Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett; drawing by David Levine

Sydney and Linda are characters in a play by Alan Bennett, entitled Kafka’s Dick.1 Sydney, like Kafka, is an insurance man. He is interested in books, or, more precisely, in the people who write them. He likes biographies: “I’d rather read about writers than read what they write.” Linda, his wife, does not share her husband’s literary interests. But she has picked up one or two tidbits; she knows that Auden wore no underpants, and that “Mr. Right for E.M. Forster was an Egyptian tramdriver.” Some day, she says, she’ll read and “learn the bits in between.” Sydney, exasperated by his wife’s obtuseness, explains why she has missed the point: “This is England. In England facts like that pass for culture. Gossip is the acceptable face of intellect.”

Two years ago the book at the top of the British best-selling lists was Alan Clark’s Diaries, a banquet of social and political gossip. The bestselling book last year was Writing Home, a collection of Alan Bennett’s diaries, articles, and notes. This was also the pundits’ first choice in the annual lists of best books of the year. The second choice was a new biography of Evelyn Waugh. Sydney was right: the thirst of the British public for gossip is unslakable. The popular press thrives on sensational tittle-tattle about the private lives of public figures. The more upmarket papers publish ever more “profiles.” And British publishers produce an endless flow of letters, diaries, biographies, and autobiographies. There is no life in this nation of rather diffident and private people that is not worth prying into.

What makes Alan Bennett’s stylish and witty diaries so remarkable is that this ostentatiously diffident and private playwright has turned himself into a public act. Alan Bennett is having a fantastic success playing Alan Bennett. His act is studied, but also intimate. As a man, who, in his own words, “can scarcely remove his tie without first having a police cordon thrown round the building,” he tours the country, from bookshop to bookshop, reading, quite beautifully, his private thoughts to a huge audience. He has created a person, in his diaries, his television appearances, and his readings, who is both real and utterly theatrical. As well as being a playwright, Bennett is a fine actor, who started his career in 1960, as a member of the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe. His public rendering of his private thoughts is far from being an exercise in “letting it all hang out.” With Bennett, self-deprecation is a form of self-control.

Bennett’s public role happens to be one the British adore: the most successful playwright of his time as a nebbish with bicycle clips. Public envy, so easy to ignite, is undercut by his self-presentation as a socially crippled eccentric in tweeds and owlish glasses. Here he is, remembering his early days in Beyond the Fringe (you must imagine a pair of doleful eyes, and a plaintive delivery, the demeanor of a man always stuck in the back of any queue):

20 August. Watching Barry Humphries on TV the other night I noticed the band was laughing. It reminded me how when I used to do comedy I never used to make the band laugh. Dudley [Moore] did and Peter [Cook], but not me. And somehow it was another version of not being good at games.

Here he is, in Hollywood, attending the screening of a film he wrote:

Mark [the producer] is introduced first, the spotlight locates him, and there is scattered applause; then Malcolm [the director] similarly. When my turn comes I stand up, but since I am sitting further back than the others the spotlight doesn’t locate me. “What’s this guy playing at?” says someone behind. “Sit down, you jerk.” So I do. The film begins.

If the modesty seems contrived, well, as Kafka says in Kafka’s Dick: “All modesty is false, otherwise it’s not modesty.” And if it isn’t actually modesty so much as an envious disposition, always thinking others are ahead, that is a tendency with which many British people can identify. So much about Bennett is quietly reassuring: his soft Yorkshire accent, his humble yet respectable background as the son of a butcher in Leeds, and his taste for saucy Music Hall jokes. Even the edge of confirmed bachelorhood is softened by confessions of love for his (female) housekeeper, comfortably installed in a cozy country cottage.

In Kafka’s Dick, Kafka rises from the dead, to turn up in Sydney and Linda’s house. His biographer Max Brod is there too. Only Kafka is not aware of his fame, for he still thinks Brod burned all his manuscripts. In Brod’s words: “He knows he’s Kafka. He doesn’t know he’s Kafka.” Which reminds me of the girl who finally got to sleep with Mick Jagger. When she was asked the next morning what he had been like, she said: “Great, but he was no Mick Jagger.” Bennett knows he’s Bennett. What makes his private/public diaries so clever is that he not only performs himself, but comments on his own performance.


He admits that he sometimes takes his background “down the social scale a peg or two,” claiming for example that he hardly ever read a serious book until he was in his thirties. This, he writes, “conveniently forgets the armfuls of books I used to take out of Headingly Public Library—Shaw, Anouilh, Toynbee, Christopher Fry.”

Bennett’s finest performances as Bennett have been on television. He wrote and presented two superb documentaries, in which he appears as a kind of social spy, wandering through an art gallery in Leeds, and skulking around the corridors of a hotel in Harrogate. He eavesdrops on conversations in the lobby or the tearoom, he observes local worthies at official luncheons, he overhears people’s comments as they shuffle past the paintings, and as he discreetly snoops from room to room, gallery to gallery, he tells us the story of his own life, and especially the panoply of “embarrassments,” “awkwardnesses,” and “discomforts” he has suffered. He remembers how his father always had trouble tipping the room boy, and how his mother struggled all her life not to appear “common.” As a coda to his stay at the hotel in Harrogate, he recounts an embarrassment, experienced on the train back to London. He had paid a special weekend fare. The ticket collector took one look at his ticket, and told him to move to the compartment for weekend travelers: “You don’t belong in here,” he said. “This is for the proper first class people. Out.”

It is a class act. But Bennett is more than a cuddly performance artist. In his plays, he has turned his private embarrassments into the core of his art. Self-consciousness, the gap between our private selves and our public roles, between the way we are and the way we want to be seen, this is the running theme of Bennett’s drama. Nowhere is this more explicitly so than in The Madness of King George, the play and now the movie.

At the beginning of the film, we see the King being dressed for his public performance, at the opening of Parliament: the robes, the crown, and Handel’s music blaring away in the background. Then we see the court of George III, in all its stuffy formality. And we see the King, rushing about, hither and thither, as “Farmer George” patting the rump of a pig to the delight of one of his farmers, as the caustic sovereign signing documents for William Pitt, the prime minister, as the disapproving father of the foppish Prince of Wales, and as the fond husband (“Mr. King”) to his dowdy Queen Charlotte (“Mrs. King”). He is bluff and hearty, an eccentric autocrat. Yet he is never wholly at ease. He is in fact a shy man playing a boisterous public role, ending his sentences with a “hey, hey,” or a “what, what.”

Nigel Hawthorne plays the part to perfection, both on stage and in the film. Helen Mirren is also good as the solicitous Queen. Rupert Everett is a less happy choice as George, the Prince of Wales. He does not look right, for a start. For George is “Fat George,” the glutinous idler, scheming to gain a public role for himself. Everett is thin. Lolling about, with his stomach-padding slipping almost down to his knees, he looks like a cake that has not risen. On the whole, however, the casting is inspired, with Julian Wadham as the buttoned-up Pitt, and Ian Holm as Dr. Willis, who breaks the King’s will through the force of his own. The smaller parts are splendid too: the doctors, looking like grotesques in a Hogarth print, the smirking courtiers, the greedy politicians—hard-drinking Whigs around the Prince, and slippery Tories hanging on to the King’s ermine.

My main complaint about the movie is that Bennett’s script seems flatter and less subtle than his original play. Many of the funniest lines have been cut. The film is nice to look at, and the message comes across, but there are fewer laughs. Not that the film is solemn, but it’s as if facial contortions, in the manner of Everett’s Prinny, have to make up for the pruning of the text. Perhaps the play is too literary to translate well into film. Perhaps Nicholas Hytner’s inexperience as a film director is the problem. Other screenplays by Bennett, such as Prick Up Your Ears, directed by Stephen Frears, and An Englishman Abroad, superbly directed by John Schlesinger, have worked very well.


King George’s mania nonetheless remains an affecting spectacle. His problem may have been caused by a disease called porphyria, which produces chemical changes in the nervous system. It is suggested in the Bennett version that the madness was made worse by the King’s incompetent and querulous doctors, who tortured him with various painful and horrible cures. But the heart of the story is that very Bennettian preoccupation, embarrassment, or rather the lack of it. As a result of his dementia, the King loses his self-consciousness. In the words of Baker, one of the King’s physicians: “His tongue runs away with him. Thoughts that a well man keeps under he just babbles forth.” Gone are the hail and hearty manner, the what, whats, and the hey, heys. Instead, the King talks dirty, and assaults the Queen’s Mistress of the Robes, whom he had always eyed, but never touched, for the King was unusually monogamous. Now, the King keeps nothing under. He has lost control of himself. The question is, Who is “himself”?

Bennett, the man who cannot take off his tie without a police cordon, has always been fascinated by people who lose control of themselves. His diary entries include trips to New York, where he stays with a friend in a Soho apartment. A mad, eighty-two-year-old woman called Rose shouts obscenities up the stairs day and night. Bennett remarks: “In England, where eccentricity is more narrowly circumscribed, Rose would have been long ago in hospital herself; but here in New York, where everyone is mad, she is tolerated.” To keep control is to enjoy the dignity of one’s public role; to lose it is to risk embarrassment, or worse. Old people in Bennett’s plays live in terror of being “taken away” to special homes, where they will be patronized by social workers, and lose their dignity. Yet to court embarrassment, by flouting conventions, can seem admirable, especially to a playwright who feels unable to do so himself (or so he says).

Writing Home includes a gem, entitled The Lady in the Van. It is an extraordinary account of Bennett’s relationship with Miss Shepherd, a bag lady on the far side of eccentricity who lived in a van, which she parked in front of Bennett’s house in London. Bennett describes Miss Shepherd in detail. He also examines himself, his way of life (“timid”), his motives for getting involved with the lady, his attitudes, and even his politics. He is not easy on himself. He admits to a combination of liberal guilt, fear of confrontation, and inertia. And there is the usual fine nose for the nuances of embarrassment:

May 1976. I have had some manure delivered for the garden and, since the manure heap is not far from the van, Miss S. is concerned that people passing might think the smell is coming from there. She wants me to put a notice on the gate to the effect that the smell is the manure, not her. I say no, without adding, as I could, that the manure actually smells much nicer.

But there is a tender fascination too. He admires the lady’s boldness. He is a kindly voyeur. He has looked and held out a hand where others would look away.

This same tenderness, for a man who defies the conventions of his role, even if this defiance is the result of a sickness, makes The Madness of King George such a moving story. The scenes of the ranting King, sitting half naked in his own excrement, at the mercy of his ghastly doctors, are the best in the film. The King, like the bag lady, is living in squalor. The filter of decorum no longer operates. His dignity as the King is destroyed. It is not a pretty sight: reduced to his raw instincts, no man ever is. It is a relief to see him cured. And yet…the man who cures him, Willis, the former clergyman, is depicted by Bennett as a mixture of a male nanny and rather sinister social worker. The mad King is a kind of rebel, and the sane King, however eccentric in his habits, is a conformist; he has been tamed.

The King is not unlike another famous English character Bennett adapted for the stage: Toad, in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s story The Wind in the Willows. Toad is the lord of Toad Hall, located in a place called River Bank. Its denizens include Badger, and Mole, and Rat. Toad, wearing a loud tweed suit and huge round glasses, is a braggart, an idler, a spendthrift, and mad about cars, which he drives recklessly and very badly. The “poop, poop” of his horn is usually the prelude to an accident. Toad, in other words, sounds like a Wildean fantasy of the eccentric aristocrat to whom the rules of social convention don’t apply. He does what he likes: “I live wholly for pleasure; pleasure is the only thing one should live for.”

Bennett has a more unusual take on Toad.2 He speculates that Kenneth Grahame had meant Toad to be Jewish. As he writes: “[Grahame] had endowed him with all the faults that genteel Edwardian anti-Semitism attributed to nouveaux riches Jews.” He is, in any case, not an unsympathetic character. Grahame, like Bennett, or should I say Bennett, was an example of the timid English writer, who felt excluded by his own inhibitions from life’s pleasures, and so invented characters, like Toad, who could let their hair down. The love of bad jokes, and nursery naughtiness, shared by Bennett, runs like a constant stream through English life and letters. So does the love of dressing up, of playing charades, of a kind of innocent campery. Only in Victorian or Edwardian England is it possible to imagine a senior army officer (the Chief Scout, Baden-Powell, say) getting up in front of his troops to dance in drag—without a thought of homosexuality crossing his mind.

The world of Toad, Badger, Rat, and Mole is like that: they are all confirmed bachelors; they don’t much like women; they—or at least Toad—camp it up like mad; and it was all written for children. Bennett is of course not an Edwardian, and his jokes are not those of an innocent. Near the end of the play, Toad is kissed by the young girl whose clothes he wore to escape from jail: “It’s rather becoming, don’t you think?” Toad then kisses Rat:

RAT: No, no. Please.

(RAT is most reluctant and is covered in embarrassment but the GAOLER’S DAUGHTER kisses him nevertheless and with unintended consequences.)

Oh. I say. That’s not unpleasant. I think my friend Mole might like that. Moley. Try this.

(So MOLE gets a kiss too and perhaps his kiss is longer and more lingering.)

What do you think?

MOLE: Mmmm. Yes.

RAT: Yes. I think one could get quite used to that.

(Life, one may imagine, is never going to be quite the same again—at least for RAT and MOLE.)

Whether the “one” who might imagine includes many children is open to doubt. Bennett explains why the play (produced quite beautifully, by the way, by Nicholas Hytner) caught his imagination: “‘Keeping it under is partly what The Wind in the Willows is about. There is a Toad in all of us or certainly in all men, our social accept-ability dependent on how much of our Toad we can keep hidden.” Perhaps part of Bennett’s intemperate dislike of Mrs. Thatcher is to do with her tendency to keep our Toads down too forcefully.

Finally, inevitably, since every fairy tale must end. Toad is tamed, like King George, though not as violently. After his escape from prison, he learns how to tone down his act, to behave modestly. Toad Hall will become a more genteel place. Chairman Badger suggests it might be converted to a nice mix of executive apartments, offices, and a marina to attract the tourists. Something vital will be lost:

BADGER: I wouldn’t have believed it if I’d not seen it. But it’s true: Look at him. He’s an altered toad.

MOLE: And he is better? I mean… improved.

RAT: Well of course he’s better. He’s learned how to behave himself. No more crazes. No more showing off. He’s one of us.

MOLE: Yes.

BADGER: What is it, little Mole?

MOLE: I just thought…I just thought that now he’s more like everybody else, it’s got a bit dull.

King George’s reversion to normality is equally dramatic. In the film, the scenes of his madness are shot in cold rooms, or in a wintry fog. The final cure takes place in a sunny garden. The King is reading King Lear, with Thurlow, the cynical Lord Chancellor (John Wood), playing Cordelia. The King, much moved by the play, orders Thurlow to kiss his cheek. Thurlow does so with acute embarrassment, but observes that the King suddenly seems more himself. The King: “Do I? Yes, I do. I have always been myself even when I was ill. Only now I seem myself. That’s the important thing. I have remembered how to seem. What, what?”

This is all beautifully done, but Bennett seems to have had trouble with the ending. This is perhaps because Bennett’s attitude is never preachy, or strident, but usually ambivalent. Ambivalence does not make for conclusive endings. The play ends with the dismissal of Dr. Willis on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral: “Be off, sir. Back to your sheep and pigs. The King is himself again. God Save the King.” In his preface to the play, reprinted in Writing Home, Bennett gives us an alternative ending, which he discarded, but it is very funny. The King and Queen, sitting on the cathedral steps, draw lessons from the King’s treatment of doctors. They conclude that kings and rich men fall victim to too many conflicting interests. The fortunes of too many doctors, too many politicians, too many courtiers rise and fall with the King:

KING:…I tell you, dear people, if you’re poorly it’s safer to be poor and ordinary.

QUEEN: But not too poor, Mr King.

KING: Oh no. Not too poor. What? What?

The film ends—in my view less successfully—with a comment on the modern monarchy. Waving regally at the adoring crowds, the King talks to his bored and disillusioned son about the royal family being a model family, of a model country: “Let them see that we are happy. That is what we’re here for.”

Model family, model country, Britain as a homogenized theme park, like Toad Hall, with its offices and its marina. Bennett has been there before, in different plays. A rather maligned play, entitled Enjoy,3 is about an elderly couple, living in genteel poverty in a northern English town. Connie Craven, or Mam, knows the neighborhood has taken a bit of a dive; “It used to be one of the better streets, this.” Wilfred Craven, or Dad, has a steel plate in his head, as a result of an accident. He recalls that he was somebody during the war: “I had six men under me.” Their daughter, Linda, is a prostitute. Mam and Dad insist she is a personal secretary.

The Cravens, desperate to keep up appearances, have been left behind. Their street is to be demolished. They no longer know their neighbors. Their old way of life is obsolete. And they are to be taken away by social workers, who call them by their first names (Mam and Dad are obsolete too). But they are to be taken to a very special home, a theme park home, which tourists will pay to visit. Their old way of life will be preserved, as a living museum, a place where neighbors still stop and pass the time of day, coal fires burn cozily—during opening hours only—and “on certain appointed days soot will fall like rain, exactly as it used to.”

Alan Bennett clearly does not like what happened to Toad Hall, and Mam and Dad’s street. He has written warmly about the Leeds of his youth, with its fine Victorian buildings (many of them demolished in the 1960s), and its civic pride. Yet to call him nostalgic would be to misread him. Nostalgia is part of the problem with contemporary England, where culture has come to mean Heritage, and tradition is equated with theme parks. However much he plays up his north country roots, in his work and his public performances, he does not wish to go back. He writes in Writing Home: “I do not long for the world as it was when I was a child. I do not long for the person I was in that world. I do not want to be the person I am now in that world then. None of the forms nostalgia can take fits. I found childhood boring. I was glad it was over.”

And yet, like the late John Osborne, a very different playwright, Bennett is a romantic about England, a merrier England that once might have been. In a review of Osborne’s autobiography, Bennett writes how much he (Bennett) enjoyed the “frozen embarrassment” of the National Theatre audience that greeted one of Osborne’s new plays. He writes: “I often disagree with his plays, but I invariably find his tone of voice, however hectoring, much more sympathetic than the rage or the patronizing ‘Oh dear, he’s at it again’ he still manages to provoke in an audience.” One difference between Bennett and Osborne is that Bennett never provokes rage. I’m not sure Bennett would take this as a compliment.

Osborne adored the cheekiness of pre-war Music Hall acts; above all he loved the Cheeky Chappie himself, Max Miller, the comic in the flashy suits who cracked blue jokes with a wink and wicked leer. Very much of a Toad, Miller’s humor was a blow against everything that was mean and pinched and boringly respectable. Yet Miller was also, in Osborne’s words, “traditional, predictable and parochial.” It is a combination Bennett would appreciate as well. Osborne’s hatred of Britain’s modern decline into shoddy, standardized Americana expressed itself in a yearning for eccentric aristocracy. He became a bit of an Evelyn Waugh figure, a country squire, firing off slightly mad articles to The Spectator. It was part of his act, one way to protect yourself from a gossip-hungry public is to turn yourself into a character.

Bennett has no time for The Spectator, and is hardly an Evelyn Waugh figure. His politics are of the decent, liberal-minded left. Yet his attitude toward England is close to Osborne’s. It is, as always, an ambivalent attitude, reflected in some of his most successful characters. Bennett’s portrayal of Guy Burgess, the spy, in An Englishman Abroad, is brilliant because there was something of the Music Hall in Burgess. His services to the Soviet Union are hard to excuse. He spied for Stalin but, as people said at the time, with bags of charm. He was a Cheeky Chappie, a Toad—“he was fond of luxury and display, of suites at Claridges and fast cars which he drove abominably.”4

Bennett’s screenplay5 is based on the true story of Coral Browne, the actress, meeting Burgess in Moscow in 1958, during her tour with the Old Vic theatre company. Browne, already ill with cancer, plays her younger self in the film. Bennett, the director, John Schlesinger, and the actor, Alan Bates, get the frayed charm of Burgess in Moscow just right. Without condoning what he did, they show some sympathy for the old queen playing his Jack Buchanan record, trading on yesterday’s gossip, and ordering Old Etonian ties from London. In the movie, and no doubt in life, Burgess in Moscow comes across as a shipwrecked Englishman from a vanished age. He had done his best to undermine the British government, yet he loved England with a passion. It is hard to imagine Bennett, or Osborne, as Soviet spies, but their work is fueled by a similar brew of love and subversion.

Bennett’s first play in the West End was entitled Forty Years On. 6 It is a play within a play. The setting is a boarding school called Albion House. The headmaster (John Gielgud in the original production) is about to retire. The school is no longer rich, except in memories. The headmaster points out: “We don’t set much store by cleverness at Albion House so we don’t run away with all the prizes. We used to do, of course, in the old days…”

The play, put on by the boys, is entitled Speak for England, Arthur (a reference to Arthur Greenwood, the Labour Party leader who was asked to speak out against Chamberlain on the eve of World War II). Its humor is something between Beyond the Fringe and Max Miller: a sequence of Music Hall jokes, puns, and parodies of English memoirs (suggested by, among other things, Harold Nicolson’s diaries). The play—and the play within the play—pokes fun at such English institutions as the Empire, the Monarchy, and war heroes: “I met one of them tonight, down at the House. A very gallant young man. Everything that a hero should be. Handsome, laughing, careless of his life. Rather a bore, and at heart, I suppose, a bit of a Fascist.”

The headmaster is a marvelous creation, one of the best of Bennett’s many shipwrecked Englishmen, stranded in the past, befuddled by and disapproving of the modern world. As part of the play within the play, he quotes Baden-Powell, and makes speeches about Lawrence of Arabia, without quite realizing their satirical intent: “Speaking fluent Sanskrit he and his Arab body servant, an unmade Bedouin of great beauty, had wreaked havoc among the Turkish levies.” But he knows “there’s an element of mockery here I don’t like.”

Boarding schools, headmasters, war heroes, these were of course precisely the targets of satirists, cartoonists, film makers, and novelists in the 1960s. In Beyond the Fringe, Bennett was celebrated for his parodies of vicars and Battle of Britain pilots. He is still proud of his turn as Douglas Bader, the ace who lost his legs in the air. But as in all parodies, mockery was mixed with affection. The fashion in Swinging London for nineteenth-century army uniforms was an expression of irony, but perhaps also of nostalgia for a grander, more dramatic age. It is not so surprising, then, to find the headmaster of Albion House making a speech at the end of the play that echoes Bennett’s own feelings about his country:

Country is park and shore is marina, spare time is leisure and more, year by year. We have become a battery people, a people of under-privileged hearts fed on pap in darkness, bred out of all taste and season to savour the shoddy splendours of the new civility.

The school matron then laments the fate of old people tidied up into tall flats. But the headmaster has not finished:

Once we had a romantic and old-fashioned conception of honour, of patriotism, chivalry and duty. But it was a duty which didn’t have much to do with justice, with social justice anyway. And in default of that justice and in pursuit of it, that was how the great words came to be cancelled out. The crowd has found the door into the secret garden. Now they will tear up the flowers by the roots, strip the borders and strew them with paper and broken bottles.

Osborne could have written this in one of his diaries for The Spectator. There is some disdain in these words for hoi polloi, the TV-watching masses in their ghastly leisure clothes, for what Harold Nicolson called the “Woolworth’s world.” The play is also a lament for a world which Bennett himself, among others of his generation, lampooned. As usual it is Bennett who best explains his own feelings. His heart, he writes in his diary, “is very much in Gielgud’s final speech in which he bids farewell to Albion House and this old England. And yet the world we have lost wasn’t one in which I would have been happy, though I look back on it and read about it with affection.”

This feeling of ambivalence, romantic and skeptical at the same time, is “what the play is trying to resolve.” Of course it didn’t succeed. It couldn’t have. It never will be resolved, it never has been. But it has inspired the English theatre since Shakespeare. What is Henry V, if not an expression of ambivalence, toward the King, toward England?

Guy Burgess’s treachery, at least in Bennett’s interpretation, falls into the same category. Burgess tells Coral Browne: “I can say I love London. I can say I love England. I can’t say I love my country, because I don’t know what that means.” Bennett writes that this is “a fair statement of my own, and I imagine many people’s, position.” Perhaps it is. Bennett also believes that betrayal is an extension of skepticism and irony. Possibly so. But Burgess says something else, something closer to the bone. When Coral Browne asks him why he became a spy, he answers: Solitude. Keeping secrets offers solitude. Was Burgess’s double-act, like King George’s “what, what,” like Osborne’s country squire, like Bennett, a façade behind which a shy man could hide from a nation of snoops?

It’s impossible to be sure. But Burgess pulled off a remarkable act, for he was so brazen, so openly outrageous, so Toad-like, that he seemed not to have been acting at all. I have never met Alan Bennett (or Burgess, for that matter), but I suspect he is as different from Burgess as Toad is from Mole. Yet one line in An Englishman Abroad sticks in my mind. Burgess: “I never pretended. If I wore a mask it was to be exactly as I seemed.” Is this the spy speaking, or is it the author? What, what?

This Issue

February 16, 1995