Theory and Practice in French Wagnerian Drama: Édouard Dujardin and La Légende d'Antonia


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Le théâtre était plein De gens, ma foi, très bien, Venant d'un peu partout ouïr l'heureux coquin Que I'on nomme Édouard Dujardin (Rien de celui de Bérénice) C'est un poète symbolisse [sic] Dont les strophes ailées ravissent Quelques adolescents précoces dans le vice Et des dames hors de service.1

With such disparaging doggerel did one critic mock Édouard Dujardin's first dramatic venture, Antonia, in 1891. Stéphane Mallarmé was more tactful, writing to the novice dramatist somewhat ambiguously that Antonia was "non rare, mais unique, dans les littératures."2 Slightly more expansive, the playwright Maurice Maeterlinck deemed the play to be "le plus curieux essai tenté jusqu'ici; le plus curieux essai de théâtre synthéique et non simplement symbolique au sens étroit d'allégorie," summing it up with an enthusiastic declaration: "C'est la premiére tentative de tragédie lyrique pure."3 Nowadays when the name of Édouard Dujardin is heard, as often as not it is in connection with the stream-of-consciousness novel, thanks to James Joyce who brought Dujardin's experimental novel of Les Lauriers sont coupés, to public notice in the 1920's by mentioning it as a predecessor of Ulysses. At the turn of the century, however, Dujardin was best known in Paris a and s an editor and dramatist: he published two influential Symbolist journals, the Revue wagnérienne and the Revue indépendante, between 1885 and 1888, and from 1891 to 1893 he staged a dramatic trilogy, La Légende d'Antonia, which was long remembered as a spectacular flop, sometimes even referred to as the Cid or the Hernani of the Symbolist movement.4 While the serious pioneering efforts of the Revue wagnérienne derive from the same source, the single-minded devotion which Durjardin had for the work of Richard Wagner. But just how Wagnerian were the plays of La Légende d'Antonia? This is a question which has never been considered, for while those who have studied Wagner's influence in France have invariably mentioned Dujardin's Wagner's influence in France have invariably mentioned Dujardin's plays in passing - a typical example is Guy Michaud's reference to "cette vaste trilogie idéaliste et symbolique, et surtout wagnérienne"5 - the actual nature of the 'Wagnerian' epithet attached to them has never been investigated.

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