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Human Voice


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A: Jean Cocteau Pf: 1930, Paris Pb: 1930 Tr: 1951 G: Monodrama in 1 act; French prose S: Young woman's bedroom, Paris, c.1930 C: 1fThe curtain goes up on what appears to be the corpse of a woman. However, she gets up and is just leaving the room when the phone goes. It is late evening. The caller is her lover, a lawyer, who after they have been together for five years has left her for another woman. She describes her day shopping, having dinner with a friend, and pretends to be coping well with their separation. She arranges for him to collect his love letters to her, although she would like to hand them over personally. She also asks him to take away the dog they bought together. At one point, his voice fades: ‘It's like being dead. You can hear but you can't make yourself heard.’ When they are cut off, she phones his home, but reaches only his manservant. When her ex-lover rings back, her brave front has gone, and she admits with tears that she has not left her apartment because she has been waiting for him to phone. She took an overdose of sleeping pills the night before but phoned her friend who brought a doctor. She begs him to stay on the line: ‘This wire, it's the last thing that still connects me to us.’ She fears that he may be with his new woman. He appears to hang up, and she becomes almost hysterical. He phones back and she soon lets him go, uttering her love for him, as she winds the flex tight round her neck, and the receiver drops from her hand.

A: Jean Cocteau Pf: 1930, Paris Pb: 1930 Tr: 1951 G: Monodrama in 1 act; French prose S: Young woman's bedroom, Paris, c.1930 C: 1f

In this painful analysis of a woman coping with being abandoned by a treacherous lover, Cocteau describes ‘the solitude to which we are condemned by a universe where tears continually triumph over laughter’, and in which ‘the telephone is sometimes more dangerous than a revolver’. This mini-tragedy was made into an opera by Poulenc in 1959.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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