The Habit of Art

Alan Bennett
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ISBN 9780571255603 Format Hardback
Published 19/11/2009 Length 112 pages

About Book

Auden often said that metre and rhyme led him down unexpected paths to thoughts he wouldn't otherwise have had, and in this respect versification and fornication are not so different.

Benjamin Britten, sailing uncomfortably close to the wind with his new opera, Death in Venice, seeks advice from his former collaborator and friend, W. H. Auden. During this imagined meeting, their first for nearly twenty years, they are observed and interrupted by amongst others their future biographer and a young man from the local bus station.

You are a rent boy. I am a poet. Over the wall lives the Dean of Christ Church. We all have our parts to play.

Alan Bennett's new play is as much about the theatre as it is about poetry or music. It looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography. It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion's spent: ultimately, on the habit of art.

'In the end,' said Auden, 'art is small beer. The really serious things in life are earning one's living and loving one's neighbour.'

The Habit of Art was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 5 November 2009.

  • About Alan Bennett

    Alan Bennett has been one of our leading dramatists since the success of Beyond the Fringe in the 1960s. His television series Talking Heads has become a modern-day classic, as have many of his works for the stage including Forty Years On, The Lady in the Van (together with the screenplay), A Question of Attribution, The Madness of George III (together with the Oscar-nominated screenplay The Madness of King George), andan adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. At the National Theatre, London, The History Boys (also a screenplay) won numerous awards including Evening Standard and Critics' Circle awards for Best Play, an Olivier for Best New Play and the South Bank Award. On Broadway,The History Boys won five New York Drama Desk Awards, four Outer Critics' Circle Awards, a New York Drama Critics' Award, a New York Drama League Award and six Tonys. The Habit of Art opened at the National in 2009; in 2012, People, as well as the two short plays Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, was also staged there. 

    Alan Bennett's collection of prose, Keeping On Keeping On, publishes in October 2016. Of his two previous collections, Writing Home was a number one bestseller and Untold Stories won the PEN/Ackerley Prize for autobiography, 2006. Bennett's Six Poets, Hardy to Larkin, An Anthology, was published in 2014. Fiction includes The Uncommon Reader and Smut: Two Unseemly Stories.

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