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Fiche de lecture : «Blackbird», David Harrower

Par Valentine Vasak : Elève de l'ENS - ENS de Lyon
Publié par Clifford Armion le 03/05/2008

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An unmanned canteen, food leftovers are spilt over the floor. Una, a young woman in her late twenties, pays a visit to Ray at his workplace; a photo of him in a trade magazine has put her on his track. The last time she saw him, she was twelve and he was over forty, they haven’t set eyes on each other since. Ray happens to be her former lover, the man who took her virginity when she was not even pubescent. Together they go over grievous memories: the disgrace that followed the disclosure of their affair for both Una whose parents refused to quit the neighbourhood exposing her to public humiliation, and Ray who spent six years in prison. Gradually, bygone feelings resurface questioning the morally unacceptable nature of their relationship.

This play by David Harrower tackles one of the most firmly anchored taboos of our modern societies: paedophilia. The playwright manages to avoid the pitfall of Manichean downright condemnation of the child-molester but without lapsing into condoning or playing down the gravity of his crime. The play begins in medias res in a kind of no man's land littered with rubbish, the author proceeds to a very gradual unveiling of the identity of the protagonists and their designs. As the scene takes place fifteen years after Una was sexually abused, the characters on stage are both adults, and the audience is not able to seize what is at stake in the play right from the opening, since never in the whole play is the word paedophilia uttered. Moreover, our perception of the characters is highly fluctuating: the victim/torturer distribution of parts is challenged by the very tender and sincere account of the events delivered by both characters. Léa Drucker, who will be Una in the version of the play directed by Claudia Stavisky performed in Lyon in May 2008 argues that rather than the story of a child-molester and his victim, we are here presented with the tale of an impossible love, the taboo on paedophilia being one of the last social laws powerful enough to prevent two willing persons from loving each other. This sublimation of the paedophile relationship manages to escape complacency since David Harrower does not elude the traumatizing aspect of this experience: love is intertwined with guilt, rancour and shame for both characters. However, surprisingly enough it is the disclosure of their relationship and the public exposure of their intimate crime which is the most painful to recall, even for the victim. I particularly enjoyed this very subtle depiction of a love which clashes with the laws of society but also with the laws of nature since Una has not started having periods yet. Therefore, we as readers keep wondering to what extent Ray and Una's relationship has to be considered as criminal. The whole play hinges on this unsettling question. As a result, the reader/spectactor oscillates between condemning Ray and sympathising with the characters whose passion has been crushed by ethical laws dodging to face the true nature of their love. Besides, it must be said that their relationship defies definition: the reader is on uncertain ground since the connection between Una and Ray is unsettled. What we could call the cycle of re-discovery at the very beginning is followed by the cycle of hatred which is itself outshone by the renewal of their former love. The playwright dramatizes this evolution in their relationship: as Una and Ray unfold the stream of their memories, their language develops, the cues grew less disjointed, unfinished sentences and stichomythias are replaced by ample speech in which the characters open their hearts to one another. After a furtive kiss, Ray exits the stage following another twelve-year-old girl (his new wife's daughter) leaving the reader with a strong feeling of unease, wondering whether he will perpetrate his crime on this newcomer?

Valentine Vasak

David Harrower, Blackbird. Faber & Faber, 2006


Pour citer cette ressource :

Valentine Vasak, "Fiche de lecture : «Blackbird», David Harrower", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mai 2008. Consulté le 17/06/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-britannique/fiche-de-lecture-blackbird-david-harrower