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The Dwarfs

The Dwarfs

by Harold Pinter

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“A fascinating work . . . possessing extraordinary power. Masterful.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Brilliant, cranky, and eccentric, and the narrative passages are some of the most thrilling ever written.” —Library Journal

“Some of the author’s most enduring themes—notably, sexual jealousy and betrayal—are


“A fascinating work . . . possessing extraordinary power. Masterful.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Brilliant, cranky, and eccentric, and the narrative passages are some of the most thrilling ever written.” —Library Journal

“Some of the author’s most enduring themes—notably, sexual jealousy and betrayal—are present. . . . The narration shows traces of writers as various as Joyce and Beckett, e.e. cummings and J.P. Donleavy.” —The Washington Post

“The Abbott and Costello meet Samuel Beckett dialogue . . . makes you laugh out loud.” —The Village Voice

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
British playwright Pinter's semi-absurdist novel of stunted lives in 1950s London is a story of friendship, love and betrayal. As in his plays, the characters often talk past one another into an existential void. The precarious equilibrium of a trio of male friends is disrupted when one of them, Pete, falls in love with Virginia. He puts her on a pedestal or, alternately, treats her as a slut or boyish pal. Advising him are Mark, a frustrated actor who blithely accepts that ``everything's a calamity,'' and Len, who escapes his dull job in a train station through abstract mathematics and playing violin to his cat. Written in the early 1950s, Pinter's only novel was the genesis for his play of the same title; revised in 1989, the work is being published for the first time (had it been issued earlier, it would not have made his reputation). As the foursome oscillates between mistrust and communion, the dialogue veers from minimalist chatter to booming Shakespearean eloquence, with an occasional glowing line and lambent lyricism relieving long stretches of soul-searching angst. (Nov.)
Library Journal
This is a novel clearly poised on the edge of drama. It is Pinter's only novel, written in the early Fifties just before he began writing the plays for which he is so well known. (This novel was, in fact, turned into a play that was first produced in 1960.) It is a fascinating text, revolving around the lives and worries of its three main characters, and operates as a kind of study of Pinter from his own hand, as true and accurate a chronicle of his development and method as any biography could be. It is sometimes difficult to follow because it is so very ``play-like,'' not always cluing the reader in to who's talking to whom, who's responding, etc. Yet the dialog is brilliant, cranky, and eccentric, and the narrative passages are some of the most thrillingly imaginative ever written.-- Jessica Grim, Univ. of California at Berkeley Lib.

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Pinter, Harold Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.47(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.51(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Dwarfs

A Novel


Copyright © 1990 Harold Pinter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-3266-9

Chapter One

Just before midnight they went to the flat. It was dark and the blinds were down. Len unlocked the front door and pushed it open. A pile of letters lay on the mat. He picked them up and put them on the hall table. They walked down the stairs. Pete opened the living-room window and took a packet of tea from his pocket. He went into the kitchen and filled the kettle.

Len adjusted his glasses and followed. From his inside pocket he drew out a recorder. He blew into it, held it up to the light and put it to his mouth. Bending, he shook it violently and polished it on his trousers, rose, seized a stiff dishcloth from the towelrack and wiped his fingers. He then wiped the recorder, twiddled it between his fingers, put it to his mouth, set his fingers on the holes and blew. There was no sound.

- Don't overdo it.

Len tapped the recorder on his head.

- What's the matter with it? he said.

The rain fell on the kitchen roof. Pete waited for the kettle to boil, poured water into the teapot and took it into the living room, where he set two cups on the table. By the fireplace stood two armchairs, facing. He sat down in one of them and lit a cigarette.

- There's something wrong with this recorder, Len said.

- Let's have some tea.

- I can't do a thing with it.

Len poured the tea and slapped his pockets.

- Where's the milk? he asked.

- Youwere going to bring it.

- That's right.

- Well, where is it?

- I forgot it. Why didn't you remind me?

- Give me the cup.

- What do we do now?

- Give me the tea.

- Without milk?

- Come on.

- Without any milk?

- There isn't any milk.

- What about sugar? Len asked, passing the cup.

- You were going to bring it.

- Why didn't you remind me?

Pete looked about the room.

- Well, he said, everything looks in good order.

- Hasn't he got any?

- Any what?

- Sugar.

- I couldn't find any.

- It's like the workhouse here.

From a hook by the fireplace Pete lifted a toasting fork with a monkey's head and examined it.

- This is interesting.

- That? Len said. Haven't you ever seen that before? It's Portuguese. Everything in this house is Portuguese.

- Why's that?

- That's where he comes from.

- So he does.

- Or at least, his grandfather on his mother's side.

Pete slipped the fork back on the hook.

- Well, well.

- Or his grandmother on his father's side.

The hall clock chimed. They listened.

- What time is he coming?

- About half-past one.

- Well, what about a shot of air?

- Air? Len said.

- What's the matter with that thing?

- There's nothing wrong with it. It's the best on the market. But it must be broken. It's a year since I played it.

Pete stood up, yawned, and strolled to the bookshelf. The books, closely stacked, were covered in dust. On the bottom shelf he found a Bible. He looked at the inscription.

- I gave him this, years ago, he said.

- What?

- This Bible.

- What for?

Pete pushed the book back and brushed his fingers.

- This tea's murder on the liver, Len said.

- Well, what about it?

- What about what?

- A shot of air.

- Not me.

- Why not?

- It's raining.

- Listen, Pete said.

- I can't hear a thing.

- The rain's stopped.

- How do you know?

- Can you hear it?

- No.

- You can't hear it because it's stopped.

- Anyway, Len said, the rain's got nothing to do with it.

- Have mercy.

- No, I know where you'll drag me.

- Where?

- Over the Lea.

- Well?

- You don't know what it's like there at night.

- Don't I?

- All right, you do know. You may know. But you're prepared to go over there again at night. I'm not.

- Do you know, Pete said, I think it's about time you bucked your ideas up. You're at death's door.

He sat down. Len took out a handkerchief and wiped his glasses, smiling. He then placed his glasses on the table, stood up, sneezed twice and shook his head.

- I've got the most shocking blasted cold I've ever had in all my life.

He blew his nose.

- Still, it's not much of a nuisance, really.

Pete sat looking at the sooted newspaper in the fireplace, tapping his foot on the hearth.

- Here, Len said, shall I go and get my fiddle and play you a few titbits while you're in the mood? I've got a piece of Alban Berg up my sleeve would make you see stars.

- Has he ever written to you in red ink? Pete asked.

- Eh?

- Red ink. There's a bottle on the bookshelf.

- Of course he has. What about it? Has he ever written to you in red ink?

- No.

Len sneezed and blew his nose. The rain began to fall again, beating on the window. Leaning across the table, he pressed his nose to the pane.

- It's dark.

- Take some friar's balsam, Pete said.

- Why? Have you ever written to him in red ink?

Pete took his cup into the kitchen and rinsed it out. He returned to the living room to find Len, eyes screwed, holding his glasses at arm's length before him.

- It's still there.

- What now?

- You don't know what you're missing by not wearing glasses.

- What am I missing? Pete asked, pouring tea into his cup.

- I'll tell you. You see, there's always a point of light in the centre of the lens, in the centre of your sight. You can't go wrong. You can't miss your step. There's always, even in the darkest night, a pinch, a fragment of light, poised in front of you. Look here, there are some people, you know as well as I do, who go around with a continual crease in their forehead. When, at times, they manage to eliminate that crease, the world's right, they'd invest in anything. Well, all right, I'm not saying I have the same outlook, just because there are times I realize this square of light exists. Nowhere near the same outlook. But all I'll say is this. What this point of light does, it indicates the angle of your orbit. There's no need to look at me like that. You don't understand. It gives you a sense of direction, even if you never move from the one spot.

- Do I have to go down on my bended knees?

- I'm giving you a hot tip.

- Just answer one question, Pete said. Don't you go around yourself with a continual crease in your forehead?

- Exactly. Precisely. That's why I know what I'm talking about.

The hall clock struck one. Len slipped on his glasses and sat still.

- Ten to one he'll be hungry.

- Why?

- I'll lay odds.

Pete closed his eyes and lay back.

- He can eat like a bullock, that bloke, Len said.

He turned the recorder in his hands.

- I've seen him finish off a loaf of bread before I'd got my jacket off.

He put the recorder to his left eye and looked into it.

- He'd never leave a breadcrumb on a plate in the old days.

Pete opened his eyes, lit a match and watched it burn.

- Of course he may have changed, Len said, standing up and moving about the room. Things do change. But I'm the same. Do you know I had five solid square meals one day last week. At eleven o'clock, two o'clock, six o'clock, ten o'clock and one o'clock. Not bad going. Work makes me hungry. I was working that day.

He leaned against the cupboard and yawned.

- I'm always starving when I get up. Daylight has a funny effect on me. As for the night, that goes without saying. As far as I'm concerned the only thing you can do in the night is eat. It keeps me fit, especially if I'm at home. I have to run downstairs to put the kettle on, run upstairs to finish what I'm doing, run downstairs to cut a sandwich or arrange a salad, run upstairs to finish what I'm doing, run back downstairs to see to the sausages, if I'm having sausages, run back upstairs to finish what I'm doing, run back downstairs to lay the table, run back upstairs to finish what I'm doing, run back -

- Yes!

- Where did you get those shoes?

- What?

- Those shoes. How long have you had them?

- Why, what's the matter with them?

- I'm losing my grip. Have you been wearing them all night?

- No, Pete said. I walked from Bethnal Green in my naked feet.

- I must be losing my grip.

He sat at the table and shook his head.

- When did you last sleep? Pete asked.

- Sleep? Don't make me laugh. All I do is sleep.

- What about work? How's work?

- Euston? An oven. It's an oven. Still, bad air is better than no air, I suppose. It's best on nightshift. The trains come in, I give a bloke half a dollar, he does my job, I curl up in a corner and read the timetables. The canteen's always open. If I was there tonight they'd give me a cup of tea with as much milk and sugar as I wanted, I can tell you that.

Pete stood up and stretched, pressing his hand against the wall.

- You could do with a bit more weight, Len said. You're made of bone.

- He'll be here in a minute.

- Have you looked at your cheekbones lately? They're coming through your skin.

- What about it? Pete said, peering out of the window.

Len took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

- I think I'm undergoing a change, he said.

- Are you?

- I feel it. I feel I'm undergoing a change.

Pete collected the teapot and cups and took them into the kitchen, where he put the kettle on the gas.

- What's going on? asked Len, in the doorway.

- He'll want a beverage.

- Black tea? You're mad. You can't welcome a man back to his own home with a cup of black tea.

- Collect your thoughts, Pete said. What did you tell me he wrote to you in his letter?

- He said go to the flat and put the kettle on.

- For tea?

- For tea.

- That's exactly what I'm doing, Pete said. In fact, I'm interpreting his words in their strictest sense. He's going to get tea. Black tea. Pure tea. At one and nine a quarter.

The bell rang.

- That's the man, Pete said. Open the door.

Chapter Two

- Did you sleep?

- I slept all day, Mark said.

- Come in.

Len closed the door. They walked down the stairs into the kitchen.

- What do you think of my kitchen? Has it changed?

Mark took a comb from his pocket and combed his hair.

- It remains a kitchen of the highest possible class, he said.

- Look here, Mark, Len said, I'm glad you had a good sleep. Listen. What do you think of this book? I want you to have a sniff at it. You've never seen anything like it. I can guarantee that.

Mark put his comb in his pocket and looked at the title.

- Reimman's Theory of Integrals. What are you trying to do, lead me into temptation?

- Why don't you read it? Len said. It's right up your street.

- Next Tuesday a fortnight, Mark said, you can start me on a course.

- You're missing the opportunity of a lifetime.

- Mathematics, chess and ballet dancing. You've got to start at the age of twelve, eleven.

- You don't know what you're talking about.

- Even before.

- Listen, Len said. All last night I was working at mechanics and determinants. There's nothing like a bit of calculus to cheer you up. Can't you see? It's dead. It can't eat you. The mind jumps over the gate and walks in air.

- No?

- I'm telling you, I tell you. It's the only time I feel that I'm anything like an eachway bet.

- What's this? Mark said, lifting a piece of paper from between the pages.

- What is it?

- It's one of your poems.

Len snatched it, read it quickly and crumpled it into his pocket.

- What's the matter? said Mark. Let me have a look at it.

- It's gibberish, Len said. There's no point. It's leprous.

He took it out of his pocket and stuffed it into the bin under the sink.

- It's out of the question.

- I believe you.

Len frowned, rasped, and did up his shirtsleeves.

- What about Pete? Mark said. Has he been writing anything lately?

- I don't know. How would I know? It's not my business. But he's got other kettles on the boil. That I do know.

- Has he?

- Yes.

- I wonder that they are.

- You're entitled to wonder.

Mark smiled, and looked about him at the bare kitchen. The ceiling was low. The dresser, chairs and table were plain, of a light coloured wood. By the wall, the boiler bulged. It was a square room. A small window looked out on to the yard.

- The rooms, he said, we live in.

- Don't tell me, don't mention it, said Len.

His wrists jerked, gesturing. He shook his head and clicked his teeth.

- The rooms we live in open and shut.

From under the table he grated a chair, began to sit, shoved the chair back and moved to rap the wall.

- They change shape at their own will, he said. I would have no quarrel, I wouldn't grumble, you see, if these rooms would remain the same, would keep to some consistency. But they don't. And I can't see the boundaries, the limits, which I've been led to believe are natural. That's the trouble. I'm all for the natural behaviour of rooms, doors, staircases, the lot. But I can't rely on them. When, for example, I look through a train window, at night, and see the yellow lights, very clearly, I see what they are, and I see that they're still. But they're only still because I'm moving. I know that they do move along with me, and when we go round a bend, they bump off. But I know that they are still, just the same. They are, after all, stuck on poles which are rooted in the earth. So they must be relatively still, in their own right, in so far as the earth itself is still, which of course it isn't, but that's another matter. The point is, in a nutshell, that I can only appreciate such facts when I'm moving. When I'm still, nothing around me follows a natural course of conduct. I'm not saying I'm any criterion myself. I wouldn't say that. After all, when I'm on that train I'm not really moving at all. That's obvious. I'm in the corner seat. I'm still. I am, perhaps, being moved, but I do not move. Neither do the yellow lights. The train moves, granted, but what's a train got to do with it?

- Quite, said Mark.

- So where are you? I'm quite prepared to admit that this isn't an open and shut case. But offhand I can't think of any case that's open and shut. Quite frankly, I can't even think of a case. There isn't, let's face it, a shred of evidence. It wouldn't stand a chance in court. The judge would have a fit and I'd lose my licence.

- No question.

- It's no joke.

- Hardly.

- Does the jury move?

- Eh?

- No. On the bench they're still. And I'm still in the dock. No change. When I move though, in this case, so do they. I go down the hutch and they call a cab.

- That's it.

- Change but no change. But where does all this solve my problem? Can you tell me that? No, of course you can't. It is so, that's all. And it will be so. Perhaps we are not guilty. Are we? Pete would say we are guilty. You would say we are not. Are we?

- No, Mark said. We're not.

Len laughed. He opened the basement door and breathed in. It was raining.

- Well, Mark said, there's only one thing I've got to say.

- What's that?

- When you're in you're in.

- What? Len said. What did you say? When you're in you're in?

- Sure.

- You're right. I can't deny it. You've never said a truer word. When you're in, he repeated, walking round the table, you're in. That's it. You can knock me down with a feather. I must remember that. What made you say a thing like that?

- It just struck me. When you're in you're in.

- Well, said Len, I'll have to grant you that. You can't get away from it. It stands to reason. And when you're not in you're out. Or, more accurately, when you're out you're not in.

- Yes, that's more like it.

- When you're in, Len muttered, you're in, eh? Well, I'll have to store that one up for a hard winter.


Excerpted from The Dwarfs by HAROLD PINTER Copyright © 1990 by Harold Pinter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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