Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life by Stephen Parker - review by Donald Sassoon

Donald Sassoon

Only Half Marx

Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life


Bloomsbury 689pp £30

What a predicament it is to be an artist or a writer. You are never fully in control of your productions. You paint a cheerful Florentine housewife and, a few centuries later, some jumped-up critic decides she is a castrating femme fatale. You write an opera on Switzerland’s national hero and the overture is endlessly used in stuff like The Lone Ranger and Yankee Doodle Daffy. The worst fate is that of the playwright. You write a text with, at most, a few notes on scenery and cast (exits, enters). Then the product is snatched from your hands by actors, designers and directors. It becomes their play. You sit in a corner sulking or, more frequently, you turn in your grave. Pity, then, Bertolt Brecht, who regarded himself, with considerable justification, as the great dramatist of his age, yet was condemned to have so little control of his plays and of his life. His health was poor; his erstwhile communist comrades disagreed with him about what political theatre should be; he was forced into exile in Denmark, Finland,

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RLF - March