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Arden, John

(British, 1930– )

Best known as a dramatist, his plays include Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (1959) and Armstrong's Last Goodnight (1964). In his early work, Arden refused to take sides on political problems, but after he and his wife and collaborator, writer Margaretta D'Arcy, fell out with the theatre establishment, their work became more polemical and overtly Marxist. Silence among the Weapons (1982), shortlisted for that year's Booker Prize, is Arden's first novel. It is set in the first century BC around the Mediterranean, and is told with startling immediacy by ‘Ivory’, a lame Greek theatrical agent and semi-retired transvestite comic actor, who becomes unwillingly involved in the struggle for power between two Roman generals, Mule-Driver and The Stain. The language is funny, vivid, and coarse, and the picaresque story brims with gangsters, pirates, confusion, and duplicity. Behind the humour is a fable of, in the author's words, ‘comedy and tragedy … freedom and servitude.’

Robert Graves, Anthony Burgess  FS

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