Hermione Lee on Tom Stoppards' Family Escaping the Nazis & Soviet Rule

Hermione Lee on Tom Stoppards' Family Escaping the Nazis & Soviet Rule

The fact that the course of our lives is often determined by randomness—the luck factor—was fundamental to Tom Stoppard’s worldview. Having narrowly escaped the tyranny of the Nazis, and the following communist regime in his home country of Czechoslovakia, Tom Stoppard often pondered what his life would’ve been if his family hadn’t fled. Stoppard was indeed keenly aware of the positive role that luck played in his life. After all, his family got to England at a period of peace, after the end of the war and the allied bombing—something that enabled him to pursue his craft, work and live life on his own terms.

With this realisation inevitably came a profound sense of gratitude: Stoppard called his life ‘a charmed life,’ as literary biographer Hermione Lee recalls in her conversation with author Chandrahas Chaudhary. This featured in his writing and his art too. ‘[Think of] The throwing of the queens in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,’ points out Lee, chance and luck played a big part in his characters’ lives. Stoppard took this thought even further—whether in his projects with the political prisoners of the Soviet Union or those in Belarus, he often worked in the interest of the people who had not had his charmed life. Watch the rest of the session to explore more of Stoppard’s Jewish history and how echoes from his past enriched his work