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Bataille de dames   By: (1791-1861)

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[Illustration: EUGÈNE SCRIBE]






"BATAILLE DE DAMES" bears on its title page the names of two authors, Scribe and Legouvé; and as we can determine the nature of their collaboration from internal evidence alone, it is necessary to examine somewhat the works and characteristics of each.

Eugène Scribe[A] was the most prolific, probably the most popular, and proportionally the most wealthy, playwright of French literary history. He was born on Christmas Eve, 1791, and died on the 20th of February, 1861. He lost both parents in early years, and for a time pretended to study law in Paris; but before he was twenty his dramatic vocation had declared itself unmistakably, though his first comedy, "Les Dervis" (1811), and indeed the dozen that followed it, were unmistakable failures. His mind seemed to flow naturally into all the lighter forms of drama, and at last, after five years, success crowned his perseverance in "L'Auberge;" and "Une Nuit de la garde nationale" gave him notoriety and even a sort of fame, just as the Restoration inaugurated that period of social lassitude so favorable to the recognition of his peculiar talent; for during his whole career he was an amuser far more than an instructor. He took the vaudeville[B], as it had been developed during the eighteenth century by Le Sage, Regnard, Piron, Marmontel, and even J. J. Rousseau, and gave it a body and a living interest, till it became the comédie vaudeville , and then, discarding even the little snatches of song, the couplets that still marked its origin, spread its butterfly wings as the modern comedy of intrigue.

Scribe's course was now an uninterrupted triumph. During the whole Bourbon and Orleanist period he was first, with no second, in light comedy. Beginning at the humble Théâtre du Vaudeville and the Variétés, he passed in 1820 to the newly founded Gymnase, for which he wrote one hundred and fifty little pieces, of which the most significant are "La Demoiselle à marier," "La Chanoinesse," "Le Colonel," "Zoé, ou l'amant prêté," and "Le Plus beau jour de ma vie," the last two familiar to us as "The Loan of a Lover" and "The Happiest Day of My Life." Most of these pieces were written in collaboration with various dramatists, of whom the least forgotten are Saintine, Bayard, and Saint Georges, men of whom it is quite pardonable to be ignorant. It is, therefore, reasonable to infer that the essential dramatic element in them is due to Scribe alone; and indeed one sees that, while all are slight in conception, they are all ingenious and amusing in intrigue.

In his more ambitious comedies Scribe at first preferred to work alone, and here, too, he learned success by failure.[C] The new conditions, social and political, that followed the Revolution of 1830, helped him also; for new liberties admitted, and the new bourgeois plutocracy invited, the good humored persiflage in which he was an easy master. On the other hand, he was hardly touched by the accompanying Romantic movement in literature that was then convulsing the theatre going public with "Hernani" and "Antony." He cared much less for the critics than for the box office, and now transferred his work almost wholly to the national Théâtre Français. Here were produced during the eighteen years that separate "Bertrand et Raton" from "Bataille de dames" (1833 1851) almost all his pieces that still hold the stage, notable among them "La Camaraderie," the most popular of his political comedies, "Une Chaîne," "Le Verre d'eau," "Adrienne Lecouvreur," and "Les Contes de la reine de Navarre." The last two, the present comedy, and the somewhat later "Doigts de fée" (1858), were written in collaboration with Legouvé; and as these are certainly his best plays, we may expect to find an element in them that Scribe alone, or with other collaborators, could not supply... Continue reading book >>

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