Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Novelists writing plays (and vice versa)

It's a curious fact that very few writers have ever been able to write both good novels and good plays. Almost invariably, even the most acclaimed and technically skilled novelist turns into a rank amateur when writing for the theatre. The most famous case is that of Henry James, who decided in the 1890s to embrace the stage. He published four dramas in book form, with prefaces complaining that nobody would put them on, before finally striking gold - of a sort - with Guy Domville.
The first night of Guy Domville was one of the most famous theatrical disasters of the 19th century. The play staggered on for only five weeks, almost never to be staged again. A glance at the text shows why: the plot is something about a Catholic priest renouncing his vocation, delivered in the novelist's famous subtle dialogue, which proved impossible to speak on stage with any conviction. James, clearly, just couldn't write for the stage.
More from Philip Hensher in The Guardian.

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