The words of Rachel Carson form the narrative of Another Kind of Silence, a play written and performed by Liz Rothschild. The play shows to a contemporary audience Carson's personal and professional resilience, as well as her understanding that observation and dialogue are central to scientific enquiry.
The play has been performed as part of an evening including public discussions on environmental and health issues, both of which have been influenced by Carson's work. The Pesticide Action Network UK included an earlier version of the play, Breaking the Silence, in its annual lecture in 2007, the centenary of Carson's birth, alongside a lecture by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University.
Eleanor Margolies, reviewing that evening on our Features page, writes
Rachel Carson and Bob Hines, 1955
photo used by permission
In Breaking the Silence, Rachel Carson speaks to us as a contemporary, almost as if giving her own memorial lecture. This bold decision allows the play to make explicit connections with contemporary issues. After describing the unsuccessful attempts by the chemical industry to prevent the publication of Silent Spring in 1962, Carson comments dryly: "I would struggle to publish Silent Spring in the United States today. New laws protect companies from the threat of defamation". Read the entire article here.
Quoting from her books, articles and Congressional testimony, Breaking the Silence is a polemical and educational piece. It reanimates not only the pesticide debate, but also Carson’s more philosophical arguments for greater public involvement in the direction and use of scientific discoveries.
The script draws on personal letters too, filling in Carson’s biography and allowing a more intimate tone to develop. Perching on the crate as if by the sea, Carson recalls how she had to be carried ashore, her legs numb with cold after standing in the shallows for hours, observing the inhabitants of a rock-pool. She describes how she wrapped her great-nephew in a blanket and brought him down to the water’s edge to listen to the waves. As a recording of birdsong is played, Carson raises a finger, delighted: "Listen! Veeries!"
The latter part of the play also touches on the personal difficulties which Carson hid from all but her closest friends. In the 1950s, she kept house and was sole financial support for her adopted great-nephew and her ailing mother. As she carried on a vast international correspondence relating to pesticides, she was being treated for breast cancer. She was not told the truth about her illness: she was unmarried, and in those days, she tells us, doctors would sometimes be candid with a husband, but not with the woman most concerned.
The qualities that made Breaking the Silence most affecting were those that also belong to a great lecture: important ideas beautifully expressed, and the sense of ‘meeting’ a person of significance.
The top photograph of Liz Rothschild (Carson) is by Trish Wickstead.