The Invention of Love

ISBN: 0802135811
ISBN 13: 9780802135810
By: Tom Stoppard

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About this book

It is 1936 and A. E. Housman is being ferried across the river Styx, glad to be dead at last. The river that flows through Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love connects Hades with the Oxford of Housman’s youth: High Victorian morality is under siege from the Aesthetic movement, and an Irish student named Wilde is preparing to burst onto the London scene. On his journey the elder Housman confronts the younger version of himself and his memories of the man he loved his entire life, Moses Jackson –– the handsome athlete who could not return his feelings.

Reader's Thoughts

Sarah Owens

This is my favorite Stoppard play (though The Real Thing and Jumpers come close), mainly because I used to be a Classics nerd and already appreciated Housman's contributions to that field and to poetry in general. This play has all the classic Stoppard ingredients: good banter, beautifully-stylized language, and emotional truth. I'm a sucker for a good, unconventional unrequited love story, and Stoppard communicates Housman's longing for his straight friend Moses beautifully.Housman himself (by whom I meant the elder Housman - labeled "Housman," if I remember correctly, to distinguish him from the younger "AEH," with whom he interacts) is so fully-formed, his characterization so subtle and interesting, that he steals every scene he's in. His personality is part self-deprecation, part wounded pride, part wry humor and part abject (but not maudlin) longing. Though this is a love story, in the end this play is patently about Housman's relationship with himself, and the various happy and tragic ends to which we refract our longing through our own conceptions of self.Oscar Wilde pops in every now and then, to sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-thoughtful effect. If you, like I do, believe that he's the only fun thing to come out of the Victorian era, and especially if you like Classics, I highly recommend this play.

Jee Koh

Poet or ScholarSingapore Jade had been insisting that I read this Stoppard play for quite some time, and finally made it impossible for me to put her off by giving me a copy the other day. Plays don't come alive to me until I see them performed, and The Invention of Love struck me, on first reading, as more brainy than acute, more showy than moving. But Stoppard's Housman and Wilde came back to me again and again in the last few days, while I was waiting for the bus, or listening to a friend's chatter, or working out in the SAFRA gym near my house.The desire to lay down your life for your lover. A desire represented in the play by repeated references to the Theban band, an army made of same-sex lovers, slaughtered by the Macedonians. Housman wants to lay down his life for his love, Moses Jackson, but the latter is straight and does not love him back, and Housman remains closeted all his life. Wilde, on the other hand, gives his life and reputation for his love, refusing to run from standing trial.The serious Housman. The apparently frivolous Wilde. Housman was a first-year student at Oxford when Wilde was in his final year there. Housman is going to be a scholar of Greek and Latin, Wilde an Aesthete of Life. Housman raises points of linguistic interest in Catallus. Wilde raises witty epigrams quoted around the university. Wilde receives a First in Finals. Housman is ploughed by the Finals because Propertius, his life work, is not on the examination.You cannot be a poet and a scholar of the first rank; you must choose. The poet's supreme god is beauty but the scholar's ultimate goal is knowledge. In life, as well as career, Housman chooses to be a first-rank scholar. Wilde chooses to be a poet.The love elegy, like the motor-car and the telephone, had to be invented. Homosexual love had to be invented. Housman decides not to invent homosexual love, but to live a life of permanent longing. Wilde is a self-invention.Which of the two men lived a better life? What regrets and joys attend each man waiting by the river for Charon?


So good I can't stand it. Travesties might have to make room at the top of the list for this. Very academic though, I kept wanting to pull out my old Latin Grammar, and I now feel as though I need to add a number of autobiographies to my reading list. The Bio blurb in my copy of A Shropshire Lad simply doesn't have enough depth.


I love some of Stoppard's work, but not all of it. This is an instance in which his erudition descends into tedious self-indulgence. I think it's safe to say that any play which incorporates copious quotations in both Latin and Greek, as well as obscure references to the academia of Victorian England, is performing a disservice to its audience. (In support of this assertion, it should be noted that a 30-page reference booklet was provided to audiences for the initial New York production.) Naturally, critics lauded this as a masterpiece, and audiences and readers, led by their noses, fell into Pavlovian agreement, lest they appear unrefined. But, although it will win me no friends, and I expose myself to accusations that I'm an uneducated, dim-witted boor, I still insist that this is a perfect example of why the theater arts are growing increasingly moribund (a contention which is borne out by the latest statistics). The Emperor wears no clothes."The Invention of Love" is slightly less exasperating than "Arcadia," but, in this reader's (and writer's) opinion, is a sucker-punch delivered to an unsuspecting audience who are likely, in the privacy of their own thoughts, to wonder why they shelled out umpteen dollars to sit through an evening of esoteric trivia and irrelevancies. Stoppard's work increasingly resembles the dramatic equivalent of the Second Viennese School's music, in that it is likely to vastly alienate and erode, rather than embrace and build, an audience for its art form. In short: Who cares?


In some ways, this was the Stoppard play that was made for me; before I ever saw it, I was a huge A.E. Housman fan with an interest in Greek and Roman poetry and the history of homosexuality in England. It's a long-winded play at times, and I think it's easier to get in to (as with much of Stoppard's work) if you first see it on the stage. But it's beautiful, heart-breaking, funny, and moving, and I adore it wholeheartedly.

Genevieve Heinrich

Exquisite.There is no other word for this play. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll speak in cliches... Honestly, I was blown away.

Caro Joy

After reading three other Stoppard plays in the past couple of months or so, I've finally understood the real power of modern drama. I've loved some plays before, of course, but never like this. I want to keep reading Stoppard even though the class assigning it is ending in a couple of weeks. This play was extremely tender and heartfelt, with some beautiful lines on love I won't soon forget. It even brought a little tears to my eyes; poor, poor Houseman. But it was intelligent and complex, too, steeped in Classical texts while dealing with the meaning of love. The Invention is definitely the most intimidating of the four I read. I loved it!!!


Possibly my favorite Stoppard yet. The narrative structure, more properly termed the narrative wandering, based around a (many) river, was confusing in a way that made reading the play enjoyable.


My boyfriend gave me a copy of this play, so it has set up residence in my heart. We also went to see it performed--and it was quite good!

Mike Jensen

What the heck, didn't I just add this to goodreads a week or two ago? I did, but I found the play so uncharacteristically unsatisfying that I read it again about a week later. It was still pretty good, but less satisfying than most of Stoppard's other work.

dead letter office

Seen in SF, ACT production circa 2000. I've never seen (or read) Stoppard I didn't like, but this one was memorable: a story about Housman and an unrequited lifetime of love, and Housman's dignified, repressed homosexuality in a time when Wilde's flamboyant, showy brand was grabbing all the headlines. All this against the background of end-of-century madness onstage and end-of-millenium madness off.

Daniel Jones

Another great play by Stoppard. This one deals with a lot of classical allusion and themes-- most importantly learning Latin in Oxbridge. Highly recommended to students of history, Latin, and the classics.


I don’t feel even remotely wise or eloquent enough to review this play. Just for you to get an idea, I’ll admit to not knowing who A.E. Housman was when I started reading this. Pretty dumb, eh, considering HE IS IN THE COVER?!The plot: A.E. Housman dies an old man, and in his way to the Underworld (ferried through the Styx/Thames), he sees scenes of his life in Oxford pass before him… Literally. His friends (including the love of his life), his teachers (John Ruskin!), the famous & disreputable alumni (Oscar Wilde!), all discuss, essentially, love: in theory, in academia, in poetry, and only in A.E. Housman’s particular case, love in real life—or the lack of it.The most academic bits (the invention of love of the title refers to the first poems about love, Roman and BC) were, sometimes, difficult to follow. But not the kind of difficult that makes you want to stop reading, but the kind that makes you want to understand it and makes you read it and re-read it an research it. What Stoppard does, like in Arcadia, is question the job of the academia, but emphasizing the importance of the search for knowledge.The play was beautiful. Housman’s unrequited love for his friend Moses was sad and beautiful, and the writing was splendid, of course. It takes some guts to write famous writers (and great epigraph-er Oscar Wilde) and make up new words for them. I loved it and enjoyed it, and although maybe this one is more ~~intelligent (I don’t think that’s the word, but I lack the one I’m thinking of), Arcadia was better. More beautiful, more poignant, and better. To me—OF COURSE.

Dani Peloquin

I had read this play a couple of years ago but was unable to finish it because of time constraints. However, I soon realized that I may have cast the book aside not because of time constraints but because the play was just not good! In fact, it has taken me almost a week to even write this review because I have been conflicted on how to describe it and how to phrase my reactions to the story.The Invention of Love tells the life story of the poet A.E Housman as seen from his eyes after he has died and is traveling down the River Styx. He watches as scenes from his life are played out in front of him. Many include his professors and fellow scholars at Oxford University as they express their views of Housman. It soon becomes clear that Housman's life was complicated by his homosexuality. This is further clarified in the second act in which Oscar Wilde becomes a character in the play.Though the plot seems simplistic, there are a great deal of underlying themes that make the play an interesting read. Stoppard litters the play with allusions to mythology and classical literature. Classical creatures such as Hades make various appearances as Stoppard connects mythological tales to Housman's life. It also explores the mythology of life and how people view their own lives as they live it as opposed to reflecting on it after the events have occurred. Stoppard allows Housman to talk to his younger self as well as the other characters in the play which creates an interesting tension and dynamic.Despite Stoppard's quirky way of storytelling, there is no saving this play. The classical allusions come off as being bombastic and simply an excuse for Stoppard to brag of his knowledge on the subject. At times Housman's soliloquies are overblown and merely a lecture on mythology. The theme of homosexuality is nothing new or introspective and actually feels like a cheap trick used to "increase ratings" (as they do on television shows). Overall, I was under-whelmed. I was hoping for more mythology and less


An awesome play - a quick read, but incredibly nuanced. It may be a bit classics-heavy for some

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