John Whiting Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In 1945, John Whiting completed a novel entitled “Not a Foot of Land,” but it was not published. His radio plays, Paul Southman Eye Witness (1949), The Stairway (1949), and Love’s Old Sweet Song (1950) were broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1951, he began writing screenplays that were adaptations of others’ works. These screenplays include The Ship That Died of Shame (1955, with Michael Relph and Basil Dearden), The Good Companions (1957, with T. J. Morrison and J. L. Hodgson), The Captain’s Table (1959, with Bryan Forbes and Nicholas Phipps), and Young Cassidy (1965). His television play, A Walk in the Desert, aired in 1960 and was later published in The Collected Plays of John Whiting.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

John Whiting sharply divided British audiences with his controversial departure from naturalistic drama. Labeled self-indulgent and obscure by critics, Whiting’s work was championed by practical men and women of the theater. Actors, directors, and young playwrights found Whiting’s structural and thematic density fertile ground for creativity and experimentation, but Whiting’s work could not be easily understood in the immediacy of a production, so he alienated his audiences and baffled his critics. In the early 1950’s, London audiences were not ready to depart from the standard theatrical diet of plays that were basically reproductions of life and its everyday conflicts. Whiting’s way of looking at the world and dramatizing it was too different and too uncompromising to allow him success at the box office. Nevertheless, Whiting’s departure from the traditional rules of drama, which require that motive, action, and consequence follow a clearly developed line, significantly expanded the range of drama, and thus he helped prepare the modern audience for such experimental playwrights as Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.

In the late 1940’s, British drama was in the throes of a poetic renaissance. T. S. Eliot brought accessible verse to the stage and in The Cocktail Party (pr. 1949, pb. 1950) dramatized a vague spiritual optimism. Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning (pr. 1948, pb. 1949) entertained the audience with...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Demastes, William W., and Katherine Kelly, eds. British Playwrights, 1956-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. An essay on Whiting discusses his life and works plus provides an assessment of the playwright’s career. Includes bibliography.

Goodall, Jane. “The Devils and Its Sources: Modern Perspectives on the Loudun Possession.” In Drama and Philosophy, edited by James Redmond. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. The essay shows how Whiting shifts the emphasis from Grandier’s villainy to his inner struggle. It also compares the play with Henry de Montherlant’s Port-Royal (pr., pb. 1954; English translation, 1962) and Jean Genet’s Le Balcon (pb. 1956; The Balcony, 1957).

Goodall, Jane. “Musicality and Meaning in the Dialogue of Saint’s Day.” Modern Drama 29 (December, 1986): 567-579. This essay defends the play against the early charges of abstruseness by demonstrating its underlying logic. It seeks to show the dramatic elements of this logic in terms of the search for revelation. Looks particularly at the play’s dialogue.

Robinson, Gabrielle. A Private Mythology: The Manuscripts and Plays of John Whiting. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Press, 1988. Robinson examines myth as it is manifested in the works of Whiting. Includes bibliography and index.

Salmon, Eric. The Dark Journey: John Whiting as Dramatist. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1979. An account of Whiting’s complete oeuvre. It traces in particular Whiting’s obsession “with the innate tendency of the sensitive towards self-destruction.” Includes appendices, a bibliography, and an index.