It helps that its subject is still alive and professionally active: Leopoldstadt was premiered in London’s West End in January, enjoying six weeks of success before being prematurely closed by the pandemic lockdown. In a sense, though, those are its strengths. Simon Gray nicely caught this when he wrote: “It is actually one of Tom’s achievements that one envies him nothing, except possibly his looks, his talents, his money and his luck. The complete review's Review: . As Hannah, a character in one of his best-loved plays, Arcadia, says: “It’s wanting to know that makes us matter. Hermione Lee’s immensely long Tom Stoppard: A Life is expert, engrossing, entertaining and sympathetic to its subject. Known for his dizzying narrative inventiveness and intense attention to language, he deftly deploys art, science, history, politics, and philosophy in works that span a remarkable spectrum of literary genres: theater, radio, film, TV, journalism, and fiction. It is also a challenging read, partly because of its excessive length and partly because it bulges with often needless detail. You'd have a chance at least. He has been described, perhaps inaccurately, as “England’s most rightwing playwright”. The Books Quiz: Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent is set in which county? The list goes on, right up to his latest play, Leopoldstadt, whose successful opening run was cut short by the lockdown. When Hitler invaded in March 1939, the Sträusslers and other professional-class Jewish families (his father was a doctor) were advised to leave as soon as possible. Listen to the latest episodes of Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee on BBC Sounds To set against this, there have been numerous revivals of his best plays where critics, depending on the production, have raved all over again, sometimes claiming to see depths that they missed on a first viewing. Along with its successors, it certainly did that: Jumpers (1972), Travesties (1974), The Real Thing (1982), Arcadia (1993), The Invention of Love (1997), The Coast of Utopia (2002), Rock’n’Roll (2006). Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Tynan at the National Theatre decided to take a gamble on the unknown young playwright, with the result that, as Lee puts it with a proper sense of drama, on Tuesday 11 April 1967 at the Old Vic, “the lights went up on two men in Elizabethan costume, betting on the toss of a coin”. Wilde channelled a whole cultural movement into gorgeous excess while writing a handful of plays that could be put on in the local church hall with a reasonable chance of success. Tomáš Sträussler was born in Zlín in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1937. This is a hugely impressive work. But he seems, admirably, to have decided to put his trust in the “mesh” and to allow his biographer a completely free hand. Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure. How our experience in the theatre during one of his plays relates to our lives outside is a question that has nagged at discussions of Stoppard’s standing as a writer. Tomás Sträussler became Tom Stoppard, to all intents and purposes a young English schoolboy. In The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard has his Oscar Wilde character describe biography as “the mesh through which our real life escapes”. Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in.” She’s not just referring to the exit from the theatre. Certainly, “all through the 1980s he would be a whole-hearted supporter and admirer of Thatcher”. At other times nothing happens, though as Beckett might have said, it does that sometimes. There have also been repeated grumbles that his are the kinds of play you can only see once. Marta and her two sons, Petr and Tomás, went on a ship to – they thought – Australia but it ended up in India. It all helped to sustain a life filled with country houses and Concorde flights, marriages and not-marriages, lots of parties and an awful lot of cigarettes. He was born Tomás Sträussler in Czechoslovakia in 1937 to a Jewish doctor and his wife. The past was behind them and not mentioned. Lee’s book has the scope of a novel; it is superbly researched and written with a … “I like them to sit with their backs to the engine, and only later to find out where they were going.” In plays famed for their wordsmithery, there can be a surprising amount of silence. This is a rare opportunity to hear from one of the greatest playwrights of our time, as he talks to Lee, about his fascinating life and career in theatre. Instead, at 17 he started work as a reporter on a local newspaper in Bristol. Known for his dizzying narrative inventiveness and intense attention to language, he deftly deploys art, science, history, politics, and philosophy in works that span a remarkable spectrum of literary genres: theater, radio, film, TV, journalism, and fiction. Almost 1,000 pages is a lot of mesh, and it’s best not to press too hard on what might be meant by “our real life”: in Stoppardia, such questions tend to lead to long speeches about chaos theory. Does this mean that his plays are little more than a diverting display of verbal fireworks, clever but of no significance, or are deeper themes about our experience of life being addressed? In 1993 Stoppard (and his mother, in her early 80s, who accompanied him) asked of a relative who met with them in London: “I mean, how Jewish were we?” To which she replied: “You were completely Jewish.”. It is striking that a writer who has been so popular and who has been showered with almost every imaginable kind of honour, from the Oscars to the Order of Merit, can still attract such mixed notices. Lee concludes that “people feel” he “has made a difference to our culture”, but it’s not easy to say what that difference might be. Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer “I simply don’t like revealing myself,” Tom Stoppard once said. Delivery charges may apply. Tom Stoppard: A Life also details Sir Tom's 10-year relationship with Irish actress Sinéad Cusack, which ended in 2007 after Cusack was reunited with the … In the event, Tom Stoppard: A Life shows that he has chosen well. Hermione Lee has done as well anybody could to bring this fundamentally private man to light. The boys went to school in Derbyshire, and “Tom”, identifying passionately with his new country, grew up an Englishman, playing cricket and playing the part. But she could not keep up with his stratospheric ascent, and in one press photograph is shown standing behind him with “Mrs Stoppard” on her apron. Cusack was friendly with Sabrina Guinness, who started seeing Stoppard and, when she learned they were to be married, remarked: “You know, Sabrina has always been looking for a good man; and now she’s got the best man in the world.”. Sitting outside on a freezing cold day, a recognisable Stoppard was working on the script of The Hard Problem (then in rehearsal) with intense concentration, exhaling clouds from an endless stream of cigarettes. Yet, even so, his reputation may never quite shake off that lingering reservation that has dogged him throughout his career: “It’s all very clever, but ...”. Stoppard’s life will not need writing again. Hermione Lee’s immensely long Tom Stoppard: A Life is expert, engrossing, entertaining and sympathetic to its subject. It’s hard to know how literary history will treat Stoppard. But this is her first biography of a man, her first living subject and her first playwright. A brilliant 23-year-old actor named Peter O’Toole starred in Hamlet and Waiting for Godot. The fact that his plays are so immediately recognisable, so unmistakably Stoppardian, may contribute to both sides of his reputation. To be so enviable without being envied is pretty enviable, when you think about it.”. Both a pitch-perfect analysis of the great playwright’s body of work and a scintillating account of a remarkable life lived to its fullest, this biography of Tom Stoppard is another triumph for the incomparable skills of Hermione Lee. The mother and two young children were rushed on to a ship that was about to leave; they ended up in Bombay. Several years later, the attractive 35-year-old widow was wooed and won by a British army officer, Maj Kenneth Stoppard, who promptly brought his new family from India to England in 1946. Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard is a prodigious achievement. His parents were non-observant Jews, members of a long-established community. Eight months later, the Nazis invaded and the family fled to Singapore. There their mother met and later married an English officer, Major Kenneth Stoppard, who brought the whole family to England in February 1946. Tom Stoppard, photographed in 1976: a shy man who has found a way to show off. Felicity Kendall had just emerged from her own marriage and wished to preserve her independence. Stoppard’s biographer shows with finesse the slow process by which this occurred. His kind of quantum dramatics messes with our minds and our understanding of time and we love it, but when we get home we still have to set the alarm for work the next day. A woman coming out of the first New York production bumped into its author and asked “What’s it about?” According to legend, he replied: “It’s about to make me very rich.”. Hermione Lee has written an authorized biography of playwright, screenwriter, translator, and man of letters Tom Stoppard, called Tom Stoppard: A Life.It was released in the United Kingdom on October 1st and should appear in the United States on February 23, 2021. In 1942 they attempted to flee again when the Japanese invaded. The final page of the play is a direct transcription of the questions Stoppard asked about various family members. In 2013, the playwright Tom Stoppard approached Oxford professor Hermione Lee and asked her to write his biography. I saw it that year as a student. John Wood, an actor who seemed to have been put on earth for the express purpose of incarnating some of Stoppard’s wittiest characters, is reputed to have turned to a somnolent matinee audience once during a performance of Travesties and snapped: “Oh, do keep up!” Congratulating oneself on keeping up has been one of the major pleasures of spending an evening in Stoppardia. But the social side is only the half of it. Stoppard may not have gone to university, but he remained a scholar in his own creative way when it came to preparing a play. A lot of pages could have been saved by just saying there was no famous person he didn’t meet (he has invited 650 of his closest friends to his biennial party). Hermione Lee is the award-winning biographer of Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth. Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure. They left hurriedly that April, travelling to Singapore, where Dr Sträussler had been offered a post in a hospital. Pinter permanently enlarged our sense of what a play can be. The life of the man behind the plays is familiar from countless interviews and profiles, but Hermione Lee has been allowed to go backstage, enabling her to tell the story in unmatchable detail. It was torpedoed and sunk; they never saw him again. Tom Stoppard photographed by Jane Bown in 1967. Kenneth Tynan was on the phone on Monday on behalf of the National Theatre, where he was dramaturg and adviser. The world’s population was and there were an estimated babies born … The answers were almost all the same: “Auschwitz.”. Cruel Britannia: The British empire exposed in all its viciousness. The blood-line of Stoppard’s early hits might be described as “out of Beckett by The Goon Show”, though “Pinter meets Beyond the Fringe” catches something, too. Readers who, by contrast, like their biographies to romp along from lunch party to lunch party may find that Lee’s long analyses of the plays clog the action, but for my money her astute and unfailingly clear accounts of Stoppard’s complex creations are among the great strengths of this exceptional biography. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. The more old-school Laurence Olivier took a bit more persuading but was won around by Tynan, and the play was a triumph. Jumpers followed in 1972, mixing farce with metaphysics. In 1993’s Arcadia, seen by Dublin audiences in two productions at the Gate, everything came together in perfect equilibrium: ideas about chaos theory and emotion, seriousness and humour, the past and the present. It is how I will always see him.He is a great playwright, and this is a great biography. Stoppard was born TomáÅ¡ Straussler, in Zlín, a city dominated by the shoe manufacturing industry, in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. They also had two sons, the second of whom, Ed, is a successful actor. Increasingly, he wrote theatre reviews, and then followed his dream by giving up his job, moving to London, and writing plays. Stoppard and his first wife, Josie, married young and had two sons. Writing the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love brought in the odd penny, too (plus an Oscar), as did a lot of other film work and adaptations. Lee had published acclaimed lives of Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Penelope Fitzgerald. Shakespeare and Beckett fizzed in Stoppard’s brain and fused over the years to inspire his first play in 1967, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Tom Stoppard has written some of the most important plays of the past 50 years. Ira Nadel's biography of Tom Stoppard is pleasantly straightforward: largely descriptive, covering a great deal of Stoppard's personal and professional life, without too much hypothesizing or analysis about what possibly motivates and moves the artist. Perhaps that’s more than enough: what higher praise could a playwright want? At the very least, his work reveals a constant endeavour to decipher the puzzles of existence. An astute study of the dazzlingly clever playwright, which details the parties and famous friends, but also identifies the emotions that drive much of his work. It is tempting to see “Hermione Lee” as one of his greatest creations – a professor who knows more about a playwright who writes about professors than he knows about himself, a narrator who understands about unreliable narrators and isn’t fazed by them, a reader who always gets the joke. Early life and career The second son of a doctor for the Bata shoe manufacturing company, Thomas Straussler (Stoppard) was born on July 3, 1937, in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. Declan Kiberd remembers the playwright calling on Prof Richard Ellmann in his Oxford rooms in the 1970s to discuss Ellmann’s biography of Joyce, which provided the foundational story of 1974’s Travesties. Stoppard revised and cut ruthlessly as his plays were in rehearsal and even during their run. In Tom Stoppard: A Life, Hermione Lee draws on hundreds of interviews with family, friends, and long conversations with Stoppard himself. 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