Frank Wadleigh Chandler.

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pected the duke's relations with H61&ne, is relieved by
this confession, but the duke, who has regarded the child
of H61^ne as his own, is shocked to learn that he is the
rival of his son. Yet he reflects that only through this
child can the family name siu'vive. The aristocracy
must not be permitted to die out. Robert, though an
invalid, must marry Hfelfene in order to render the child
legitimate. When Robert's sister objects on the ground
that the nobility has outlived its usefulness, Robert
,argues that the nobility is indispensable as a safeguard



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MORALISTS 193

in times of national danger and a refuge for the poor in
days of peace. So far, he has not learned his father's
terrible secret, but, as they quarrel over little Henri's
future education, the old man blurts out the truth. "The
child," he cries, "is ours !" "Then," retorts Robert,
"one of us must die." Abeady they have come to Nice,
hoping that a southern climate may benefit the invalid.
But to him life can offer nothing more. He will return
to the north that his death may be hastened. In the
last act, he expires, after forgiving his father and con-
fiding Henri to the care of H61§ne and his sister. The
boy must learn the virtue of an aristocracy of character
and service. If the nobility has lived its day, at least
let it leave the impression of grandeur conveyed by those
great fossils that make us dream of vanished ages.

The strange and moving drama, with its tragic im-
plications, awakens sympathy for these unhappy creatures
caught in the mesh of circumstance. The old duke, im-
perious and decadent, draws down upon himself the
punishment of heaven for his sin with HSlfene. She,
who loves Robert, has earlier succumbed to the duke out
of fear, and shivers at the thought of her crime. The
sister of Robert shares his vision of the future and his
conception of the duty of the younger generation to
redeem the sins of the older. And Robert, wooing death
in the very cradle of his race, but dreaming of a regen-
erated aristocracy that shall be worthy of its respon-
sibilities, is a memorable figure. The speeches are
prolonged, imaginative, poetic. The play is one of
atmosphere, the background of the moldering castle and
the wild forest harmonizing with the human foreground.

Inferior to Les FossUes in subject and treatment,

\

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194 THB CONTEMPORARY DRAMA OF FRANCB

VArrumr brode (1893) offers a study of two perverse
characters, and analyzes their - mutual attractions and
repulsions. The heroine is a neurasthenic mdow, the
hero a dark and troubled soul, the victim of self-doubt
and poverty. Gabrielle would marry her Charles even
though he cannot bring himself to ask for one so wealthy.
Accordingly she conceives the fantastic plan of appealing
to his sense of chivalry by feigning that She needs a
husband to assume paternity of an unborn child. Charles,
warned of her stratagem, finds morbid satisfaction in
acting out the part expected of him ; and the lady takes
equal pleasure in suggesting that he will sell his honor by
marrying her, and that he can rehabilitate it only through
suicide. She would force him to the abyss, yet restrain
him ere he leaps. But, arrived at the verge, he obeys
an impulse toward self-destruction that has often stirred
him.

De Curel seems to have been haunted by a sense of
dissatisfaction with this play, combined also with a
desire to make amends for its failure. In 1914, he re-
turned to it in La Danse devant le miroify altering details,
eliminating certain characters, and focussing attention
upon a different couple who, like their prototypes, inflict
mutual torture, each seekmg to satisfy the ideal he or
she has conceived of the other, each becoming the mirror
of the other's wish, and hence imtrue to self. Although
the piece be less obscure in its increased emphasis upon
a central idea, it is scarcely better than its predecessor.

The revival of the maternal instinct after apparent
atrophy is the subject of de Curel's U Invitee (1893),
wherein a wife, who has forsaken her husband and daugh-
ters, grows suddenly curious concerning them and,



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MORALISTS 195

returning after sixteen years, feels nothing until one, on
discovering that she is not the mere guest they had
supposed, calls her "mother." At that magic word,
madame's heart responds, and presently she carries off
the children, leaving her husband to be comforted by a
woman more congenial.

In La Figurante (1896), de Curel explores the reactions
of two women in regard to the same man, the first having
arranged to marry him to the second, who accepts him,
yet glows with a fierce antagonism toward her benefactress.
More effective is Le Re'^asLdu lion (1898), depicting the
attempted expiation by an aristocrat of an involimtary
murder. Jean de Sancy, to atone for his deed, gives his
life to the cause of the workers, yet at heart feels his
superiority, and recognizes the need for mastery of the
many by the few. The interests of capital and labor, he
perceives, are inimical. His own motives are selfish ;
he has yearned for applause, and lacks those qualities
which he has commended in others. His efforts to serve
the masses as an apostle of Christian socialism only
exasperate those whom he would aid. He dies as the
victim of strikers who fire the forest which he has hoped
to preserve from the invasion of industry. Although the
play b remote from reality and poorly constructed, it
offers vivid pictures of character, from the anarchist
workman who finally shoots his master, to the kindly
employer, and the honest guard who will not lie or be
silent to save his brother. Jean's love of nature is fairly
lyrical, and the critics have perceived in the burning of
the ancestral forest a pretty bit of symbolism.

Insistence upon an idea and its semi-symbolic treat-
ment are to be found, also, in de Curel's La rumveUe Idole



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196 THE CONTEMPORARY DRAMA OP FRANCE

(1899). A physician believes himself justified in sacrific-
ing the individual in experiments designed to save the
many. But his doctrine and methods threaten to pro-
voke an investigation, and his wife is tortured by her
growing fear of him. She maintains that he has the right
to give to science but one life, — his own. Perceiving
that she has ceased to love him, he offers her freedom.
Like Ibsen's Lady from the Sea, being no longer re-
strained by an external duty, she forgets her desire to
escape. A specialist in mental diseases, who has at-
tracted her hitherto, permits her to overhear from con-
cealment her husband's confession, which reveals to
her his lofty soul. She learns that he has indeed inocu-
lated with the virus of cancer a tubercular girl ready to
aid his researches, and that the little consumptive, un-
expectedly recovering from her original malady, will
succumb to the physician's experiment, yet rejoices that
in dying she can serve himianity. It is her simple faith
that has imbued the physician with faith. Science is
not all. The humble who love God can point the way to
Heaven ; and Donnat, instead of merely practising upon
others, has now inoculated himself with the same virus
that he may aid his fellow men.

Even more fantastic in its fable, yet suggestive and
illuminating, is La Fille sauvage (1902). A French
councillor to a barbarous king comes into possession of
a wild girl captured by himters and confined in the
prince's seraglio. When a pet orang-outang by his ad-
vances to the girl incites the prince's jealousy, Paul
Moncel offers her refuge in France. There she is educated
in a convent, and acquires a veneer of civilization. Her
instincts have been curbed by religion, yet as she grows



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MORALII^TS 197

enlightened she loses faith in Christianity, and, rebuffed
by Moncel, for whom her gratitude has ^changed into
passion, she consents to return and become the bride of
the African prince, — a course approved by the mother
superior, who sees in the match a means for converting
the heathen. If the romantic will not lightly forgive
Moncel for having stirred in the wild girl unwonted
ambitions which he fails to satisfy, the author would
imply that heredity is more potent than education, and
that our primitive nature can never be tamed. He would
indicate, too, a cycle of progress, from instinct to religion,
from reUgion to skepticism, and from skepticism back to
instinct.

The imaginative strangeness so evident in the plays
abready considered is not lacking in Le Coup d^aile (1906),
based remotely upon the excesses committed in Africa
by Captains Voulet and Chanoine, soldiers tempted to
abuse their power in dealing with an inferior race. De
CurePs hero, after exploits in the tropics that have added
greatiy to the colonial possessions of France, has been
hailed in Paris by the plaudits of the million. Intoxi-
cated by this adulation, he has returned to his distant
empire and become a despot. When a punitive ex-
pedition has been sent against him, he has ambushed his
countrymen, firing on the flag he had earlier adored.
Captured in a revolt of natives, he has been mutilated
and given up for dead, but, contriving to escape, he has
come home a second time, so disfigured by scars as to be
recognized by no one save his brother. This brother, a
deputy, is m mortal fear lest the scandal of Michel Prin-
son's return may injure his political prospects. He has
kept Michel's daughter in a convent, ignorant of her



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198 THE CONTEMPORARY DRAMA OF FRANCE

relationship to the notorious explorer, but releases her
now, hoping that she may stand between him and her
dangerous father. She had promised her dying mother
never to relinquish hatred of this father, yet she admires
him as a misimderstood superman. Lust for glory is
what has induced his downfall. Even his pettifogging
brother nurses a dream of glory. "I never lose sight of
those twenty lines that future historians will dedicate to
me," he says. "I am taking care of my page in the
history of France."

From the Th6fitre-Libre de Curel learned to prefer
the unusual, the brutal, and the sad, but his general
ideas, his understanding of abnormal psychology, and
his sense of beauty, have led him to transcend the works
of his colleagues. He has curiously combined the real
with the imreal, his plots and personages being often so
novel as to challenge credence, yet his poetic fervor being
sujBScient to win for them artistic faith for the moment.
His work is marked by vividness of conception, intensity
of passion, and the brooding of a speculative mind upon
remote contingencies in human action. Primarily con-
cerned with the individual, he centers attention upon
two or three characters at most. His heroines, dominated
by love, are fierce rather than tender ; his men, controlled
by other and stronger impulses, appear more sympathetic
than the women. Technically, de Curel's dramas are
better in exposition than denouement. The motives are
too often obsciu'e or unduly complex, and the dialogue is
too diffuse or too explosive. On the other hand, de Curel
displays skill in the coining of epigrams, in the manage-
ment of background and atmosphere, and in the presenta-
tion of the pathetic. Whether dealing with ideas or



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MORALISTS lfifS>

states of soul, he fuses the real and the nmiantic. More
than any other writer for the French stage, he reveab
the temperament and personality of genius.

Hervieu

A tragedy, according to Augustin Filon, is neither a
purely poetic conception nor yet an imitation of life.
"It is a moral theorem which has for point of departure
certain psychological qualities, and which leads to a
rigorous conclusion." In short, it regards human senti-
ments as the geometrician regards his points, lines, sur-
faces, and volumes ; it is geometrical, a masterpiece of
logic and of eloquence. Such a definition, whether or
not it be applicable to all tragedy, describes precisely the
major dramas of Paul Hervieu (1857-1915). These are
essentially plays of ideas, abstract in conception, but
rendered concrete in detail that they may win emotional
credence. They are scientific formulas transposed into
the key of art. The fundamental generalization at the
core of each play is never lost sight of. The plot and the
characters are devised to exemplify and reinforce it.
Whatever fails of this purpose is omitted. No cir-
cumstance must remain which, however true to fact or
dramatic in itself, lacks bearing upon the working out
of the problem at first proposed.

Thus the dramas of Hervieu stand at the opposite
pole from those of the realists, naturalists, or other pur-
veyors of "bloody slices of life." They are not cross
sections of actuality cut at random. They are classical
simplifications of the complexity of human experience.
Art, for Hervieu, as for Michael Angelo, involves the
piurgation of superfluities, the illustration of truths uni-



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200 THE CONTEMPORARY DRAMA OF PRANCE

versal. Like Ibsen, Hervieu is a deductive dramatist,
engaged in expanding through selected particulars notions
already crystallized in his mind as laws of conduct. Un-
like the inductive dramatists, who start with story or
character, Hervieu begins abstractly. Unification, clear-
ness, coherence, austerity are the qualities that result,
with an inevitable sacrifice of richness, humor, and
humanity.

Trained as a lawyer, Hervieu early turned to journalism.
In his sketches and fictions he began to develop an art
that was to reach its climax only in the theatre, but the
procedure of which is not unlike that of his later dramas.
Thus, in the novel U Armature, afterwards dramatized
by Brieux, Hervieu plans the work upon certain basic
ideas kept in view fronxfirst to last. The world of fashion,
he holds, has become charming but useless, people as-
sociating merely for pleasure. They are organized accord-
ing to ceremonial prescriptions which apply even in the
realm of love, where the grimaces of flirtation are an
amorous counterpart to the bowings and scrapings of the
salon. This society, which lacks cohesion, is bound to-
gether by a single armature, — money.

When Hervieu first turned to the stage, it was to
experiment in a slight piece in two acts, Point de Lendemain
(1890), which embroiders an eighteenth-century conte
dedicated by the author, Vivant-Denon, to Marie An-
toinette. Rose leaves and musk perfume this idyl, which
gleams with the glaze of Dresden china. A youth con-
ducts to her husband a lady who falls enamored of him
on the journey, even though he is leading her from a
meeting with a lover. After spending one happy night
at her chateau, he returns to the unsuspecting lover and



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MORALISTS 201

is thanked for his service. There will be no to-morrow
to this sweet yet fleeting experience, "point de lende-
main/'

In Les Paroles resteni (1892), Hervieu's new and more
characteristic method is apparent. Like Echegaray in
El gran Galeoto, he will show the power of scandal to
destroy ; its originator shall suffer death from its recoil.
There i^not even a flirtation between Engine and her
father's friend, yet the talkative marquis who has seen
them separate at the lady's room suggests to a gossip
that they may be in love. The story grows, and, over-
taking R6gine as she is about to marry, causes her elderly
suitor to jilt her. But the marquis who is responsible
for having started the talk falls in love with her and
proposes. Then the baron whom he had thoughtlessly
slandered wounds him in a duel. He might have re-
covered, but from his sick bed he overhears visitors still
gossiping, and as he rises in wrath to denounce them,
his wounds are reopened, and he dies, gasping impreca-
tions at his pretended friends. The lady who had first
aided him in starting the scandal exclaims : " Could we
but have foreseen ! One gossips, yet what of that?
Words pass 1" "No, madame," retorts the physician,
pointing to the corpse of the marquis, "words remain,
and they slay." So Hervieu's demonstration is complete.

The tyranny of the marriage law is the theme of Les
Tenailles (1895) B,nd La Loi de Vhomme (1897). The
former is the more powerful. A wife, oppressed by a
cold and correct husband, seeks to separate from him,
but is refused a divorce, and turns for secret consolation
to a scholar who loves her. Years afterwards, when the
scholar has died, we find her living in apparent peace with



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202 THE CONTEMPORARY DRAMA OF FRANCB

her husband, who is oonvinced that he has tamed her com-
pletely. But the emnity between them flares up when
the child of IrSne is to be sent away against her protest.
"He belongs to me rather than to you/' cries the hus-
band ; "he is mine ; I am his father I" Not so, retorts
Irfene, who proclaims what the audience already has
guessed, that the child is the son of her dead lover. The
husband, incredulous, demands proofs, 'but it is now
the turn of Irfene to refuse him satisfaction. She laughs
at his proposal of divorce. For the sake of the boy, she
will remain his wife, denying her confession to him if he
sue her, certain, however, that he will hesitate before air-
ing his shame in public. "What existence do you wish
me to lead?" he asks. And she answers: "The same
that you have caused me to lead hitherto. We are
riveted to the same ball and chain. Prepare now to feel
their weight and draw them also." "You are guilty,
and I am innocent," he protests. "In misery," she
answers, "there are only equals."

The symmetry and balance of design here so marked
reappear in La Loi de Vhomme. A wife, deceived by her
husband, learns that without his consent she cannot
expect a divorce. Since she threatens to accuse her
rival in public, her husband agrees that, although they
remain together for the sake of their daughter, they
shall really live apart. But this daughter happens to
fall in love with the son of the husband's charmer. When
the youth sends his father to ask for the hand of Isabel,
Isabel's mother enlightens him as to his wife's perfidy;
yet they will forgive, touched by the misery that threatens
the lovers. After all, the interests of the children are
paramount.



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MORALISTS 203

In L'Enigme (1901), an appeal to curiosity rather than
the solution of a problem makes the play. Two hunting
squires who live with their families on the same country
estate discover that a guest has intrigued with the wife
of one of them. But which of the wives is guilty ? There
lies the enigma to be solved. Both Leonore iand Giselle
have done what may incriminate them. Through scene
after scene of the cleverest intrigue, our suspicions shift
from one to another. It is only when the gay Vivarce,
apprehended by the brothers who have been lying in
wait for a poacher, withdraws and takes his life, that the
truth emerges. For, on learning of his death, it is L^nore
who utters a cry of anguish, whereas Giselle is little moved.
The husband of Giselle has earlier advocated slaying a
wife detected in infidelity ; the husband of Llonore has
advocated slaying the lover and subjecting the wife to
slow mental torture. Such a punishment he will now
administer to Llonore, and the piece concludes with a
diatribe by an old marquis against laws of marriage that
allow a husband so to treat even a guilty wife.

In La Course du flambeau (1901), Hervieu demon-
strates a theorem in human motive through the reactions
of typical characters linked in a series of typical deeds.
A mother will sacrifi(^ more for her child than will the
child for her mother. This simple formula is stated
explicitly by a raisonneuTy who perceives in the torch
of the ancient Athenian festival, passed from hand to
hand by runners, a symbol of the flame of life, borne
forward from one generation to another, each with eyes
fixed upon the futiu'e rather than the past. Such, says
Mara von, is the law which asks of the mother her beauty,
her health, and even her life for the sake of the child.



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\

204 THE CONTEMPOBABY DRAMA OF FRANCE

But the heroine of the play protests that she would do
no more for her daughter than she would for her mother.
The succeeding intrigue is designed to prove that Sabine,
when put to the test, will more readily sacrifice the life
of her mother than that of her child. For this child, she
renounces a marriage that might have made her happy ;
and to save Marie-Jeanne's husband from bankruptcy,
seeks aid from her jilted lover and her mother ; and even
attempts to steal from the latter the smns denied her.
Then, when Marie-Jeanne must journey to the Engadine
for her health, Sabine permits her mother to accompany
the girl, despite the doctor's warning that the old lady's
heart may give out should she travel to such heights. If
her mother dies, Sabine reasons, Marie-Jeanne, inheriting
her money, may be saved. Marie-Jeanne, however, fails
to return this devotion in kind, and, when her husband is
promised bright prospects for beginning life afresh over-
seas, she is ready to accompany him. Sabine, deserted
by her daughter, now turns to her mother, begging for-
giveness. But the blow already foreseen by the audience
falls. As the mother expires from heart failure, Sabine
exclaims, "She is dead 1 . . . f^joay daug^terj^^^ave
^led^y^iother 1"

The drama is admirable as a demonstration. Women
are the principal characters, because instinct is more
potent in them than in men. But a man, the embodi-
ment of reason, enunciates the theory. The seeming
failure of Sabine's mother to bear out the doctrine of
the supremacy of the maternal instinct is explained by
the statement of the raisonneur that maternal instinct
abates or ceases to operate in the old. Marie-Jeanne's
ready desertion of her mother is but a forecast and counter-



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MORALISTS 205

part of Sabine's similar desertion of hers. To have made
the piece emotionally significant, the characters must
have been greatly enriched. We feel here too clearly the
Q. E. D. of the geometrician.

Something of this richness of character is to be found
in Hervieu's best play, Le Dedcde (1903). Can those
once married wholly forget? May they not, despite new
ties, revert to their former relations? Does divorce, as
a prelude to remarriage, afford a barrier against a return
to passion for those once allied i Brieux, in Le Berceau,
five years earlier, had raised such questions, devising a
story which Hervieu accepts with modifications. A wife,
finding her husband unfaithful, divorces him and marries
one more conventional but less human. When her child
is stricken with illness, the parents are drawn together
at its bedside, and, forgetting new relations, lapse back
into the old. In Le Dedale the resulting conflict is
heightened, since the heroine, instead of dismissing both
husbands, as in Le Berceau, becomes the object of their
fatal struggle, terminating in their destruction as, clenched
in each other's arms, they fall from a height into seething
waters. Interesting here is the attitude of the pious
mother of the wife, who, failing to approve of divorce
and remarriage, accepts her daughter's confession of a
reversion to the first husband as an act in accordance
with divine law.

A year earlier, Hervieu, in Theroigne de MSricourt
(1902), had composed for Bernhardt an historical piece
in six acts concerned with the fortunes of a revolutionary
heroine. Th6roigne is the friend of Danton and Robes-
pierre, and the enemy of a publicist whom she delivers
to the people to be slain. She is rebuked by Bonaparte,



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206 THE CONTEMPOBABY DRAMA OF FRANCE

who checks the mob. We see her nine years later, la-
menting the failm^ of the people to attain their earlier
noble ideals, and publicly scourged, and again in the
Salpgtriere, visited by her old comrade Si6ySs, distraught,
and imagining that the victims of the Revolution are
passing beneath her gaze.

The pictorial featiu'es of such a performance have little
in common with Hervieu's usual procedure, which is
displayed again to good advantage in Le RSveil (1905),
though its lively scenes and its background of political
intrigue recall Theroigne de MSricoiurt. The wife of an
excellent husband is infatuated with a prince, destined
by his father to reach the throne of a usurper through a
revolt. When the prince, preferring love to ambition,
meets Th6rSse at a remote villa, he is seized by his father's



Online LibraryFrank Wadleigh ChandlerThe contemporary drama of France → online text (page 15 of 30)