In the introduction to Alan Bennett’s book “Talking Heads”, Bennett describes the characters that he created as ‘artless’, meaning that they don’t realise what they are saying or that they are “telling a story to the meaning of which they are not entirely privy.
” This is true of most of the monologues that he wrote, apart from ‘A Cream Cracker under the Settee’. Within this essay I will look at three of Alan Bennett’s monologues and discuss the artlessness of the characters, along with why these characters are portrayed in such a way.The first of the three monologues I have chosen is ‘Lady of Letters’ in which Irene, the narrator of the monologue, writes letters to pass time and results in her going to prison because of these letters. Irene is a stereotyped elderly lady, in which she is quite nosey and finds small things, such as writing letters, to pass the time of day.
Another stereotypical trait within her behaviour is that she complains a lot throughout the monologue, the opening line of the monologue is,”I can’t say the service was up to scratch.” This shows from the beginning that she is complaining about something. We then find out that she is talking about a funeral because she says,”In fact I wrote to the crematorium.” This also introduces Irene’s obsession with writing letters, especially letters of complaint.
We also learn that the things that Irene complains about are unimportant compared to the situation. In this case that is that the hearse drivers were smoking,”If the hearse drivers must smoke then facilities should be provided.” The fact that this complaint is minor and quite insignificant shows that Irene is trying to keep herself busy by writing these minor letters. From reading on we presume that Irene doesn’t have any friends or family to care about and also that the funeral that she attended was that of somebody she didn’t know very well, apart from talking to her on a bus.
She makes minor connections with this woman to portray a reason for her attending the funeral. For example, she says,”…
she had a niece in Australia and I have the one cousin in Canada…” this shows us that she is trying to find reasons for her attending the funeral and that she found her to be a friend because of these minor connections.
This is artless because she doesn’t realise that she didn’t know this lady, and only knows these connections from small conversations on the bus.From reading on in this monologue we are introduced to a family across the road from Irene, who she assumes are not very “promising.” This shows that Irene is quick to judge and looks down upon the family before knowing them. She also looks down upon their child by saying,”The kiddy looks filthy.
” This shows that she is quite pessimistic and assumes the worst about the family. This pessimistic attitude is developed when we hear about the other letters of complaint that she has written, for example, she complained about the policemen around the area to her local MP by saying,”…
the number of policemen these days who wear glasses. What chance would they have against a determined assailant?” This shows that she is looking to the worst case scenario.Irene gets sent to prison towards the end of this monologue because of all the letters she wrote, and the resulting trouble that she caused. The fact that she says that she is happy in the prison is an ironic contrast to her life before, where she passed her time by writing.
This is ironic because you would expect to be happier when you are free and out of prison. Irene also says before she goes into prison,”Prison, they have it easy. Television, table tennis, art. It’s just a holiday camp.
Do you wonder there’s crime?” This is ironic because of how she is enjoying herself in the prison because she is happier. She also talks about happiness saying,”So if you get the heroine saying ‘I don’t suppose I shall ever be happy’, then you can bank on it that there’s happiness just around the corner.” However her last line within the monologue is,”And I am so happy.” Showing a contrast between what she feels before she goes into prison and while se is in prison.
Irene shows an artless nature because she doesn’t realise the effect of her letters on the community. She also shows a contrast to what she says and how she feels about prison and her happiness.Another one of Alan Bennett’s monologues that is particularly artless is ‘Her Big Chance’ with Julie Walters playing the part of the narrator, Lesley, who is an unsuccessful actor who gets work by sleeping with people and using her body to get noticed off men.Bennett opens the monologue with a shocking line.
“I just shot a man last week.” This gets the audiences attention from the beginning of the monologue. We then learn that she is talking about her acting and she mentions ‘crossroads’.”I have been in crossroads though, actually.
” This shows her artless nature from the start because she is very pleased to be talking about herself and doesn’t realise how she is coming across to the audience and other people.The most artless trait that we are told about Lesley is that she sleeps with people to get herself acting jobs. For example Lesley sleeps with the director of the soft porn film that she is in to ensure that they use her in the film and Gunthur, the director, says to her,”Lesley. I make it a rule never to lay a finger on an actress until the whole thing is in the can.
” This shows that Lesley is being used for her body and also this statement could be for selfish reasons of his own and Lesley doesn’t realise this. This is artless because she doesn’t realise that people use her because they want to sleep with her.The most artless part, in my opinion, is when she suggests for the film to be even more pornographic than before by saying,”Don’t you think that Travis, drained of all emotion by the death of her lover, would perhaps cling on to the policeman whose life she has saved, and that they would celebrate by having sexual intercourse there and then?” this shows us that she likes the fact that people use her in films and on television programmes because of her body. But it also shows how greedy she is by wanting to be shown more on the film and wanting more attention.
The last line of the monologue is,”Acting is just giving.” This is quite interesting because it shows us that she thinks of her acting as a gift from herself to other people who watch her, along with that she means well for everybody and wants to entertain.To show a contrast from the other two monologues I have written about I am going to discuss the only monologue that I have studied that isn’t considered artless. This monologue being ‘A Cream Cracker under the Settee.
‘ This monologue is about an elderly lady called Doris who is avoiding being sent to a nursing home but then has an accident when cleaning and ends up not being able to walk because of her legs going numb. This monologue is by far the most emotional of all the ones that we have studied from where she starts to talk about her husband and her stillborn child. Doris could be described as not artless because he understands that she shouldn’t have tried dusting and it was also her fault that this had happened to her. It is clear from the start that she doesn’t want to go into a nursing home from what she talks about what Zulema threatens her with.
Zulema says to Doris,”What you don’t understand, Doris, is that I am the only person that stands between you and Stafford House.” This shows us that Zulema isn’t very nice to Doris and would prefer if she was in the nursing hoe ‘Stafford House.’ Things start to get emotional within the monologue when she talks about the baby that her and her husband, Wilfred, were going to have.”The midwife said he wasn’t fit to be called anything and had we any newspaper?” This is quite emotional because she is talking about the midwife taking away their child, who had died, in newspaper as if he was ‘dirty’This monologue is unable to be artless because it is so emotional and she isn’t thinking about herself apart from not wanting to go into a home.
“I don’t want to be stuck with a load of old lasses. And they all smell of pee.” This shows that she has strong feelings about going into a home and knows that she wouldn’t like it.In conclusion, all, but one, of Alan Bennett’s monologues are considered to star artless narrators.
Although some of the monologues are less artless than other, for example, Graham in ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ is far more artless than Susan in ‘Bed Among the Lentils’ but both are considered to have artless qualities.