In her biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, Nicola Beauman posits that two works influenced Elizabeth Taylor’s novel A Game of Hide and Seek.
These are Chekov’s story, “The Lady with the Dog” (1899) and David Lean’s film “Brief Encounter” (1945).
If you haven’t read/finished A Game of Hide and Seek, you might rather not read on, as the parallels discussed between these works will reveal some general aspects of the plot of the novel.
(And, next week’s chatter will include some overt plot spoilers, but it can’t be helped, for this is an ending that every reader wants to discuss.)
But, first, what of the Chekov story? Beauman writes: “A Game of Hide and Seek is Elizabeth’s hommage (conscious or, more probably, unconscious) to “The Lady with the Dog”.
At the beginning of this short story (available here to read online), readers might wonder at the comparison.
A newcomer has been seen on the Crimean promenade, a lady with a white Pomeranian.
(Well, Harriet has no dog and, if she did, I suspect she would have a larger, darker, family-friendly sort. Now there’s a question for the wanna-be casters, which pooch would you cast in the film version of A Game of Hide and Seek?)
The connection between this newcomer, Anna, and Dmitri Gurov is intensely romantic. In only a few pages, readers can recognize what Elizabeth Taylor might have warmed to in this story.
“And Gurov, standing alone on the [train] platform and gazing into the dark distance, listened to the shrilling of the grasshoppers and the humming of the telegraph wires, with a feeling that he had only just awakened.”
“‘I’ve been so unhappy,’ she continued, taking no notice of his words. ‘I could think of nothing but you the whole time, I lived on the thoughts of you. I tried to forget — why, oh, why did you come?’”
Love in later life:
“And only now, when he was gray-haired, had he fallen in love properly, thoroughly, for the first time in his life.”
“And, owing to some strange, possibly quite accidental chain of circumstances, everything that was important, interesting, essential, everything about which he was sincere and never deceived himself, everything that composed the kernel of his life, went on in secret, while everything that was false in him, everything that composed the husk in which he hid himself and the truth which was in him — his work at the bank, discussions at the club, his ‘lower race’, his attendance at anniversary celebrations with his wife — was on the surface.”
It’s equally easy to imagine David Lean and Noel Coward (director and playwright, respectively) being influenced by Chekov’s story.
The image of Dmitri standing on the train platform is echoed in “Brief Encounter”, although the sounds of the city surround the players in this scene.
Laura Jesson meets Dr Alec Harvey in the refreshment room of the train station. (These scenes in the film were actually shot in Carnforth railway station in Lancashire, far enough north to avoid the blackouts of early 1945.)
Laura is having an ordinary Thursday, but she has gotten a speck of coal dust in her eye; she asks for the assistance of the counter-help, but the kind doctor offers his professional assistance instead. And, just a few weeks later…
“I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people. It all started on an ordinary day in the most ordinary place in the world….”
Laura tells the audience this in a voice-over (actress Celia Johnson), thinking back, but not in a contented, dreamy way, but as she imagines confessing it to her husband, who is seated nearby, doing a crossword.
“We are a happily married couple. I must never forget that. This is my home. You are my husband. And my children are upstairs in bed. I am a happily married woman.”
She is evidently seeking to convince herself, struggling with the fact that she is obviously desperately unhappy, though she is ostensibly happily married.
And this is nothing new, for she has tried to convince herself that her relationship with Alec is foolishness many times before.
He asks, in one scene, “How often did you decide that you were never going to see me again?” And she answers, ”Several times a day….” And he, too, has had these inward conversations as well.
“I don’t want to pretend anything, either to you or to anyone else. But from now on I shall have to. That’s what’s wrong. Don’t you see? That’s what spoils everything. That’s why we must stop here and now, talking like this. We’re neither of us free to love each other. There’s too much in the way.”
It’s easy to pull out passages from A Game of Hide and Seek that echo the quotes included here from both the Chekov story and the David Lean film. (Anyone care to play?)
Readers and viewers can readily catch glimpses of Harriet and Vesey (and Charles) in these other stories. (And readers of The Other Elizabeth Taylor can pull out passages from the biography that echo other aspects of Elizabeth Taylor’s experience as well.)
For those who are looking to extend their A Game of Hide and Seek reading experience, this story and this film make for lovely companions.
And isn’t it especially ironic that, in the film, when Laura switches her library book at Boots, the librarian had saved the new Kate O’Brien for her under the counter for two days. And there’s Kate O’Brien, a member of what Robert Liddell referred to as the Lady Novelists Anti-Elizabeth League for her attacks on Elizabeth Taylor’s writing.)
Has anyone else read this story or seen this classic film?