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. 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. Tomáš Sträussler was born in Zlín in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1937. Running time: 60 minutes 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. This is a hugely impressive work. In December 2014 my wife and I glimpsed him as we passed London’s National Theatre. He is the son of Martha Becková and Eugen Straussler, a doctor employed by the Bata shoe company. You could lie there … It is also a challenging read, partly because of its excessive length and partly because it bulges with often needless detail. But the social side is only the half of it. Hermione Lee’s immensely long Tom Stoppard: A Life is expert, engrossing, entertaining and sympathetic to its subject. At the very least, his work reveals a constant endeavour to decipher the puzzles of existence. 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. Hermione Lee is the award-winning biographer of Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth. We also learn not just which actors got awards for stage and film versions of his work, but even who presented them with their awards. In the event, Tom Stoppard: A Life shows that he has chosen well. Quoting that line in his biography (twice) is a nice touch. (We learn, interestingly, that he thinks the former is possibly his best play but the latter is his favourite, though that view may have pre-dated the writing of Leopoldstadt.). Stoppard emerges from this deeply sympathetic, even forgiving, biography as a shy man who has found a way to show off; a man who can’t quite believe his luck but can’t quite believe anything else, either. Stoppard went on to lengthy relationships with two actresses. As Hannah, a character in one of his best-loved plays, Arcadia, says: “It’s wanting to know that makes us matter. 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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. Although Stoppard’s plays can seem like the distillation of several course-loads of reading lists, he didn’t go to university. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty, First published: Sat, Oct 24, 2020, 06:00. Tom Stoppard: A Life was featured as the "Book of the Week". On Tom Stoppard’s birthday. Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead ran for three years in that production; there have been countless revivals, translations and adaptations. Lee's biography is full of Stoppard's voice, humour and thoughts about life: there's a Stoppard joke on almost every page. Tom Stoppard | Biography, Plays, Movies, & Facts | Britannica In the event, Tom Stoppard: A Life shows that he has chosen well. 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. 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. Tom Stoppard photographed by Jane Bown in 1967. Marta told her sons very little about the family background and the circumstances of their flight from Czechoslovakia; Stoppard was in his late 50s before he fully understood that he was Jewish and that many of his relatives had been murdered by the Nazis. It is hard to imagine a more distinguished biographical pairing than a book on Sir Tom Stoppard written by Dame Hermione Lee. Stoppard’s biographer shows with finesse the slow process by which this occurred. 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. In truth, he seems always to have been more maverick than doctrinaire. In Tom Stoppard: A Life, Hermione Lee draws on hundreds of interviews with family, friends, and long conversations with Stoppard himself. At other times nothing happens, though as Beckett might have said, it does that sometimes. You'd have a chance at least. I saw it that year as a student. “I am a very private sort of person.” It takes a persistent, unflappable and penetrating biographer to take him on. “Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. In The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard has his Oscar Wilde character describe biography as “the mesh through which our real life escapes”. Then on Sunday Bill Bryden in the Observer proclaimed it “the most brilliant debut since John Arden’s”. Rather like certain kinds of crime fiction, it is argued, the action is bound to seem a little lame the second time around when you know how the trick is done. Stoppard has given us wonderful nights out in the theatre, occasions that make us think as well as laugh (and sometimes cry). Wikpedia at 20: Did you know Will Ferrell was once not killed in a paragliding incident? His most recent plays, exploring his hitherto suppressed European heritage, richly deserve to be seen in Dublin. Other plays followed, roughly every four or five years. The list goes on, right up to his latest play, Leopoldstadt, whose successful opening run was cut short by the lockdown. Hermione Lee has done as well anybody could to bring this fundamentally private man to light. 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. Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard is a prodigious achievement. And she appreciates the theatre and its lore without being a luvvie. 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 … Lee’s book has the scope of a novel; it is superbly researched and written with a rare empathy and understanding of human nature. It was a runaway success of extraordinary proportions. 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). Perhaps that’s more than enough: what higher praise could a playwright want? Tom Stoppard Life Family Your The whole notion of journalism being an institution whose fundamental purpose is to educate and inform and even, one might say, elevate, has altered under commercial pressure, perhaps, into a different kind of purpose, which is to divert and distract and entertain. 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. Bristol, where the family now lived, was a hive of theatre. 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. It would be interesting see him at work on this script of his life: as a master of concision, he would probably cut a good deal, while revising the ending right up to the penultimate performance. It is how I will always see him.He is a great playwright, and this is a great biography. 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. Things soon went from good to better. Pinter permanently enlarged our sense of what a play can be. When the Japanese army arrived in February 1942, the family had to take flight once more. When her long search for her first son was finally successful in 2006, she elected to spend time with Richard Boyd Barrett in Dublin rather than with Stoppard in the house they shared in France. But the core of Tom Stoppard remains hermetic, sealed. Lee’s biography is perceptive, knowledgeable, stylish and very long. Delivery charges may apply. Listen to the latest episodes of Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee on BBC Sounds Eight months later, the Nazis invaded and the family fled to Singapore. Hermione Lee sheds light on a private man, from his Czech Jewish past to his marriages, Tom Stoppard in London, 2018. 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. Faber reprinted the text 23 times in the next 30 years, going on to sell a further half a million copies between 2001 and 2008 alone. 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. In a sense It all makes the audience pay attention; occasionally it makes them pay dearly. The past was behind them and not mentioned. Tom Stoppard & Hermione Lee in Conversation Hermione Lee interviewed Stoppard for the London Library on 6 May 2016, and in conjunction with the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust and TORCH: The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities on 19 May 2016 (see video). A brilliant 23-year-old actor named Peter O’Toole starred in Hamlet and Waiting for Godot. "The older he got, the less he cared about self-concealment," or so it is said of Sir Tom Stoppard, somewhere deep into the 865 pages of Tom Stoppard: A Life, Hermione Lee's capacious (to put it mildly) biography of the British theatre's leading wordsmith. Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure. “Tom Stoppard: The Years of Struggle” would be quite a short one-act piece: he was not yet 28 when the RSC bought an option on his idea for a play about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of the minor characters in Hamlet. Marta and her two sons, Petr and Tomás, went on a ship to – they thought – Australia but it ended up in India. There their mother met and later married an English officer, Major Kenneth Stoppard, who brought the whole family to England in February 1946. One of the main lessons Stoppard learned from Beckett and Pinter was the dramatic effectiveness of withholding information. Lee’s book has the scope of a novel; it is superbly researched and written with a … He has always thought of a play as an event, not a text: the script is just a partly failed attempt to transcribe the most recent version of the event. His politics have been a particular sticking-point. 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. He has been described, perhaps inaccurately, as “England’s most rightwing playwright”. What he lacked in experience he seems to have made up for in chutzpah: he got himself made the paper’s motoring correspondent without revealing that he couldn’t drive. • Tom Stoppard: A Life is published by Faber (£30). 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.”. In the event, Tom Stoppard: A Life shows that he has chosen well. 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 1942 they attempted to flee again when the Japanese invaded. Stoppard was born TomáÅ¡ Straussler, in Zlín, a city dominated by the shoe manufacturing industry, in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. ... an introduction to biography, and a collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts. In his most recent plays, Stoppard has turned from the matter of England, which preoccupied him for decades, to examine his European heritage: first, his Czech origins in 2006’s Rock’n’Roll, where he imagines an alternative existence for himself if he had returned from England to live in Czechoslovakia; and now in Leopoldstadt, where the playwright contemplates the fate of those family members who were not lucky enough to escape. But this is her first biography of a man, her first living subject and her first playwright. The fact that his plays are so immediately recognisable, so unmistakably Stoppardian, may contribute to both sides of his reputation. 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. Stoppard revised and cut ruthlessly as his plays were in rehearsal and even during their run. 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. The Stoppards’ marriage was reduced to their waving at each other as they individually passed through international airports; they eventually split. Her attentive exposition of the themes and intricate plot of Arcadia is almost worth the price of admission by itself; Stoppard has often been criticised for being “heartless” or too purely “cerebral”, but it is one of Lee’s several literary-critical triumphs to identify the emotions that drive so much of his work, especially his middle-period masterpieces such as Arcadia and The Invention of Love. Hermione Lee’s biography of Tom Stoppard is an “astute and unfailingly clear” commentary on the playwright’s life and work. Sinéad Cusack made it clear from the start that she intended staying married to Jeremy Irons and close to their two sons. Stoppard may not have gone to university, but he remained a scholar in his own creative way when it came to preparing a play. Michael Horden was wonderfully rumpled as the philosopher, repeatedly asking “Is God?”, and Diana Rigg was radiant as his wife Dotty: “her talent was luminous”, as Stoppard remarked last month when she died. It was news to me that Tom Stoppard and Sinéad Cusack had a relationship. In a sense, though, those are its strengths. There have also been repeated grumbles that his are the kinds of play you can only see once. 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. Buy this book. 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. 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. The key book for all time on Tom Stoppard: the biography of our greatest living playwright, by one of the leading literary biographers in the English-speaking world, a star in her own right, Hermione Lee. “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. When it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe it was rubbished by the dailies: “Inexplicable throughout” (Daily Mail). Some were successful; others less so. To be so enviable without being envied is pretty enviable, when you think about it.”. It is also a challenging read, partly because of its excessive length and partly because it bulges with often needless detail. Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer “I simply don’t like revealing myself,” Tom Stoppard once said. The marriage with Miriam was the meeting of two glamorous, professionally driven people, and her media career as a health correspondent prospered along with his. 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. Jumpers followed in 1972, mixing farce with metaphysics. Sign up to the Irish Times books newsletter for features, podcasts and more, For the best site experience please enable JavaScript in your browser settings. Everyday low prices and free delivery on eligible orders. He was born Tomás Sträussler in Czechoslovakia in 1937 to a Jewish doctor and his wife. The complete review's Review: . Tom Stoppard, photographed in 1976: a shy man who has found a way to show off. "Tom Stoppard: A Life" by Ira Nadel The author of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" has overcome youthful tragedy to live a charmed life -- … 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. Instead, at 17 he started work as a reporter on a local newspaper in Bristol. These challenging works each receive detailed analysis here. The answers were almost all the same: “Auschwitz.”. This is a hugely impressive work. Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee review – an exceptional biography An astute study of the dazzlingly clever playwright, which details the … Felicity Kendall had just emerged from her own marriage and wished to preserve her independence. They also had two sons, the second of whom, Ed, is a successful actor. But he seems, admirably, to have decided to put his trust in the “mesh” and to allow his biographer a completely free hand. The Books Quiz: Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent is set in which county? 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. She understands the pride Stoppard felt when in 1993 he had two major plays running concurrently at the RSC and the National, “the first playwright ever to have done so”, and she gives us glimpses behind the scenes, such as one actor coming off the stage when a play seemed to be going badly, saying “It’s like Stonehenge out there.” It seems unfair that a man of such outrageous gifts should also have been allowed to magic up the perfect biographer to write his life. No Hiding by Rob Kearney: Is this a memoir or a marketing tool? Increasingly, he wrote theatre reviews, and then followed his dream by giving up his job, moving to London, and writing plays. The father was to follow, but he never did: the Japanese sank the ship he was on. Stoppard and his first wife, Josie, married young and had two sons. 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. Eugen sought to follow, on a ship bound for Australia. After further peregrinations around India, Marta Sträussler and her two young sons wound up in Darjeeling, where the boys went to an English school. 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.”. 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. Certainly, “all through the 1980s he would be a whole-hearted supporter and admirer of Thatcher”. It was torpedoed and sunk; they never saw him again. 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 ...”. 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.”. 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. Buy Tom Stoppard: A Life Main by Lee, Professor Dame Hermione (ISBN: 9780571314430) from Amazon's Book Store. 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. 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