Read Travesties Online

Authors: Tom Stoppard

Travesties (9 page)

CECILY
: I don't think you should be so proud of it, however pleasant it must be. You have been a great disappointment to your brother.

CARR
: Well, my brother has been a great disappointment to me, and to Dada. His mother isn't exactly mad about him either. My brother Jack is a booby, and if you want to know why he is a booby, I will tell you why he is a booby. He told me that you were rather pretty, whereas you are at a glance the prettiest girl in the whole world. Have you got any books here one can borrow?

CECILY
: I don't think you ought to talk to me like that during library hours. However, as the reference section is about to close for lunch I will overlook it. Intellectual curiosity is not so common that one can afford to discourage it. What kind of books were you wanting?

CARR
: Any kind at all.

CECILY
: Is there no limit to the scope of your interests?

CARR
: It is rather that I wish to increase it. An overly methodical education has left me to fend as best I can with some small knowledge of the aardvark, a mastery of the abacus and a facility for abstract art. An aardvark, by the way, is a sort of African pig found mainly –

CECILY
: I know only too well what an aardvark is, Mr Tzara. To be frank, you strike a sympathetic chord in me.

CARR
: Politically, I haven't really got beyond anarchism.

CECILY
: I see. Your elder brother, meanwhile –

CARR
: Bolshevism. And you, I suppose …?

CECILY
: Zimmervaldism!

CARR
: Oh, Cecily, will you not make it your mission to reform me? We can begin over lunch. It will give me an appetite. Nothing gives me an appetite so much as renouncing my beliefs over a glass of hock.

CECILY
: I'm afraid I am too busy to reform you today. I must spend the lunch hour preparing references for Lenin.

CARR
: Some faithful governess seeking fresh pastures?

CECILY
: Far from it. I refer to Vladimir Ilyich who with my little help is writing his book on ‘Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism'.

CARR
: Of course –
Lenin
. But surely, now that the revolution has broken out in St Petersburg, he will be anxious to return home.

CECILY
: That is true. When the history of the Revolution – or indeed of anything else – is written, Swizterland is unlikely to loom large in the story. However, all avenues are closed to him. He will have to travel in disguise with false papers. Oh, but I fear I have said too much already. Vladimir is positive that there are agents watching him and trying to ingratiate themselves with those who are close to him. The British are among the most determined, though the least competent. Only yesterday the Ambassador received secret instructions to watch the ports.

CARR
(
Ashamed
): The ports?

CECILY
: At the same time, the Consul in Zurich has received a flurry of cryptic telegrams suggesting intense and dramatic activity – ‘Knock ‘em cold' – ‘Drive ‘em Wilde' – ‘Break a leg' – and one from the Ambassador himself, ‘Thinking of you tonight, Horace.'

CARR
: I think I can throw some light on that. The Consul has been busy for several weeks in rehearsals which culminated last evening in a performance at the Theater zur Kaufleuten on Pelikanstrasse. I happened to be present.

CECILY
: That would no doubt explain why he virtually left the Consulate's affairs in the hands of his manservant – who, fortunately, has radical sympathies.

CARR
: Good heavens!

CECILY
: You seem surprised.

CARR
: Not at all. I have a servant myself.

CECILY
: I am afraid that I disapprove of servants.

CARR
: You are quite right to do so. Most of them are without scruples.

CECILY
: In the socialist future, no one will have any.

CARR
: So I believe. To whom did this manservant pass the Consul's correspondence?

CECILY
: Your brother Jack. Oh dear, there I go again! You are not a bit like your brother. You are more English.

CARR
: I assure you I am as Bulgarian as he is.

CECILY
: He is Romanian.

CARR
: They are the same place. Some people call it the one, some the other.

CECILY
: I didn't know that, though I always suspected it.

CARR
: Anyway, now that
Earnest
has opened, no doubt the Consul will relieve his servant of diplomatic business. In all fairness, he did have a personal triumph in a most demanding role.

CECILY
:
Earnest??

CARR
: No – the other one.

CECILY
: What do you mean by
Earnest
?

CARR
:
The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde.

CECILY
: Wilde?

CARR
: You know him?

CECILY
: No, in literature I am only up to G. But I've heard of him and I don't like him. The life is the art, as Vladimir Ilyich always says.

CARR
: Ars longa, vita brevis, Cecily.

CECILY
: Let us leave his proclivities in the decent obscurity of a learned tongue, Mr Tzara. I was referring to the fact that Oscar Wilde was a bourgeois individualist and, so I hear, overdressed from habit to boot.

CARR
: From habit to boot?

CECILY
: And back again.

CARR
: He may occasionally have been a little over-dressed but he made up for it by being immensely uncommitted.

CECILY
: The sole duty and justification for art is social criticism.

CARR
: That is a most interesting view of the sole duty and
justification for art, Cecily, but it has the disadvantage that a great deal of what we call art has no such function and yet in some way it gratifies a hunger that is common to princes and peasants.

CECILY
: In an age when the difference between prince and peasant was thought to be in the stars, Mr Tzara, art was naturally an affirmation for the one and a consolation to the other; but we live in an age when the social order is seen to be the work of material forces and we have been given an entirely new kind of responsibility, the responsibility of changing society.

CARR
: No, no, no, no, no – my dear girl! – art doesn't change society, it is merely changed by it.
(
From here the argument becomes gradually heated
.)

CECILY
: Art is a critique of society or it is nothing!

CARR
: Do you know Gilbert and Sullivan??!

CECILY
: I know Gilbert but not Sullivan.

CARR
: Well, if you knew
Iolanthe
like I know
Iolanthe
–

CECILY
: I doubt it –

CARR
:
Patience!

CECILY
: How dare you!

CARR
:
Pirates! Pinafore!

CECILY
: Control yourself!

CARR
:
Ruddigore!

CECILY
: This is a Public Library, Mr Tzara!

CARR
:
GONDOLIERS
,
Madam! (Another ‘time slip
…')

CECILY
: I don't think you ought to talk to me like that during library hours. However as the reference section is about to close for lunch I will overlook it. Intellectual curiosity is not so common that one can afford to discourage it. What kind of books were you wanting?

CARR
: Any kind at all. You choose. I should like you, if you would, to make it your mission to reform me. We can begin over lunch.

CECILY
: I'm afraid I am too busy to reform you today. You will have to reform yourself. Here is an article which I have been translating for Vladimir Ilyich. You may not be aware, Mr
Tzara, that in the governments of Western Europe today there are ten Socialist ministers.

CARR
: I must admit my work has prevented me from taking an interest in European politics. But ten is certainly impressive.

CECILY
: It is scandalous. They are supporting an imperialist war. Meanwhile the real struggle, the class war, is being undermined by these revisionists like Kautsky and MacDonald.

CARR
(
Puzzled
): Do you mean Ramsay MacDonald, Cecily?

CECILY
: I don't mean Flora Macdonald, Mr Tzara.

CARR
: But he's an absolute Bolshie.

CECILY
: He is working within the bourgeois capitalist system and postponing its destruction. Karl Marx has shown that capitalism is digging its own grave.

CARR
: No, no, no, no, my dear girl – Marx got it wrong. He got it wrong for good reasons but he got it wrong just the same. By bad luck he encountered the capitalist system at its most deceptive period. The industrial revolution had crowded the people into slums and enslaved them in factories, but it had not yet begun to bring them the benefits of an industrialized society. Marx drew the lesson that the wealth of the capitalist had been stolen from the worker in the form of unpaid labour. He thought that was how the whole thing worked. That false premise was itself added to a false assumption. Marx assumed that people would behave according to their class. But they didn't. In all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons, the classes moved closer together instead of further apart. The critical moment never came. It receded. The tide must have turned at about the time when
Das Kapital
after eighteen years of hard labour was finally coming off the press, a moving reminder, Cecily, of the folly of authorship. How sweet you look suddenly – pink as a rose.

CECILY
: That's because I'm about to puke into your nancy straw hat, you
prig!
– you swanking canting fop, you bourgeois intellectual humbugger, you –
artist!
Marx warned us against the liberals, the philanthropists, the piecemeal reformers – change won't come from
them
but from a head-on collision,
that's
how history works! When Lenin was 21 there was
famine in Russia. The intellectuals organized relief – soup kitchens, seed corn, all kinds of do-gooding with Tolstoy in the lead. Lenin did – nothing. He understood that the famine was a force for the revolution. Twenty-one years old, in Samara, in 1890-91. He was a boy, and he understood that, so don't talk to me about superior morality, you patronizing Kant-struck prig, all the time you're talking about the classes you're trying to imagine how I'd look stripped off to my knickers –

CARR
: That's a lie!

(
But apparently it isn't. As
CECILY
continues to speak we get a partial Carr's-mind view of her. Coloured lights begin to play over her body, and most of the other light goes except for a bright spot on Carr
.)
(
Faintly from 1974, comes the sound of a big band playing
‘The Stripper'.
CARR
is in a trance. The music builds
.
CECILY
might perhaps climb on to her desk. The desk may have ‘cabaret lights' built into it for use at this point
.)

CECILY
: The only way is the way of Marx and of Lenin, the enemy of all revisionism! – of opportunist liberal economism! – of social-chauvinist bourgeois individualism! – quasi-Dadaist paternalism! – pseudo-Wildean aphorism! – sub-Joycean catechism and dogmatism! – cubism! – expressionism! – rheumatism! –

CARR
:
Get 'em off!

(
The light snaps back to normal
.)

CECILY
: I don't think you ought to talk to me like that during library hours. However, as the reference section is about to close for lunch I will overlook it. Intellectual curiosity is not so common that one can afford to discourage it. What kind of books were you wanting?

CARR
: Books? What books? What do you mean, Cecily, by books? I have read Mr Lenin's article and I don't need to read any more. I have come to tell you that you seem to me to be the visible personification of absolute perfection.

CECILY
: In body or mind?

CARR
: In every way.

CECILY
: Oh, Tristan!

CARR
: You will love me back and tell me all your secrets, won't you?

CECILY
: You silly boy! Of course! I have waited for you for months.

CARR
(
Amazed
): For months?

CECILY
: Ever since Jack told me he had a younger brother who was a decadent nihilist it has been my girlish dream to reform you and to love you.

CARR
: Oh, Cecily!

(
Her embrace drags him down out of sight behind her desk. He resurfaces momentarily
–)

CARR
: But, my dear Cecily, you don't mean that you couldn't love me if–

(–
and is dragged down again
.)
(
NADYA
enters, wearing a bonnet, severely dressed and carrying a book
…)

NADYA
: From the moment news of the revolution came, Ilyich burned with eagerness to go to Russia … He did not sleep and at night all sorts of incredible plans were made.
(
LENIN
enters, wearing a clerical collar, but otherwise dressed in black from parson's hat to parson's leggings. He and
NADYA
look at each other and despair
–
Chasuble and Prism
.)
But such things could only be thought of in the semi delirium of the night.
(
NADYA
takes off her bonnet
.
LENIN
takes off his hat and removes his clerical collar
.)
A passport of a foreigner from a neutral country would have to be obtained.

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