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Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon Comédie en quatre actes   By: (1828-1866)

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De L'Académie Française





Because Le Voyage de M. Perrichon is a delightful comedy and particularly suitable for use in the class room, it does not follow that the place of its author in the literature of France should be unduly magnified.

Eugène Labiche's chief claim to fame is that, as a distinguished critic said of him, «for forty years he kept his contemporaries in laughter.» From 1838, when he wrote his first play, till 1876, when he voluntarily retired, he produced, generally in collaboration with writers known mainly through their association with him, over one hundred and fifty comedies, in each of which is heard the same dominant note of fun and merriment. But of these plays only a very small number possess the qualities that alone make for durability; neither their form in most cases photographically true to the looseness of the most familiar conversation nor their substance often grotesquely impossible adventures, situations supremely laughable because colossally absurd is calculated to embalm his plays against the ravages of time. He thought so himself, and declined for a long time to have them collected into a complete edition; and when, in 1880, he was proposed for a vacant seat in the Académie Française , he doubted whether he would have voted for his own admission into that illustrious company.

Thus Labiche must stand simply as the most prolific and genial of the fun makers for France during almost half a century. This praise would have satisfied the modest man that he was. Born in Paris in 1815, he had been destined to the bar; but, preferring literature, early betook himself to the newspaper and the drama. Here he «found himself,» and from the age of twenty three until he was over sixty filled the comic stage with his light and laughable productions. After his retirement in 1876 the distinctions that were bestowed upon him with no grudging hand brought him as much surprise as pleasure. His published Théâtre Complet was received by the public with altogether unexpected enthusiasm; he was elected to the Academy, and his speech on his reception into that body made a marked sensation. He died in 1888 at his country place in Sologne, full of years and of wonder at the gratitude of his contemporaries for the amusement he had so long afforded them.

Had more of his comedies possessed the qualities of Le Voyage de M. Perrichon , this high esteem would not have been restricted to his contemporaries. For, underlying the humorous dialogue, there is in this work a shrewd observation, an analysis of character, that lift it far above mere farce. Its insight into the ungrateful heart of man, a cheerful and reformative, not a gloomy or hopeless, insight, its lifelike delineation of the parvenu , the self made man who worships his maker, and who, because he has been successful in business, thinks all things are his, culture included: these raise Le Voyage de M. Perrichon to the plane of true comedy.

Like all Labiche's plays, this one deals with the middle class, the bourgeois element in French life, where natural foibles are not varnished over with the gloss of education and conventionality, but appear in all their nakedness. M. Perrichon's self complacency never once suspects itself; Majorin is mean «all over»; there is no external hindrance to the exhibition of the weakness within. The feminine characters, as is invariably the case in his répertoire , are but lightly sketched in. He claimed that «woman is no joke,» and got all his fun out of men. Only in the first Act are the peculiarities of Madame Perrichon at all brought out: the lack of refinement of her speech, her crustiness when her personal habits are interfered with, etc... Continue reading book >>

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