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Alan Bennett wrote 'A Lady of Letters' in 1987. It is a dramatic monologue from the 'Talking heads' collection and was written for Patricia Routledge.

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A Lady of Letters Alan Bennett wrote 'A Lady of Letters' in 1987. It is a dramatic monologue from the 'Talking heads' collection and was written for Patricia Routledge. This satirical tragic-comedy is about a middle aged woman called Irene Ruddock who writes letters of criticism and the short period in her life when her letter writing is most malicious and trouble making. She is judgemental and likes to look down on people, as if she is better than everyone, when really she isn't. Her mixed up life leads us away from the irony near the end of the play. Bennett came from a lower middle-class family and grew up in Yorkshire. He graduated from Oxford University in the 1960's and became a television star who was nominated for an Oscar. Bennett's 'Talking heads' series has been described as "gossip as drama" as he uses characters from lower-middle and working classes, using mostly northern accents. Bennett had an ear for colloquial conversation and he often described his upbringing as a world of small snobberies and social awkwardness. Bennett's 'Mam' was an important figure in his life and he told how her death was very difficult for him. ...read more.


Bennett makes Irene seem a very ordinary, mundane character in his use of language. Irene uses colloquial language as well as trying to make herself seem superior by adopting a snobbish tone; Bennett called this a 'metropolitan voice' and a 'provincial voice'. For much of the monologue Irene talks to the audience in this colloquial tone, using words and phrases such as, "kiddy", "radio going hammer and tongues", whilst also using her 'metropolitan voice': "could I interject?" Irene can be described as an unreliable narrator as we see things from her point of view only. She misleads us about her neighbours, making us believe that they abuse their "kiddy" and leave the child on its own when they go out. It comes as a surprise to us when we find out that the "kiddy" had died of leukaemia and the parents were out visiting the child in hospital. This makes us feel somewhat ashamed of Irene's actions, as she couldn't have been further from the truth. Our opinion of Irene suddenly changes; Bennett has manipulated our sympathies. When Irene talks about the neighbours, it acts as the climax to the scene and is usually followed by a blackout. ...read more.


Irene's new roommate Bridget killed her child when she was drunk and upset. Bennett shows us that Irene is a changed woman because she doesn't accuse Bridget of any crime but sympathises with her. Ironically, when Irene talks to Lucille she brings up the subject of freedom, "This is the first taste of freedom I've had in years." This reflects on all the years isolated in her house without the chance of getting to meet new people and making friends. Her happiness in prison is ironic because earlier in the play she describes prison as a "holiday camp." Now she has many thinks to do and many friends to talk to, all her frustration has gone. She can now use her writing skills to her benefit. Irene has become close to the audience's hearts and although she has been judgemental and snobbish we now hope for a happy end for her. The final scene ends on a fade out to conclude the play and make the tone feel more optimistic. Also, it shows that Irene life is fulfilled and a fade out is a gentle way to end, rather than an abrupt black out. Bennett wants the audience to respond to Irene by feeling delight when she finds freedom and feeling relief that Irene is happy in the end, summed up by the words, "and I'm so happy". ...read more.

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