In a 1987 essay, Kafka at Las Vegas, English playwright Alan Bennett writes about Franz K from various everyday perspectives, both historical and contemporary. It's a way of sidling up to the Czech writer and the cliches that have settled around him over time. The passage referenced in the title imagines Kafka as a Jewish emigre and standup comedian in America. Another one compares his household to that of Simone Weil:

Many parents, one imagines, would echo the words of Madame Weil, the mother of Simone Weil, a child every bit as trying as Kafka must have been. Questioned about her pride in the posthumous fame of her ascetic daughter, Madame Weil said: ‘Oh! How much I would have preferred her to be happy.’ Like Kafka, Simone Weil is often nominated for secular sainthood. I’m not sure. Talk of a saint in the family and there’s generally one around, if not quite where one’s looking. One thinks of Mrs Muggeridge and in the Weil family it is not Simone so much as her mother who consistently behaves well and elicits sympathy.

Who is Mrs Muggeridge? What are the virtues or vices we are encouraged to think of?

It is pretty clearly a cultural reference, but it could be high culture or low. It could even be a non-specific character with a specific name, as in "keeping up with the Joneses" or "Mrs Watanabe". I tried Googling a few ideas - Dickens came to mind - without luck.

  • 2
    @GarethRees - I think that's very likely. Malcolm Muggeridge was famous for taking a high moral stand, but often in eccentric and highly outspoken ways. Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 8:55
  • 1
    @GarethRees A possibly-tenuous connection: apparently, a chapter entitled “André Weil, a Scientist, Discusses His Sister with Malcolm Muggeridge” is pp. 148-160 in David Raper et al, eds, Simone Weil: Gateway to God, UK: Fontana Books, 1974 (transcribed from a 1973 Good Friday BBC documentary entitled The Life and Death of Simone Weil).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


My best guess (based mainly on the name and degree of cultural prominence) is that Alan Bennett was referring to the writer and memoirist Kitty Muggeridge, the idea being that her husband, the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, was the supposed “saint” in the family, but Kitty was the one who actually elicits sympathy.

Malcolm Muggeridge was sympathetic to communism as a young man, but was disillusioned by his experiences in Moscow in the 1930s, and became an anti-communist. By the 1980s he had converted to Christianity and used his cultural prominence to criticize many aspects of modern life. He was probably most well-known in the 1980s for objecting to the film The Life of Brian in a 1979 BBC television debate with John Cleese and Michael Palin.

So Bennett suggests in the quoted extract that Malcolm Muggeridge’s outspoken conservative views must have made him something of a pain to be married to.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.