TOM STOPPARD 1994
Tom Stoppard is a leading British playwright of the twentieth century. His two-act play Indian Ink(1994) is based on his earlier radio play In the Native State and was first performed in London in 1995.
Indian Ink takes place in two different locations and time periods: India in 1930, during the struggle for national independence from British colonial rule, and England in the mid-1980s. The action shifts back and forth between these two settings without major set changes or clearly indicated transitions. The action in India concerns Flora Crewe, a British poetess, whose portrait is being painted by an amateur Indian artist. The action in England concerns the efforts of a scholar of Flora Crewe’s work to gather information for a biography. Flora’s surviving younger sister, Mrs. Swan, is visited first by this English scholar, and then by the son of the Indian artist. The central enigma is the question of whether or not the Indian artist painted a nude portrait of Flora, and whether or not the two had an “erotic relationship.”
This play is concerned primarily with the historical and cultural struggles in India to gain independence from British Imperial rule. Indian and English characters discuss their differing perspectives on the history and meaning of British colonization of India. The play addresses themes of Empire, cultural imperialism, and nationalism.
Tom Stoppard was born Tomas Straussler, on July 3, 1937, in Zlin, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). He was the second son of Eugene and Martha Straussler. His father was a company physician for a Czech shoe manufacturer, which relocated the family to Singapore in 1939. Just before the Japanese invasion of Singapore, Tom was evacuated with his mother and older brother to Darjeeling, India. His father, who stayed behind, was killed in 1941, after the invasion. In 1946, Tom’s mother married Major Kenneth Stoppard, a British army officer who was stationed in India. The family relocated to England, where Kenneth worked in the machine-tool business. After several moves throughout England, the Stoppards settled in Bristol in 1950, during which time Tom attended Dolphin preparatory school in Nottinghamshire, and then Pocklington School in Yorkshire. In 1954, when he was seventeen years old, Stoppard quit school to work for the Western Daily Press, a Bristol newspaper. After four years at the Western Daily Press, Stoppard worked as a reporter for the Evening World, another Bristol newspaper, from 1958 to 1960. In 1960, he moved to London, where he worked as a freelance reporter until 1963. During this time, Stoppard began writing plays, and was commissioned to write several radio and television dramas.
In 1966, his first major play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, was performed in England, garnering immediate critical acclaim and audience popularity. In 1968, he received a Tony Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best new play for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Stoppard has continued to be a leading playwright, and has since written numerous stage plays, radio and television dramas, and screenplays. In 1991, he wrote and directed the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In 1965, Stoppard married Jose Ingle, with whom he has two children, Oliver, and Barnaby, and from whom he was divorced in 1972. In 1972, he married Miriam Moore-Robinson, with whom he has two sons.
In Act I, the British poetess Flora Crewe arrives in Jummapur, India, in 1930, and is greeted at the
train station by Coomaraswami, the president of the local Theosophical Society. Flora is taken to stay at a guesthouse complete with a veranda and an Indian servant, Nazrul. Flora’s experiences in India are narrated as a series of letters written by her to her sister Eleanor Swan, in England. Mrs. Swan sits in her garden over tea and cake in the mid-1980s with Eldon Pike, a scholar of Flora Crewe’s poetry and editor of the Collected Letters of Flora Crewe, who is gathering information for a biography. After Flora gives a talk and answers questions for the Theosophical Society, she meets Nirad Das, an amateur artist who asks to paint her portrait while she writes. As Das paints her portrait, Flora writes poetry and letters, and the two begin to discuss the struggle of Indians to gain national independence from British colonial rule. In the 1980s setting in England, Das’s son Anish Das has come to visit Mrs. Swan in her garden over tea and cake to discuss his father’s portrait of Flora, which he recognized from the book cover of the Collected Letters of Flora Crewe. Mrs. Swan and Anish come into some conflict in discussing their differing perspectives on British colonization of India, but they remain polite and respectful of one another. In India in the 1930 setting, David Durance, a British official in the colonial government, rides up to Flora’s guest house on a horse and asks her to join him at his Club. In a 1980s setting in India, Pike arrives at the hotel where Flora had stayed, to gather more information for his biography. In the 1930s setting in India, Flora and Das continue to discuss art, politics, and culture, while Flora sits for the portrait Das is painting. One day, overcome by the heat, Flora goes into her bedroom, takes off her clothes, and gets into bed nude, covered only by a sheet. She asks Das, who is embarrassed by her nudity, to sit by her in a chair in her bedroom.
In Act II, in the 1930 India setting, Flora attends a dance at the Jummapur Cricket Club with Durance, and the two discuss the politics of British colonial rule over India. Their discussion continues as they go horseback riding together; Durance then asks Flora to marry him and she refuses. In the same setting, but in the 1980s, Dilip, an Indian man who brings him information about Flora from various sources, aids Pike. In the 1930 setting in India, the Rajah invites Flora to admire his vast collection of automobiles. The Raja then offers to make Flora a gift of a painting. In the 1980s setting in India, Pike is introduced to the grandson of the Rajah, also referred to as Rajah. The Rajah shows Pike a thank you note from Flora for his grandfather’s gift of a classic Indian nude painting. In the 1980s setting, in Mrs. Swan’s garden, Anish looks at the watercolor nude from the Rajah, which Mrs. Swan has shown him, while Mrs. Swan looks at the watercolor nude of Flora, painted by Das, which Anish has shown her. In the 1930 India setting, Flora returns from the dance with Durance to learn from Das that the Theosophical Society has been suspended due to the political unrest and riots. Before leaving, Das shows Flora the miniature watercolor nude he has painted of her. In the 1980s England setting, Mrs. Swan sees Anish off, and they both agree not to tell Pike about the nude portrait of Flora painted by Das. In another flashback to India, Mrs. Swan (Nell) arrives at Flora’s graveside, aided by Eric, an Englishman (whom Nell later marries).
Coomaraswami is the president of the Theosophical Society in Jummapur, India. He greets Flora upon her arrival at the train station in 1930.
Flora Crewe is an English poetess who travels by herself to India in April 1930, presumably for her health, to live and write. In India, she encounters Nirad Das, an amateur artist who paints her portrait while she writes. Flora learns from Das about the struggle among Indians for independence from British colonization. Flora’s interactions with Das take on an erotic tone when, one day, overcome by the heat, she lies naked in her bed while talking to him. While in India, Flora is also courted by the British official, David Durance. Flora dies and is buried in India in June, 1930. Over fifty years later, in the mid-1980s, the scholar Eldon Pike, who has published The Collected Letters of Flora Crewe, is collecting information for a biography he plans to write about her. Pike attempts to determine whether or not Flora had a “relationship” with Das, and whether or not a nude painting of Flora by Das actually existed. After Das’s death, Nirad Das, his son, finds the nude watercolor miniature in a trunk of his father’s belongings.
Anish Das is the son of Nirad Das. In the mid-1980s, Anish visits the home of Mrs. Swan, Flora’s sister, in England, to learn more about his father’s portrait of Flora. Anish had seen the reproduction on the cover the of Collected Letters of Flora Crewe, and recognized the style as his father’s. Anish tells Mrs. Swan that, after his father’s death, he had found a watercolor nude portrait of a European woman, who turns out to be Flora Crewe.
Nirad Das is an Indian man who first meets Flora after her lecture to the Theosophical Society in India, in 1930. Das is an amateur painter and asks to paint a portrait of Flora as she sits writing her poetry. During these painting sessions, Das and Flora discuss the politics of Indian colonization by the British Empire. Das is at first overly polite and subservient to Flora, but she encourages him to be his “Indian” self in her presence, and speak to her more naturally. During one painting session, Flora, overcome by the heat, ends up lying naked in bed under a sheet while Das sits uncomfortably in her bedroom. Over fifty years later, it is discovered that Das did, indeed, paint a watercolor miniature nude portrait of Flora, in addition to the portrait which appears on the cover of the published Collected Letters of Flora Crewe. In 1930, Das was arrested for throwing a mango during a riot in protest of British rule over India. After his death, Anish Das, Das’s son, discovers the nude portrait among his father’s belongings.
Dilip is an Indian man who attends to Pike at the hotel in India, and helps him track down information about Flora.
David Durance is a British official in India who briefly courts Flora. He asks her to marry him, but she refuses, and it is unclear whether she chose to have an affair with him.
Nazrul is the servant at the home in India where Flora stays.
Eldon Pike is a scholar of Flora Crewe. He has edited the Collected Letters of Flora Crewe and, in the mid-1980s, is gathering research for a biography of Flora. As part of his research, Pike first visits Eleanor Swan, Flora’s younger sister, and then the hotel in India where Flora stayed. Pike, while well intentioned, is thoroughly absorbed in his scholarly perspective on Flora; he continually cites facts about her life, and persistently attempts to ascertain the truth about Flora. Pike is especially interested in tracking down various paintings of Flora by various artists, famous and unknown. He is also especially interested in determining whether or not Flora had a “relationship” with Das, and whether or not she posed for a nude portrait by the amateur Indian painter.
Eleanor Swan is Flora’s younger sister. In the mid-1980s, Pike, who is gathering information for a biography of Flora, visits her at her home in England. She is then visited by Anish Das, the son of Nirad Das, who wishes to learn more about his father’s painting of Flora. Eleanor, called Nell in her younger years, continually offers tea and cakes to her guests. She is skeptical about the value of Pike’s research on her sister, but is more receptive to Anish. After Flora’s death, Eleanor had traveled to India to visit her sister’s grave, where she met Eric,
- Indian Ink is adapted from Stoppard’s original radio play In the Native State, which was broadcast by the BBC in 1991.
whom she subsequently married (but who is deceased during the “present” time of the action).
Perhaps the central theme of Stoppard’s play is the historical, social, and cultural significance of the British Empire. Half of the play is set in India in 1930, during a period of social unrest among Indians struggling for national independence from British colonial rule. Much of the play involves two characters, one Indian, one British, in dialogue over the issue of India as a British colony. For instance, the Indian characters refer to the “First War of Independence,” of 1847, an historical event that the English characters know as the “Mutiny.” Various English characters represent different English attitudes about the politics of India. Flora, the most open-minded English character in the play, is often very aware of her presence in India as a representative of British Imperial power; in a letter to her sister describing a sight-seeing tour during which she was escorted by Indian members of the Theosophical Society, Flora employs a wry sense of humor in describing her status in India: “I felt like a carnival float representing Empire—or, depending how you look at it, the Subjugation of the Indian People.” David Durance, a British government official in India, as well as his fellow members of the Jummapur Cricket Club, express arrogance and disdain for Indians, which is typical of imperialist attitudes toward the people they have colonized. For instance, in the opening lines of Act II, a member of the club named only as an “Englishman” praises
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- This play takes place in the historical and cultural context of the Indian struggle for independence from British colonial rule, a struggle that dates back to the 1800s. Learn more about the history of Indian colonization by Britain and the struggle for national independence, which took place during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. What were some of the key events in the history of this struggle?
- Stoppard has been compared to such notable playwrights as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter. Learn more about one of these great playwrights. What are his major works? How do critics characterize his dramatic style? Are his works associated with any particular school of dramatic style?
- Characters in Stoppard’s play discuss classic works of Indian art, including paintings and sculpture. Learn more about the art history of India. In what ways has Indian art been influenced by religion? What have been the major trends in twentieth-century Indian art?
- Stoppard’s characters mention several great European painters of the twentieth century, including Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, and Derain. Learn more about the works of one of these artists. What style or school of painting is he associated with? What are some of the key elements of his artistic style? What are some of his major works?
- Indian characters in Stoppard’s play attempt to explain elements of the Hindu religion to the European characters. Learn more about Hinduism. What are the central tenets and beliefs of Hinduism? What is the history of the Hindu religion?
the writer Kipling, who was known for his racist, pro-imperialist social, and political attitudes.
Cultural imperialism refers to the phenomenon by which, when one culture conquers and subjugates another, the indigenous culture is decimated, and the dominant culture is imposed upon the subjugated people. In the case of the British colonization of India, the British imposed, among other things, an English educational system upon the Indian population. Educated Indians subsequently became learned in English art and literature, perhaps more so than in the literary and artistic traditions of their own culture. In many exchanges between Flora and Das, Das expresses his love of English literature; Flora questions these values on the basis that he should take more pride in his own culture and less in that of the culture that subjugates him. In an exchange between Anish and Mrs. Swan, Mrs. Swan compares the colonization of India by Britain to the conquest of Britain by the Romans and subsequent imposition of Roman culture upon British culture. Anish, however, corrects this comparison, based on the argument that India was already a highly developed culture before the arrival of Europeans: “We were the Romans! We were up to date when you were a backward nation. The foreigners who invaded you found a third-world country! Even when you discovered India in the age of Shakespeare, we already had our Shakespeares. And our science—architecture—our literature and art, we had a culture older and more splendid, we were rich!” Anish ends with the assertion that Britain plundered Indian culture because of its wealth: “After all, that’s why you came.”
The sentiment that inspired Indians to struggle for national independence was one of strong “nationalism.” This sentiment refers to the sense of pride in Indian culture, history, and national identity. The Indian characters in Stoppard’s play exhibit various degrees of nationalist pride, and an attitude of rebellion against British imperialism. The Theosophical Society, of which Flora and Das are both members, was a significant influence in the development of Indian nationalist sentiment, because of the reverence theosophy holds for traditional Indian spiritual beliefs. Flora attempts to instill in Das a sense of nationalism during her discussions with him. She tells him, “If you don’t start learning to take you’ll never be shot of us.. . . It’s your country and we’ve got it. Everything else is bosh.” And Das does eventually engage in an act of nationalist rebellion when he is arrested for throwing a mango during an anti-British riot.
The two historical and geographical settings in Stoppard’s play are central to the meaning of the play. One of the settings is Jummapur, India, in 1930, during a time of active rebellion among Indian nationalists against British imperial powers. Parts of the play are also set in this exact same location, but over fifty years later, during the mid-1980s. Throughout the play, characters refer to significant events in the history of Indian nationalist struggles. The other setting is in the private garden of an English woman in London. Setting is central to the structure and staging of the play as well, since the two main historical/geographic sets are often juxtaposed almost simultaneously. The stage is set so that the play unfolds as a series of “flashbacks” from the 1980s to 1930. Dialogue and scenes between characters in the 1980s often leads in to, is juxtaposed against, or even interspersed with, dialogue and scenes between characters in 1930.
Stoppard employs a variety of dialogue techniques in this play. Each scene is based primarily on dialogue between two characters, one Indian, and one English: Flora and Das, Mrs. Swan and Anish, Pike and Dilip—as well as between the two English characters Pike and Mrs. Swan. Some of the dialogue, however, is presented as Mrs. Swan, in England in the 1980s, reads various letters Flora wrote her from India in 1930. For example, the play opens with Flora sitting on a train; Flora’s words open the play, but they are presented on stage as the character of Flora quoting from her own letter to her sister, even though she is not shown actually writing the letter during this sequence. In a film, the quotation of a letter over the action of the character who has written the letter would be presented as a “voice-over.” Stoppard uses clever staging techniques to achieve on the live stage an effect similar to that of the cinematic voice-over. In other scenes, a character’s voice is actually prerecorded, and played over the action to create an effect closer to the cinematic voice-over. Stoppard also employs unique staging of dialogue during scenes in which characters in a 1980s setting seem to be in direct dialogue with characters in a “flashback” 1930 setting. In other scenes, the dialogue of Pike, the literary scholar who is researching Flora’s stay in India, functions as a series of “footnotes” to the action in a flashback. In these scenes, the action and dialogue in a 1930 setting unfolds while Pike interjects with a series of facts or explanations about Flora’s life that are meant to explain what is transpiring in the “flashback.”
Stoppard’s characters make reference to many historically real literary and artistic figures and works of literature and art. The list of writers includes H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion), Robert Browning, Tennyson, Dickens (Oliver Twist), Macaulay (Lays of Ancient Rome), Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), E. M. Forster (A Passage to India), Shakespeare, Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling (“Gunga Din”), Ovid, and Virgil. A familiarity with these writers and their works provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the significance of these references to central themes of Stoppard’s play.
Colonization and Independence of India
Stoppard’s play takes place during a period of intense struggle on the part of Indians to gain national independence from British Imperial rule. India was a colony of the British Empire for almost a century, from 1858-1947. The history of India during this period, therefore, is one of expansion of British power in conflict with organizations, protests, rebellion, and terrorist activism among the peoples of India. Before 1848, India had been colonized and ruled by the East India Company, but power was transferred to the British crown in 1858. In 1876, Queen Victoria of England took on the additional title of Empress of India. Rebellion on the part of the Indians against European colonization was waged off and on throughout India’s history of colonization. However, the first nationally organized Indian effort at achieving independence was formed in 1885, with the first meeting of the Indian National Congress. Nevertheless, Britain continued to expand its region of power in the area. In 1886, the British conquered Burma, which it added to its Indian territory. In 1906, the British government instituted a series of reforms ostensibly to increase Indian political influence. With the advent of World War I in 1914, many Indians willingly fought on the side of the British, with the expectation that their loyalty in war would result in further concessions of British power to Indian self-rule; the disappointment of this expectation following the war only served to spark further protests. Throughout the inter-war years, Indian resistance to British rule continued, with the Indian National Congress inspired by the leadership of Gandhi. In 1947, when the British Parliament voted in the Indian Independence Act, British rule was finally ceded to Indian self-rule.
Religions in India
In Stoppard’s play, the Indian characters attempt to explain elements of the Hindu religion to the British characters. Das explains to Flora some of the stories and mythology of Hinduism, as well as describing to her some of the classic Indian art that illustrates these stories. The major religions of India are Muslim and Hindu. During the years of protest against British rule, particularly in the inter-war period, Indians were internally divided in their political goals along these religious lines. Gandhi worked hard to unify the two religions in the cause for independence, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Thus, when the British ceded power in 1947, India was divided into two countries—Pakistan was to be Muslim, while India (to be called the Republic of India) would be Hindu. However, the process of instituting this national division was wracked by bloody civil war between Hindus and Muslims.
Languages of India
At various points in the play, Indian characters speak to one another in Hindi. At one point, an Indian character says something to a British character in Hindi, which he completely misunderstands. With the achievement of national independence in 1947, India officially recognized 14 different languages and dialects throughout the nation, but designated Hindi as the national language, while also maintaining English as the lingua franca for government transactions.
Stoppard is one of the leading playwrights of the twentieth century. Anne Wright, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, asserts that Stoppard “ranks as a dramatist of brilliant and original comic genius.” Wright succinctly captures the scope and success of his career as a dramatist, stating that “His first major success established him as a master of philosophical farce, combining dazzling theatricality and wit with a profound exploration of metaphysical concerns. His output through more than three decades has been extensive and varied, including original plays for radio and television, screenplays for television and film, adaptations and translations of works by European dramatists, several short stories, and a novel.” Wright notes that Stoppard’s plays “have been heralded as major events by both audiences and critics. He is now a playwright of international reputation in Europe and the United States... . His popularity extends to both the intellectual avant-garde and the ordinary theatergoer. Since the 1960s his work has developed in other areas, from absurdist or surrealist comedy to political and even polemical drama.” Wright maintains that Stoppard’s “career to date confirms his importance, not merely as a theatrical phenomenon, but as a major contemporary playwright.”
The work for which he is best known and most widely celebrated is the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead(1964-5), which was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1966, and then by the British National Theater in 1967. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet whom Stoppard develops as his central characters. An introduction to the printed version of the play explains its central themes and major stylistic elements: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern depicts the absurdity of life through these two characters who have ’bit parts’ in a play not of their own making and who are capable only of acting out their dramatic destiny. They are bewildered
by their predicament and face death as they search for the meaning of their existence. While examining these themes, Stoppard makes extensive use of puns and paradox, which have since become standard devices in his plays.” Stoppard received several awards for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, including best new play in 1967, the Antoinette Perry (“Tony”) Award for best new play in 1968, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play in 1968, as well as the Grande Prize at the 1990 Venice Film Festival for the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which Stoppard both adapted and directed.
Indian Ink(1995) was adapted by Stoppard from his original radio play, In the Native State, which was broadcast by the BBC in 1991. The play was first performed at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, England, and then opened at the Aldwych Theatre in London in 1995.
Stoppard’s other major plays include Jumpers(1972), Travesties(1974), The Real Thing(1982), and Arcadia(1994). Stoppard has also written several highly successful screenplays, such as Brazil(1985, co-written with Terry Gilliam), for which he received an Academy Award nomination and the Los Angeles Critics Circle Award for Best Original Screenplay. Subsequent screenplays include Empire of the Sun(1987, adapted from the novel by J. G. Ballard), The Russia House(1989, adapted from the novel by John le Carre), and Billy Bathgate(1991, adapted from the novel by E. L. Doctorow).
Stoppard also wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, which swept the Academy Awards, garnering seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Shakespeare in Love was directed by John Madden, and stars Gwenyth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, and Judi Dench.
Brent has a Ph.D. in American Culture, specializing in film studies, from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema. In the
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead(1966) by Tom Stoppard. This comedy is Stoppard’s most celebrated play, based on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- Jumpers(1972) by Tom Stoppard. Stoppard’s most spectacular dramatic production, this play features a troupe of gymnastic philosophers, among other zany characters.
- Arcadia(1994) by Tom Stoppard. This Stoppard play is set simultaneously in three different time periods: 1809, 1812, and the present.
- The Real Thing(1982) by Tom Stoppard. This piece is one of Stoppard’s most celebrated plays. It is structured as a play-within-a-play.
- Travesties(1974) by Tom Stoppard. This Tony Award-winning play takes place in Zurich in 1917, where three famous revolutionaries—the Marxist leader Lenin, the British writer James Joyce, and the dadaist poet Tristan Tzara all lived simultaneously.
- Conversations with Stoppard(1995) by Tom Stoppard. This text is a collection of interviews between Stoppard and New York Times critic Mel Gussow.
following essay, Brent discusses cultural and historical references in Stoppard’s play.
Stoppard’s 1994 play Indian Ink, set primarily in India in 1930 during a period of intense struggle between Indian nationalists and British imperialists, makes reference to several significant historical and cultural phenomena of India and England during this period. These references include the Indian uprising of 1857, the Theosophical Society, the Bloomsbury group, the English novelists E. M. Forster and Rudyard Kipling, and the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. A better understanding of these references will further illuminate significant themes of the play.
In Act I, Anish Das, a young Indian man educated and residing in England, is visiting with Mrs. Swan, an elderly English woman, in her garden. In the course of their conversation, Anish mentions “the first War of Independence,” to which Mrs. Swan responds, “What war was that?” Anish replies, “The Rising of 1857,” to which Mrs. Swan responds, “Oh, you mean the Mutiny.” In Act II, a similar exchange occurs between Flora and the Rajah. He proudly informs her that “my grandfather stood firm with the British during the First Uprising.” Flora, has no idea to what he is referring, until he mentions “1857,” at which points she realizes he is talking about “The Mutiny.” Although they refer to it in different terms, reflecting their differing political perspectives on Indian colonial history, they are both talking about what is now referred to as the “Mutiny” or the “Great Revolt” of 1857-9. This bitter rebellion of Indian troops and citizens against the British colonial forces occupying India started on May 10, 1857. The original source of discontent among Indian soldiers in the British army was over the grease used on rifle cartridges that soldiers were required to bite in order to open; the grease was made up of a mixture of pork and beef, which was prohibited by both Hindu and Muslim religious belief. But this initial protest took on greater implications as it became a struggle for Indian national independence and gained the support of many Indian citizens. This rebellion became an all-out military revolt, during which Indian troops took control of significant sectors of the country. The British, however, ultimately defeated the Indians on June 20 of 1859. The Indian and English characters in Stoppard’s play represent the different historical perspectives on this event, the English regarding it as a “mutiny” against their sovereignty in the region, and the Indians considering it the “first War” in a century-long struggle for national independence.
In the opening scene of Stoppard’s play, Flora Crewe, a British poet, is greeted at the train station by the president of the local Theosophical Society, to which she later gives a talk. In Act II, Flora learns that, due to riotous rebellion in the area, the local Theosophical Society has been “suspended,” presumably for its political leanings. Theosophy is a religious philosophy based on “the mystical premise that God must be experienced directly in order to be known at all,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Theosophy became internationally popular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps the most significant figure in the spread of Theosophy was Helena Blavatsky, who, along with Henry Steel Olcott, founded the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. In 1878, they moved the center of the Society to India, from which their ideas spread throughout India and Europe. Blavatsky’s most influential writings include the multi-volume publications Unveiled(1877) and The Secret Doctrine(1888). Theosophy draws extensively from many Eastern religions, but especially from Indian mystical thought. In Stoppard’s play, the Indian man Dilip explains to the English scholar Pike that, “Madame Blavatsky was a famous name in India, she was the Theosophical Society.” Theosophy became important in India as a means of establishing national pride and contributing to the nationalist sentiments, which in part inspired the struggle for Indian national independence.
During a conversation with Coomaraswami, Flora mentions “Bloomsbury.” She is referring to the Bloomsbury group, an unofficial affiliation of writers, intellectuals, and artists who gathered regularly in private homes located in the Bloomsbury district of London, between 1907 and 1930. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Bloomsbury group’s “significance lies in the extraordinary number of talented persons associated with it.” Several famous writers of the Bloomsbury group, including Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster (1879-1970), are mentioned in Stoppard’s play. References to Forster are particularly significant, as he is known for his writings on India. In a conversation between Flora and Das, Flora compares Das to a character in Forster’s famous novel A Passage to India, and later asks his opinion of the novel. Forster wrote A Passage to India after having visited India in 1912-13 and again in 1921. In addition, he wrote a nonfiction book, The Hill of the Devi(1953), about his experiences in India. Forster is also known for his novels A Room with a View(1907), Howard’s End(1910), and Maurice(1971), which was published posthumously.
“REFERENCE TO MODIGLIANI AS A MASTER PAINTER OF THE NUDE FEMALE FORM IN STOPPARD’S PLAY IS SIGNIFICANT TO A CENTRAL MOTIF OF THE DRAMA, WHICH IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FLORA AND DAS AS HE EVENTUALLY PAINTS A MINIATURE NUDE PORTRAIT OF HER.”
The reference to Forster is significant to Stoppard’s play as it invokes the literary history of English colonial fiction set in India.
In the opening scene of Act II, Flora is attending a dance at the Jummapur Cricket Club, to which she has been invited by Durance. An Englishman mentions Kipling, and recites a quote from the author: “Kipling there’s a poet! ’Though I’ve belted you and flayed you, by the living Gawd that made you, you’re a better man than I am Gunga Din!’” This reference is significant to Stoppard’s play because the world best knows Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) for his pro-imperialist writings regarding the colonization of India. Kipling was born in Bombay, India, into a British family that sent the young Kipling to school in England during much of his childhood. In 1882, Kipling moved back to India, where he worked as a journalist for the next seven years. Shortly after his return to England in 1896, Kipling was hailed as a leading British writer, and in 1907 he was the first English writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His notoriety increased with the publication Barrack-Room Ballads, which included the poem “Gunga Din.” Kipling is perhaps best known for his children’s stories, Kim(1901) and The Jungle Books(1894-5), which take place in India. Stoppard’s play is clearly anti-imperialist in sentiment, and the praise of Kipling by a character identified only as an “Englishman” is meant to indicate the pro-imperialist stance of the members of the Jummapur Cricket Club. These English characters, particularly Durance, function as a counterpoint to the character of Flora, a radical thinker who, despite the fact that she is English, is a supporter of Indian nationalism and a critic of British imperialism.
Although Stoppard’s character of Flora Crewe is fictional, a number of references are made throughout the play that indicate that she is personally acquainted with several internationally renowned artistic, literary, and intellectual figures of her day. Flora is perhaps most closely affiliated with the modern Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). Modigliani was born in Italy, of Jewish parents, but moved to Paris as a young man in 1906 to pursue the study of art. Although he is now known as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, Modigliani was not recognized outside of his Parisian circle of artists until after his death. In Stoppard’s play, it is mentioned that Flora posed for a nude portrait by Modigliani. This portrait was later purchased and destroyed by a suitor of Flora’s in a fit of jealousy, when he burned it to ashes in the bathtub of a Ritz hotel. The fictional Flora’s relationship to Modigliani may be intended to refer to a real affair between Modigliani and the British poet Beatrice Hastings, between 1914-1916. The reference to a nude painting is significant to Modigliani’s oeuvre, in that he is best known for about thirty large female nude paintings, which he completed between 1916-1919. His work has especially been noted for the sense of personal intimacy between the artist and his subject that is captured in his paintings. In Stoppard’s play, the scholar Pike explains that Flora attended “Modigliani’s first show, in Paris.” This refers to the first, and only, one-man showing of Modigliani’s work during his lifetime, exhibited by Berthe Weill in her gallery in Paris in 1917. This show was immediately controversial, however, because of the nude female subjects, and was closed down by the police. Reference to Modigliani as a master painter of the nude female form in Stoppard’s play is significant to a central motif of the drama, which is the relationship between Flora and Das as he eventually paints a miniature nude portrait of her. Flora had made plans to sit for another nude by Modigliani, but arrived in Paris on January 23, 1920, after he had been taken to the hospital, about a week before he died of tuberculosis. (In historical reality, Modigliani’s lover, the painter Jeanne Hebuterne, who was pregnant with their child, killed herself the day after his death by jumping out of a window.)
Stoppard makes a number of historical, literary, and artistic references within the dialogue of the play, each of which adds depth as well as historical and cultural relevance to his central thematic concerns regarding empire, cultural imperialism, Indian nationalism, and artistic creation.
Source: Liz Brent, in an essay for Drama for Students, Gale Group, 2001.
Hamilton is an English teacher at Cary Academy, an innovative private school in Cary, North Carolina. In this essay, she explores the interwoven themes of propriety and possession as they are expressed in Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink.
In a 1995 interview with Mel Gussow, Tom Stoppard called his play Indian Ink “a very cosy play” but perhaps “worryingly cosy sometimes.” His comment refers primarily to the play’s setting in which characters interact over tea, or while having portraits made. Stoppard also implies that the seriousness of the play might be lost in coziness. Personal and political conflicts in Indian Ink are brought up obliquely, politely, and without being resolved. However, by interweaving three separate but related scenarios that span a critical juncture in the political relations between India and Britain, Stoppard’s cozy play demonstrates how these matters inflect personal relationships. The three scenarios form a theatrical triptych that allows the viewer to see all of the action at once, in collapsed time and space. This element encourages comparison with the result that the slow subtle shifts of history appear startling and sudden. Indian Ink reveals a cultural shift from a society obsessed with personal propriety, overtly concerned with how people may act, to a society obsessed with possession, concerned about who may own what.
The first scenario takes place in 1930 in India between poet Flora Crewe and Indian artist Nirad Das, the second portrays a visit to her aging sister by Das’s son, and the third regards the annotation of Flora’s posthumous letters by Eldon Pike. The mystery of whether or not Flora and Das had an affair complicates the relationships in all three scenarios, and also affects the true ownership of certain paintings that came into Flora’s possession, including the one on the cover of her Collected Letters. Three interrelated variations of the theme of propriety appear in the three scenarios: a theme of social propriety pervades the scenes between Flora and Das, while a theme of possession pervades the scenes between Mrs. Swan and Anish Das, and these issues merge in the theme of interpretation as Flora’s biographer Eldon Pike stumbles through his investigations of her life. All three themes ultimately deal with what is proper behavior, and the events that illustrate them all stem from the initial scenario of Flora and Das.
A writer juxtaposes parallel events or relationships to draw attention to what has changed and what has remained the same. Sixty-five years separate the events narrated in Indian Ink, an interim that saw the decline of the British Empire, the independence of India (in 1945), and the partition of India and Pakistan (1947). These changes followed hundreds of years during which India tolerated encroaching European oppression, a cultural phenomenon at which Emily Eden expressed amazement in 1839: “I sometimes wonder they [the Indians] do not cut all our [the Europeans’] heads off and say nothing more about it.” Stoppard closes his play with Eden’s comment, along with a description of her party’s “polite amusements” in front of “at least three thousand Indians who looked on” and who “bowed to the ground if a European came near them.” Including this actual firsthand account, the timeline of Indian-European relations portrayed in the play encompasses over 150 years, from the golden age of British imperialism in India to its gradual exit. Momentous changes took place on the heels of Flora’s visit, representing a critical juncture in Anglo-Indian relations, and, finally, in the relations between British and Indian society. The theatrical triptych in Indian Ink conveys how these changes inevitably affected individuals.
Two of the triptych panels comprise a parallel set of personal relationships, each being a scenario between a memsahib (the respectful term used by Indians for a white, European woman) and an Indian man. Flora Crewe, a poet traveling in India in 1930 for her health shares an intimate relationship with Nirad Das, an Indian artist with an affinity for all things British. Flora had led a scandalous life in Europe, but she is not so free in India, where strained political relations between colony and colonizer are kept under control by strict social prohibitions against interactions between whites and natives. As Dilip remarks years later about the possibility of Nirad having painted a nude portrait of her, “In 1930, an Englishwoman, an Indian painter. .. it is out of the question.” Intimacy between Indian and European carries the power to disrupt the fragile political equilibrium. Flora and Das must neither respond to each other as man and
“INDIAN INK... POSES MANY COMPETING IDEOLOGIES ABOUT PERSONAL AND POLITICAL PROPRIETY, AND ABOUT THE LEGITIMATE POSSESSION OF THINGS AND OF IDEAS, WITHOUT REALLY PRIVILEGING ANY OF THEM; THE AUDIENCE IS LEFT TO MAKE UP ITS OWN MIND.”
woman, nor as artist and model, nor even as one human to another—Das’s assistance at Flora’s attack of breathlessness would certainly be misinterpreted by gossips. Nevertheless, drawn perhaps by the same curiosity about Indians that drove Miss Quested in A Passage to India, Flora risks her reputation by seeing Das alone, and Das flirts with social suicide by telling her of his nationalist sympathies. In this part of the triptych, with its theme of the propriety of personal relations, everyone, from their contemporaries to Flora’s biographer, misunderstands Flora and Das’s real relationship, and in the restrained social climate, they themselves misunderstand each other’s intentions. By never revealing whether or not they had an affair, the scenario asks whether it is proper to proscribe how two people may conduct a relationship.
The second scenario takes place in 1985, between Flora’s aging sister Mrs. Swan and Das’s son, Anish Das. Though political tensions remain, the passage of time has loosened the rules of propriety that restricted Flora and Das. In the liberated 1980s, Anish Das not only has publicly painted a nude British woman, but also has married her; and he not only mentions his political sympathies, but he also openly accuses the British for incarcerating his father for his nationalist views. He is free to discuss his views; as he explains to Mrs. Swan, “my father was a man who suffered for his beliefs and I have never had to do that.” But despite the new liberalism, Anish cannot broach with Mrs. Swan the subject of the ownership of the portrait his father made of Flora. He verbalizes only excitement about his father’s work being published, exclaiming, “But replication! That is popularity! Put us on book jackets—calendars—biscuit tins!” Questions about who receives the royalties for the image and whether the painting is properly attributed to his father’s name remain unstated, but come quickly to mind to audiences familiar with contemporary debates over copyright ownership. Furthermore, the audience is prepared for this topic by the brief mention of a Modigaliani nude of Flora destroyed by a jealous boyfriend, an instance of prudish propriety overriding legitimate ownership.
Another question of legitimate ownership arises when Mrs. Swan and Anish Das show each other the paintings they have inherited. Anish has kept the nude portrait of Flora left him by his father, although it seemed valueless to him, and Mrs. Swan has held onto the erotic eighteenth-century painting of the Gita Govinda, her gift from the Rajah. Although neither Anish nor Mrs. Swan properly interprets or values their own inherited pictures, they each have a reason to value the one the other owns. Mrs. Swan recognizes that Eldon Pike would want the nude Flora, though she would want to hide it from him, while Anish might well understand why the Rajah’s son bemoans the loss of the Gita Govinda, a national Indian treasure and part of a priceless and incomplete series. Under the prevailing mood of regret for imperialist transgressions, the audience might well consider it wrong not to return the painting to India. Likewise, Mrs. Swan would probably want to own the nude of Flora, to keep it out of the public eye. The Swan-Anish panel of the triptych raises but does not resolve questions of possession and legitimate ownership, nor does it resolve who should own artifacts.
In the third panel of the triptych of Indian Ink, Flora’s former possessions filter down to new owners. The bulk of her poems and letters go to the literary bounty hunter Eldon Pike, who gobbles them up like the notoriously ravenous fish of his surname. Eating slice after slice of Mrs. Swan’s cake, he easily obtains the rights to her sister’s letters and her portrait, “a treasure” that will earn him money and fame in the literary world. Mrs. Swan withholds the erotic Gita Govinda from him, however, out of family modesty. Thus, the third scenario raises issues of epistemological stability, indicating how easily truth is muddied up, here, by self-interest. In addition, Pike conducts his search with the narrow aim of a speargun, missing artifacts a wide net might catch, and he fabricates the truth as he guesses what he should look for. His Indian assistant Dilip mocks Pike’s quest to find the nude Flora picture, saying “you are constructing an edifice of speculation on a smudge of paint on paper, which no longer exists.” The Pike-Dilip triptych panel treats the postmodern mania for information, and its inherent problems of gathering and interpreting it, asking the question whether it possible to understand the past completely.
The interplay of dialogue and content across the three scenarios of Indian Ink imposes another complexity to the play, but also offers further insights. Glaring errors in Pike’s footnotes and Mrs. Swan’s obfuscation of the truth are part of a Stoppardian subtext of epistemological uncertainty. The play’s many contradictions—first one perspective, then immediately another—accord with Stoppard’s 1972 statement that “I write plays because writing dialogue is the only respectable way of contradicting myself.. . . I put a position, rebut it, refute the rebuttal, and rebut the refutation.” In Indian Ink he poses many competing ideologies about personal and political propriety, and about the legitimate possession of things and of ideas, without really privileging any of them; the audience is left to make up its own mind. He remains true to his reputation for raising and not resolving the big questions, such that critic Michael Billington defines the adjective “Stoppardian” as “a wariness of commitment and a distrust of fixed ideologies.” Although Indian Ink may seem “cosy” and polite, it leaves the audience troubled by important and pertinent questions about proper behavior—questions that remain as troubling today as they did sixty-five years ago when Flora did or did not have an affair with her Indian portraitist.
Source: Carole Hamilton, in an essay for Drama for Students, Gale Group, 2001.
Presley has an M.A. and specializes in Germanic languages, literature, and history. In the following essay, Presley discusses history, memory, and the interpretation of evidence in Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink.
Tom Stoppard has earned the reputation for being a playwright of wit and intellect, even though he has never gone to university. In Hapgood(1988), for example, he experiments with applying quantum physics to human behavior. In Arcadia(1993), he cleverly mixes literary history with mathematical chaos theory. For his next play, Stoppard revisited the material of an earlier radio play, In the NativeState(1991), and rewrote it as the stage play Indian Ink(1995). Indian Ink does not deal explicitly with the mathematical and scientific theories that play such a large part in Hapgood and Arcadia, but Stoppard does retain the philosophical implications these theories have on the “soft sciences” of history, literature, and sociology. Mary A. Doll, in British and Irish Drama Since 1960(1993), wrote about the influence of modern scientific thought on Stoppard’s work: “Instead of a Newtonian universe, where problems can be solved, Stoppard ascribes to what post-modern science calls ’chaos theory.’ Gaps, punctures, and breaks in sequence sabotage every logical attempt to formulate a hypothesis. Indeed, Stoppard’s greatest contribution to theatre may be his concept of the indeterminacies of what it is ’to know’ as a hired professional, a spectator, or even as an ordinary human being.”
In Indian Ink, this postmodern complicating of “what it is ’to know’” takes the form of a conflict between the rigidity of academic history and the flexibility of human memory as preserved by art. Academic history, which pretends to be objective but is actually flawed by human interpretation, can offer facts, but then Stoppard calls into question the certainty of having facts at all. Stoppard suggests then that it is our duty to question our conclusions and to allow for multiple interpretations of the evidence. Memory and art allow for these multiple interpretations, and then complicate history by competing against it for popular acceptance. History strives to solve mysteries, while memory is tantalized when mysteries are left unsolved. History, as represented by the character Eldon Pike, is “accurate,” public, and dry. In contrast, memory, as represented by Mrs. Swan, is imperfect, private, and alive.
Indian Ink, like Arcadia, is a literary mystery in which past and present coexist on stage, much like the past still exists as an underlayer of memory in the present. Stoppard often employs the convention of a mystery to demonstrate the inadequacy of human perception in interpreting evidence. Within the first minutes of the play, the American literary historian, Eldon Pike, finds a sentence in one of Flora’s letters that will lead him on a hunt to India: “Perhaps my soul will stay behind as a smudge of paint on paper. . . like Radha who was the most beautiful of herdswomen, undressed for love in an empty house.” Pike, as a scholar who takes the written word literally, reads “a smudge of paint on paper” as proof that a nude painting of Flora exists. He is right. But he meets opposition to this theory
“HISTORY STRIVES TO SOLVE MYSTERIES, WHILE MEMORY IS TANTALIZED WHEN MYSTERIES ARE LEFT UNSOLVED.”
from Mrs. Swan, Flora’s sister. After reading the sentence, Pike asks, “What do you think it means?” Mrs. Swan’s response, “As much or as little as you like,” shows an impatience for the literal interpretation of words that can lead to wrong conclusions.
Indian Ink is obsessed with the interpretation of the past through scraps of evidence on paper: Flora’s letters and poems, a watercolor, an oil painting, a newspaper clipping. As Flora writes her letters, the moment passes and becomes history. Her letters become documents, evidence to be interpreted by the future. The play’s title reminds us of the problem of interpretation. Ink is merely a liquid with the potential to convey meaning. The lines that ink forms on paper have no meaning in themselves either, but require the human brain to make sense of them.
As an example of how historical facts can be differently interpreted and remembered by different cultures, consider the conflicting vocabulary used by the Indians and the English in describing the same historical event now known as the Sepoy Rebellion. Stoppard mentions the event only briefly, but significantly he mentions it twice. Both times, the English women remember the event simply as “the Mutiny” while the Indian men refer to it either as “the first War of Independence,” “the Rising of 1857,” or “the First Uprising.” In British history, the Indian soldiers’ violent protest against British rule is interpreted as a “Mutiny,” a traitorous rebellion against legal authority. Indian history, on the other hand, refers to the same event as an “Uprising,” a word that holds heroic connotations of revolt against a repressive authority. Far from being an exact science, Stoppard shows how history, depending on human interpretation of so called facts, is colored by the interpreter’s cultural background, which is only one of many subjective factors that can distort a person’s objectivity.
If large-scale events can be differently interpreted and remembered, how then the very private events in one woman’s life? Indian Ink deals with history on a large scale but mostly the play is concerned with history on a very personal level. As Stoppard said in a 1995 interview with Mel Gussow, “Indian Ink is actually a very intimate play. It’s a play of intimate scenes.” Details of Flora’s sex life become the mystery Pike wants to solve. If he finds the watercolor, he can prove that a relationship existed between Flora and Nirad Das, thus expanding the borders of Flora Crewe scholarship. But Mrs. Swan, as guardian of her sister’s memory, tells Pike that he is “not allowed to write a book. . . biography is the worst possible excuse for getting people wrong.” Mrs. Swan would rather allow her sister’s poems to stand on their own and offer themselves for multiple interpretations, rather than limit them to Pike’s sole interpretation. Later in India when Pike wonders whether Flora and Das had a relationship, Dilip also cautions Pike against overinterpretation. “Well, we will never know,” says Dilip. “You are constructing an edifice of speculation on a smudge of paint on paper, which no longer exists.”
Pike’s footnotes are a running joke in the play, bridging that divide between past and present, history and memory. Pike intrudes on Flora’s voice with unnecessary detail. The footnotes, which rely on Mrs. Swan’s memory, pass into academic history and dissect Flora’s letters. Pike strives to give Flora’s words extra meaning but often only succeeds in creating confusion. Laurie Kaplan in her article in Modern Drama calls this “the kind of over-interpreting (which leads to misinterpreting).” For example, when Flora mentions having a dream about the Queen’s Elm, Pike says, “Which Queen? What elm? Why was she dreaming about a tree? So this is where I come in, wearing my editor’s hat. To lighten the darkness.” Mrs. Swan informs Pike that the Queen’s Elm is a bar, and we see that Pike’s literalness threatens to pervert the intended meaning. Stoppard often makes buffoons of those characters who are rigid and overconfident in their interpretations. It is ironic that Pike, who is right about the existence of the watercolor, misinterprets the clues from the Rajah so that he will never find what he seeks.
Das explains an Indian theory of art that will hold much resonance for the play. When Flora complains that the poem she is writing holds no inspiration that day, Das tells her about rasa:“Rasa is juice. Its taste. Its essence.... Rasa is what you must feel when you see a painting, or hear music; it is the emotion which the artist must arouse in you.” All works of original artistic genius have rasa. Das’s oil portrait of Flora has no rasa, no true artistic genius, because he attempts to copy the English style instead of painting from his heart. The nude watercolor has rasa, however, as Flora herself notices, inspired as it was by sexual attraction. It is, ironically, this true piece of art that will be hidden from Pike.
Memory and art have rasa, while Pike’s academic history does not. Academic history is unoriginal, as Pike himself admits when he says: “This is why God made poets and novelists, so the rest of us can get published.” History is a public, “accurate” record, devoid of rasa, while memory is private and changeable, filled with so much rasa that it is fluid and blurred, but cherished for that imperfection nonetheless. Scholarship reduces the rasa of human life to dry facts. As Mrs. Swan explains to Anish, “Mr. Pike teaches Flora Crewe. It makes her sound like a subject, doesn’t it, like biology.”
At the play’s end, Mrs. Swan and Anish agree to protect the personal memories of their relatives by keeping the nude watercolor a secret. They do not want this private event between their families entering into the public space, represented by Pike, whose footnotes suck the rasa out of art. As Mrs. Swan says about the Gita Govinda miniature, “I didn’t tell Eldon. He’s not family.” In In the Native State, Anish says he will not lock the watercolor away, but display it, “on the wall at home, and I’ll tell my children too.” The painting and the memory of Flora Crewe will become part of the personal history of the Das family, to be passed on like an oral legend. But even Anish will want to interpret the watercolor to prove that a relationship existed between Das and Flora. In In the Native State, he even uses the word “evidence” to introduce the painting. Anish interprets the vine that wraps around the tree to be proof of a sexual relationship. Mrs. Swan cautions, “Now really, Mr. Das, sometimes a vine is only a vine,” paraphrasing the famous Freudian quote “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Mrs. Swan lives comfortably with the uncertainty of memory, while Pike seeks to solve the uncertainties in the name of scholarship.
A feeling of mourning pervades the play as memory and history compete for recognition in the present. The duality of loss and recovery is at the heart of human obsession with the past. Humans construct history to recover lost objects, to discover what really happened and preserve that truth for future generations. This reconstruction takes place on a national as well as a personal level. In complicated ways, both the Indians and the British romanticize and mourn the passing of the British Empire. Mrs. Swan keeps Indian souvenirs on her windowsill and pines for the fruit trees “at home” in India. The retired Indian soldier, “Subadar Ram Sunil Singh the toilet cleaner,” keeps his British military medals on his jacket. Even on a personal level, the characters in Indian Ink are in mourning. Anne Wright, in her entry on Stoppard in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, discusses this elegiac quality: “The themes of memory, loss, and bereavement resonate at the personal level, in Anish’s loss of his father and in Nell’s grief for Flora and for her own dead baby, yet they connect too with the broad sweep of history in a play which is deeply nostalgic and elegiac, yet with a sharply ironic perspective on its subject.” Anish’s and Nell’s personal losses are made more poignant by the juxtaposition on stage of past and present. While Anish and Nell mourn and remember, their dead relatives are playing out their lives just a few feet away, and yet separated from them by a gulf of time. Furthermore, while Flora mourns the loss of the Modigliani portrait, Pike mourns his inability to find the “lost” nude watercolor. For all his buffoonery, Pike’s motives are not entirely self-serving, but actually touching. So enamored is he of Flora that he is excited to have his picture taken with the tree that stands where her razed bungalow once stood. He wants to recover and preserve Flora Crewe, even if this preservation threatens to make a stuffed museum piece out of her. He improvises a song based on Louis MacNeice’s “Bagpipe Music,” mourning the loss of evidence: “It’s no go the records of the Theosophical Society, it’s no go the newspaper files partitioned to ashes.... All we want is the facts and to tell the truth in our fashion.” Pike represents all traditional historians who mourn the loss of objective truth.
Significantly, it is art with rasa that is eternal, not history. As Das says philosophically, “Well, the Empire will one day be gone like the Mughal Empire before it, and only their monuments remain. ... Only in art can empires cheat oblivion, because only the artist can say, ’Look on my words, ye mighty and despair!”’ History will be forgotten, but great art endures and reminds humanity of what was lost. In the final ironic moments of the play, Pike pays his respects at Flora’s grave, while simultaneously, we see and hear Flora, full of vitality, reading her letter to her sister. Memory of Flora Crew is preserved in her art, even if her “true” biography and the “real” interpretation of her words will always remain a mystery.
Source: Daniela Presley, in an essay for Drama for Students, Gale Group, 2001.
Billington, Michael, “Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon,” in Critical Essays on Tom Stoppard, edited by Anthony Jenkins, G. K. Hall, 1990, pp. 35-43, p. 38-39.
Doll, Mary A., “Stoppard’s Theatre of Unknowing,” in British and Irish Drama Since 1960, edited by James Acheson, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1993, pp. 117-29.
Gussow, Mel, “Happiness, Chaos and Tom Stoppard,” in American Theater, Vol. 12, No. 10, December, 1995.
Kaplan, Laurie, “In the Native State/ Indian Ink: Footnoting the Footnotes on Empire,” in Modern Drama, Vol. 41, Issue 3, Fall, 1998.
Stoppard, Tom, Conversations with Stoppard, Grove Press, 1995, pp. 1-9, 117-130.
Wright, Anne, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13: British Dramatists Since World War II, edited by Stanley Weintraub, Gale, 1982, pp. 482-500.
Beckett, Samuel, Waiting for Godot, Grove, 1954.
This play is one of Beckett’s most well-known plays. Beckett is considered by many to be the master of the theater of the absurd. Stoppard has been compared many times in style and approach to Beckett.
Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, Signet Classic, 1998.
Stoppard’s famous play Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead is based on two minor characters within this famous Shakespeare tragedy.
Shaw, George Bernard, Candida, Penguin, 1964.
Candida is a masterpiece by the famous British playwright. Stoppard’s concern for humanistic themes has often been compared to that of Shaw’s.
Stoppard, Tom, Tom Stoppard in Conversation, University of Michigan Press, 1994.
This book is an interesting and illuminating collection of interviews with Stoppard.
Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Ernest, Avon, 1965.
The Importance of Being Ernest is a widely popular play by the famous nineteenth-century playwright. Stoppard has been likened to Wilde for their mutual use of a quick and acerbic wit.