The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

French Without Tears opens in the living room of a seaside villa in the South of France. It is summer. Kenneth is preparing a French lesson when he is joined by Brian. They discuss career prospects: Kenneth fears he will not pass the French exam required for a diplomatic post he seeks; Brian tells him that Alan is the likely one to win the job. Alan enters and suggests that he might not want the job at all: It is his parents’ wish that he become a diplomat. He jokes with the others about his prospects as a novelist, admitting that he has not yet had a manuscript accepted. The conversation turns to the arrival, the previous evening, of a new visitor, Commander Rogers. Maingot enters and reminds the men that their conversation should be in French. He then reads his newspaper, exclaiming on the doings of Adolf Hitler, before leaving with Kenneth for a French lesson.

Rogers enters. He has come to the establishment to study for an interpretership exam. He and Alan are quickly at odds: Rogers resents Alan’s joking and sarcasm, and Alan dislikes Rogers’s military demeanor. Alan warns him about Diana, Kenneth’s “fast” sister, who is currently pursuing Kit. Diana enters in a bathing suit, followed by Kit. Alan and Diana insult each other politely, but when the others leave the room their insults take on a more gentle and romantic tone. Alan insists that she should stop toying with Kit and not make a new conquest of Rogers. After he exits, Rogers walks in looking for a phrase book. Diana flirts with him, telling him to ignore Alan’s warnings, since he is really in love with her. She and Rogers agree to go walking.

Act 2 opens a fortnight later, as the household is finishing lunch. Maingot reminds the group that the Bastille Day celebrations—a costume ball and battle of flowers—take place that evening. Kit asks Diana for a game of billiards, but she has already agreed to play with Rogers. Kit announces that he is taking Jacqueline to the ball and that Diana is going with Rogers. He tells Jacqueline that he likes her and hardly thinks of her as a woman. Alan enters, and he and Kit argue over Diana, with Kit insisting that Diana really loves him, not Rogers. Diana and Rogers enter, and the others leave. Rogers asks Diana why she will not tell Kit that she does not love him. She insists that she is trying to spare Kit’s feelings. She finally promises to tell Kit; at this moment Jacqueline enters and overhears. The others wander in, and Alan discovers that his novel has been rejected again. He describes the plot of his novel: Two conscientious objectors go to Africa when war breaks out, but they end up fighting over a woman and, realizing that they cannot achieve their ideals, go back to fight in the war. The subject of competition over a woman causes a fight between Rogers and Kit. A general brawl quickly breaks out among the men, which ceases abruptly as Maingot enters and begins the day’s lecture on the Near East.

The next scene begins six hours later, with preparations for the evening out. Diana is seated...

(The entire section is 1249 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In French Without Tears Rattigan emphasizes the unfixed quality of the characters and action by subverting anticipated dramatic conventions. The well-made play attached specific meaning to objects and used clear-cut distinctions in type and characterization. In French Without Tears such objects as clothing, money, and books feature prominently in the action, but it is noteworthy that they finally have no decisive role in the play and are used interchangeably by the characters. The altered nature of ownership and allegiance is of central interest, and this continuous shifting in the nature of the characters and action extends to friendships, romantic relationships, language, and nationality. One source of the play’s comedy is the inept use of French by the students at the villa; for the Bastille Day celebration, French characters don kilts and Bavarian costume, and English characters wear Greek and German costume.

The dialogue in the play is self-consciously dramatic. In act 2 Diana has love scenes with both Rogers and Kit. In each scene the dialogue is nearly identical: The effect is to deny both the distinctions between characters and the connection between character and language. In the last act, Kit and Jacqueline begin their romance by describing what they would say if they were in love, in terms that are deliberately theatrical and trite: “I’ve loved you all the time without knowing it,” says Kit. Again, the comedy is in the...

(The entire section is 425 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Darlow, Michael, and Gillian Hodson. Terence Rattigan: The Man and His Work. New York: Quartet Books, 1979.

Foulkes, Richard. “Terence Rattigan’s Variations on a Theme.” Modern Drama 22 (December, 1979): 375-381.

Rusinko, Susan. Terence Rattigan. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Wainsell, Geoffrey. Terence Rattigan: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Young, Bertram A. The Rattigan Version: Sir Terence Rattigan and the Theatre of Character. New York: Atheneum, 1988.