Myers Literary Guide:
The North-East


Few ordinary men have been twice immortalised in literature. It seems that in Zurich in 1918, James Joyce had been looking for an actor to play Algy in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Henry Carr, after being badly wounded with the Canadian Black Watch on the western Front, was working in the British Consulate at the time. He took the part, scoring a minor triumph. Carr had supplied his own trousers, gloves and hat, and took offence over payment. The matter went to the courts, Carr suing Joyce over the cost of the trousers etc., Joyce counter-claiming over some tickets. In Ulysses, one of the most celebrated novels of the century, Joyce took revenge on Carr, giving him an unflattering role as an army private.

Tom Stoppard, who knew of this ludicrous episode only through Richard Ellmann's great biography of Joyce, made use of it in his brilliant play Travesties, which features as its hero a John Cleese-like diplomat called Henry Carr. Other characters include Lenin and James Joyce himself. Stoppard makes Carr into a splendid figure of fun, as Wilde's play and the theme of trousers keep winding in and out of the dialogue. He was greatly surprised therefore, after Travesties had opened in London in June 1974, to receive a letter from the second Mrs Carr, informing him that her husband had been born in Sunderland, one of four sons, and brought up in County Durham until the age of 17, when he went to Canada.

Return to Index
On to next Author