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Bara, Olivier and Barbara T. Cooper, eds. L'Autre theatre romantique.

Bara, Olivier and Barbara T. Cooper, eds. L'Autre theatre romantique, special issue of Revue d'Histoire du Iheatre 257 (janvier-mars): 2013. Pp. 127. ISSN: 1291-2530

L'Autre theatre romantique may be the most ambitious 127 pages on nineteenth-century French theater published in decades. As the title suggests, this slim volume proposes nothing less than an alternative vision of Romantic theater. Editors Olivier Bara and Barbara T. Cooper do not indulge in empty rhetoric when they claim that this special issue challenges longstanding misconceptions, highlighting the limitations and the blind spots imposed by the "doxa scolaire" (5) that tend to reduce Romantic drama to little more than a series of theatrical reforms and experiments proposed by Hugo between 1827-1843. In order to deliver on their promise, they present a corpus of seven articles that return to central claims made in descriptions of Romantic drama and evaluate their historical accuracy. The correctives proposed resituate Hugo, removing him from the central pedestal where he obscured posterity's view of realities defining Romantic drama and overshadowed the writers, directors, actors, and professionals whose business it was to fill Paris' playhouses and their coffers.

The volume is split in two parts. The first looks to contemporary theory and practices to underscore Stendhal's, Guizot's, Sand's, and Musset's role alongside Hugo in articulating the need to produce intense sensorial and emotional experiences for audiences. It demonstrates that the metteur en scene and boulevard techniques proved vital for successfully staging all works, including highbrow theater. The second part overturns assumptions that Romantic drama rejected tragedy, the fantastic, comedy, and moral commentary, tracing these misconceptions to strategic efforts made by Romantic artists to distinguish themselves from purveyors of popular or "industrial" theater. The contributors exploit a wide range of production and reception data, balancing their findings against close readings of the texts and theory. The resulting analyses replace the myths circulated about Romantic drama with reliable scientific knowledge. They showcase solid investigative practices, using archival sources to demonstrate the diversity and importance of theater as a cultural medium in the nineteenth century.

The organizational format chosen scaffolds several fundamental questions essential for a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of nineteenth-century French theater. This organization renders the volume a valuable resource for specialists in Romanticism and Theater Studies, and for neophytes. It builds the theoretical and factual framework needed for the non-specialist to analyze several idees recues regarding the battle over Romanticism, the sterility of theater in the nineteenth century, the hollow mercantilism of popular theater, and the incompatibility of artistic ambition and commercial success. Case studies serve to replace inaccurate commonplaces with a specific knowledge, fleshing out our vision of Romantic theater with greater accuracy and authenticity. They foster an appreciation for the tensions that led to the distorted view of the past. The authors demonstrate a greater diversify and vitality within theater during the Romantic period than is often remembered. Moreover, they illustrate the active and innovative research currently underway, highlighting the value of rigorous scholarly inquiry into modes of production, reception, dramaturgy, and boulevard theater that combines archival work and textual analysis with cultural and intellectual history.

Readers may feel slightly frustrated that the methodical demonstration of the inaccuracies subtending many of our myths regarding Romanticism leaves them hungry for lengthier discussion of specific examples. Appetites whetted, they might wish to see these scholars move even further into those case studies that here are necessarily limited by space constraints. Fortunately, the book reviews flag a few of the most recent publications. Non-specialists might regret that space limitations prevented inclusion of a selected bibliography mapping the groundbreaking work in nineteenth-century French theater published in the past fifteen years, including Roxane Martin's work on feeries and Olivier Bara's on the opera-comique.

For American scholars, L'Autre theatre romantique provides a tonic reminder of the importance of nineteenth-century French theater in understanding the cultural legacy of this period. It offers a compelling corrective to traditional views on Romantic drama. It sketches in broad strokes the fascinating subject matter and the current methodologies that are hallmarks of the vibrant community of scholars engaged in research on nineteenth-century French theater. The dominance in this field of scholars based in France is evident. Barbara Cooper stands out as one of the handful of American nineteenth-century scholars wholly engaged in the study of French theater. Likewise, the pole for publishing in this field lies in France. L'Autre theatre romantique seeks to change this by promoting the legitimacy and vitality of research in Romantic theater and by identifying and extending the community of scholars engaged in it. This important contribution to nineteenth-century French studies deserves a central place on library shelves and graduate reading lists.

Michelle S. Cheyne, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
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Author:Cheyne, Michelle S.
Publication:Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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