Well?’ he said, lying there without moving, fully     dressed among the pastry crumbs.  (62)

    Ida to Rose: ‘I suppose you talked to him [Spicer]?’

    ‘I didn’t talk to him.  I was rushed.  I just fetched him a Bass and a sausage roll, and I never saw him again.’  (76)

    When he [Spicer] got to Frank’s there was no one there.  He creaked his tortured way up the stairs, past the rotten banister,     to Pinkie’s room: the door stood open, vacancy stared in the swing mirror: no message, crumbs on the floor …   He moved     away: flakes of pastry under his foot  (83-84)

    [Pinkie is rebuffed by Colleoni:] The gold cigar-lighter, the grey double-breasted waistcoat, the feeling of a racket     luxuriously successful for a moment dominated him: the brass bedstead upstairs, the little pot of violet ink on the     washstand, the flakes of sausage roll.  (99)

    [Pinkie consults with Cubitt and Dallow:] Life was a series of complicated tactical exercises, as complicated as the     alignments at Waterloo, thought out on a brass bedstead among the crumbs of sausage roll.  (113)

    The Boy led the way into the bed-sitting-room and turned on the single globe.  He thought of Colleoni’s room in the     Cosmopolitan.  But you had to begin somewhere.  He said [to Cubitt], ‘You’ve been eating on my bed again.’

    ‘It wasn’t me, Pinkie.  It was Dallow…’  (116)

These were the hours – when the races were not on, when there was no one to see on business – that he [Pinkie] spent stretched on the bed at Frank’s.  He’d eat a packet of chocolate or a sausage roll … (177)

The sausage roll isn’t mentioned again: the novel extends to page 250 but the milieu of Frank’s is well established by this point.

As an author famed for his Catholicism, Greene could of course have chosen the sausage roll as another image of original sin, the meaty soul enwrapped in the pastry body of degradation.

But his interest is as much social as theological.  John Carey notes how snobbish writers of Greene’s generation defined their social inferiors by their food.  No cooking goes on at Frank’s, as the residents subsist on takeaways. When Rose moves in she goes to light the stove first thing and meets Dallow:

    She said: ‘I thought maybe I’d better light the stove.’

    ‘What for?’


    … He went to a dresser and pulled open a drawer.  ‘Why,’ he said, ‘what’s got you?  You don’t want a stove.  There’s plenty     here.’  Inside the drawer were stacks of tins: sardines, herrings. 

    She said: ‘But tea.’

    He looked at her oddly.  ‘Anyone’d think you wanted work.  No one here wants any tea.  Why take the trouble?  There’s beer     in the cupboard, and Pinkie drinks the milk out of the bottle.’  (193)

In more recent times, we must remember the ‘pasty tax’ of 2012, seen by some as an act of class war.  Greene is often said to have been fascinated and repelled by popular culture: the novel refers to Woolworths, Warwick Deeping, seances, corned beef tins, tinned salmon (on which see Carey, p. 21, with reference to Greene), buns in paper bags, beer breath, slot machines, , the twopenny library, Film Fun, ‘Guinness Is Good For You’.

His unease, to my mind, is made concrete in the cold, congealed fat of the working man’s food.


Terence Rattigan’s film treatment and outline for Brighton Rock (Add MS 74316)

The third shooting script for Rattigan’s Brighton Rock film (Add MS 74317)

Brighton Rock, 1st edn (London: Heinemann, 1938) Cup.410.f.384.

John Carey, The intellectuals and the masses : pride and prejudice among the literary intelligentsia, 1880-1939 (London: Faber, 1992) YC.1992.a.2014

11 January 2019

Harold Pinter: A Line, A Word, An Image

Today we launch a Harold Pinter retrospective in our Second Floor Gallery as part of the wider anniversary season of events marking ten years since his death. Focusing on Pinter’s creative process, this free display of manuscript reproductions from his Archive offers glimpses of some of his most famous plays at various stages in their development.

Antonia Fraser and The Pres and an Officer
Antonia Fraser and 'The Pres and an Officer', the Pinter sketch about a trigger-happy US president which she discovered in 2017. ‘The Pres and an Officer’ is © Fraser52 Limited.

In his Nobel Prize speech of 2005 Pinter noted that ‘most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word, or an image’. It was usually, in fact, a word or phrase – ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ in the case of The Homecoming - that was the starting point, closely followed by an image, typically of a configuration of characters in a room. Inspiration having struck, Pinter would put pen to paper in pursuit of the fleeting figures, working out who they were through the circuitous evasions and revelations of quotidian dialogue though always resisting too deep a probe into their backstories. These adventures on paper are what is on show in this new display.

Seeing Pinter’s large, energetic handwriting filling the pages of his yellow legal pads transports us back to the moment of creation. There are intriguing false starts and changes of mind in evidence, such as a deliberation over where to set the opening scene of Betrayal (a tea shop, flat or a pub) and a diagram suggesting a third presence in the enigmatic two-hander Landscape. The naming of characters (always a secondary act for Pinter) is revealed on the page as initially anonymous As and Bs are christened in later annotations. And there are, of course, many pauses peppering the manuscript pages, always denoted by a lower case ‘p’. According to Pinter in his 1962 speech to the National Student Drama Festival it was in these silences that his characters became most evident to him.

Taking the structure of Pinter’s great play Betrayal as a model, the display offers a selective reverse chronology of Pinter’s playwriting career, taking in the last lines of his final stage play Celebration (written in 1999) as well as early prose pieces that influenced his theatre writing. For those who’ve seen any of the ongoing Pinter at the Pinter season by the Jamie Lloyd Company there are numerous resonances with our selections: we have reproduced the notecard on which Pinter scribbled the threatening lines from One For The Road, performed so memorably by Anthony Sher in the recent 'Pinter One', as well as a number of other drafts which will be familiar to fans of the season. My favourite inclusions, though, are perhaps the early prose pieces which contain the seeds of Pinter’s playwriting career. The pieces in question are a 1955 short story called ‘The Examination’ in which the menacing figure ‘Kullus’ can be seen as a prototype of the threatening interlopers of later plays, and a first draft of Pinter’s biographical novel of competitive male friendship The Dwarfs begun in 1952. Both offer crucial clues to the dramatist that Pinter became and both deserve to be better known.

Although it has been ten years since Pinter’s death on Christmas Eve 2008, his plays continue to speak to us about today’s world, sometimes in astonishingly prescient ways. Pictured above is Antonia Fraser who came to the Library this week for a preview of the exhibition. She stands alongside a dramatic sketch she discovered in 2017 when turning the page of one of Pinter’s old legal pads kept by the phone for messages. There to her astonishment was ‘The Pres and an Officer’, a short piece in which a trigger-happy President of the United States is eager to ‘nuke London’. Donald Trump was entirely unknown to Pinter, but now we know what Pinter would have made of him, so to speak. It seemed fitting to include ‘The Pres’ in our display as a ‘first last look’ (to quote Samuel Beckett’s words about Betrayal) among the other drafts and photographs now on show.

Harold Pinter: A Line, A Word, An Image is on display in the British Library Second Floor Gallery until 17 March 2019.

Join Antonia Fraser and Michael Billington in conversation for Remembering Harold Pinter on Monday 4 March 2019.

04 January 2019

The Sun-Artist, the Typewriter and Bridge of the Ford

A guest blog by Susan Connolly, whose poetry pamphlet, The Sun-Artist, was published by Shearsman Books in 2013, and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets. The Sun-Artist will be on display in the Treasures Gallery until the end of February as part of an exhibition which celebrates the 10 year anniversary of the Michael Marks Awards.

Sunlight, a big window, ruler, pencil, compass and tracing paper were the tools I used to write my first visual poems on sheets of white A4 paper – cutting and pasting, not on the computer, but with scissors and Prittstick. Written in 2005, these were freehand word-drawings of poems called ‘Mirrors’, ‘Many Selves’ and ‘Like Leaves on a Tree’.

Some of these early visual poems were published in Shearsman magazine in 2008. In early 2009 Shearsman Books published Forest Music, my second full-length collection of poetry. The collection is in two sections: Forest Music and Walking the Seawall. Walking the Seawall contains twenty-three visual poems.

In October 2009 a friend showed me the Olympia portable typewriter which she had bought in a charity shop. I looked at this object and a whole range of possibilities opened up in my mind. I borrowed her typewriter and set to work. The first poem I typed was ‘The Sun-Artist’. It required a huge amount of concentration not to make a mistake and have to start all over again. Later I copiedThe Sun-Artist’ onto my computer.

The idea for this poem came from a visit to the Cross of Muiredach in Monasterboice, near Drogheda, one July evening in 2009. This is an elaborately carved High Cross made of sandstone, dating to the 10th century. Its sides are covered with panels of interlace reminiscent of the Book of Kells. The interlace usually looks faded, but the way the sun shone on it that evening made it look new again. I wanted to depict this interlace in a poem. I wrote the line ‘deepshadowed sunset renews fading patterns’. Then I used these words re-creating how the interlace appeared,  renewed by the evening sun.  

My poetry moved increasingly from word-drawings to poetry which could be made on the typewriter and copied from there to computer. The best font for my work is Courier New, a font which gives equal space to each letter of the alphabet, just like the typewriter. I also realised that there were other possibilities on the computer: changing the size of the letters, line spacing, colour. Nowadays I use only the computer. However, my visual poems have been greatly influenced by my earlier engagement with the typewriter.               

In 2013 Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books asked me if I had enough visual poems for a chapbook. I had and so I concentrated on gathering individual poems into a collection. The Sun-Artist was the title I gave to the chapbook. Several poems had already been published in poetry journals, which was great, but sometimes they were printed too small so that the reader could barely see the letters. The chapbook was my chance to put things right, to have the poems on the page exactly as I wanted them. I made a mock-up of the book and went in search of the right order for the eighteen poems I had chosen.

The manuscript became proofs which were emailed back and forth until everything had settled into place. The cover image is from a poem which was originally in red and black. About six weeks later the first copies of The Sun-Artist arrived in the post. It was an incredible feeling to turn the pages of this very slim book and read the poems again.


Front cover of the Sun-Artist by Susan Connolly


Cover page of The Sun-Artist.

With thanks to Susan Connolly for permission to use this image.

The Sun-Artist eventually led to the publication in 2016 of a full-length collection of visual poetry; eighty pages complete with introduction and notes. The main dilemma for me when approaching my third collection was whether it should contain visual poetry only or whether it should also include lyric poems many of which had been published in poetry journals. In the end I decided that Bridge of the Ford would consist entirely of visual poetry.

Bridge of the Ford has thirty-three visual poems. The book is in a larger than usual format to give the poems plenty of space. There are two sections: Bridge of the Ford and The Dream-Clock. The poems in the first part are arranged so that the reader can imagine drifting down the river Boyne in a boat, past the Neolithic tumulus of Dowth, past the mediaeval town of Drogheda (Droichead Átha / bridge of the ford) and out towards the sea. These sites are in my blood as I grew up and still live in this area.

And what happened to those lyric poems? Shearsman Books published them separately in a chapbook called The Orchard Keeper in 2017.