Barrett Harper Clark.

Contemporary French dramatists : studies on the Théâtre libre,Curel, Brieux, Porto-Riche, Hervieu, Lavedan, Donnay, Rostand, Lemaître, Capus, Bataille, Bernstein, and Flers and Caillavet online

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Online LibraryBarrett Harper ClarkContemporary French dramatists : studies on the Théâtre libre,Curel, Brieux, Porto-Riche, Hervieu, Lavedan, Donnay, Rostand, Lemaître, Capus, Bataille, Bernstein, and Flers and Caillavet → online text (page 1 of 17)
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Anonymous. Net $1.00.


Authorized Translation by Barrett H. Clark.
Preface by Brieux of the French Academy.

"The Fossils," a play in four acts, by Francois
de Curel.

"The Serenade," a Bourgeois study in three
acts, by Jean Jullien.

"Franyoise' Luck," a comedy in one act, by
Georges de Porto-Riche.

" The Dupe," a comedy in five acts, by Georges
Ancey. Net $1.50.


Prof. Joseph Edward Harry. Net $1.00.

A Literary and Critical Appraisal of Strindberg,
Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Wilde, Shaw and Barker. By
Archibald Henderson, M.A., Ph.D. Net $1.50.


By Archibald Henderson, M.A., Ph.D. Net

By Mary MacMillan. Net $1.25.

By Margaret Douglas Rogers. Net $1.00.


By August Strindberg. Authorized Translation
by Velma Swanston Howard. Net $1.50.
EASTER (A Play in Three Acts) AND STORIES.
By August Strindberg. Authorized Transla-
tion by Velma Swanston Howard. Net $1.50.


By August Strindberg. The author's greatest
psychological novel. Authorized Translation by
Elizabeth Clarke Westergren. Net $1.25.

By Emerson Venable. Net $1.00.


By W. L. Gordon. Net $1.00.
See page 227 for description of above Books.



Studies on the Theatre Libre, Curel, Brieux,

Porto- Riche, Hervieu, Lavedan, Donnay,

Rostand, Lemaftre, Capus, Bataille,

Bernstein, and Flers and




Author of "The Continental Drama of Today," "The

British and American Drama of Today,"

Translator and Editor "Four

Plays of the Free







All Rights Reserved

1st Edition September, 1915
2nd Edition July, 1916



The studies on Lavedan, Lemaitre, and Don-
nay, are reprinted in revised form, from my
Three Modern Plays from the French; that on
Hervieu from the translation of The Labyrinth;
certain sections on the Theatre Libre from my
Four Plays of the Free Theater. To Messrs.
Henry Holt, B. W. Huebsch and Stewart & Kidd,
I acknowledge my indebtedness for their courteous
permission to reprint this matter.

1 1 1 6559



















INDEX , 219


IN this little collection of studies I have tried
rather to afford the reader some insight into the
works of a number of the more important repre-
sentative French dramatists of the past twenty-
five years, and trace in an informal manner some
of the chief characteristics of these writers, than
to compile a historical study of the contemporary
Parisian stage. As practically every dramatist to
whom I have devoted a chapter is still putting
forth plays, and many of them are well under
fifty, such an attempt would lack finality.
Twenty years hence that compendium can be

Since Professor Brander Matthews' illuminat-
ing study on the French dramatists nothing has
appeared treating the average playwright who
typifies the essential French spirit of the day.
Professor Matthews' book ended at about the
point where this begins.

For a number of reasons it has been thought
advisable to omit a consideration of Maeterlinck
from this volume : to begin with, he is not typi-
cally French: his Belgian origin, his ideas, his
plays which are foreign to what the average
Frenchman knows and recognizes, do not admit
him to the ranks of the French dramatists. He
is a world-figure because he is a world-thinker;



Rostand, too, is a world-figure, but only because
he has lifted what is most French in the nation
into a high realm of art. There are, besides, some
six or seven entire volumes devoted to the study
and analysis of Maeterlinck. For these reasons
he does not find a place in the present collection.
Those dramatists whom I have included are the
ones who have stood, during the past quarter cen-
tury or more, for the drama of the day, and,
with the single exception of Rostand, constitute
the average, but an average, as I shall try to in-
dicate, which is of the highest excellence.

I have not of course mentioned or taken up all
the dramatists of distinction or merit; I have
merely touched upon many of those, for instance,
whose connection with the Theatre Libre en-
titled them to a position of honor as being his-
torically important. I have spent little time on
men of letters, as such like Paul Bourget and
Jean Richepin who have turned to the theater
rather as an avocation, with greater or less suc-
cess; I have allowed others, like Pierre Wolff,
Remain Coolus, Georges Courteline, Emile
Fabre, Tristan Bernard, Abel Hermant, Jules
Renard, Pierre Veber, Maurice Hennequin,
Lucien Descaves and Albert Guinon, to give way
before those of greater renown and originality.
Some of the younger writers, Paul Claudel, Marie
Leneru, Henry Kistemaeckers, and Sacha Guitry,
possess characteristics which place them apart and
leave them beyond the pale of a book of this sort.
It may be that I have failed to do justice to some
of these. But the well-established dramatists,
however, to whom separate papers are devoted,



represent the principal tendencies of the French
stage of recent years.

With the exception of Rostand and Brieux, and
perhaps Henry Bernstein, none of the dramatists
here treated is well known in the United States.
Rostand is, of course, world-famous because of
Cyrano de Bergerac and Chantecler; Brieux first
attracted notice because of the rather inordinate
praise which Bernard Shaw heaped upon him,
while Bernstein is known to us only through
four or five poor adaptations of his most popu-
lar plays. 1 Hervieu, Donnay, Bataille, Lave-
dan, Flers and Caillavet, have each, through
the medium of some sort of adaptation, made
their way for short runs to our stage, but
they are no more than names to the average play-
goer. In book-form, the modern French drama
is all but inaccessible to the English reader:
scarcely twenty plays of Brieux, Hervieu,
Capus, Porto-Riche, Lavedan, Donnay, Lemaitre,
and Curel are available in English.

That we do not know the modern French drama
is due partly to the fact that it is so essentially
" French " that its subject matter is totally for-
eign and therefore distasteful to us. Although
we have accepted the frank and sincere treatment
of sex by a social worker like Brieux, we have not
so far been able to adopt the French point of view
or rather the European point of view and
consider sex plays as works of art. We may take
pride in the fact that we will not appreciate the
beauties of Bataille's La Femme ntte, or Porto-

1 A translation of The Thief has just appeared (Drama
League Series).



Riche's Amoureuse or Donnay's Amants, and we
may very possibly be right in asserting that the
French nation places far too great emphasis on
sex, but we cannot as students of the drama close
our eyes to facts or to a whole art which is based
upon a principle with which we heartily disagree.
We should at least have an opportunity of study-
ing serious plays some of which have been ac-
cepted by critics and audiences as masterpieces
which will live by reason of their essential truth
and their literary style, as well as their subject
matter. If the French nation is producing such
plays, it is a duty at least to consider them, and
not quarrel with the dramatists who for the most
part have done their best to paint the life of their
time as they saw it.

In gathering my material I have often had occa-
sion to speak with some of the authors on this par-
ticular point. Scarcely one of them could under-
stand the attitude of the average Anglo-Saxon.
When I asked Maurice Donnay which play he
would prefer to have translated as a typical ex-
ample of his work, he replied at once : " Amants."
I said that the play would not be accepted on the
stage, and I expressed a doubt as to whether in
book form in would be read in the sympathetic
mood it was intended to arouse, and told him that
it ran the risk of being criticised on the ground of
its immorality. "Why?" he enquired. I then
attempted to explain our attitude toward sex plays
and told him that we demanded for the most part
atonement in our plays and our literature for vio-
lation of the conventions surrounding sex-rela-
tionship. Donnay very willingly averred that he



could not quarrel with that attitude, but what did it
have to do with the case in question? He tried to
prove nothing in Amants; he merely wrote what
he saw and felt! On another occasion I asked
Francois de Curel why most of his plays were
caviar to the French public, and he said that with
the exception of his latest play, La Dame devant
le Miroir, sex played but a minor part in his works.
He then added: "The French dramatists treat
of love because it is the only subject which every
member of the audience understands, and a drama-
tist must of course appeal to the masses." I then
asked why practically all the dramatists kept in-
sisting on the old theme, the triangle, and he re-
peated what he had said before and shrugged
his shoulders.

If the drama be a representation of life, we must
conclude that the French nation in Paris, at
least, for there is no drama outside the capital
is prone to lay too much stress on sex. But if this
is a fact, we obviously cannot find fault with the
dramatists. We may, if we are so inclined, criti-
cise the French people, but we must at least admit
that they are frank. There is not so great a dif-
ference between nations that simply because as a
people we either fear or bring frank sex treat-
ment to our stage, or are unable to produce drama-
tists able to do so, are therefore blameless. We
must argue rather that the Frenchman is braver
and more of an artist than the American or the
Englishman. If our American drama is to reflect
American life, we must be sincere. There are
women in America like Porto-Riche's Amoureuse,
but we have not as yet dared to place them on the



stage; it is not Puritanism which prevents our so
doing, but fear of looking facts in the face and
the want of a Porto-Riche. " Free-love " unions
exist in our land, and the partners are not always
punished. Donnay told the truth, which was not
after all so unpleasant, but we have no writer as
yet who would or could write an American Amants.

Still, the everlasting husband, wife, and lover,
is tiresome. If sex is one of the greatest ele-
ments and motive-forces in life, it is not the only
one. Even the French have recognized this, and
occasional plays Brieux's L'Engrenage and La
Robe rouge, Curel's Le Repas du lion, Rostand's
Cyrano, Bourget's La Barricade, and Fabre's Les
Fentres dores break the monotony. But the
fact remains that they have no Galsworthy, no
Granville Barker, no Bernard Shaw. Their essen-
tial provinciality, exclusiveness, snobbery possibly,
have prevented their branching out. For a time
Antoine forced the Parisian public to a knowledge
of Ibsen and Bjornson and Hauptmann and Tol-
stoy; during the past twenty years Lugne-Poe and
his Theatre de 1'Oeuvre have presented foreign
works from time to time, but the French public
will have its own plays depicting its own little
round of life.

There are few contrasts more striking than that
between Paris and Berlin as theater centers.
Something over a hundred new plays are produced
annually in each city; Paris counts but ten or twelve
new plays by foreign authors, Berlin not many
more by native writers. Paris knows practically
nothing of Pinero and Jones and Barker and Gals-
worthy, and misunderstands Shaw with unfailing



regularity, whenever the proverbially small band
of enthusiasts is fortunate enough to organize a
production of his simplest plays. During the
season of 1914 two or three plays of Galsworthy
were produced in a number of German theaters,
and three translations issued in book form; Shaw's
Pygmalion was produced and printed nearly a
year before it was seen in London; Mrs. War-
ren's Profession ran at a People's Theater in Ber-
lin during the greater part of the winter, while
ten or twelve of Shaw's plays made their ap-
pearance regularly in some twenty cities of the
Empire. The past season in Berlin counts among
its productions of foreign plays, some of the best
works of Shakespeare, Wilde, Strindberg, Bjorn-
son, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Gorky, Brieux, Flers and
Caillavet, Tristan Bernard, Synge, Hamsun, Pail-
leron, and Croisset. In Paris the season was an
unusual one, for Lugne-Poe afforded his audience
their first opportunity of seeing the Playboy of the
Western World, and achieved the extraordinary
feat of making a success of Carl Rossler's Five
Frankfurters. An adaptation of a play by Paul
Lindau had a successful run at the Theatre An-
toine, while Bahr's Das Konzert failed at the
Rejane. That very nearly completes the list of
foreign plays for Paris. The Frenchman's ig-
norance of foreign drama might be urged as an
excuse for his own narrowness, but as a rule he is
willfully ignorant. 1

a M. Adolphe Brisson (in Le Theatre, 1912) said: "The
other countries except perhaps in its own narrow way, Bel-
gium drag out a languishing and poverty-stricken existence.
Ibsen and Bjornson are no more. Gerhart Hauptmann is written
out. Bernard Shaw is scattering. Read the articles of the



The French attitude seems to be: We have
good dramatists of our own; why therefore seek
to know of those of other countries, most of whom
have doubtless learned their technic from Scribe
and Augier? This may be well for France as a
nation, and the Germans on their part may be
forced to look abroad for lack of native talent,
but the French suffer because they choose to iso-
late themselves, theatrically.

As a rule, then, we shall find the French drama-
tist somewhat narrow both in subject-matter and
treatment, but on the other hand, we shall ob-
serve an intensification, a power of concentrating
upon character, and a technical facility of the high-
est order. From the generalities of Scribe they
have come to particularize and have given us full-
length portraits which are contributions to litera-
ture and the drama. Each phase of daily life we
find pictured in detail with striking verisimilitude.
Capus draws the little merchant, the boulevardier,
the cocotte, with an unerring hand; Lavedan
paints the aristocrat, contrasting him with the par-
venu bourgeois; Porto-Riche, Bataille, and Don-
nay, the lovers; Bernstein sums up in tensely
dramatic situations the tremendous forces at

foreign critics; they speak only of disappointed hopes, regrets.
. . . ' We have in London,' says Mr. Walkley, ' a number of clever
purveyors, but no great dramatist.' M. Delines describes the
emptiness of the Russian stage, which is reduced to seeking its
pleasure in the old-fashioned works of Turgenev and Tolstoy.
Austria's sole contribution is one play, Faith and Fireside,
written by a newcomer, Schonherr. M. Prater assures us, even,
that in this piece 'cleverness takes the place of talent.' In Hun-
gary, M. Melchior Lengyel produced his Typhoon . . . the only
interesting play of the season. In the United States absolute
barrenness of literary works. . . ."



work in modern society. Hervieu is largely in-
terested in the more abstract questions concerning
mankind; he maintains a distant attitude and
judges his fellow-creatures in well-patterned
thesis plays; Brieux, more warm-blooded, batters
the prejudices of the day and attacks the institu-
tions of men on the one hand, and draws memo-
rable pictures of the peasantry and the bourgeoisie,
on the other. Curel stands apart, coldly dissect-
ing the abnormalities of modern victims of society.

With few exceptions and these are to be
found among the works of Curel and Brieux
the plays of these men are all variations of the
piece bien faite; the average excellence of con-
struction becomes tiresome in the long run. We
long for a little of Frank Wedekind's brutality,
Hauptmann's negligence, Andreyev's intentional
crudity. We weary of " good writing." Per-
haps if the Academy were not so often uppermost
in the mind of the French dramatists, and its
coveted portals not so readily accessible to the
dramatic brotherhood, France would have a more
vigorous drama.

If the plays of Henry Becque and if Andre
Antoine's epoch-making Theatre Libre ushered
in a new dramatic movement, influencing most of
the dramatists of modern France and led them
to observe life more carefully than it had been
hitherto observed, if Antoine revolutionized the
art of acting, he was still unable to kill the so-
called Romantic drama an end, which he him-
self has declared, he never desired.

In 1898 the French critic Augustin Filon in his
book, De Dumas a Rostand translated as The



Modern French Drama hailed the dawn of a
new era and wrote enthusiastically of the Revival
of Verse on the Stage. He said: "But the
crowning fact to which I have striven to give
prominence in this my last study, is the revival of
verse on the stage. And it is not only dramatic
verse which is now flourishing in several theaters,
lyrical verse has its share in this revival, and ap-
propriates one evening a week at the Odeon. At
the Bodiniere it is quite at home, and although
much that is impure mingles with the poetry in
the amusement provided at the famous Butte, it
must be recognized that poetry holds the first
place there, and has become indispensable. A
quarter of a century ago, it would have been sim-
ply ignored, but from an outcast it has become a
queen." William L. Courtney, in his introduc-
tion to M. Filon's volume, writes: "We have
got now to the latest phase of French dramatic
art, which is nothing more nor less than a real
romantic revival." The moment seemed an aus-
picious one : Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac and
Jean Richepin's Le Chemineau had just appeared,
and it did seem that authors and public, turning
from the Antoine school, had found in Romance
a new channel. But the " revival " was only mo-
mentary. To-day, in spite of poetic plays by such
writers as Andre Rivoire, Paul Claudel, Rene
Fauchois, Gabriel Trarieux, Albert Poizat and two
or three others, the tendency in drama is realistic.
Rostand, since Cyrano, has written but one ro-
mantic play L'Aiglon. Chantecler is modern
in spirit. Richepin, in spite of Par le Glaive and
Don Quichotte, has done nothing comparable with



Le Chemineau, while his latest play was an unsuc-
cessful trifle: Le Tango! Miguel Zamacois, in
Les Boufions and La Fleur merveilleuse, has in-
dubitably contributed charming poetic romances,
but he is a pleasing exception. Jean Aicard's ro-
mantic verse-plays are not popular, and Le Pere
Lebonnard, his best known, is a modern work in
which verse happened to be employed as a medium.
France continues in the line of her traditions.
If for a time Naturalism broke out, in its most vio-
lent adherents like Jean Jullien, Georges Ancey,
and Emile Zola it was only for a short time,
and the early Theatre Libre writers, like Brieux,
have since the first aggressive days, settled down
and established a sane equilibrium. The Capus',
Donnays, Lavedans, and Pierre Wolffs, are
lineal descendants of Scribe and Dumas fils and
Augier. The French drama seems doomed to be
the drama of tradition; this is at once its virtue and
its defect. As a result of inbreeding it may oc-
casionally fall into corruption, but by reason of
specialization a well-balanced, highly-finished me-
dium of expression emerges. This is France's
contribution. If we demand novelty, an infusion
of new blood, we must wait for a revolutionary
genius, another Moliere.


ANDRE ANTOINE is now past his prime, though
he continues with indefatigable zeal one of the
most difficult of tasks: that of directing the Odeon
Theater. Almost any day a large, strongly-built,
stoop-shouldered man, his eyes fixed steadfastly on
the ground, may be seen in the vicinity of the
Odeon. His face, every feature of it, gives evi-
dence of a crude, almost brutal, forcefulness; it is
at the same time the honest open face of the bour-
geois, with an added air of inexorable determina-
tion. Once a revoke at the head of a small band
of co-workers, he is now the respectable and rather
conservative manager of one of the state subsi-
dized theaters. 1

March 3Oth, 1887, is a memorable date. On
that evening a group of amateurs, under the direc-
tion of an employee of the Gas Company on a
salary of three hundred and fifty dollars a year,
presented four new and original one-act plays upon
a little stage improvised in a hall situated in the
inconspicuous and high-sounding Passage de
1'Elysee des Beaux-Arts, not far from where the
notorious Moulin-Rouge now stands. The ex-

1 Since the above was written, Antoine has been forced to
resign his position as director of the Odeon. As he was threat-
ened with bankruptcy because of certain unwise ventures from a
business point of view, his friends organized a benefit for him,
allowing him to leave for Constantinople, where he now directs
a theater.



penses for that performance were defrayed almost
entirely by the young Antoine, who had arranged
that the production should coincide with his pay-
day, the joth of the month. The upshot of it all
was that one of the little pieces was immediately
accepted at the Odeon, and what was of far
greater import a new movement was started.
The experiment received some notice, but practi-
cally no financial foundation. The first perform-
ance had exhausted the meager resources of the
young director, and it appeared as if the theater
would fail through lack of funds. He managed
to collect enough money to risk one more perform-
ance, however, and on the next convenient pay-day
May 3Oth made a second attempt, giving on
this occasion Emile Bergerat's La Nuit bergam-
esque and Oscar Metenier's En Famille one
verse and one prose play. This latter perform-
ance drew to it among other well-known literary
men, Alphonse Daudet, Francisque Sarcey, and
Emile Zola. Antoine was encouraged now to pro-
ceed and carry out the ideas he was at the time
beginning to formulate. He accordingly resigned
his position at the Gas Company, and devoted his
time and energy to getting subscriptions for the
fall season. We are- told that in order to econo-
mize he carried invitations to subscribers by hand,
thereby saving considerable postage.

The season opened on October I2th, with two
plays, L' 'Evasion in one act by Villiers de
1'Isle Adam, and Soeur Philomene, a dramatiza-
tion of the novel of the same name by the Gon-
courts. By the end of the year seventeen plays had
been produced, among them Tolstoy's The Power



of Darkness, Jullien's La Serenade, Hennique's
Esther Brandes all for the first time in France.
Again Antoine's success left him nearly bankrupt,
but he set about getting subscribers once more,
and by the end of his second season he had taken
in more than forty thousand francs. Together
with material success came encouragement, from
the public, the critics, the press in general; the
company, now receiving salaries, was able to de-
vote all its time to acting. The Theatre Libre
moved into a larger house, and assumed a position
of importance in the French playgoing world of
the day.

Antoine founded his theater with the idea of in-
ducing new and original dramatists to produce
works which the prejudice of managers and public

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryBarrett Harper ClarkContemporary French dramatists : studies on the Théâtre libre,Curel, Brieux, Porto-Riche, Hervieu, Lavedan, Donnay, Rostand, Lemaître, Capus, Bataille, Bernstein, and Flers and Caillavet → online text (page 1 of 17)