Morrissey’s Bookshelf: A Taste of Honey

Following on from the last instalment, in which we took a closer look at Elizabeth Smart’s deeply poignant ode to love By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, the second article in the series looking at books which influenced Morrissey jars us away from the States, back to gritty, dingy England.

A Taste of Honey is a unique and powerful work; Delaney’s was one of the rare female pens that dared to discuss notions such as single-motherhood, mixed-race relationships and homosexuality in a society that was hostile towards all three.  In essence, A Taste of Honey is a tale of class, poverty and race – set to a backdrop of 1950s, industrial Manchester, the play recounts the trials and tribulations of pregnant teenager Jo, and her oft-drunk, sexually promiscuous mother Helen.

And yet it is so much more than that.  Yes, Delaney perfectly exudes the misery and despair of Jo as her metaphorical house of cards collapses, as she is abandoned by her mother, her lover and is left pregnant and alone, eventually seeking solace and comfort in Geoffrey, a homosexual, surrogate father.  But the devil, or perhaps more fittingly the beauty, resides in the details and within the flesh to these narrative bones.  Jo begins a feckless teenager, with everything in her life geared towards escaping from the squalor of dilapidated lodgings and her mother, and yet, she seems oblivious of the fatalism at work.  When Jo begins the second act motherless and pregnant, living in a “miserable little hole” in a Mancunian suburb, are we left to believe that Helen gave birth to Jo in similar circumstances?  Is the scenario set to repeat itself?

And this is the main downfall of the play.  While Delaney uses dialogue and language to great effect, with Helen’s alcohol-fuelled remarks delivered bitingly to Jo occasionally seeming more like the ripostes of characters in Wilde: “The only consolation I can find in your immediate presence is your ultimate absence,” these moments of genius are set among a tale in which stereotypes are seemingly rife.  The working class, single parent doomed to pass on poverty throughout generations are accompanied by the effeminate, spineless homosexual, the absent black father and the impoverished matriarch.  It cannot be said, however, that A Taste of Honey is not a wonderfully scripted, and overwhelmingly sincere play that is an example of Kitchen Sink drama at its finest.

Alexander Britton

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