The L-Shaped Room - Lynne Reid Banks referat

The L-Shaped Room

by Lynne Reid Banks

- author: Lynne Reid Banks was born in London, July 1929 and was evacuated to Saskatchewan, Canada during World War ll. She was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, graduating in 1949 and was an actress for five years. She worked as a journalist and was the first woman reporter on British Television. In 1962 she emigrated to Israel, where she lived in a kibbutz, because she felt Jewish even though she was no Jew. The people asked her to teach their children English and so she did. In the meantime (in 1965) she got married to a sculptor and had three children, all boys, called Adiel, Gillon and Omri - Hebrew names.

Lynne Reid Banks is the author of more than 30 books, including volumes of Jewish history. Now she resides in England, where she writes full-time and occasionally acts on radio. She has a homepage of her own ( where you can gather a lot of information about most of her books and about herself (she publishes a diary). She divides her stories in two categories:

1. books for younger readers such as 'The Indian in the Cupboard', 'The Return of the Indian' and 'The Secret of the Indian', ''The Magic Hare', 'I, Hudini', 'The Fairy Rebel', 'Harry the Poisonous Centipede', 'King Midas', 'The Farthest Away Mountain', 'Angela and Diabola' or 'Maura's Angel'

2. books for older readers such as 'Melusine', 'One More River', 'Broken Bridge', 'Moses in Egypt', 'The Mystery of the Cupboard', 'The Key to the Indian' or 'Letters to My Israeli Son'

'The L-Shaped Room' was Bank's first novel and originally an adult-novel, but now it's widely read by young adults. The book became a film (in 1962), the trilogy of the Indian too. Lynne Reid Banks got many prizes and a lot of honouring in the course of her literary career. But these facts don't satisfy her: her next book - 'Alice-by-Accident' - will be out in June 2000 and at present she's going to try to do two short books for specialist publishers who bring out easy-reading books.

- criterion of length, component parts: The novel comprises about 270 pages, which are structured into 25 chapters. At the very beginning the author is introduced, but the book doesn't have an introduction to the story.

- sort of novel: The book cannot be classified as a simple romance or as a simple adventure novel because it's a mixture of many kinds of novels. First of all it's a psychological novel because the emotional life of the main character is described very exactly. The woman falls in love, that's why it's a romance ,too. She has to come to terms with the past and she has to cope with her new style of living - it's an adventure novel. In addition there are also political and sociological aspects.

- plot (summary): Jane Graham, a 20-year-old woman, works - away from home - as an actress in a theatre company against the will of her father. Because of a violent incident she leaves the group and the man she loves. After working as a waitress she becomes an assistant at a Public Relations Office and during this time she lives again at her father's house. Her mother has already died.

She's in search of the one and only love, but something is always wrong. She never experiences that warm magic with another man that she has felt with Terry, the actor. And so she keeps thinking about him; she decides to go on holiday to a specific place at a specific time for she knows that he'll be there, too. As a consequence they meet and even though she hasn't come to this place with the intention of divesting herself of her virginity she knows that they'll make love sooner or later. They do so and it's terrible for both of them. The next day she has to leave and in spite of the failed night Jane waits for his call when she arrives at home. But after a couple of days she gets a letter in which he tells her that he has a new job in Paris and that they cannot meet any more before his departure.

Some day she realises that she's going to have a baby. She doesn't know how to tell her father, because he has always wanted her to be something better than the others. That's why she goes to a doctor who advises her to have an abortion but she doesn't want to. So she tells her father about her pregnancy. Disappointed, he orders his daughter to leave his house.

Jane takes a little L-shaped room in Fulham, a shabby part of London. The room has hardly any furniture or equipment. It doesn't matter that she knows none of the other inhabitants of the house because she doesn't have the intention of making friends. But very soon she gets to know Toby Coleman, who also lives in the house, and her neighbour John. Both start to become good friends of Jane. Jane thinks about the fact why she has taken the room because easily she could have found another one. But those surroundings suit Jane and her state of mind. She doesn't feel worth living in a prettier room.

Next day after work she goes home to her father and fetches all the things which are hers. She takes them to the L-shaped room and fixes it up with the help of John and Toby. Although Jane is morning sick she doesn't tell the men of her pregnancy. Fortunately the sickness is gone after a couple of days. Jane gets a formal letter of her father which makes her sad and to cheer her up John invites his friends to come to his club this evening. They do so and see a young couple. Toby says that they will soon have a baby without knowing what real love is. Jane recognises that this is her truth and she wants to go. Later in the L-shaped room she makes love with Toby.

When she goes to work next morning it's the first time that she misses her lover. Because of an unlucky incident the manager of the Relations Office gives her the sack. Her boss James wants to offer her a new job but she refuses because in a few months she will have to go at any rate. Jane visits John and he's very angry for he knows about her relation with Toby and he is jealous. Toby is missed but nobody knows where he is. Later John comes to Jane and begs for pardon. She has to ask why before he tells her the reason: he has said to Toby that Jane is pregnant and that she is a prostitute because of the strange times of her work. Now Toby thinks that James is Jane's lover and the father of the baby.

Jane can't cope with the situation any more and wants to have an abortion. But the doctor has no time for an appointment. Mavis, a neighbour of Jane whose hobby is collecting perfumes, offers her some pills and gin which could cause a miscarriage. But Jane isn't able to do that. Suddenly she becomes very hungry, goes to an Indian restaurant and eats hot curry. The curry nearly causes a miscarriage. Jane manages to go home and there is Toby who has spent the last day with a friend. He calls the doctor who takes her into hospital. She realises that she really wants to have the baby.

She has to stay in hospital for one week and during this time neither Toby nor John come to visit her. In the meantime John fixes up the L-shaped room. When Jane comes home she is overwhelmed by its beauty. Toby confesses Jane that he can hardly cope with the thought of a baby.

Next day Toby and Jane go to get a little Christmas-tree and when they return, Doris invites them to a party at Christmas Eve. Then Jane meets John the first time since her stay in hospital. She thanks him a lot for making her room that beautiful. They dye popcorn, all of them together - Jane, Toby and John.

One day after decorating the tree she goes to buy some presents. When she comes back Toby says that James, her boss, has been there to see her. James comes again in the evening and wants to offer her some money but she doesn't want to take it. Next day Jane is in a very bad mood: her hair is too long, her clothes are too small. When Toby shows her the expensive bottle of wine he wants to give Doris at her party, she says to him, that he has not enough money for things like that. Toby is hurt and wants to know if she thinks that he's a failure as a writer. She manages to calm him down and they go to Doris' party together. There she tells the people for the first time that she's pregnant. Everyone believes Toby to be the father of the baby and that's why Doris asks him if he wants to marry Jane.

This night Jane has a bad dream of her father, Terry and herself. John has to come to wake her. When John has gone she remembers of her childhood and how Christmas was then. She wants to ring up Addy - the aunt of her father - up but nobody answers. When she goes up to her room she sees Toby and he says that he can't write any more because it's his duty; it's not just for fun. Jane points out that he isn't responsible for her and that she isn't for him. Then she goes to bed again.

Somebody knocks and Jane expects it to be Toby, but it's Addy. Jane is overjoyed to see her. After some words Addy offers her to stay in her house. Jane accepts. She goes at once but leaving the L-shaped room is a horrible wrench. The weeks at Addy's house are very good for her, she makes long walks. And she has the chance to think a lot. She reads much and one day Addy asks her to work for her. She has written a book and Jane has the task to type it now. The book is pretty good and Jane can save some money for the baby but she's homesick. She goes back to her room and takes the work with her. As she arrives there's nobody. Jane wonders where they all are and one night John comes. He has drunk much and he tells her that Toby has gone and that he has lost his job. Later Mavis and Doris return. Mavis gives her a letter written by Toby and Jane gets very angry about it because Toby writes that he's a Jew and that he thinks she wouldn't like to marry him because of this fact. That's not true; but she can't tell him because he isn't there. Mavis also tells her that he has left behind his typewriter and Jane buys it from Doris.

Jane suggests that Addy should have her book printed when she has finished typing. Addy wants her to manage it but refuses to come and visit Jane. She only sends the typed book back to Jane. In the meantime John manages to get a record player and one day the baby begins to kick. Jane starts buying things for the baby - she believes it to be a boy - and makes walks. And one day she meets Terry. He's shocked about her pregnancy and asks her what he could do. Jane wants him to find Toby.

One day she gets the message that Addy's book will be printed. She wants to tell her but can't reach her. So she writes a letter. Weeks pass by and there is no answer, Jane's work is to type terrible plays for television. One day Doris comes into her room and informs her that she has the intention to enlarge the rent for the room. Jane has to search another one, but she can't find anything. When she comes home John tells her that her father has been there.

Jane feels that it's time to go home to her father. When she comes to his house, her father is already waiting for her. They speak about the baby, and he asks her if she didn't like to come home because she's the only person he has. She agrees and her father has the sad duty to inform her of the death of Addy. Jane inherits her whole estate. Then she goes back to the L-shaped room by taxi to fetch all her things. There is Terry who has found Toby, but Toby is not with him. Terry helps Jane to pack. Suddenly it knocks and Toby is standing at the door. He wants to speak with Jane. When he hears that Terry is the father of the baby, the two men begin to fight. Terry doesn't defend himself because he still feels guilty and Toby injures him badly. At that moment the contractions start. Jane and Terry are taken into hospital: it doesn't take a long time and Jane's son is born - an eight-month baby. Jane doesn't think of Terry as the father of her baby, who's named David - in her eyes he isn't more important than John or Toby. After the following days which are filled with visits of her friends and family her father takes them home.

In the meantime a young girl has moved into the L-shaped room. Jane gets to know her by accident and she recognises that they are very much alike. The girl is like Jane was a few months ago.

- characters involved in the novel:

Jane Graham: She is a daughter of a good house who has a sheltered upbringing after the early death of her mother. Her strong will leads her to a career as an actress against the will of her father.

Because of her loveable character it's easy for her to make new friends. She is always in search of the one and only love but she is never successful. One time she thought that she would love somebody but she was wrong.

She lives with her father and when he orders her to go because of her pregnancy she often wants to return to him because of security. But she has to cut the cord between them. After her being sacked she is independent enough to begin with her new life. At first she doesn't feel worth living in a beautiful area and that's why she chooses Fulham and the L-shaped room. She often has changes of mood during her pregnancy. When she thinks positively she fixes up her room, when she is depressed she doesn't care about anything. In the end her room is the prettiest of the whole house.

During the time between leaving her father and her miscarriage she's never sure if she really wants to have the baby. But in the end she knows that she has been right not to abort it.

Toby Coleman / Cohen: He's a failed writer who falls in love with Jane. All the time he searches for an excuse from writing. He doesn't speak with anyone about his past, one reason for this is that he's a Jew. Being Jewish makes him even change his name into 'Coleman'. He collects writing-paper and his typewriter 'Minnie' seems to be very important to him. Coping with Jane's pregnancy is nearly impossible for him but he manages it somehow, because he thinks Jane to be the only positive part of his whole surroundings. It's pretty easy to hurt him.

John: As a musician in a jazz band he loves music and even collects CDs without having a record player. When he gets the sack one day he's so hurt that he begins to drink and doesn't stop before he gets a new job in another band.

He is a very sensitive person and can be hurt pretty easily. That's why he tells Toby all the lies about Jane's life, because he's jealous when he notices the relation between his two best friends. But very soon he regrets having said that and loses no time to beg her pardon.

He's the first one that notices Jane's pregnancy and helps her to cope with her problems. In addition to this he's that kind that he couldn't do any harm to a fly.

William Graham: He is the father of Jane and works as a Civil Servant. He always wants the best for Jane but when she has the intention of becoming an actress he's strictly against this plan. He seems to know perfectly well what Jane shall become and what she has to do. But Jane revolts and when she tells him that she's going to have a baby he's very disappointed. He always wanted her to be something better than the other girls.

He loves Jane very much because she's the only person he has. Sometimes he is old-fashioned, and speaking about his feelings isn't one of his strong points. He seems not to believe that Jane is able to care for a baby without help.

- setting: The L-shaped room is five flights up in a gone-to-seed house in Fulham, all dark brown wallpaper inside and peeling paint outside. There are a couple of prostitutes in the basement. Most of the windows don't have curtains and that's why the house has a dead look.

The room has originally been a square one. It has been divided by the simple process of putting up two partitional walls set at right-angles. So it has resulted in a small square room and a L-shaped room. One wall of the L-shaped room is bare, along another one run some rudimentary cooking facilities consisting of a wash-basin-cum-sink with a tin draining-board and a small cupboard with a top just large enough to hold a gas-stove with a grill and two small elements. Under the window with its dirty-looking brown curtains is a small kitchen table scarred with ancient cigarette burns. The room also contains a camp bed, a chest of drawers leaning drunkenly over it's missing leg, a kitchen chair and an arm-chair, a small gas-fire etc. The walls are covered with the regulation nicotine-coloured paper splashed with dead flowers, peeling in many places. The floor is lino'd. There is a Hallowe'en coloured rag rug in front of the fire and there is no waste-paper basket.

- opening / ending: The novel has a direct opening and an open ending. The reader has various possibilities of interpreting how the story will go on.

- climaxes / turning points: There are lots of climaxes in the book like the scene when Jane tells her father about her pregnancy and he orders her to leave the house. Another important event is the trip to the bar where John works and Toby makes Jane aware of her truth. After nearly losing the baby she knows that she really wants to have it - that's the turning point in her attitude towards the child. Jane's dream about her father, Terry and herself is of great importance, too, because it shows the relations between Jane and her father and between Jane and Terry. And finally there is the part when the birth takes place.

- narrative situation / person / point of view / mode of presentation: There's an I-narrator. The narrator - Jane - is personalized (visible within the fictional world). She has an internal point of view, i.e. a limited point of view - in contrast to an omniscient perspective. The book is told by a teller-character.

- acting time: The time-span comprises about 7 months.

- extensive passages, for instance, are the description of the L-shaped room, the reason why she loses her work, the fight between Toby and Terry or the birth.

- compressive passages, for example, are Jane's life before her pregnancy, her weeks with Addy or the days in hospital after the birth.

- blanks: Her childhood is the only blank.

- main themes: The whole novel shows the fight of a woman against the pressure of her surroundings. Hardly anyone believes that she can manage to be a single parent. The book itself was written in 1960 and at this time it was nearly impossible for a woman to have a child without being married. That's why everyone thinks that Jane will have an abortion. But Jane revolts and decides to have the baby, although her father kicks her out when he's told about it.

The book also shows how the character of the woman becomes maturer. From one day to the next she doesn't have anyone who cares for her. At first she wishes the security of her father's house back but in the course of time her character grows with the task. In the end she's a free woman who has finally managed to come off of her father's great love.

- critical evaluation: When I began reading the book I thought it would be like many others I had read before: There is a poor, young woman, pregnant, kicked out by her horrible father just because of her pregnancy. But in the course of time she learns to cope with life, she decides to have the baby, she falls in love and in the end there's a marriage - a story which has been used in books and films for many times; for too many times. And the first chapters proved my suspicion to be right. Everything I had predicted happened (apart from the marriage): Toby enters Jane's life, he becomes her lover; she decides to have the baby although the odds are against it; she finds new friends. The happy ending is already in sight.

But suddenly there is an event in chapter 10 which doesn't fit in my plans: John tells Toby lies about Jane, and because of these lies Toby leaves. That was very surprising for me to read because it was the first difference to the other books. This fact made the book interesting. From this point the novel became much better and I didn't only read it because I had to but because of joy.

My favourite part of the book is Jane's dream in chapter 16. Jane and her father run against each other in a race. Sometimes Jane is in front, sometimes her father is. But they always manage to catch up with their arrears. Then they have to swim and though Jane is frightened she doesn't give up because her father doesn't either. In the end both nearly drown and they cry for each other. This dream can be compared with Jane's life. Neither Jane nor her father would give up because both of them are stubborn. That leads to events which neither of them has wanted. Only when it's nearly too late they realise that they need each other.

In general I liked the book although the first chapters weren't attractive to me. But because of the realistic ending and the interesting elements I can say that it was really great fun to read.

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