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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Harold Pinter: dernière sortie

by Marie-José Sirach

Harold Pinter, final exit

Translated Monday 5 January 2009, by Sarah Wood

The great British playwright and winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize, is no more. A man of writing and action, he has left a remarkable body of work, performed the world over.

His failing health, in the later years, did not prevent him from casting the same critical eye over the world and his fellow man, already characteristic of his early literary work. The son of a Jewish tailor, he was born on the 10th October 1930 in Hackney, a working-class area of East London. Briefly a student of a drama school, he produced The Room (la Chambre) in 1957, immediately followed by The Dumb Waiter (le Monte-plats), and then by The Birthday Party (l’Anniversaire) the following year. Success came with The Caretaker (le Gardien), filmed in 1963. He would go on to work in Cinema on several more occasions, most notably writing the screenplays for The French Lieutenant’s Woman (la Maîtresse) and Reunion (l’Ami retrouvé). His theatrical work, for both stage and screen, made him one of the most popular writers in his country and the most performed in the world. Curiously, from the French point of view, it was British television that first brought him to the public’s attention with The Birthday Party (l’Anniversaire).

An "Angry" Nobel Laureate

Going back and forth between the stage and television didn’t stop him from going on to work in cinema. Alongside Joseph Losey, he wrote the screenplays for The Servant and The Go-Between (le Messager). The French Lieutenant’s Woman (la Maîtresse) was directed by Karel Reisz. At the request of Luchino Visconti, he wrote a screenplay based on À la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust. A remarkable work never filmed due to lack of funds, and republished recently (Editions Gallimard, translated into French by Jean Pavans). Pinter also wrote poems. His last collection, titled War (la Guerre), was a long diatribe against the horrors of war. In it he expressed all his disgust and anger at the conflict in Iraq.

A Salutary Indignation

In 2005 he became an “angry”, Nobel laureate, as we wrote in these columns [1]. The academy rewarded a man who claimed to want to stop writing and perhaps move into politics. But Harold Pinter was a surprising man, springing up where you least expected, almost as surprising as his writing, which never stopped questioning through language, the disappointing state of the world, creating characters whose seemingly banal words highlight a sharp and pertinent judgement of his peers. If the setting of his theatre is a fastidious realism, the “Pinteresque” language is driven by doubt and scepticism, by the spoken and the unspoken, pushing the reader or viewer to the edge of discomfort by this "disturbing strangeness" that permeated his writing, forcing one to forget the traditional patterns of dramatic interpretation and to allow themselves to be carried away by a language that, as the words filed past, brought into play the absurdity and cruelty of the world.

A great defender of human rights, he relentlessly demonstrated his political commitment. He protested against the war led by the United States to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Then against each of the wars in Iraq, using the written word in newspapers, and the spoken word on radio. Harold Pinter, a man angry in the face of the deceit and arrogance of Blair and Bush junior, a salutary indignation that earned him the nickname “the Angry Man” in the British press. He embodied a certain idea of the theatre: a theatre without compromise, irreverent and funny, made of shadow and light, that forces us to see the world from here, but also from there, and from elsewhere. His language disregarded social etiquette, revelled in idioms and resonated even into the pauses which, for him, were not used to punctuate phrases, but to liberate a relentless mind.

His life and his writing influenced more than one generation of directors, actors and audiences. His courteousness was equalled only by the incisiveness and impertinence of his words. He was a writer, and a man of conviction.

Editor’s note:

[1« Harold Pinter, un Nobel "enragé "», Marie-José Sirach, L’Humanité, du 14 octobre 2005 - (http://www.humanite.fr/2005-10-14_Cultures_Harold-Pinter-un-Nobel-enrage)

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