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MacInnes, Helen

Entry updated 6 July 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

(1907-1985) Scottish author, in US from 1937 (naturalized 1952); married to the popular broadcaster and academic Gilbert Highet (1906-1978) from 1932 until his death; active from the early 1930s. She was best known for spy novels like Above Suspicion (1941), though she also wrote some well-received romances. The one oddity in her bibliography is Home Is the Hunter: A Comedy in Two Acts (performed 1964; 1964), the only play she wrote in a career of some forty-five years; it is also the only work not set in the present or the very recent past, and the only work in which she knowingly, and very cleverly, distorts Time and our understanding of reality.

Perhaps influenced by Highet's two best-known books, An Outline of Homer (1935) and The Classical Tradition (1949), Home Is the Hunter is a revisionist take on the final part of Homer's Odyssey. Although the broad outline follows Homer, the details differ in almost every point. Ulysses, as he is called in the play, has taken just seven years to reach home, though even this is enough to make Penelope irritated that he has taken so long. Observing the action is Homer himself, who is present in the text as the poem he has already written comes to life, and grows increasingly frustrated as the real people fail to follow his script. Penelope has delayed the suitors not by weaving a tapestry but by embroidering covers for a set of chairs, and Ulysses is himself unable to string the great bow to kill the usurpers. Homer's position as a character out of time is emphasized by the fact that MacInnes has him consistently quoting later authors, including William Shakespeare and T S Eliot among others (see Godgame; Luigi Pirandello; Time Out of Sequence).

Also, as in the original, the goddess Athena actively observes the action. But rather than benevolently supporting Odysseus, she is now vocally frustrated by the illogicality of human actions. Here, the sense that underlies all of MacInnes's spy fiction, that men are prone to violence and this lies behind the evil that is War, is played effectively for laughs. [PKi]

Helen Clark MacInnes

born Glasgow, Scotland: 7 October 1907

died New York: 30 September 1985

works (highly selected)


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