Dr Francesca Coppa is a noted Orton Academic, Associate Professor of English
at Muhlenberg College and author of
'Joe Orton: A Casebook' published by Routledge 2003

Francesca has edited Orton and Halliwell's early works, including Fred and Madge, The Visitors, The Boy Hairdresser and Between Us Girls.



I realized just the other day that 2007 marks my twentieth year writing about Orton: Joe Orton is one of those writers who inspires that kind of loyalty in critics and audiences alike. I did my first scholarly work on Orton in 1987, when I was a student at Columbia University. In the twenty years since, I've written many hundreds of thousands of words, and I've also edited several editions of his plays and novels and put together the only extant collection of critical essays, Joe Orton: A Casebook. (2003)

I can't put my finger on what I've found so endlessly fascinating about him, though I know that his works have challenged and delighted me more than almost any other art I could name. George Bernard Shaw once theorized that a play is a kind of war between the artist and the critic: if the artist is successful, the critic's analytical brain shuts down, otherwise the critic triumphs over the artist. I know that when I first encountered Orton's works I was absolutely incapacitated by them: they made me laugh, and they were also deeply satisfying in some way I couldn't name. So I suppose I've spent all this time trying to name all the various pleasures of the Ortonesque: the perfection of his word choice, his almost-tangible glee at his own inventiveness, the dead-on rightness of his social anger, his confident assertion of sexual desire. The Orton Diaries are a comic masterpiece, and alone would have cemented Orton's reputation as a writer. A critic could spend years cataloguing these many forms of bliss, and Orton is the kind of writer who inspires this sort of happy scholarly obsession.

And if this weren't enough, the great majority of Orton's works were written during a period of tremendous excitement and fast-moving social change: 1963 -1967. If you were somehow immune to Orton's texts, it's almost impossible to ignore the significance of Orton's contexts. Orton's life with its many contradictions - he was young, working-class, intellectual, homosexual, and 'macho' all at the same time - make him an almost irresistible symbol. We can try to ignore Orton the man, but he just smirks back at us, both begging to be interpreted and resisting all our easy labels and categories.

As a scholar who is interested in the way communities form around literary and theatrical works, I want to suggest that this web site you're on - right now! Hi there! Hello! - is an important and continuing part of Orton's legacy. Orton's been dead for forty years, and yet he can still draw an audience with ease. Few writers have this sort of commanding grassroots power: Byron does, and Austen, and Wilde. Joe Orton has this power too: he still speaks to us and brings us together.

Image © Francesca Coppa   Text © Francesca Coppa  

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