Other or Mother?

Ruth Bushi wrote at thehaughtyculturist.com on 28.3.21:

“Madame Arcati (communing with the spirits): There’s someone who wishes to speak to you, Mr Condomine.

Charles: Well tell them to leave a message!

…This kind of Othering has a long history in ghost stories. We rely on dread of the unknown to feel frightened. What’s more, it’s shaped by a shared, cultural network. We learn to fear what lies beyond cultural norms…”

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

“The story is akin to a supernatural Private Lives, with the barriers to communication being the abyss of the afterlife. But there is also a vague misogynism – the female as encumbrance to men. Vivian Matalon (1929-2018), who directed Coward in his last plays, thought ‘Blithe Spirit…the only play in which he is unpleasant about women. Condomine’s mother nagged him, Elvira laid someone else on their honeymoon, Ruth is a shrew, Madame Arcati is a fool, even the maid has a perpetual cold.’ Nonetheless, Blithe Spirit shines, a clever comedy brimming with style and elegance.”

Quentin Letts wrote for The Sunday Times of September 26 2021:

“…The moment she arrives, laughter. The audience reacts not just to Saunders’s natural comic presence, but also because here is a stereotype: the venomously whiffy, interfering old trout. From the stalls of an overheated Harold Pinter Theatre you can almost smell the mothballs and BO…”

Alejandra Venancio writes at breakingcharacter.com:

“…A dark comedy about ghosts and the great beyond, Blithe Spirit may have seemed a tad controversial, if not downright irreverent at a time when the thought of death loomed ever present in the mounting casualties of World War II…”

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

Blithe Spirit opened in Manchester on 16 June (1941), and in London on 2 July. Its first night in the West End did not augur well: ‘The audience, socially impeccable from the journalistic point of view and mostly in uniform, had to walk across planks laid over the rubble caused by a recent air raid to see a light comedy about death.’ Noel had hoped that the black humour of Blithe Spirit would coincide with the (less than blithe) spirit of the times, but it was met with catcalls of ‘Rubbish’ and ‘Why should he get away with it!’…

(Britannica.com: “Reaction formation is the fixation in consciousness of an idea, affect, or desire that is opposite to a feared unconscious impulse. A mother who bears an unwanted child, for example, may react to her feelings of guilt for not wanting the child by becoming extremely solicitous and overprotective to convince both the child and herself that she is a good mother.”)

…Despite the initially negative reaction to Blithe Spirit, it would run for an unprecedented 1997 performances…”

Hilary Mantel reviewed Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger for The Guardian of 23 May 2009:

“It is 1947; the nation is exhausted by victory, and neither the National Health Service nor the National Trust has yet come along to pick up the pieces. The scars of war heroes are fresh and great country houses are battered from the military’s occupation, their parks dug over for vegetable plots. The civilian population is depressed by rationing, homelessness, postwar gloom and austerity. Dr Faraday is a country GP practising in Warwickshire, in the area where he was born, to poor parents who sacrificed everything for his education. Unmarried, he is slouching into an impecunious and unloved middle age, apprehensive about the coming changes in medical practice and pessimistic about his future. Many of his patients live in rural slums; he has never been taken up by the local gentry. Socially, he finds himself awkwardly poised between classes. He is conscious that some of the boys with whom he shared a school bench are now no more than labourers. He has grasped his opportunities, but the strain shows; he is unable to eradicate, within himself, the signs of his past struggle…

…It is enough to say that there are moments when we move into Henry James territory. As in The Turn of the Screw, a stifling shame, like fog, seeps through the narrative; it is what we feel when we see the shadow within our psyche, the black and mirrored version of our sane and social self. At a glimpse of it, we exclaim, like Caroline, “it’s grotesque . . . it’s filthy”. Waters manages the conclusion of her book with consummate, quiet skill. It is gripping, confident, unnerving and supremely entertaining. And its mood lingers; in the 24 hours after finishing it, readers may hear, as I did, the whisper of its events bedding down into consciousness. Its allusions, its implications softly gather and fold themselves into the space in the mind that the book has made for itself, falling into place with a soft hiss, a rustle like phantom silks.”

Arthur (1856-1937) and Violet (1863-1954) Coward married in 1890. Their sons were Russell (1891-98), Noel (1899-1973), and Erik (1905-33).

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

“One (paper) reported that in the film of *The Astonished Heart (1950), (Violet Coward) ‘could not bear to see her son die even a film death’…

After (Violet’s) funeral at St Alban’s, Teddington, (Noel) flew to Paris. ‘This week has been fairly idiotic…Mum, with her usual tact, has been content to sit quietly in my subconscious and not bother me…it was “high time” and all that, but it didn’t mitigate the sense of loss and the feeling that the most important link of all had gone.’”

*Deuteronomy 28:28: ‘The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of the heart.’

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