The Dog Beneath the Skin (update, additional notes)

In this update of my earlier post I will highlight a few elements of the play that I found remarkable, or that struck my attention. Also here there will be very little analysis of what Auden (and Isherwood) could have meant with this play; that will be dealt with later. This also means that in this post you will mainly find questions to which I still have to search for an answer (either by reading the text more closely, or by studying secondary literature).

First of all I noticed that several times women are portrayed as being less than men. They are the lesser sex and their opinion is less important. Now, here I did not know whether this could be seen as normal in the times the play was written (1935) or whether Auden might believe this be true. Women’s rights movements were already active at the time (and well before), but whether, in practice, the position of the woman was already changing at that time is rather unknown to me and deserves some more research before I can accuse Auden of anything.

In the play Germany, and the Germans are said (by only one character) to be evil. It must be said that Francis in the end shows that this woman, Mildred Luce, is actually lying when she is saying that the Germans killed her sons in the war. The reason why I found this ‘hate’ against the Germans remarkable is because this play was written before the second world war; in a time in which the Nazis had just taken over control in Germany. I must say that it seems unlikely that Auden wanted to make a reference to Nazi Germany here. First of all, the reference to the Germans/Germany as bad as small and not emphasized in the play. Second, I just learned during today’s seminar that Franklin D. Roosevelt only (officially) started seeing Germany as an enemy in 1937, which might indicate that there was not yet a worldwide understanding of the horrors of the Nazi regime at the time Auden wrote this play.

When Alan goes to Europe some countries are mentioned, but the ones he visits are Ostnia and Westland. I am still puzzling to find out what these countries could mean, and where they could be. Where this play written after WWII it could refer to the both sides of the iron curtain, but it is not…

This separation between Ostnia and Westland, perhaps big states, also sort of reminded me of Orwell’s 1984 in which there are only 3 countries left in the world. But the link to Orwell does not stop there. Act II scene 1 has a very clear link with 1984 (as I already mentioned in a comment to Ranjit’s post ‘Auden and Science Fiction’). In this act we visit an institution for mentally ill people (lunatics). These people are controlled via a picture of the ‘leader’ that can speak to them via a speaker that is built-in (like the screens in 1984). Also, the lunatics are afraid to talk because they think somebody is watching them all the time (again the screens in 1984 and ideas like the ‘thought police’). What I found most remarkable in this instance though is that The Dog Beneath the Skin was written in 1935, so 14 years before Orwell wrote 1984; it might thus be the case that Orwell was influenced by Auden as well.

Also in this play Auden is not always in favour of technology. At some points the characters want machines to disappear. As I am now writing this I don’t have the original text with me so I can’t look back the exact reference, but one of the things Francis explains the villagers after he has revealed himself is that technology is not a good thing. It interferes with people’s lives, and people fear it.

Also in Francis’s revelation at the end of the play he rebels and a way against the church, but, as we have seen from Auden so often by now, he asks for a love of ones neighbours (here he also seems to include Germans). He hates the social system in which love is controlled by money (since Auden wrote this in the early days of his career this may not surprise us for we know that at that point of his live he had great sympathy for Marxism).

I final point worth mentioning here is that the journalists claim that if they don’t pay attention to what has happened in the village, it actually never did happen. Auden seems to say that if the press does not spread something out; it is not interesting enough and therefore just as well can be ignored. I think various interpretations of the ideas expressed here are possible and I am curious to read some more secondary literature on this to find out how to look at this idea.

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