A Question of Attribution Essay
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Discuss how Alan Bennett uses art as a metaphor in Blunt’s conversations with Chubb and the Queen. During the play “A Question of Attribution”, written in the late 1960’s, Alan Bennett uses the highly sophisticated technique of an extended metaphor throughout the entire play which makes the meaning of the play seem more powerful. Bennet uses art to convey Blunt’s deceiving life as a spy for the KGB where he leaked important British intelligence to the Russians. Out of all the paintings I believe Bennett chose the Triple Portrait and An Allegory of Prudence because they piece together extremely well with Blunt’s life.
The Triple Portrait has an element of secrecy surrounding it; like Blunt’s life. The portrait shows two men when it was first produced and prior to it being tampered with. However after the portrait was cleaned it distinctively shows an extra third man. This is a high resemblance coinciding with Blunt’s life; the painting shows an unexpected side and so does Blunt’s life with his normal job as a standard art historian and then the disclosed life as the spy. Therefore the link between the two is that they both were seen to be simple but were eventually discovered to have a secret.
This is not the only metaphor the painting plays during the course of the play either. The conversation held between Chubb and Blunt also bears a resemblance to the painting; this is due to the entire conversation regarding Chubb constantly questioning Blunt on who was helping him or in charge of him in the spy plot. Blunt reacts well to vast majority of the probing questions but eventually folds and tells Chubb and the audience: ‘I’m not the only one, there are other important people with grubby secrets’.
From that statement we gain the knowledge that there he definitely did have an accomplice but we do not know who this accomplice was or indeed anything about him. Once again this coincides with the Triple Portrait because another person was found beneath the picture but is unknown. During the play Blunt has an unexpected and unusual conversation with the queen; he mistakes her for his student which turns out to be hugely embarrassing for Blunt. Blunt who is currently standing high up on a ladder with his back to the queen, almost ranting at her “come along – we haven’t got all day”.
The following sequence of events is humorous due to Blunt’s sheer disbelief that he was talking to the most important person in England and not his student. He realises who she was and immediately changes his tone of voice, his language and his stature; “your majesty, I’m so sorry”. This shows he has changed the tone of his voice from powerful and demanding to apologetic and timid. Therefore, he is no longer comfortable knowing that he is in the presence of his queen whom he has betrayed. His discomfort if further shown by the stage directions; he starts tall and powerful whilst standing on his ladder but is soon shown to be small and timid.
This is shown when blunt ‘turn[s] sharply on the ladder and half-bow[s]’. This is another sign that his social status is dropping due to a higher figure of authority being present in the room. Another physical sign that Blunt starts to get nervous is that he takes out his handkerchief meaning that he is needs something to fiddle with in his hands so that he can continue talking. The handkerchief is bad enough in itself but when he starts “wiping his hands on his handkerchief” it shows he is getting sweaty palms from talking to the queen after what he has done to his and her country.
Again art is used though as he talks to the queen about it almost so that he doesn’t get any personal questions:” Portrait painters tend to regard faces as not very still lives”. I feel he uses it as a barrier to protect himself from the fact that the queen could ask him questions on the topic of his love for the nation or in general about England which would mean Blunt would have to lie to the queen to hide his identity as a spy. During Blunt’s conversations artwork is frequently used as a metaphorical description of Blunt’s secret life; “A great painting will still elude us, as art will always elude exposition”.
This quotation shows a hidden double-ententre as it references to Blunt thinking that he is like a “great painting” because he believes that he will not get caught and that he could “still elude” the police by remaining free man. However it was foolish for Blunt to think this as he was caught just Han Van Meegeren who attempted to forge Vermeer. He was only discovered after a long period of time which is ludicrously symbolic to the events of Blunts secret life involving the Russians. They both remained elusive to the law because it was too hard for the authorities to judge who was real and who was a fake “at the time”.