The Uncommon Reader
Written by Alan Bennett
The factor found to be missing from this novella was time. It was a major issue because through out the novella, we don’t know what era the story is set in. What year and period it is set in. At first the reader thinks it was set in historical times because the first few chapters indicate such a thing. Through the course of further chapters, the language spoken between the characters seemed very modern which confuses the reader. The story seemed somehow flat because of this issue. The story is moving forward with no imagination built up in the reader’s mind. In short, the reader cannot picture the story and make it alive in his mind.
At times, the reader thinks the story is set in historic times and there are moments when it seems modern. Important factors like dresses, hairdo’s and infrastructure are very important when imagining a story. When time changes, things change too. There are many symbols in the novella which suggests different perceptions. The Queen and her staff talk about literature and films released in the 1980s etc. However, there is no specific year told in the story so therefore the reader has trouble picturing it, the Queen and the other characters as well. This is found to be very upsetting.
Another major missing factor is the Queen’s personality. Alan Bennett characterized the Queen in a very biased manner. The reader doesn’t know the real person behind the crown. Thoughts, emotions also were found to be lacking. It would have been better if the author had given both sides to her personality like thrown some light on her background and past. Throughout the novella, we see the Queen talk about literature, discussing books, movies and reading all the time. This seemed extremely monotonous at times and it was utterly difficult for the reader to continue on with the story.
Elizabeth was just 12-years-old, when she came across a book. All through her childhood, she had been taught to appear poised and graceful in the eyes of the world. Born into the Royal Family, she had to uphold her behavior and act majestic. She was told again and again that she was different than others, more superior, more special, her life holding more meaning than the rest. Even at 12, she was treated and forced to act like an adult.
However, Elizabeth was a very imaginative child who wished to attend school like every girl her age. She knew that was impossible, so played pretend. Her father had hired Europe’s best tutors to come at the Palace, teaching her arithmetic and language when she really wanted to curl up on the sofa with a book. Her parents had forbidden that, fearing Elizabeth would lose attention to her duties as a princess.
Despite their disapproval, she sneaked into a library at the annual ball. She was supposed to escort the Indian princess, and since they hadn’t arrived she thought she might as well take a little peek in the library. Her parents would be furious if they found out, she thought. She promised herself she’ll just take a glimpse and she’ll return to her family. She picked a fat, leather-bound book and sat on the chair next to the fireplace, inhaling the deep scent of firewood and old, rusty paper. She opened the first page, and read the title; Alice in Wonderland was written in swirls. Oh, so this is the book Cook’s daughter was telling me about, she thought. She read half the book with a smile on her face. Elizabeth had never felt such joy, such glee. Soon, she found herself immersed in the story. She was running around with Alice and drinking tea with the Mad Hatter. So caught up in the book was she that she didn’t hear footsteps behind her. Her father stood with his arms crossed and feet apart. He looked like a fierce warrior. He cleared his throat and Elizabeth’s little head spun around fast.
“Father,” she began as she stood up, the book clutched to her heart, “I can explain.”
Her father stood there without a word. His eyes did all the scolding. Elizabeth, with a heavy heart, placed the book on the table and bowed her head down. It seemed as if years had passed, standing there facing him. Elizabeth felt ashamed. She had never disobeyed him.
“You were away for thirty minutes,” he said in a commanding tone, “You disobeyed me.”
“Yes, father,” she replied meeting his eyes, “I was reading, father. I’ve found such joy in-”
“Enough!” he said fiercely and Elizabeth’s eyes lost the sparkle they held a few minutes ago. She bowed her head down again.
“The Indian princess arrived twenty minutes ago.”
He looked at his daughter’s bowed head, and lashed out again.
“You dishonored us by not standing beside the family.”
Elizabeth clasped her hands together.
“You disobeyed my authority and forgot your duty.” He said accusingly.
“I’m sorry, father.” Elizabeth felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
“You will not do that again,” he commanded, “You will not disobey me again.”
“Yes, father,” she spoke, her voice small. She blinked the tears away.
“Come along.” He ordered, “We are waiting.”
Just like she was always taught, Elizabeth straightened her back and stiffed her upper lip. Holding her head high, she followed her father out of the library and that was the last time she ever laid her eyes on a book.