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Arcadia, Tom Stoppard, Faber and Faber, 1993, ISBN 0-571-16934-1, f5.99, 97pp.

One of my classes this semester is a playwriting course, so I turned¬†to Stoppard to give me some inspiration and guidance in the process¬†of creation. I’ve not seen much Stoppard performed–only¬†Rosencrantz¬†and Guildenstern are Dead and Rough Crossing–but I liked both of¬†those very much. A classmate recommended this play, and it was in¬†my AlexLit recommendation list as well.

After reading it, I am not surprised. The basic plot is similar in¬†many ways to A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which I waxed effusive about¬†in the early 1990s. In 1809 in a country house in Derbyshire,¬†Septimus Hodge is tutoring a young woman named Thomasina. In the¬†modern day, some of Hodge’s letters and effects are being studied by¬†some academics, one of whom is determined that Lord Byron was present¬†and is responsible for two scurrilous reviews in the Picadilly¬†Review. The academic, of course, hopes to make his career on this.

Stoppard and Byatt part ways, though, in the meaning that they¬†attach to the machinations of academics trying to discover the “truth”¬†of the past. Byatt’s entire book was a study of the word “possess,”¬†and what it meant both for her fictitious poets and the modern day¬†literary detectives. Stoppard, however, is exploring a difference¬†in temperament between the times, but how sex is and has always been¬†a disruptive force. It’s a wry commentary on human nature.

[Finished November 1998]


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