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AWARNI, grim caricaturist of the Second Empire, was asked by one of the ever-curious Goncourt brothers whether he really understood Woman. * The artist did not hesitate in his answer: “Woman is quite impenetrable, not because she is deep, but because she is hollow !” Gavarni was not a feminist. Now between the ironic pencilled commentaries of the Frenchman on the passing show of Paris, and the mysterious, slow and sweet spoken women of Maurice Maeterlinck there lies a vast territory. Yet when reading or seeing the plays of the Belgian playwright we recall Gavarni's ungallant affirmation and ask the horrid question: Are the Maeterlinck women hollow : Or are they too deep for the sceptic critic to sound with his plummet their unfathomable abysses? As Maeterlinck's works are largely devoted to the exposition of the Eternal Womanly, perhaps they may be made to yield us an adequate denial of Gavarni's heresy, if they be approached in the devout spirit of one who wishes to know, not to mock. The evolution of the Belgian poet from a mystic to a full-blown dramatist with modern Gallic tendencies has been seldom traced. Beginning with the little collection of verse entitled “Serres Chaudes,” we notice a distinct note of pity and gentleness which, coupled with a certain vagueness and exotic coloring, proclaimed the Flemish ancestry of the writer, Flemish and mystical. But if he was a dreamer, he was also a man in vigorous physical health. He had read Novalis, the Admirable Ruysbroeck, Plato, Plotinus, St. Bernard, Jacob Boehme, Coleridge, and Shakespeare—above all, Shakespeare. And, thanks to his solid bone and muscle, he enjoyed quite an earthly appetite for the good things of this globe. He lived much in the open air, and while he adored moonshine he did not disdain rare roast beef; if he fed on Poe and his
morbid imaginings, grace to his sane intellectual apparatus, he nourished his soul with Emerson. Hence it is that the work of Maeterlinck is at first a rich mosaic, a pattern designed by himself, withal exhibiting the influence of a dozen other men. Like the violinist who could only play on one string of his instrument, Maeterlinck had but one theme, which he executed with all manners of ingenious variations. And that theme was—fear. With Poe he believed terror to be one of the primal passions of mankind, and his early plays deal only with it. The fear that comes upon one near lonely pools in midnight forests; the fear that assails the soul during the indeterminate time of twilight; and the fear that seizes us by the throat in plain midday, surrounded by human beings and with the noise of life in our ears—these and many other kinds of fear has the poet shown us in miniatures of unexcelled power and intensity. Sometimes he prefers a tower—a relic of the old, Romantic school—or in a corridor at dusk voices wail and footsteps are heard so faint as to make the soul shudder. He does all this by means of a carefully prepared atmosphere, by speech graded in nuance and with repetitions that finally wear away your indifference. Victor Hugo once congratulated Charles Baudelaire on his evocation of a “new shudder ’’ in literature; Maurice Maeterlinck followed Baudelaire — Baudelaire, who was himself a disciple of Poe—and evoked still another shudder, the fear of fear, the most subtle of all fears. One might suppose, therefore, that his women would be either midnight hags, foul and secret, or else supple, snakelike creatures with souls of demons and the clear and shining eyes of angels. They are neither. His worst, most fearful woman we do not see. It is the invisible old Queen in “The Death of Tintagiles.” The next most evil is the Queen in his first drama, “Princess Ma
leine’—an extraordinary mixture of Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear, with a shrewd flavor of the Elizabethan violence we find in Webster and Tourneur. This same Anne is Queen of Jutland, but is a visitor at the court of an old King who is in her fatal clutches. She is so thoroughly wicked that her problem is not an interesting one. Unlike Lady Macbeth, she knows no remorse. It is rather to the Princess Maleine we turn, to this little maid beggared of her royal position, loved by a prince in a wood, and whirled to her death like some mote in a tragic ray of sunshine. The rival kingly houses make Maleine a second Juliette; but instead of the burning atmosphere of the south, the few large stars, the perfume of romantic Italy, we follow as in a dream the slim girl as she goes to the ghostly fountain, there to meet her princely lover. Anne wishes him to marry her daughter, the shy Uglyane—poor name - haunted, timid Uglyane!—but he loves Maleine, this Maleine so innocent, so wise, who could say of the older woman, “There is a little kitchenmaid’s soul at the bottom of her eyes.” Maleine is the primitif type of girlhood that may be seen on the canvases of Jan Eyck, Lucas van Leyden, and later in the pictures of the pre-Raphaelitic group. For years and through other plays, her childlike and many-colored soul, naïf eyes, and quaint questioning of a life that was for her as the distant sea breaking on the dunes, fascinated her author. She was a seemingly inexhaustible problem. He considered her as Maleine; as the maiden in “Intruder ’’; the girl in “The Blind *; as all of the Seven Princesses; as Melisande in “Pelleus and Melisande "; as Alladine in “Alladine in Palomides’’; as the little Prince in “The Death of Tintagiles "-a mere variation of sex; the nature is essentially the same; as Sélysette in “Aglavaine and Sélysette’’; and perhaps traces of her may be seen in “BarbeBleu.” With “Monna Wanna ’’ we encounter another woman, the volitional woman, the woman who dares, who faces dishonor and death for a profoundly noble sentiment. And in “Joyselle,” produced in Paris last summer, we may notice a cunning blending of Maleine and Vanna—of trusting young womanhood and devotion that defies the spells of Merlin for the sake of a unique love. Properly speaking, then, Maeterlinck thus far has only given us these two and widely differentiated types, unless Aglavaine be vol. xxxviii.-42.
viewed as a femme savante, a woman whose friendship, well meant, slowly slays the soul of Sélysette. And there are variations of the ingenuous maidens, little girls, usually their confidantes, younger sisters to whom they say infantile things before launching into the tragic darkness. Little Yssaline is one. The two sisters of Tintagiles are cast in sterner mould. They fight like lionesses for the ill-fated child—his death is one of the pitiable things in literature. The Seven Princesses, whose names are as sonorous music, seem mere silhouettes. We see them through the eyes of the aged Queen. Six of them sleep—the seventh, Ursula, makes no sign of life. The prince who would woo her is without. The entire scene, despite the frantic gesticulations and appeals for help of the old royal couple, has the rigidity and splendor of stained glass. The voices are like the voices we fail to hear in sleep, strained, breathless. Faces convulsed by grief and terror, mouths wide open—the sound is frozen in them. All we know of Ursula is that her hair and hands are exquisite, that she sleeps, that she dies. Yet we would rather learn more of her than of a host of dramatic females strutting the boards in their hysteria and silliness. Melisande is to Maleine what a full-length finished portrait in oils is to a tentative sketch. She is Maeterlinck's loveliest if not most credible creation. She comes from a vague country whose name is never known, and she goes out to a still stranger country. As she dies, Arkel the King, and the father of her husband, tells his son that “she must not be disturbed. The human soul is very silent . . . the human soul likes to depart alone. . . . It suffers so timidly. . . 'Twas a little being, so quiet, so fearful, and so silent. 'Twas a poor little mysterious being like everybody.” The poet is awed by the mystery of life. Speech, he says, is never the method of communication of real and inmost thoughts. Silence alone can transmit them from soul to soul. We talk to fill up the blanks of life. Mankind fears the silence more than the dark. So in his plays the pauses are as significant — sometimes more so than the words—as are the pauses in one of Beethoven's cosmical symphonies. The strangeness of common life, the solitary state of human souls—we fear our soul, he declares, and he cries aloud for those “reservoirs of certitudes,” on the other side of night “whither the silent herd of souls flock every morning to slake their thirst.” Toward woman Maeterlinck's attitude is unmistakable; “I have never met a single woman who did not bring to me something that was great.” Here his words come into collision with Gavarni's bitter epigram. The figure of Melisande appeals. She is so helpless that even her husband forgives her infidelity to him. He wears her on his heart, yet he has never known her. She loves his brother, and then her husband gains the first flaming glimpse of her soul. He is appalled at its depths, this birdlike soul he mistook for a child’s. It is Maeterlinck's supreme gift of presenting a woman's heart, through which passes “noble thoughts . . . like great white birds,” in the body of a girl. And there is no hint of the moral decadence, we notice, in Dostoiewsky’s stories of feminine adolescent life. Hauptmann in Hannele comes nearer to Maeterlinck in his delineation of infantile, passionate souls. We love Melisande and watch her at the fountain bathing her “sick hands,” searching for that lost wedding-ring, viewing with her open eyes of wonder the spectacle of the sea, meeting her lover in the woods, and her final flight, crying: “I am not happy! I am not happy!” Yet it is doubtful if any one in the play understands, really loves her, except the little Ymioln, who with childish candor exclaims, “You have been weeping, little mother l’” The scene in which she stands on the tower combing her unbound hair in the moonlight is magical in its evocation. It is like some far - away legend come to life. And Melisande goes to her death like the hesitating little woodland creature she is. Since Shakespeare no poet has fashioned such an exquisite soul, not even Hauptmann with his Rawtendelein in “The Sunken Bell.” There is much symbolism in “Aglavaine and Sélysette,” and in “Alladine and Palomides” also; in both plays there is a reversion to the earlier type of Maleine. The women are even more childish, more evanescent. If Poe influenced Maeterlinck in his atmospheric pictures, he also, at times, was not without influence in the fashioning of his feminine characters. The shadowy, almost incorporeal creatures, compounded of fantasy and flame, who wraithlike glide through the sombre pages of Poe, have their
analogues in the maids and child-wives of Maeterlinck. They seem to feed on the dew, to dwell in the chill moonlight or to haunt the recesses of remote forests where fountains sob at midnight and footfalls sound like sighs. It is very romantic, this, and all the more romantic because Maeterlinck began writing at a time when the realists ruled Europe, when Zola's Gervaise was considered a vital type of womanhood, and Goncourt's Fille Elise a true study. Suddenly, as if dropped from a strange passing planet, behold Maurice Maeterlinck with his ultra-romantic women, his machinery of the supernatural, withal a new note in the vast symphony of literature! His advent and his development make a curious page in the history of the drama. We now come upon Maeterlinck’s latest phase. In 1902 he wrote “Monna Wanna,” a play that has enjoyed, and still enjoys, triumphs over the European continent. It is so tremendously dynamic, so extremely unlike his earlier dramas—avowedly written for marionettes — that one must look for some subjective happening as a reason. It is quite simple: Maurice Maeterlinck, poet, dramatist, and philosopher, met the fate of other men— he fell in love and he married his love; he adores her as his wife, and her name is Georgette Leblanc. Whether he would have written “Monna Vanna ’’ without her influence is a difficult and bootless question. To the present writer he confessed last summer that he wrote the drama for Madame Maeterlinck. One thing, however, is certain—even if the dramatist had not loved and married, his evolution from mystic to philosopher of reality—to put in a phrase his present attitude toward life—would have been accomplished, as are accomplished all things, in the fulness of time. His marriage but accelerated his growth, and the necessity or pleasure of writing a rôle suitable to his wife, a gifted actress, doubtless caused him to create that magnificent specimen of dauntless womanhood, Giovanna, wife of Colonna, and called by him Monna Vanna. She is all energy—after she sees her way clear; after her conscience bids her go forth and play the sacrificial lamb, be a second Judith, that she may succor her distressed countrymen; be another Godiva, that she may appease the fury of her country's oppressor. Vanna is as volitional as any of Sardou's fierce vixens, though she is never so theatric. Married to a Colonna she really does not love, yet she reveres him. Pisa is besieged by the Florentines, led by a barbarian of great beauty, bravery and learning, named Prinzevalle. He exacts as a ransom the person of Vanna—he has long and secretly loved her—and to the horror of her husband, Vanna makes the sacrifice. The city is without food and ammunition; starvation and pestilence are at hand. The great scene of the play occurs in Prinze valle's tent, where, melted by the indomitable courage and native sweetness of the woman, and full of tender souvenirs, the conquering general relinquishes his captive, surrenders to her— there is a subplot which drives him to desert Florence—and as the curtain falls the two leave for Pisa, now lighted and rejoicing; Prinze ralle has kept his word with Vanna and has sent the beleaguered city food and weapons.
In the last act the naked soul of Vanna shines forth. She has been wooed, has remained constant, has felt quake her own heart—Prinzevalle stirred some early memories of their youthful love. Yet she did not flinch in her duty. She rushes to her husband in a whirlwind of joy, hailed on all sides by a grateful populace. He receives her sternly, coldly. His eyes question her hatefully. He says things to her at which her pure soul revolts. She has meant so well, has meant, if needs be, to sacrifice all for her fatherland, and now when she has conquered the enemy, a magnanimous enemy—
How conquered 2 That is the question her husband puts with increasing excitement, and the climax is superb. It is not necessary to relate it here; suffice to say that at last Vanna understands her husband—and understands herself. Whether the end is justified will be disputed by each one of us as befits his temperament. To me her action is logical, inevitable, if cruel. The chief thing is that Maeterlinck has exposed the soul of a noble woman and in symbols that may be apprehended by all. There is no resemblance here to the shrinking, monosyllabic women of his previous plays, women almost sexless, certainly women nearer the angels than Vanna, though not as real a woman as the great wife of Colonna.
In “Joyzelle,” the latest play published of Maeterlinck's—he has since produced a piece at Brussels—the theme is heroic love, as was Vanna's, but the setting and circumstance of this conte d'amour are vastly different. Joyzelle is a maid cast up by the sea on the island domain of the magician Merlin. His son, the aged enchanter learns through his art, is condemned to die within a month if he does not find a perfect love. The youth has met Joyzelle and loves her. The knowledge of this fills his father with concern. To make sure of the girl he submits her to a series of tests, and she emerges triumphantly from them all. Her love is rewarded; she is given to Lanceor, and Merlin is satisfied. Slight as is this story, the playwright contrives to saturate it with his peculiar poetry and philosophy. The moral is that love, true love, will not stop at crime—rather a disturbing doctrine for the admirers of the gentle Belgian mystic. The roots of his play may be found in Shakespeare’s “Tempest.”
Joyzelle, as I saw her interpreted by Georgette Leblanc-Maeterlinck, was a fascinating woman, not impelled by destiny, as is the case with the earlier dramatic beings, but opposing her fate and conquering it by sheer force of will. She is more than a match in her fidelity for the wily old magician, who even shows her Lance.or with another woman —something she refuses to believe, though her senses bear evil witness of the fact. She is fierier than Wanna, but not so alluring, nor, it must be added, so real. Maeterlinck has harked back to an enchanting No Man's Land and leaves far behind the harsh actualities of real, of historic life. What his next portrait may be we cannot even guess. Perhaps a modern woman like Hedda Gabler, like Hilda Wangel — for he claims Ibsen as his true master.
However, these two distinct types he has given us, types that charm and thrill. A master psychologist, he has exposed the virginal soul, and painted with great broad strokes the soul of a valiant woman. To have done these things so marvellously well proclaims Maurice Maeterlinck as more than a feminist—as a rare poet. And his women, even if they are often impenetrable, are never hollow.
Sister Irmingarde wrote a sentence on the board and ! said she wished us girls to think about it. It was this: “The lives of great failures are not written.” She asked us what we thought it meant, so we discussed it earnestly, and I trust I need not add, intelligently; for, as I have often explained to the gentle readers of these stories, we girls at St. Catharine's are students of singularly mature minds and rare intuition. But all the time the others were talking I was thinking how interesting it would be to write the story of a great failure; and then suddenly I remembered that I could, because I knew one. Well indeed, alas! can I write of a great failure, for I was it; and as most of the other stories are cheerful and end well, perhaps the gentle reader will not mind a sad one for a change. It is not going to be easy to tell this story, for great failures are terrible things, and the people who made them usually feel dreadful and are embittered for life; and sometimes they die of broken hearts, like Horace Greeley. No wonder they don’t write about them. But I will do it because I am a Literary Artist, and because truth is mighty and must prevail, and because, after all, I am only fourteen and no one but Juliet ever
will pluck my quill out of my breast, as it were, the way the mother pelican does, and I will write this dark chronicle of a brilliant young life and how it clouded up all of a sudden. The great failure was my paper. I had set my heart on it and my young ambitions— and one has a great many young ambitions when one is fourteen. All my friends knew I was the editor, so they subscribed, and I planned to send a copy to papa every week, with my name at the top of the editorial page. The name of the paper was The Voice of Truth, and its motto was Uncompromising Fearlessness. The girls made it “the official organ of the students of St. Catharine's Academy,” and Mabel Muriel Murphy's father told Mabel Muriel he would be our financial adviser. He did that because Mabel Muriel was the business manager. It was very convenient for her, too, because when we were getting it ready, and spending lots more money than we took in, Mabel Muriel always telegraphed to her father and he sent money right away; and then Mabel Muriel’s books showed a large profit. You can see what a good business manager she was, and how clever we were to think of a financial adviser and have one. Mabel Blossom was the circulation manager, and she was fine, too. She made all