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Paul Claudel's L'Annonce faite a Marie: A process of visionary revision.

In his essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Walter Benjamin notes that 'the history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form'. (1) The turn of the twentieth century in France might well be seen as one of these critical epochs, given the tardiness of French dramatists to respond to the demand for reform and reevaluation implicit in 'l'aventure decorative moderne'. (2) During the early decades of the century, the drive to discover and celebrate 'la specificite artistique du theatre' (Veinstein, p. 66) stimulated a revolution in theatre production and mise en scene. The Theatre Libre was at the forefront of this theatrical crusade, as Andre Antoine's detailed realism strove to replace the era of 'le carton-pate ou la toile peinte' (3). Not only was the concept of decor transformed, but a new breed of actor was developed, one who 'jou[ai]t dans son milieu comme si on le surprenait'. (4) However, in an assessment of the influence of his theatre Antoine recognized the fact that it had not inspired a regeneration of the dramatic text itself: 'La besogne du Theatre Libre, je le vois bien, sera feconde non point tant par les oeuvres produites que par les courants qu'il peut determiner' (quoted in Encyclopedie I, 40) The emergence of theatrical Symbolism failed to redress this balance, as mise en scene continued to evolve whilst the dramatic text struggled in vain to re-invent itself. By 1897, the failure of the French Symbolists to produce a body of original dramatic work had forced Aurelien Lugne-Poe to make a formal break from them and Gaston Baty's impression that a movement which was 'd'abord litteraire, a conduit a des resultats surtout visuels' (Encyclopedie I, 29) seemed justified.

Whilst Lugne-Poe's decision to cut his theatre loose, so that 'L'OEuvre ne depend d'aucune ecole' (Encyclopedie I, 50), signalled an exciting new era in the life of the French theatre director, it did little to bridge the gap between drama and theatre. Artistic ventures such as Jacques Copeau's Theatre du Vieux-Colombier (1913-1924), Charles Dullin's Atelier (1921-1939), and Gaston Baty's Compagnons de la Chimere (from 1921), provided a forum for practical exploration of the value of scenic modes of expression. Presentational methods were refined and the balance between distinct dramatic elements was adjusted in order to precipitate an act of disclosure, whereby 'l'oeuvre livre son ame et le miracle du theatre s'accomplit'. (5) However, despite the fact that these changes promoted an equivalent adjustment in the language of literary expression, the Vieux-Colombier's opening programme, featuring works by Aeschylus, Thomas Heywood, Moliere and Racine, Ibsen and Shaw, demonstrates the polarization between the contemporary dramatist and the theatre itself.

Paul Claudel's L'Annonce faite a Marie makes fascinating reading against this background for several reasons. Firstly, the play's history, spanning 'cinquante-six ans de patience acharnee' (OC IX, 296), is illustrative of the general point that the revolution in mise en scene required an adjustment in terms of the dramatic text if the dream of achieving 'une veritable renovation de l'art dramatique francais' was ever to become a reality. (6) Secondly, the play's definitive version, written in 1948, is proof that this adjustment could be achieved if the dramatist developed his text in the light of an understanding of the demands of the stage. By conducting its discourse through the medium of theatrical gestures as opposed to literary devices, the final version of L'Annonce faite a Marie realizes the potential for dramatic renewal afforded by the advances made in the realm of production and mise en scene. The directness of this representational mode invests the text with the immediacy of live theatre, so that the relationship between the audience and the text itself is transformed from a passive experience to an act of collaboration, 'un certain passage, difficile, puissant et delicat, de l'esprit du producteur a l'ame de celui que l'idiome francais appelle profondement le consommateur' (OC XVII, 208).

L'Annonce faite a Marie first saw the light of day under the title La Jeune Fille Violaine in 1892, was revised in 1901, and again in 1911 and 1940, before attaining its definitive form in 1948, under the new title, L'Annonce faite a Marie, version definitive pour la scene. This lengthy revisionary process can be separated into two distinct phases, 1892-1911 and 1912-1948. During the initial phase, Claudel worked alone, struggling to glean inspiration from contemporary literary ideology. The religious nature of his dramatic material necessitated a particular kind of artistic transformation, whereby God's invisible presence could be made a visible force in the play. However, neither Naturalism nor Symbolism, the dominant literary modes accessible to him, proved capable of effecting such a transposition and the play's first two versions are marred by a conflict between dramatic action and lyrical text. Despite the fact that there was a curious compatibility between Claudel's particular artistic mission and the concept of theatre as revelation that was emerging amongst the directors and theatre practitioners of his time, he remained isolated from the theatre whilst writing the play's third version. This version benefited both from the construction of a framework of ritualistic gestures and the provision of a wider social, political and religious context. Although these changes gave the play greater coherence and clarity, they were not sufficient to bring the language of literary expression in line with the language of the current theatrical event. In fact, a comment made by Claudel in 1909, justifying his refusal of Andre Gide's request for permission to perform the play, shows that whilst the playwright was aware of his own alienation from the theatre, he was also convinced that he was not yet ready to attempt to resolve this inconsistency:

Rien de ce que j'ai fait n'a ete ecrit en vue de la scene. Je ne vais jamais au theatre et j'en ignore les exigences. Il s'agirait donc non pas d'une representation, mais d'une veritable transposition, qui peut peut-etre se faire, mais qui exigerait de ma part tout un ordre d'etudes et de reflexions, qui ne sont pas encore suffisamment mu ries. (7)

Only three years later, however, in August 1912, when Aurelien Lugne-Poe introduced him to the world of live theatre, Claudel reached a turning point. This marked the onset of a developmental period, during which his contact with several key individuals who worked on the play, namely Baty, Gemier and Dullin, enabled him to work towards the creation of a 'new art form' (Walter Benjamin, p. 230) that achieved the effect towards which the theatre itself had aspired since the turn of the century: 'une veritable renovation de l'art dramatique francais' (Jacques Copeau, 'Le Theatre du Vieux Colombier', p. 16).

The first version of La Jeune Fille Violaine (1892) might well be interpreted as an attempt by Claudel to fulfil his artistic mission as a 'conducteur[s] d'ames', 'delegue[s] par tout le reste de l'univers a la connaissance et a la verite'. (8) His failure to achieve this aim is due to the conflict between his spiritual theme and the Naturalist methodology he used to embody this vision. As soon as he defines the theatrical space in which the play's action is to unfold, we are made aware of the incongruity between his focus on the faithful presentation of the material world and the play's underlying spiritual statement. He once referred to La Jeune Fille Violaine as an attempt to externalize the latent tragedy, embodied in the rugged landscape of his youth, and it is Combernon, one of the glorious old farms of his native Villeneuve-sur-Fere-en-Tardenois, that provides the backdrop for the play's opening scenes. We are given a detailed description of the farmhouse, its four open windows, its garden full of blossoming trees, its busy servants, its bee-laden holly trees, its wild doves and the children in neighbouring alleys and lanes. Later, we are taken to other areas of the surrounding countryside, to the mysterious 'butte du Geyn, de bruyeres et de sable blanc avec ses roches fantastiques' (OC XVI, 202), before returning to Combernon at harvest time as the play slowly draws to an end. Claudel claimed that it was in his native Tardenois, 'que mon coeur et mon esprit se sont ouverts a la fois a la religion et a la poesie' (OC XVI, 200) and it may well be his belief that the material Villeneuve was inseparable from a mystical Villeneuve, that induced him to present it in so much concrete detail. However, in effect this emphasis on external detail worked against the very religious and supernatural qualities that he wanted to bring to the fore.

The dysfunctional nature of the play's opening action provides further proof of the fundamental antagonism between the dramatist's religious vision and the materialistic and mechanistic worldview characteristic of Naturalism. The introduction of Anne Vercors and his wife is in fact a false start to the play. After forty years of farming, 'leve premier, couche dernier, beaucoup de mal, peu de profit' (Act I, OC VII, 240), Anne is dissatisfied with his life and indicates his determination to free himself from his material and emotional ties. The first act closes to the sound of his parting words, 'Moi, moi, | J'irai voir, avant que je ne meure, la mer!' (OC VII, 253) Claudel described the characters in this version of the play as, 'une poignee de locataires mecontents' (Act I, OC IX, 293) and it is true to say that Anne seems driven by an overwhelming, but ill-defined, longing for greater satisfaction than that provided by a dedication to land and material heritage. However, not only is the precise nature of his desire ambiguous, it is also irrelevant in terms of the play's present, as the reader must now look to a new start for the development of the main theme.

The second act opens on a new day, but the counterproductive focus on the practicalities of life at Combernon is maintained. Violaine, Anne's eldest daughter, has already rejected the advances of her cousin Baube and is set to marry Jacques, a neighbouring farmer. The ardency of their love brings an emotional depth to the play, but if Claudel's 'jeune fille Violaine' is ever to become a means of bringing God's power to bear in Combernon, she must discover a divine yearning greater than all others. In an attempt to free his heroine from Combernon and allow her to inhabit a new dramatic space, within which she might fulfil this primary spiritual function, Claudel transfers control of the dramatic action to Bibiane, Violaine's sister. The principle behind this change is sound, but its practical consequences are less fortunate, because Bibiane's actions present Violaine's fate in material rather than spiritual terms. It is she, who, possessed by jealousy, desire and greed, drives the heroine from her lover's arms in search of the more enduring love of Christ, making Violaine appear more a helpless victim to her fury, than a willing martyr to a religious cause.

In the third act, Claudel finally succeeds in presenting dramatic action that has a direct relation to his primary theme--the restoration of sight to Bibiane's blind little child. However, despite the fact that this extraordinary action has clear spiritual significance, it is marginalized by a considerable amount of annotation and explanation. As a result, the action presented becomes incidental and the burden of representation and interpretation is left to dialogue. Rather than establish an immediate focus on the miracle itself, Claudel returns Baube to the action in an attempt to de-mystify Violaine's motivation. Baube stumbles across his cousin in the forest and discusses his marriage and his wife, Lidine, with her. Firstly, he tells her of the joy he discovers in his own physicality and his material surroundings. Then he demands an explanation of her acceptance of her many losses, including the loss of her sight. She reveals her discovery of another means of sight, 'une autre lumiere, elle est appelee lumiere de la paix' (Act III, OC VII, 280). This discussion goes some way towards defining Violaine's spiritual nature, but its function as an appendix to her past actions and to the miracle itself reveals the dramatist's lack of faith in the communicative power of the play's central action. When the miracle finally occurs, it lacks both definition and direction, justifying Mildred Deuel's criticism that the play does not reach its logical climax in Act III. (9) Claudel attempts to revive the spiritual quality of the play by returning Anne, Baube and his wife, Lidine to the fourth act, but Violaine's death, brought on by an attack by Bibiane, banishes any hope of a revival of direct and relevant dramatic action.

Claudel's dissatisfaction with this first version of La Jeune Fille Violaine is highlighted by the fact that he did not publish it until 1924, thirty-two years after its initial appearance. (10) At the turn of the twentieth century, he described the play as 'une piece purement villageoise' (OC IX, 305), and by 1901, he had written a second version, in which he reduced the need for commentary by affording his action a symbolic quality indicative of its spiritual nature. The first step in this process was the introduction of a new character, Pierre de Craon. Pierre is a journeyman who conducts his daily business in and around Combernon; he is also Violaine's spiritual guide. His dual status enables him both to play a practical role in the play's world and embody a spiritual quality. The first act now opens with a nocturnal meeting between the two young people, during which it becomes clear that their relationship is based on a shared understanding of God's role in their lives, rather than on physical attraction or emotional compatibility. On occasion, Claudel does use Pierre as a means of conducting rather bewildering theological discussions, such as his treatise on the genesis of words, evolving 'longuement, obscurement, | Plus profond que le coeur et les intestins' (Act I, OC VII, 330). Nevertheless, the introductory action comes to a climax with a chaste kiss shared by the two characters, a positive action that externalizes their mutual faith in God, testifying to the beneficial influence He has on their lives. Despite the fact that Bibiane later uses this kiss (which she witnesses, unbeknown to Violaine and Pierre), as a weapon to harm Violaine, its spiritual quality is clear. It is the first indication that God might play a creative role amongst the men and women of Combernon.

Having established this new beginning, Claudel needed to develop a corresponding action in the play's main body. His failure to do so both in the first and second acts reflects the fact that despite the ostensible affinity between the mystical tendencies of the Symbolist movement and the play's spiritual subject matter, Symbolist drama was a problematic genre in itself. Maeterlinck might well be considered the most successful Symbolist dramatist of his time, but whilst his early plays are full of a mystical enchantment, they also conform to his own definition of the drame statique, where 'the category "action" is replaced by "situation"'. (11) Claudel's failure to make any positive structural changes to his dramatic action suggests that he too is caught in this impasse. He did, however, make a curious combination of marginal alterations to the play's opening acts. First, he provided a definitive explanation for Anne's behaviour, making him leave his home in order to settle his deceased brother's estate, which, though it clarifies the old man's motivation, still denies him any vestiges of spirituality. More constructively, he changed Bibiane's name to Mara, meaning bitter, highlighting the internal truth of her nature and the quality of her relationship with God. In Conversations, contacts et circonstances, Claudel contrasted the haphazard process of naming prevalent in everyday life with the existence of a true name:

Mais au-dessous de ces noms hasardeux et choisis au petit bonheur, il y a le nom vrai, celui qui a appele l'individu a l'existence et qui est sa propre vocation. Ce nom repond au besoin que Dieu a eu de Lui pour exprimer et signifier quelque chose de Lui-meme et satisfaire au role dans le drame de la Creation qu'Il lui a assigne. (OC XVI, 406)

In the first version, Bibiane seemed bereft of any spiritual knowledge or experience. Here, it is clear that she has a specific relationship with God, reminiscent of that between Naomi and her God, when in Exodus 15. 23, she returns to her people having lost her sons and husband, requesting to be called Mara in order to reflect the harshness of her Lord's dealings with her. Though a positive change, however, this does little to provide the play with a firm basis of action by means of which to present and develop its central dramatic proposition.

By the time he had reached the second act, Claudel seemed to have realized that if he was ever to validate his religious vision in dramatic terms, he needed to bridge the gap between man's objective and subjective experiences. In an attempt to achieve this aim, he makes use of Symbolist techniques to develop an image of his heroine that hints at her spirituality. When Jacques comes face to face with his fiancee, he creates a charming image of her, full of the rapture that she arouses in him:

Quelle est celle-ci qui se tient debout en face de moi, plus douce que le souffle du vent, telle que la lune a travers les jeunes feuillages? [...] La voici comme l'abeille nouvelle qui deploie ses ailes encore fraiches, comme une grande biche, comme une fleur qui ne sait pas elle-meme qu'elle est belle! O personne intacte! O jeunesse de ma fiancee a travers les branches en fleur, salut!

(Act II, OC VII, 361)

The key phrase, 'O jeunesse de ma fiancee a travers les branches en fleur', which is repeated later on in the play, transforms Violaine from a young girl into an embodiment of life's creative energy. The power with which this image endows her is not explicitly spiritual, but it is mystical, in that it tells of the primal, creative impulses of nature and the natural world. Ironically, however, this achievement is undermined by the next change introduced into the same act, when, in an attempt to maintain his focus on the inner qualities of his heroine, Claudel gives the same status to Violaine's thoughts as he affords her spoken words. She meets Jacques's gentle advances with a disconcerting passivity, murmuring, 'Patience, un petit peu de temps encore' (Act II, OC VII, 366), while the stage directions indicate:

(Elle pense:)

Heureux ceux qui vivent ensemble, tandis qu'ils regardent bien


deux pigeons au-dessus d'eux.

Et l'un couvre l'autre de son aile, tandis qu'elle lui becquete le tour

des paupieres,

pareilles aux pellicules d'un grain de ble.

(Act II, OC VII, 367)

Violaine's sense of loss in relinquishing Jacques is powerfully evoked by means of these poetic thoughts. However, this is essentially an anti-dramatic device that highlights the private nature of these thoughts rather than affording them the combination of subjectivity and objectivity traditionally associated with dramatic devices such as the monologue or the aside.

Despite the problematic nature of the second act, Claudel goes on to make a breakthrough in the third act, by transforming the theatrical space into an inclusive and energized place in which the Spirit is much more likely to achieve convincing embodiment. The opening scene is stripped bare and dialogue loses its central status, clearing the way for less familiar but more immediate modes of communication. The initial contact between the two sisters, separated for so many years, is now a silent meeting. This silence is an effective means of persuading an audience that there is no need to give verbal expression to the characters' inner experiences in order to make those experiences real. Their soundless act of recognition is followed by a physical signal of Violaine's spiritual authority over her sister: 'Quand elle est suffisamment pres, Mara reconnait Violaine. Toutes deux un instant restent immobiles, face a face; puis l'une continue son chemin, l'autre la suit' (Act III, OC VII, 377). Unfortunately, Claudel falters at this point, displacing dramatic action by a series of short speeches in which Violaine struggles to tell of the spiritual vision that has replaced her physical sight. Claudel breaks the miracle into several units of action in an attempt to afford it greater authority, but each unit is eclipsed by intermittent narrative. The fourth act follows its initial format and Pierre de Craon's re-appearance (he had been absent from the play since the prologue) does little to alleviate the monotony of the dense narrative that closes the play.

1911 marked the appearance of the third version of La Jeune Fille Violaine under the new title, L'Annonce faite a Marie. Whilst the conflict between dramatic action and lyrical text is still apparent in the final act, the main body of the dramatic action is compatible with the play's religious subject matter. The action is re-located to a medieval Tardenois and the opening dialogue between Violaine and Pierre is introduced within a new context. Combernon remains at the heart of the play, but there is another spiritual centre that casts its majestic shadow over the community, the sacred convent of Monsanvierge. Both Pierre de Craon and Violaine are introduced against this background as spiritually privileged, yet pragmatically functional characters. Pierre is the porter who opens 'le flanc de Monsanvierge [...] a chaque fois qu'un vol nouveau de colombes y veut entrer' (Prologue, OC IX, 12), whilst Violaine is responsible for nourishing and protecting its inhabitants, 'fournissant le pain, le vin et la cire' (Prologue, OC IX, 20). A framework of ritualistic action gradually emerges, action that has direct significance in the play's present, but also has connections with a spiritual world, free from the restrictions of time and place. The prologue is shaped by a series of religious gestures, such as the heroine's donation of a gold ring to facilitate Pierre's mission to build a church, and the tolling of the Angelus, which celebrates the Annunciation. Despite the fact that these gestures alternate with a considerable amount of explanatory narrative, they effectively place the young couple's relationship within a spiritual context, without divorcing them from the reality of life at Combernon in the play's present. Claudel maintains this duality in the play's main body by merging an explicit politico-religious theme with the internal theme of spiritual redemption. The myopic focus on Combernon is exchanged for an overview of a nation in a state of spiritual and material crisis:

The great nobles, the intelligentsia, even the high clergy and the principal religious orders were on the side of Henry the Sixth and Bedford. The French King was a frail youngster in doubt about his own right. All battles were lost, all cities were taken and the last one, Orleans, on the right bank of the Loire, was just beleaguered. (12)

This new context provides a framework within which isolated actions, such as Anne's departure, Violaine's sacrifice and the miracle itself, assume significance as aspects of a collective struggle to restore the country to a healthy state of material and spiritual equilibrium. As a result, Claudel is confident enough to afford his dramatic gestures autonomy of expression. The second act now opens with a song, from the highest tower of Monsanvierge:

Salve Regina mater misericordiae

Vita dulcedo et spes nostra salve [...]

Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae

O clemens

O pia

O dulcis Virgo Maria.

(Act II, OC IX, 48)

This address to the Virgin Mary has no accompanying verbal commentary because the song clearly embodies the wonder of Christ's presence in the Christian universe. The miracle is now an act of resurrection that occurs on Christmas Day, amidst celebrations marking the return of both King and Pope to a jubilant France, alongside Joan of Arc. Mara delivers the small, inanimate body of her child to her sister, demanding, 'Et toi, rends-le-moi vivant!' (Act III, Scene 3, OC IX, 86). Violaine breathes vigour into the tiny corpse to the sound of Mara reading from the Christmas gospel. Whilst the length and archaic style of these readings inevitably distance the reader from the central action, the scene reaches a triumphant culmination with the infant's resurrection. The miracle taps into the pool of creative energy at the heart of the Christian universe: 'Voici que je vous annonce une grande joie [...] Parce qu'un homme est apparu dans le monde!' (Act III, Scene 3, OC IX, 94).

The phenomenon of Christian resurrection presented in the third act provided convincing evidence of God's alliance with man, but Claudel still fails to bridge the gap between the miracle at Geyn and the reality of everyday life at Combernon in the remainder of this version. At the beginning Act IV, Violaine once again falls victim to her sister's fury. Mara, 'obstinee, apre et dure' (Act III, Scene 3, OC IX, 311), attacks her sister, in furious revolt against the transformation of her little Aubaine's eyes from black to blue, like those of Violaine. Though his heroine is half-dead, Claudel returns her to Combernon in the hope that she might yet serve to establish God's authority there. It is Pierre, her one-time spiritual guide, who brings her back, but the world to which she returns seems sadly bereft of the Spirit. Jacques's simple statement, 'Il n'y a plus de recluses a Monsanvierge' (Act IV, Scene 3, OC IX, 102), strips Combernon of its spiritual privileges and Violaine's triumphant act of resurrection is tainted by its coinciding with the final extinction of life at the abbey, 'La derniere est morte a la Noel derniere' (Act IV, Scene 3, OC IX, 102). The miracle is undermined even further by the implication that Violaine sees it as a celebration of the physicality of her relationship with Jacques rather than the spirituality of her bond with God:

VIOLAINE O Jacques, a toi seul je dirai un grand mystere.

Il est vrai, quand j'ai senti ce corps mort sur le mien,

l'enfant de ta chair, Jacques [...]

Tout ce qu'a jamais de toi je possederais en cette vie [...]

Ah, ne dis pas que je ne connais rien de toi! Ne dis pas que je

ne sais ce que c'est de souffrir par toi!

(Act IV, Scene 3, OC IX, 104)

In death, Violaine seems preoccupied with her physical rather than her spiritual being but Anne's sudden return to the action provides hope for a change of focus. The old man seems to have found inner peace and his greeting to Combernon suggests that he may well be a means of reinvesting the old farm with a new spiritual energy:

ANNE Terre, je suis alle chercher pour toi un peu de terre,

Un peu de terre pour ma sepulture, celle que Dieu lui-meme

pour la sienne a choisie a Jerusalem.

(Act IV, Scene 4, OC IX, 109)

Towards the close of Act IV, the curtain falls and when it rises again, there is a possibility that Combernon may well have become a different place. Pierre has returned to the action and he validates both his and Anne's life in spiritual terms, claiming, 'Comme tu as ouvert le sillon, je creuse le silo, je prepare le tabernacle' (Act IV, Scene 5, OC IX, 124). However, the philosophical debate that develops between the two gradually dulls the excitement of the third act's creative action, until the link between past and present is fatally severed. It is a relief when Claudel seeks to re-establish a focus on ritualistic action by introducing a tolling bell from the heights of Monsanvierge: 'C'est Monsanvierge qui ressuscite! L'Ange retentissant une fois encore | Aux cieux et a la terre attentifs fait l'annonce accoutumee' (Act IV, Scene 5, OC IX, 129). But despite this compensatory sign of Christ's continuing presence, both the characters and the reader are left in limbo, waiting for a resolution that never occurs: 'Ils gardent tous le visage tourne en haut, pretant l'oreille et comme attendant la volee, qui ne vient point' (Act IV, Scene 5, OC IX, 129).

By 1911, L'Annonce faite a Marie had been transformed from 'une quantite [...] de petites scenes' to a series of 'puissantes, solides, consacrees et solennelles estrades' (OC IX, 294). However, if the play was ever to progress further, Claudel needed to discover a means of reviving the final act. The last twenty years of reconsideration and adjustment had exhausted his personal resources, but in 1912 he underwent a new experience that transformed his revisionary methods once and for all. In August of that year, he gave Aurelien Lugne-Poe permission to perform the play. Subsequent to his contact with Gide in 1909, he had admitted to his actress friend, Marie Kalff:

Une representation serait pour moi d'un prix inestimable en me procurant par la vision exterieure un moyen d'excellente critique sur mon art en meme temps que le developpement de certaines idees que j'ai du enfouir depuis longtemps en moi-meme, pensant que toute idee de realisation scenique m'etait pour toujours interdite. (Andre Alter, Paul Claudel, p. 87)

When Lugne-Poe staged the play, in the Salle Malakoff, Paris, on 20 December 1912, Claudel was finally given this valuable opportunity. During the five months of preparation that preceded the opening night, the dramatist became a familiar presence at rehearsals and formed a close, consultative relationship with the director himself. Lugne-Poe was firmly at the helm, but both he and Claudel were considerably influenced by the ingenious, young designer who worked alongside them, Jean Variot. Variot introduced director and dramatist to a new system of minimal decor that he had mastered in Munich, under the direction of Rudolphe Klein. Determined that the decor should not be an autonomous, decorative addition to the play, Variot revolted against ostentatious staging methods and acted on the conviction that, 'plus le decor est simple, plus l'attention du spectateur risque d'etre grande' (OC IX, 264). According to the Encyclopedie du theatre contemporain, his design was a watershed in the history of French theatre:

Le decor de L'Annonce veut etre le contraire d'un commentaire. C'est un cadre. Pour 'donner a certains tableaux l'allure d'une image sainte', Variot accentue la convention necessaire en entourant la scene d'une sorte de cadre decore. Et dans la ligne de vol de la piece, couleur, lumiere, musique tendent a une constante unite. Enfin, rampe et herse sont supprimees et remplacees par des projecteurs. C'est une innovation. (Encyclopedie, 1, 58)

The vision of design as an expressive aid that reinforced the play's central aesthetic aim led Claudel towards a realization of the power of simple and coherent dramatic presentation. He reacted to this discovery by urging Lugne-Poe's actors to show the 'desinteressement d'un grand artiste' (OC IX, 259) by concentrating on externalizing the play's main message, rather than simply playing to the audience. He was adamant that the performers' gestures and movements should centre on the high point of each scene and remain as minimal and as natural as possible:

Pas de grimaces ni de convulsions. Dans les moments pathetiques, la lenteur tragique d'un mouvement qui se deploie vers son terme est preferable a toutes les explosions. Mais la aussi il faut se garder de la maniere et de l'aVectation et consulter sa nature. (OC IX, 258)

This technique, he claimed, would enable them to reach the heart of the spectator, because, 'c'est precisement [...] dans cette insouciance du public qu'est le meilleur secret de l'atteindre et de l'emouvoir' (OC IX, 259). Despite his declaration that his advice was offered 'avec toute la reserve et la modestie convenable a un homme qui a aussi peu pratique le theatre que moi' (OC IX, 258), it was evident that Claudel was already enthralled by the creative energy of 'un art qui existe bien en soi, qui n'est ceci, ni cela, mais Theatre, specifiquement Theatre'. (13)

The 1912 production was 'un grand succes de public et de presse' (OC IX, 274) but Claudel was not entirely satisfied with the final act. His experience of Lugne-Poe's production had provided him with first-hand insight into the changes that were taking place in the language of the theatrical event, but it had also led him to believe that a production had the power to make good the weaknesses of a dramatic text. It was this misconception that prompted him to expect a production of the play by Gaston Baty and Firmin Gemier, at the Comedie-Montaigne in 1921, to perfect the process initiated by Lugne-Poe. In fact, the Gemier/Baty project actually highlighted the battle between lyrical text and theatrical gesture in the final act. During the rehearsal process, the two directors disagreed quite violently regarding the play's merits: Gemier found it obscure, Baty enchanting. In the final analysis, the production itself met with the kind of disapproval voiced most vehemently by Francois Mauriac: 'Quant a L'Annonce faite a Marie, c'est un "Mystere". Impenetrable! Du moins je n'y penetre pas. Je reste au parvis du temple: je suis un profane, et qui s'ennuie. Je ne vois rien qu'un melodrame.' (14)

Then, in 1940, Claudel finally came to the realization that the play's success was dependent, not on a perfect production, but on his own ability to transfer his knowledge of performance and production practices to the writing process itself. It was in 1940 that he met Charles Dullin, who was to open his eyes to the possibility of constructing a dramatic text that possessed an inherent theatricality. Dullin had been commissioned by Edouard Bourdet to direct L'Annonce faite a Marie at the Comedie-Francaise, and Claudel awaited the production with his usual high hopes: 'J'espere que la forme que lui donnera la Comedie-Francaise montrera ma piece a l'etat definitif, a l'etat adulte, apres une periode de croissance qui m'a coute beaucoup de larmes, si je puis dire' (OC IX, 307). However, Dullin showed him that Act IV had, 'une forme impossible pour la scene' (OC IX, 306) and would have to be re-written in its entirety. Over the years, the director had come to realize that the dramatic text was the starting point in any effective theatrical revolution. By the time of his contact with Claudel, he deeply regretted the fact that the French dramatist had been largely exiled from the creative process at l'Atelier, admitting: 'Mes idees sur le theatre ont beacoup change. Ces changements tiennent en une phrase: quand j'ai commence, je voulais faire de l'Atelier une ecole de comediens, aujourd'hui, je voudrais en faire une ecole d'auteurs.' (15) Dullin would never realize his dream of familiarizing young dramatists with the practicalities of production, 'leur montrer tout d'abord quelles sont les etapes de la vie d'un theatre, la lecture d'un piece, les premieres repetitions, les dernieres, les inventions de la mise en scene' (Brasillach, p. 35), but he did convince Claudel that whilst no performance could fully compensate for the imperfections of a dramatic text, a text written under performance conditions could overcome all limitations. As a direct result of his advice, Claudel set about writing a new, final act that not only afforded his play 'son droit le plus imprescriptible, celui pour de bon et vraiment et veritablement de finir' (OC IX, 294), but also equated the language of literary expression with the language of the theatrical event.

In this version, the newly fashioned Act IV is constructed around a series of purely theatrical gestures that offers the opportunity for a positive response to the challenge laid down by the text, thereby releasing the play's innate theatrical energy. First, Claudel destroys the antithesis between words and action so prominent in the play's earlier versions. At the same time, he removes the barrier between man and God, matter and spirit, justifying Guicharnaud's claim that, in Claudel's work, 'the supernatural is not localized: it informs the whole'. (16) The most striking example of this new approach comes in the opening moments of Act IV (OC IX, 133), when Anne Vercors returns to Combernon after a long absence. Jacques and Mara are seated together, in the farmhouse's kitchen, recalling former times and wondering at Anne's long exile from his home and native country. They begin to imagine the conversation that might occur on his return. He would be pleased to meet his charming, new grandchild and would probably wonder at the blueness of her eyes, murmuring, 'quels jolis yeux bleus! Cela me rappelle quelque chose!' Then, suddenly, Jacques takes on Anne's part, asking, 'Et la mere, ou est-elle'? Mara maintains the pattern by answering:

MARA (avec une reverence.) Pas ici pour le moment, Monseigneur! Dame, quand on va a Jerusalem, faut pas s'attendre a retrouver tout le monde! C'est long, sept ans! C'est Mara maintenant qui occupe sa place au coin du feu. (Act IV, Scene I, OC IX, 133)

Then both partners greet each other, as if for the first time; 'Bonjour, Mara!', 'Bonjour, pere!' At this point, we come across the stage directions, 'Anne Vercors pendant ce temps est entre par le cote de la scene et se trouve derriere eux. Il porte le corps de Violaine entre ses bras', followed by the greeting from Anne himself, 'Bonjour, Jacques!' (Act IV, Scene I, OC IX, 133).

Claudel goes on to set up an internal framework of significant gestures within the Act, enabling the play's immediate action to accumulate layers of meaning that extend its significance beyond the present towards the eternal. The kiss shared by the heroine and Pierre in the prologue becomes the focus of this final act. Jacques accuses Violaine of infidelity, citing that fatal kiss as his proof, but Anne immediately counters his attack by contextualizing the kiss in biblical terms. He reveals the fact that Pierre de Craon has been cured of his leprosy and adds by way of explanation: 'La bouche de la femme, avant l'homme elle est a Dieu, qui au jour du bapteme l'a salee de sel. Et c'est a Dieu seul qu'elle dit: "Qu'Il me baise d'un baiser de Sa bouche!"' (17) It is clear that Violaine's sacrifice forms part of a long tradition of Christian devotion, but it is also an active element that could transform the nature of the world in the present of the play. Violaine embodies both physical and spiritual energies at once, substantiating Gabriel Marcel's claim that she is 'elle-meme une figure du Christ et par consequent ne releve d'aucune explication monophysite, elle participe a la fois de deux natures' (original emphasis). (18) Violaine recognized in Pierre's need of her the greater need of France and beyond that, the crisis of a universe devoid of the Spirit. Her personal sacrifice was based on that expansive understanding. As Guicharnaud pointed out: 'Every nuance of the hero's most personal inner life is indissolubly bound to a tremor of the entire universe' (p. 72). Jacques continues to refute Anne's claims, challenging him: 'Une seconde! en une seconde elle a decide cela?' Anne's answer is simple, a quotation from the Virgin Mary's reply to Gabriel, 'Voici la servante du Seigneur' (Act IV, Scene 2, OC IX, 138, original emphasis). There is no need for further explanation as our aesthetic experience mirrors Violaine's spiritual experience--that of understanding and accepting without the time to reason or think logically. If we are prepared to respond positively to the stimulus provided by the text, then we can comprehend Anne's final comment on his daughter's life and experiences: 'Et pourquoi se tourmenter quand il est si simple d'obeir et que l'ordre est la? C'est ainsi que Violaine toute prompte suit la main qui prend la sienne' (Act IV, Scene 2, OC IX, 139).

At this stage, Claudel makes another vital change to the act by allowing Mara a much more prominent and purposeful role. She is endowed with a new power that is relevant not only to past events but to present and even future life at Combernon. Claudel delighted in his new creation and referred to her with obvious satisfaction in a newspaper review in 1940:

C'est alors que le personnage de Mara s'imposa de nouveau a mon imagination. Plus on vieillit, plus on devient mechant! Je veux dire que, tout en reservant une compassion attendrie a la faiblesse, on apprecie davantage cette foi passionnee dans le but qui se traduit par de l'energie. (19)

Now, when Violaine is all but dead, Mara is the only one who can communicate directly with her. She calls on her sister with authority and violence:

MARA (elle s'avance violemment) Elle n'entend pas! Votre voix

ne porte pas jusqu'a elle! Mais moi, je saurai me faire


D'une voix basse et intense

Violaine! Violaine! je suis ta soeur! m'entends-tu, Violaine?

JACQUES HURY Sa main! J'ai vu cette main remuer! MARA Ha, ha ha! vous le voyez? elle entend! elle a entendu!

Cette voix, cette meme voix de sa soeur qui un certain jour

de Noel a fait force jusqu'au fond de ses entrailles!

(Act IV, Scene 2, OC IX, 140)

The composite nature of the play's life is celebrated by means of the ability of the word to bring about action, in just the same manner as flesh gave birth to Spirit, in the days of Christ. Mara's demand reaches Violaine, now, just as it did in Act III. Violaine responds by acknowledging Mara's role in her life and in the miracle worked between God and the two sisters, that Christmas day at Geyn:

VIOLAINE Cet enfant qu'elle m'a donne, cet enfant qui m'est ne entre les bras;

Ah grand Dieu, que c'etait bon! ah que c'etait doux! Mara!

Ah comme elle a bien obei, ah comme elle a bien fait tout

ce qu'elle avait a faire!

Pere! pere! ah que c'est doux, ah que cela est terrible de

mettre une ame au monde!

(Act IV, Scene 2, OC IX, 144)

Claudel deliberately refers the audience to the triple union between God, Violaine and Mara, so that we can conceive of the world in its physical and spiritual entirety. Violaine brings home the importance of the unified inclusiveness of a Christian universe when she declares the existence of two united worlds: 'Il y en a deux et je dis qu'il n'y en a qu'un et que c'est assez, et que la misericorde de Dieu est immense!' (Act IV, Scene 2, OC IX, 144). From this point on, Claudel can conclude the action without any comment or explanation, because God's power amongst men has become a concrete reality in the world of the play. Violaine surrenders her life in the light of the characters' shared understanding of the relationship between man and God. As she dies quietly, the Angelus is heard:

1. Pax pax pax

2. Pax pax pax

3. Pere, pere, pere.


Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis


Lae ta re

Lae ta re!

(Act IV, Scene 2, OC IX, 146)

Andre Vachon described these final chimes as a proclamation, not only of Violaine's victory over death, but also of the salvation of Combernon's inhabitants and the resurgence of the French nation itself, commenting:

L'Angelus peut sonner, car Violaine est definitivement rendue a la vie, et avec elle, la totalite du monde et des hommes: la petite Aubaine est ressuscitee, les membres de sa famille se sont reconcilies, la France a retrouve son roi, et l'E glise, son chef. L'Angelus a donc pour fonction de marquer l'heure qui n'eclate jamais qu'une seule fois dans une vie d'homme: celle de la mort, celle de la seconde naissance pleinement consommee. (20)

Towards the end of his life, Claudel described L'Annonce faite a Marie's gradual evolution in striking terms:

Petit a petit, je me suis rendu compte des conditions qu'elle comportait, de son voeu interieur, de sa pretention a l'existence. Un peu comme un ingenieur qui, voyant fonctionner le moteur qu'il a pense, juge les modifications qu'il doit apporter. (OC IX, 295)

In 1948, he made one, last change to the final act. He described it simply:

Le quatrieme acte de L'Annonce se termine aujourd'hui par un geste symbolique. Au-dessus du corps de la lepreuse sacrifiee, le Pere, pendant que les cloches de Monsanvierge scandent de leur : Pax! Pax! Pax! ... eleve entre ses deux mains les mains des epoux reconcilies. Car il a appris que ce n'est qu'en elevant que l'on reconcilie. (OC IX, 295)

In order for the play to achieve closure, Claudel calls on us to make the final effort. If we wish to benefit from the way in which he is able to take 'avec Dieu, des familiarites grandioses' (OC IX, 310), then we must raise our hands to conclude the character's new compact. When this happens, we have only to say, 'Je crois que mon Redempteur vit!' in order to become, like Anne Vercors, Pierre de Craon, Violaine, Mara and Jacques, 'maitres du monde' (OC IX, 289). Needless to say, in Claudel's own words, 'cela vaut la peine d'avoir 80 ans!' (OC IX, 288).

(1) Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' in Illuminations, ed. and trans. by Hannah Arendt (London: Pimlico, 1999), p. 230.

(2) Andre Veinstein, Du Theatre Libre au Theatre Louis Jouvet: les theatres d'art a travers leurs periodiques (1887-1934) (Paris: [no pub.], 1972), p. 66.

(3) Paul Claudel, OEuvres Completes, 22 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 1950-1986), IX, 259. The particular volumes to which reference is made are Vol. VII Theatre (1954) and Vol. IX Theatre (1955), both edited by Robert Mallet, Vol. XVI Conversations, contacts et circonstances (1959), ed. by Robert Mallet, and Vol. XVII L'OEil ecoute (1960), ed. by Pierre Claudel and Jacques Petit. Hereafter, references are given as OC.

(4) Encyclopedie du theatre contemporain, ed. by Gilles Queant and others, 2 vols (Paris: Les Publications de France, 1957), 1, 40. Hereafter, Encyclopedie.

(5) Monique Surel-Tupin, Charles Dullin (Louvain-La-Neuve: Cahiers theatre Louvain, c. 1985), p. 253.

(6) Jacques Copeau, 'Le Theatre du Vieux Colombier', Theatre, 354 (1913), 16-20 (p. 16).

(7) Andre Alter, Paul Claudel (Paris: Seghers, 1968), p. 87.

(8) Claude Mauriac, Hommes et idees d'aujourd'hui (Paris: Albin Michel, 1953), p. 79.

(9) Mildred Deuel, 'The Structure of the different versions of L'Annonce faite a Marie', MLR, 67 (1972) 543-49 (p. 544).

(10) His text was published by Editions Excelsior, Paris, with a preface by Jean Royere.

(11) Peter Szondi, Theory of the Modern Drama, ed. and trans. by Michael Hays (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), p. 32.

(12) Paul Claudel: Supplement aux 'OEuvres Completes', ed. by Maryse Bazaud, 4 vols (L'Age d'Homme: Lausanne, 1990), 1, 147. This quotation is from an English speech delivered by Claudel to the Philadelphia Catholic Women's Association.

(13) Charles Dullin, Souvenirs et notes du travail d'un acteur (Paris: Odette Lieutier, 1946), p. 23.

(14) Paul Claudel: Francois Mauriac--Correspondance 1911-1954, La Vague et le Rocher, ed. by Michel Malichet and Marie-Chantal Praicheux (Paris: Lettres Modernes, Minard, 1988), p. 152.

(15) Robert Brasillach, Animateurs de Theatre (Paris: Editions R. A. Correa, 1936), p. 32.

(16) Jacques Guicharnaud, Modern French Theatre from Giraudoux to Genet (London: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 63.

(17) OC IX, 137. The quotation 'Qu'il me baise d'un baiser de Sa bouche!' is from Solomon 1. 2.

(18) Gabriel Marcel, Regards sur le Theatre de Claudel (Beauchesne: Paris, 1964), p. 112. The term 'monophysite' is a reference to the heretical belief that there is only one nature in the person of Jesus Christ.

(19) Paul Claudel: Supplement aux 'OEuvres Completes', II, 296.

(20) In Les Critiques de notre temps et Claudel, ed. by Andre Blanc (Paris: Garnier, 1970), p. 87.

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Publication:The Modern Language Review
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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