To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
Like Michael Maccoby I found T. S. Eliot's The Confidential Clerk an engrossing puzzle. I am not writing to supply the Greek myth Mr. Maccoby could not find, but rather to mention one or two things concerning the play which supplement the interpretation he gave.
A cocktail party is an unlikely place to look for spirituality. Yet Eliot's Cock tall Party was a veritable Communion of Saints. His apparently vapid men and flighty women all proved to be in quest of a kind of ideal love. Those with a low spiritual potential learned resignation to their far-from-ideal human loves, while Celia, who was more gifted, saved her life by losing it. In finding saints at cocktail parties Eliot is perfectly in line with primitive Christianity which teaches that the truly good man will not be recognized by any visible piety. Christ's own unorthodoxy made him as unlikely a Messiah as Harcourt-Reilly is an angel.
In The Confidential Clerk Eliot again presents what looks like a group of very worldly people. In the first act he encourages us to assimilate them to familiar theatrical types. Lucasta Angel is a rather spoiled and forward young woman. B. Kaghan is a flashy sort of practical joker who is amusingly disrespectful concerning Lady Elizabeth, the absent-minded dowager who dabbles in spiritualism. After the first act there was much disappointed all in the lobby about the predictable lines, tired characterizations, and old fashioned exposition. In the second act our conceptions of these characters are wrenched out of shape. In response to Simpkins, the spiritual figure set in their midst, everyone begins saying and doing unexpected things. Lucasta knows about her social facade and hates it. Lady Elizabeth talks seriously and movingly of God; B. Kaghan and Simpkins prove to be mutually sympathetic. Because the author is Eliot we trust that these changes are not a consequence of inept psychology and undertake to alter our conceptions so as to incorporate the new information. If we remain sensitive to the evidence, we must continue to restructure the play throughout the evening and find ourselves at the end with some pieces that still do not fit. Along the way we will have entertained a number of interesting and mutually reinforcing interpretations including Mr. Maccoby's Christian parallels.
The Confidential Clerk pretends to be a play about foundlings. The third act resolution involves a "gnus" who mixed the babies up even as in the play of W. S. Gilbert. All of this concern with biological parentage is a first level rendering of the author's genuine concern with Identity. The people on the stage are trying to identify themselves, but it is a sense of identity to which biological parentage is more or less irrelevant. When the movies want to convince their audience that a great musician is performing, they typically provide a close-up shot of swiftly flying fingers. The manifest problem of parentage bears the same relation to Eliot's concern with psychological or religious identity that agile fingers have to great musical ability. It is kind of mass symbol for the real thing. As members of the audience we waste our time if we try to puzzle out the kinship system in the play. We are meant, as someone says in the play, to understand ourselves a little better in the effort to understand others. The active member of the audience participates in the business of the play. Roger W. Brown Tutor in Social Relations