Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555
Henry Carr is the protagonist of the play. Now well into his dotage, he reminisces (not always accurately) about his time as a minor official in the British Consulate in Zurich in 1917. Back then, Zurich was crowded with all manner of colorful characters, many of whom Henry actually met. Artists, bohemians, and revolutionaries all crossed paths with this unassuming British bureaucrat at one time or another.
The younger Henry fancied himself as a bit of an actor. He played the part of Algernon in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest he organized with legendary Irish writer James Joyce. Unfortunately, poor old Henry thought that his contribution to the play was not sufficiently valued by Joyce, so they fell out, which led to litigation. Their argument also involved something about a pair of missing trousers, but that's another story. In any case, the senile Henry's memories of Zurich in 1917 become increasingly blurred with the imagined events of his own little production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
James Joyce, Irish literary legend, is in town, working on his epic Ulysses. Indeed, so engrossed is he in earning a place in the pantheon of European literature that he neglects to notice that his jacket and trousers don't match. (There are those trousers again.) However, he's not too busy to drag himself away from his literary labors to expostulate occasionally on the nature and function of art with the enfant terrible of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara.
Tristan Tzara is known as the enfant terrible of Dada, an artistic movement whose adepts attempt to shock their bourgeois parents by their outrageous contempt for all traditionally accepted standards in art and life. Though Tzara is every bit as much of a bohemian as Joyce, their respective views on art differ sharply: Joyce wants to use myth to arrange the fragmented, chaotic experiences of modern life into some vague semblance of order, while Tzara positively revels in disorder, wildly celebrating it in his own artworks.
Then there is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, deracinated Russian aristocrat and revolutionary. Along with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, he has made Zurich his temporary home. 1917 is a big year for both of them; they're busily plotting Lenin's return to his homeland, where he will launch the (in)famous October insurrection. Lenin's take on art is somewhat different to that of Joyce and Tzara; he sees it in purely utilitarian terms, serving the cause of the proletariat (as defined by him and other upper-class revolutionaries) and nothing else.
Gwendolen provides some much-needed love interest in the midst of all this madness and endless debate about art and aesthetics. She's Henry's younger sister, very sweet and attractive, but also incredibly bright and feisty. Gwendolen is the object of Tzara's affections, which he demonstrates by tearing up Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 and depositing the tattered pieces into her employer's (Joyce's) hat.
Cecily is a Leninist librarian whose hushed little world is a far cry from the revolutionary turmoil she wants to see unleashed upon the world. The first time we see her, she is shushing Tzara as he enthusiastically sets about "creating" a new poem out of the tattered remnants of Sonnet 18. Cecily—like her hero, Lenin—has a rather conservative appreciation of art and so has little time for anything that smacks of the avant garde.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561
Henry Carr, an elegantly attired character who appears both as a very old man and as his youthful self. The character is modeled on a minor official by the same name who was in the English consulate in Switzerland during the turbulent years of World War I. The...
(The entire section contains 2324 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Travesties study guide. You'll get access to all of the Travesties content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Critical Essays
- Teaching Guide