The following is my reflection on Ira Nadel’s essay “Writing Tom Stoppard” in the Journal of Modern Literature.
Nadel’s essay has shown me the other side of the screenwriter and playwright Tom Stoppard and how he functions as a writer. Stoppard’s life and the art that he produces are linked in an extraordinary way.
First and foremost, there are two concurrent themes in Stoppard’s work: displacement and dislocation. In 1939, Stoppard left Czechoslovakia as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946. It wasn’t until 1996 upon his mother’s death that he found out she was Jewish. Translating into his works of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Hapgood, and The Invention of Love we see themes of double identity as an Englishman and Czech, non-Jew and Jew, playwright ad screenwriter. Nadel calls this Stoppard’s “double act” (p. 21-22).
It seems that Stoppard’s past is so engrained into his extended consciousness that it came out in his plays. What is interesting is the way that he takes historical figures and events and reconstructs them with these connections to his real life, like the new light that he and Marc Norman shed on William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love. Nadel’s essay fulfills Virginia Woolf’s quote of what biography is supposed to do, to be “the record of things that change rather than of the things that happened” (Woolf, The Essays of Virgia Woolf).