"Oh the garden of Eden has vanished they say.
But I know the lie of it still." -McCann, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Dear Reader of nostalgia and of youth, Pinter shares your sensibility. We have been talking about 'lost Edens'. The phrase is coined by our fearless leader, Richard. Nearly every character in BIRTHDAY PARTY talks glowingly about a time or facet of their past. Shocking nostalgia, I think, for such a young playwright. But memory- altered, forgotten, cherished, destroyed, seems to play a role in all of Pinter's plays. 'Their structures are fractured' says Richard, 'but then, so are our own.' Let's see what we can make of these characters' past Edens...
Goldberg seems by far the most fulsome.
GOLDBERG: When I was an apprentice yet, McCann, every second Friday of the month my Uncle Barney used to take me to the seaside, regular as clockwork. Brighton, Canvey Island, Rottingdean- Uncle Barney wasn't particular. After lunch on Shabbus we'd go and sit in a couple of deck chairs- you know, the ones with canopies- we'd have a little paddle, we'd watch the tide coming in, going out, the sun coming down- golden days, believe me, McCann.
GOLDBERG: I was telling Mr Boles about my old mum. What days. Yes. When I was a youngster, of a Friday, I used to go for a walk down the canal with a girl who lived down my road. A beautiful girl. What a voice that bird had! A nightingale, my word of honor. Good? Pure? She wasn't a Sunday school teacher for nothing. Anyway, I'd leave her with a little kiss on the cheek- I never took liberties- we weren't like the young men these days in those days. We knew the meaning of respect. So I'd give her a peck and I'd bowl back home. Humming away I'd be, past the children's playground. I'd tip my hat to the toddlers, I'd give a helping hand to a couple of stray dogs, everything came natural. I can see it like yesterday. The sun falling behind the dog stadium. Ah!
(At this poing McCann chimes is "Like behind the town hall", which is also a dear reminicence. To which Goldberg eventually states, "There's no comparison", which seems a jealous dismission, no? Goldberg goes on, and on, and on about his "golden days". "Childhood. Hot water bottles. Hot milk. Pancakes. Soap suds. What a life." Goldberg even warmly eulogizes the memory of his wife's funeral!
Curious to me that the man who has, by far, the most power in this room should live so deeply in an innocent past. Why is that, do you think?
I venture that the second most reminicent is Stanley. (I'd also add, that I very much question the veracity of all statements.) But regardless of truth...)
STANLEY: I once gave a concert... Yes. It was a good one too. They were all there that night. Every single one of them. It was a great success. Yes. A concert. At Lower Edmonton... I had a unique touch. Absolutely unique. They came up to me and said they were grateful. Champagne we had that night, the lot....
(And then we spin to a much darker conclusion. Again, which may or may not be true. But I should also add that soon before events change dramatically for Stanley, he has the line, "You can only appreciate what you've had when things change. That's what they say, isn't it?" Curious.
I should say a word or two now about ALCOHOL. There's a lot of booze in Pinter. In BIRTHDAY PARTY there's "enough to scuttle a liner!" Four bottles of Scotch, and one of Irish. Drinking seems to be a mighty equalizer in Pinter. And a cause, often, a provoker of maudelin affections. That is certainly the case in this play. When all the characters are drinking at the party, each one of them shares a lost Eden. Meg and McCann share third place, I'd say in reminicences.)
MCCANN: I know a place. Roscrea. Mother Nolan's.
MEG: There was a nightlight in my room, when I was a little girl.
MCCANN: One time I stayed there all night with the boys. Singing and drinking all night.
MEG: And my Nanny used to sit up with me, and sing songs to me.
MCCANN: And a plate of fry in the morning. Now where am I?
MEG: My little room was pink. I had a pink carpet and pink curtains, and I had music boxes all over the room. And they played me to sleep. And my father was a very big doctor. That's why I never had any complaints. I was cared for, and I had little sisters and brothers in other rooms, all different colors.
MCCANN: Tullamore, where are you?
MEG: Give us a drop more.
(Lulu has a more quietly referenced Eden I'd infer from these lines scattered thoughout the play, "You're the dead image of the first man I ever loved.", "...What would Eddie say?" "He was my first love, Eddie was. And whatever happened, it was pure. With him!"
Petey alone, it seems, has none. Or at least shares none.
I put all this to you, not because I have drawn any breath-taking conclusions; but that you might possibly draw your own. Do these memories serve to make the present all the shabbier, the more unsheltered? Do they serve to show these disparate characters allied in their lies, truths, triumphs and regrets? They present all that we know of these characters pasts. And with all their contradictions or pure unfoundedness, what can we actually know about any of them? For that matter, what can we really know about ANYONE?