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Victor Hugo and the Romantic Drama

Victor Hugo and the Romantic Drama

Albert W. Halsall
  • Book Info
    Victor Hugo and the Romantic Drama
    Book Description:

    In this book, Albert W. Halsall presents the first complete treatment in English of Hugo's plays - a history, plot summary, and detailed analysis of all the dramas, from Cromwel and Torquemada to the juvenilia and the epic melodrama Les Burgraves.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8306-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Victor Hugo’s Romantic dramas have remained the most controversial part of his work ever since he overturned the neo-classical canons accepted by the French theatre-going public in the 1830s. Even friendly modern commentators as diverse as Michel Butor and Ruth Doyle have pointed to the disagreements among critics of his dramas, disagreements much more marked than those separating readers of his poetry or novels. Doyle, for instance, opens her 1981 annotated bibliography of Hugo’s theatre by calling his plays the ‘weakest part of his total work.’² Oddly enough, however, among the 826 items she collected, she lists not a single...

  4. A Note on Sources and Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. 1. Youth and Dramatic Juvenilia
    (pp. 3-19)

    If we take Anne Ubersfeld’s definition of the drama, namely ‘a story, afableimplying both individual destinies and a “social universe”’ as the basis for studying Victor Hugo’s career in the theatre, then we encounter a precise theoretical problem. As many of his biographers and critics have pointed out, his plays frequently dramatize the problems occurring among and between members of a family: incest, sibling rivalry, ancestor worship, are only some of the most obvious of such subjects. Formalists would argue that, in constructing his dramas around family strife, Hugo the pragmatic dramatist was merely following Aristotle’s remark in...

  7. 2. Theatre in France 1800–1830
    (pp. 20-44)

    After the Revolution, the number of theatres in Paris and the provinces rose considerably. In 1791 the National Assembly proclaimed the freedom of theatres by a decree which authorized ‘any citizen to open a public theatre and to play there dramatic works of any genre.’ This latter stipulation replaced the monopoly to present classical tragedy or comedy that state-funded theatres like the Comédie-Française had enjoyed before the Revolution. In 1792 the Assembly made Schiller, one of the foreign authors most admired by theorists and practitioners of Romantic drama, an honorary Citizen of the French Republic. In 1793 the Convention established...

  8. 3. Hugo’s Aesthetic Revolt (1), 1820–1827: Inez de Castro, Amy Robsart, Cromwell, and Its Preface
    (pp. 45-71)

    Victor Hugo was eighteen in February 1820, and already ambitious to succeed in a literary career so that he could marry Adèle Foucher. The 1820s were to be for him, in general, a period of intense literary activity leading, among his other activities as poet and novelist, to the first formulation of his theory of the Romantic drama in the Preface toCromwell(1827) and to the writing of his first such dramas,Cromwell,Marion de Lorme, andHernani. Along the way, he wrote dramatic criticism, an activity that introduced him to the realities of the theatre scene in Paris;...

  9. 4. Aesthetic Revolt (2), 1828–1831: Hernani and Marion de Lorme
    (pp. 72-103)

    After the excitement aroused by the Preface toCromwell, Hugo’s first attempt at writing a successful play involved, as we have seen, his completingAmy Robsart, performed with such disastrous results in February 1828. Temporarily discouraged, he turned his efforts to fiction, beginning to take notes for his medieval novel,Notre-Dame de Paris, and composing his first fictional denunciation of capital punishment,Le Dernier Jour d’un condamné à mort, between October and December 1828.

    Meanwhile, Alexandre Dumas’ Romantic dramaHenri III et sa courhad been enthusiastically accepted by the Comédie-Française in September, opening triumphantly there on 11 February 1829....

  10. 5. The Worst ... and the Best of Times, 1832: Le Roi s’amuse and Lucrèce Borgia
    (pp. 104-129)

    Between 3 June and 20 July 1832, Victor Hugo did an extraordinary thing: he wrote two plays back to back, without waiting to see the first one produced.² His extraordinary activity was not provoked, as in 1829, by censorship problems. UnlikeMarion de Lorme, banned by Charles X’s ministers in that year,Le Roi s’amuse, written in June 1832, was not even in rehearsal when Hugo, in July, wroteUn Souper à Ferrare(A Supper in Ferrara), the drama that he would later retitleLucrèce Borgia. Nor were theatre conditions in Paris so encouraging that he needed to over-produce in...

  11. 6. Hugo’s Campagin against Social Injustice, 1833–1835: Marie Tudor and Angelo, tyran de Padoue
    (pp. 130-153)

    The factors that reduced the success ofMarie Tudor, at its première on 6 November 1833 seem to have been at least as much personal and sentimental as literary or political. In order to understand why Harel, the director of the Porte-Saint-Martin Theatre, has been found guilty – by such prominent modern scholars of Hugo as Ubersfeld and Laster – of heading a cabal whose aim was to engineer the failure of Hugo’s career as a boulevard dramatist, we need to look at the context in which the play was written, rehearsed and performed.

    At the end of April 1833,...

  12. 7. Social Justice as Erotic Aspiration; ‘An Earthworm in Love with a Star’: Ruy Blas
    (pp. 154-168)

    Hugo’s next dramatic venture necessitated a change of theatre: having quarrelled with Harel at the Porte-Saint-Martin and having successfully sued the Comédie-Française, he could hardly expect, had he so wished, to see a play of his performed sympathetically at either theatre. Fortunately, his reconciliation with Dumas after their temporary misunderstanding during the rehearsals ofMarie Tudorin 1833 predisposed him to accept his colleague’s offer to co-direct the new ‘Second Theatre of France.’ This idea – to provide a venue in which the plays of young successful Romantic dramatists could be performed – was the brainchild of Dumas’ old and...

  13. 8. Hugo Abandons the Romantic Drama: La Esmeralda, Les Jumeaux, and Les Burgraves
    (pp. 169-187)

    Victor Hugo’s output for the stage had been slowing down since 1836. No more would he produce, as in thatannus mirabilis1832, two plays in a single year. If he had entertained the ambition of dominating the French theatre by occupying at the same time the stage at both the Comédie-Française and at the Porte-Saint-Martin, by 1836 he had abandoned this ambition, for he was producing fewer plays and the intervals between them were growing longer. As we have seen, between June and September 1832, he wrote two dramas,Le Roi s’amusein verse, andLucrèce Borgiain prose....

  14. 9. Hugo’s Theatre after 1843: Le Théâtre en liberté; Return to the Romantic Drama: Mille Francs de récompense and Torquemada
    (pp. 188-206)

    After the failure ofLes Burgravesin 1843, a number of events conspired to distract Hugo’s interest from dramatic production. On 4 September of that year, the death of Léopoldine, his eldest daughter, drowned in a boating accident in the Seine near Villequier with her husband of six months, brought to a temporary stop the flood of publications Hugo produced in a normal year. He attempted to forget his grief by entering political life, becoming in 1845 a Peer of France, a rank admirably suited to launch him on a political career in the Government of Louis-Philippe. When the latter...

  15. 10. Conclusion: The Romantic Drama after Victor Hugo
    (pp. 207-212)

    As we have already seen, Fernand Baldensperger, writing in 1929, declared that Hugo’s Romantic manifesto, the Preface toCromwell, changed ‘forever’ the history of the theatre in France by ‘liberating’ it once and for all from the neo-classical rules governing the genres forming literary theatre.¹ Clearly, Hugo’s rhetorical presentation of the theory of dramatic genres proved convincing and its influence has lasted into our own day. But Hugo’s Romantic dramas themselves, as we have also seen, did not always find a public, at the State-funded theatres or elsewhere, ‘grateful’ for this liberation. Because they were ahead of their time, in...

  16. Chronology of Hugo’s Life and Writings
    (pp. 213-222)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 223-234)
  18. Works Consulted
    (pp. 235-240)
  19. Index
    (pp. 241-251)