A Lady of Letters - Post 1914 Drama

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Holly O’Nione 11HO

How does Patricia Routledge create sympathy for an unsympathetic character in her performance of the monologue, ‘A Lady of Letters’?

Upon reading “A Lady of Letters’ one is automatically filled with a sense of disgust or profound lack of sympathy for Irene Ruddock. It’s unsurprising that her curious actions are deemed to be the act of a busy-body. She is the typical ‘nosey old woman’ who has no greater pride than meddling in other people’s affairs with her pedantic letters. So, when a viewer is faced with Patricia Routledge’s thought-provoking performance, sympathy is last thing you’d have thought would be related to a character such as Irene Ruddock. But pity is what we feel towards her.

Shockingly, the most notable way in which Routledge changes our perception of Irene is her voice. Her emphasis on ‘my’ and ‘I’ still shows us that she’s proud. However, pride is not the only emotion she conveys; a sense of depression and loneliness is apparent in her low tone. This softened, lower voice also slows her speech significantly and thus drawing the attention to us that she is sad, especially here when she is talking about her mother, ‘She lost her mother around the time I lost mine.’ This not only makes us sympathise with her for the loss of her mother, but makes her seem more human and so worthy of pity than the faceless letter writer that she is perceived as.

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Thoughts can be revealed ostensibly through facial expressions. Throughout the play Routledge’s face is plastered with a look of severe indifference to the world. A pithy note would be that Irene never raises so much as a smile in her house. Her only differential mood is pride. This is marked by her raised eyebrows and pursed lips which show us she’s happy with herself. This makes her seem arrogant, but Irene manages to transform the situation by the contrast of her facial expressions (from indifferent to proud and back again) to accentuate that her pride comes from her own ...

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