The legacy of a one-woman show: a performance history of Julie Candeille's Catherine, ou la belle fermiere.
This self-reflexive nature of women-authored opera was part of a trend toward transparency and unmediated communication of emotion that had earlier been theorized by Rousseau. In his Lettre a d'Alembert (233-34) he had condemned theater on the grounds that it alienated people from each other and from their authentic emotions. Theater, according to Rousseau, created an unreal environment because it used a fiction to mediate between author and audience. Instead he called for spectacles that celebrated unmediated transparency. Jean Starobinski (96) interprets Rousseau's position as a condemnation of representation, opposed to the ideal of direct communication between people. Women who chose simple plots of young love in which they represented situations that could be construed as derived from their own lives exemplified the ideal of transparency. This strategy had the advantage of diverting the public's attention away from their identities as creative artists in the male-dominated field of opera, but it risked turning their works into ephemeral pieces de circomstances that would lose their appeal when the authors aged or disappeared from the public eye.
When Catherine, ou la belle fermiere was first performed in 1792 at the Theatre de la Republique in Paris it had all the attributes of a fleeting success. Performed on the eve of the Terror, at a time of great political and social turmoil, it provided an escape to a bucolic world of sentimentality. Julie Candeille (1767-1834), who had been an unappreciated actress at the Comedie-Francaise, had created for her new theater (the Theatre de la Republique, which was the revolutionary splinter troupe of the Comedie-Francaise) this musical comedy in which she could shine not only as a lead actress, singer, and harpist, but also as a composer and librettist. The public and the critics were equally enchanted by the work, in great part because they saw it as fitting that this comedy, "so clearly written by a woman," was also played by the woman who was its author. On 28 December 1792, a writer for La Gazette Nationale ou le Moniteur wrote:
La Belle Fermiere vient d'avoir le plus brillant succes ... l'on voit bien qu'une femme en est l'auteur. Cette femme est Mlle Candeille qui en joue le role principal: elle y chante des airs qu'elle a composes, et s'accompagne de la harpe dont elle joue tres bien: beaute, talent, esprit, elle ne perd aucun de ses avantages et trouve a les developper tous: le role, l'actrice, et l'auteur se confondent sans cesse dans les applaudissement qu'elle recoit. Les hommes aimeront cette piece comme ils aiment une femme charmante, les femmes s'y plairont par amour-propre. (qtd. in Lumiere 116)
Besides wanting to create a flattering role for herself, Candeille had good reasons to cultivate the collapse between her own identity and that of her heroine. To promote herself as a dramatic author and actress during a time when expectations of proper feminine behavior demanded that women stay demurely at home, posed significant problems for a woman. To circumvent these problems Candeille attempted to deflect attention toward her role as a creator by inserting aspects of her own life in her dramatic works, thereby breaking down the barrier between her identities as author, actress, and woman.
Candeille's self-representation functioned at both the dramatic and musical levels of her opera. When one compares Catherine, ou la belle fermiere to its most immediate source, Marmontel's popular conte moral, La Bergere des Alpes (1763, which Marmontel himself had turned into a failed opera in 1766), Can-deille's feminist sensibilities become readily apparent. In La Belle Fermiere Candeille transforms Marmontel's grief-stricken Adelaide into the assertive and independent Catherine, an impoverished widow who surrounds herself with books and music in order to distract herself from the difficulties arising from her abusive earlier marriage. After having achieved some stability by moving to the country and running a farm for a noblewoman, Catherine renounces love and fiercely defends her emotional and material independence. Nevertheless, she succumbs to the love of Charles de Lussan, a man who helps her manage the farm. Catherine believes Lussan to be a servant, but in fact he is a nobleman in disguise who wants to show her that he is a different kind of man than she is used to, that he values her talents and autonomy--in short, that he is truly worthy of her. The public was fascinated by the character of Catherine and her similarity to Candeille, who was known as an actress, a composer, and a dramatic author who had to provide financial support for herself and her father. Strikingly beautiful, she was rumored to have amorous liaisons (which she later denied), but remained single until 1794, when she reached the then advanced age of twenty-seven. Further underscoring these similarities between author and character was the fact that Catherine's real name was also that of Candeille: "Julie"--she had only adopted the name Catherine and the occupation of a farmer to make a flesh start in her new environment. (3)
The musical structure of La Belle Fermiere reinforces the willed collapse between author and work. The most striking feature about La Belle Fermiere is that it is essentially a one-woman show. It is a comedie melee d'ariettes that has relatively little music in proportion to spoken dialogue, but the only two arias in the work are for Catherine (played by Candeille), the second being a romance to the sole accompaniment of a harp (Candeille played the harp and sang). The work closes with a march and a vaudeville, in which the other main characters sing briefly for the first time in the work. Catherine is the last to sing and the only one to sing directly to the audience. Without completely stepping out of character, Candeille (in the role of Catherine) explicitly refers to her activity as actress and author, and as one who has taken great pains to please the public:
Moi, Messieurs, depuis deux ans, Ici j'ai vecu solitaire; Mais, pour regagner le temps, Je vais chercher a me distraire. Pour charmer votre loisir, Pour me donner ce plaisir, S'il ne vous faut qu'un grand desir, Un grand soin de vous plaire, Vous reviendrez voir la fermiere. (qtd. in Lepeintre, 20: 263-64)
The novelty of this self-reflexivity immediately helped establish the work as an immense success. After its premiere on 27 December 1792, the work was performed forty-nine times in 1793, which made it the tenth most-performed dramatic work in Paris in that year. (Kennedy et al. 384-85.) In 1794 the work remained very popular, with nineteen performances (including one performance at the Theatre des Varietes Amusantes, Comiques et Lyriques). (See Appendix for details of performance statistics.) In 1795, La Belle Fermiere was still performed, but only six times at Candeille's Theatre de la Republique. The decrease in number of performances in 1794-95 should not be taken as evidence of Candeille's waning popularity. On the contrary, the success of La Belle Fermiere gave her the confidence to introduce three new dramatic works: Bathilde ou le duo (1793), Cange ou le Commissionnaire (1794) and La Bayadere, ou le Francais a Surate (1795)--Bathilde and La Bayadere both featuring Candeille as lead actress, singer, and musician, as in La Belle Fermiere. (4)
The early reviews of La Belle Fermiere were unanimous in their praise of the work, and of Candeille's performance. They all emphasize that Candeille was perfect for the role and that "Melle Candeille pouvait seule embellir ainsi son ouvrage" (LeMercure de France, 4 May 1793, qtd. in Pougin, 373). (5) The public as well identified Candeille with her role, calling out "la belle fermiere" the moment she appeared on stage, even in other roles (Journal des Spectacles, 29 September 1793). People came to the theater because they were fascinated by seeing Candeille not playing a role, but rather playing herself. A critic for the Journal des Spectacles immediately grasped this unusual transparency when commenting on Candeille's Bathilde, ou le duo, which featured Candeille in the title role: "le duo, Bathilde et la Citoyenne Candeille sont tellement inseparables, qu'on pourroit bien y aller un peu pour tout cela" (1 October 1793).
Not surprisingly, when in the course of 1796 Candeille left her Theatre de la Republique, the run of Paris performances of La Belle Fermiere carne to an end. Early in 1795, her La Bayadere had been the victim of a cabal, and had given rise to personal negative criticism. The qualities that had earlier been admired in La Belle Fermiere were now turned against her and attributed to her excessive conceit:
Non seulement la Bayadere est belle, spirituelle et petrie de toutes les graces et de tous les talents, mais elie est bonne, mais elie est sensible, mais elle est, malgre son etat, fiere, chaste et vertueuse. Oh! c'en est trop aussi que de vouloir reunir toutes les especes de gloire, meme lorsqu'on y a des droits. (Gazette nationale 1 February 1795, qtd. in Lumiere 265)
Candeille defended herself against these insinuations in a letter she sent to the Journal de Paris, but her spirits were broken and she made plans to quit the theater as an actress. (6)
Could La Belle Fermiere exist without Candeille in the title role? Initially, it seemed that it could not. After a single performance in January 1796, there were no more performances of the work in Paris until two and a half years later, in June 1798. The only performances of the work during this period were the six performances she gave on tour in Brussels, in her last appearances as an actress. (7) But the perception of La Belle Fermiere as a fleeting success, dependant on the presence of Candeille, is belied by its sudden reappearance on the stage in June 1798, with new actresses playing the title role. Moreover, this new era of performances without Candeille lasted for another forty-one years. Indeed, the year following this revival (1799), gave rise to a veritable new frenzy around the work, which was performed twenty-eight times at five different theaters (sometimes with several performances on the same day)--a success comparable to the initial reception in 1792-93.
How can we explain this unexpected triumphal revival of a work so closely associated with its initial actress who was also its author? It would be as if the television show Seinfeld would be successfully revived with another actor in the title role. We will argue that although new actresses were performing La Belle Fermiere, the work and the role remained intimately connected to the person of Candeille, who--for better of for worse--could never rid herself of the curiosity engendered by the public image she had earlier created for herself as "la belle fermiere." In other words, although she was no longer playing the role of Catherine on stage, it was as if she continued to play it in real life.
The surprising 1798 revival of La Belle Fermiere is the clearest evidence of Candeille's assumption in real life of the dramatic persona of "la belle fermiere," and can be partially explained by the public's curiosity about her storybook second marriage. According to contemporary reports, this was in fact a double marriage involving Candeille and her fellow actress at the Comedie-Francaise, the beautiful Mlle Lange (Anne Francoise Elisabeth Lange, 1772-1825). Before her second marriage in 1798, Candeille had been unhappily married to the physician Louis-Nicolas Delaroche (b. 1768), whom she had divorced in 1797. Perhaps it had been in part to escape her marital difficulties, and to become more financially independent from Delaroche that she had decided to tour Belgium and the Netherlands in the summer of 1796. It was during her tour in Brussels that she was noticed in La Belle Fermiere by a wealthy carriage maker from Brussels, Jean Simons (d. 1821), According to the legend, his son, Michel Simons, had shocked his family by falling in love with Mlle Lange, who was also part of this tour. The son was determined to marry Lange, and in an attempt to dissuade his son from this social faux pas, Simons pere went to Paris, where he sought Candeille's assistance in talking Lange out of marrying his son. But during this encounter Simons pere fell in love with Candeille. On 11 February 1798, Candeille married the father, and Lange married the son. After the double marriage, everyone went back to Brussels and neither Candeille nor Lange ever appeared on stage again. (8) From then on, Candeille planned to devote herself to the business affairs of her new husband.
Because of the public's identification of Candeille with "la belle fermiere," they would have perceived her real-life second marriage as a reenactment of the opera's happy turn of events after the heroine's disastrous first marriage and her decision to renounce love and marriage forever. (9) Delaroche would have represented Catherine's first husband, who had made her unhappy; whereas Simons pere, whom Candeille seems to have genuinely loved, could be compared to Lussan, the understanding and egalitarian new husband. And the fact that Candeille and Lange were now in a position to leave the sordid world of the theater in order to lead happy lives as respectable wives, would have represented in the eyes of the public the dream of any stage actress. In reality, Candeille's marital bliss did not last long, because her husband's business was doing increasingly poorly, leading to his bankruptcy and later mental derangement. In 1802, the couple decided to separate, and Candeille returned to Paris. Candeille would always be short of money and look for new ways to earn a living, by writing more theater, teaching private students, and publishing novels and essays. (10)
Many rumors circulated about how the double marriage had come about. Almost immediately, it was linked to a satirical painting by Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824), which caused a scandal that was exploited by the press in 1799. Simons fils had commissioned Girodet to paint a portrait of Mlle Lange. According to some reports, Lange found the painting unflattering and refused to pay the agreed-upon price, insisting that the painting be removed from public view at the Paris salon. In any event, Girodet was reported to have sent the mutilated canvas to Mlle Lange, which she viewed as a grave insult. Girodet did not stop there, but sought revenge with a second--satirical--portrait, Portrait of Mlle Lange as Danae, showing Lange greedily catching the gold coins showered upon her by Zeus. (Fig. 1). A turkey wearing a wedding ring parodies Simons fils, her rich but stupid husband; that Lange was not faithful to him is clear from a horned Satyr climbing out of a rat hole under the sofa; and a cracked mirror symbolizes Lange's inability to see her own faults. Girodet exhibited this painting in the place of his original portrait on 20 October 1799, just a few days before the closing of the Salon (Jacques-Vincent 142-46; Arnault 280-83). The public was reportedly outraged, taking the side of Mlle Lange, and Girodet was forced to withdraw his painting the next day and publicly declare in Le Parisien that "[il n'a] jamais voulu designer dans son tableau la citoyenne Simons, de laquelle il n'a jamais eprouve que des procedes dont plusieurs artistes et moi avons eu connaissance" (21 October 1799). According to Candeille, she played a role in Girodet's retraction of this painting. Dispatched by the Simons family to ask for redress from Girodet, she instead found herself captivated by the painter, and there ensued a life-long friendship and correspondence (Candeille, Notice biographique; Crow 257-58). (11)
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Similarly inspired by the Candeille-Lange-Simons double marriage, the 1816 play La Comedienne by Francois Andrieux (1759-1833) thrust the persona of "Candeille, femme Simons" directly back onto the stage. (12) Despite the drab reality of Candeille's life in the decades after her marriage to Simons, the public still regarded her as one of the heroines of the famous double marriage. Three days after the premiere of La Comedienne, the critic for the Journal de Paris wrote:
Tout le monde se rappelle encore l'aventure de M. Simon [sic], qui vint expres de Bruxelles a Paris pour s'opposer au marriage de son fils avec mademoiselle Lange, jolie actrice qui brillait, il y a quelques annees, a la Comedie-Francaise.... M. Simon eut recours, dans ses demarches, a mademoiselle Candeille, autre actrice du meme theatre qu'il finit lui meme par epouser. Telle est l'anecdote qui parait avoir fourni le sujet de la Comedienne. (13) (8 March 1816)
The critic for La Quotidienne (13 March 1816) concurred: "Tout Paris s'est amuse de l'anecdote qui a fourni la premiere idee de cette piece." He recounted the meeting of Simons pere and Candeille as follows: "[Candeille] etait une grande comedienne, grande musicienne, grande.... Un coup d'oeil, une parole subjuguent le pere: le voila plus amoureux que son fils.... et comme il epousa la belle actrice, il eut epouse la belle Fermiere."
The action of La Comedienne takes place at the home of Madame Belval, "premiere Actrice du Theatre du Bordeaux." A young man, Sainville, wishes to marry Henriette, ward of the theater manager Daricour. Sainville's uncle, M. de Gouvignac, a retired major, has traveled to Bordeaux to prevent the marriage on the grounds that Henriette, as the daughter of a deceased famous actor, is not morally worthy of his nephew. Gouvignac and Madame Belval recognize each other, for they knew each other fifteen years earlier in Grenoble when Madame Belval was married to his friend and military colleague, Courmon. Gouvignac begins to fall in love with Madame Belval, totally unaware that the veuve Courmon has now become a famous actress, and Madame Belval decides to keep this fact hidden from him. She then creates a complex "play within a play," of which she is the author and leading actress. Not only does she pretend to be veuve Courmon, but she introduces Henriette as her niece, and Daricour as a financier. Those around her cooperate in the fiction; when she invites Gouvignac to a dinner, she employs her fellow actors and actresses at the theater to pretend to be her society of friends. The tension increases as it becomes clear that although Gouvignac is enchanted with Madame Belval and her "niece" Henriette, he is also thoroughly convinced of the immorality of the theater in general and of actresses in particular. When Cleofile, a young actress, inadvertently reveals the true identity of Madame Belval, Gouvignac is furious. In the final act of the play, Madame Belval musters all of her charm--as well as her acting talents--to persuade Gouvignac to reconcile himself with her, and therefore with actors in general. She even succeeds in convincing Gouvignac to consent to the marriage of Sainville and Henriette. When Gouvignac in turn proposes marriage to Madame Belval, she refuses, on the grounds that she would not want to give up her acting career. When he persists, saying that she can continue in the theater if she marries him in secret, she finally reveals to him that she is already married, and can offer him only friendship. (14) Gouvignac reacts to this revelation with astonishment, but then concludes the play by offering: "L'ami, quand vous voudrez, redeviendra l'amant" (Andrieux 2: 351). In the end, Gouvignac, the respectable bourgeois suitor, is reduced to begging sexual favors from an actress.
Even with Andrieux's minor changes to the events of 1798 (the setting of Bordeaux rather than Paris, the uncle-nephew relationship of Sainville and Gouvignac rather than the father-son relationship of the Simons, etc.), it is not difficult to match the fictional characters to their real-life counterparts. Mme Belval, the "comedienne" of the title, is clearly Candeille; and Henriette is modeled after Mlle Lange. (The fact that Henriette is presented as a daughter of an actor rather than a famous actress herself, was probably due to the enhanced dramatic effect of having one grande comedienne as the central character rather than two.) The autobiographical transparency that characterized the works of Candeille functions in a complex way in Andrieux's play. Like Candeille, Mme Belval is presented as both an actress and a "playwright" (in the sense that she creates the elaborate comedie to deceive Gouvignac). Mme Belval also has distinct similarities to the character of Catherine in La Belle Fermiere. Both Mme Belval and Catherine are widows who escape their previous lives to reestablish themselves elsewhere in disguise (Catherine as a farmer, Belval as an actress). During the course of La Comedienne, Mme Belval performs in Sedaine's La Gageure imprevue (1768), a role for which Candeille was famous. Even the name "Belval" is a not too subtle echo of the words "belle"(as infermiere) and "vallee" (as in the rustic setting of Candeille's work). Of course Andrieux's denouement diverges from reality in that the Candeille character does not marry the Simons pere character. But this might better reflect Candeille's situation in 1816, when she had been separated from Simons for almost fourteen years and had a reputation of being more committed to her career than to her husband's.
Andrieux's play was wildly successful; after its premiere on 6 March 1816, it was performed twenty more times that same year. Because of its ambiguous messages--Gouvignac's prejudice against actresses is old-fashioned and unjust, or actresses are capable of corrupting even the most upstanding of men--La Comedienne gave rise to a debate about the moral status of actors. (15) This very debate became the subject of a one-act comedie by Theophile Marion Dumersan (1780-1849) entitled Les Comediennes, ou la Critique de la Comedienne, performed at the Theatre Royal de l'Odeon on 23 March 1816, eighteen days after the premiere of Andrieux's play. It was performed eight times over the next month, enjoying a sort of parasitical existence in relation to Andrieux's play running at the Comedie-Francaise. In La Critique de la Comedienne, a theater director in the provinces receives a packet of new plays sent from Paris (which he judges "bien leger"), along with a large package of newspaper accounts (which he judges "bien lourd") debating the meaning of Andrieux's La Comedienne. The director decides to stage Andrieux's play, whereupon the actors and actresses of the troupe heatedly take up the debate themselves. The actresses fight over the role of Mme Belval: one claiming that the role is meant for a fickle coquette, the other for an innocent ingenue, and the third for a wise soubrette (Journal de Paris, 24 March 1816). La Critique de la Comedienne revealed society's anxiety about a new social status of the actress, one of a respectable woman who could be a theater professional and a legitimate bourgeois wife, a status that Candeille had attained with her marriage to Simons. (16) Candeille might also have been targeted indirectly by a sarcastic remark of a writer for the Journal de Paris who commented on the marriage of Mlle Leverd. Indeed, this celebrated actress was at the time of her marriage, performing the title role in Candeille's La Belle Fermiere to great acclaim at the Comedie-Francaise:
Un journal annonce que mademoiselle Leverd, actrice du Theatre-Francais, est sur le point de se marier. Nous remarquons a ce sujet que le mariage est aujourd'hui fort a la mode parmi les comediens. On se marie a la Comedie-Francaise, on se marie a Feydeau, et si cette manie matrimoniale continue, on ne dira plus les demoiselles, mais bien les dames de l'Opera. Quelques ecrivains ont avance que le theatre etait une ecole de moeurs; qui sait, les coulisses deviendront peut-etre un jour l'asile de la vertu. (15 December 1816)
La Comedienne linked the specific debate about the propriety of marriage for actresses with the more general debate about the suitability of women as dramatists and composers, so that the meaning that was attributed to Andrieux's play also depended on whether one accepted the presence of women creators in the theater. Belval can be seen as all the more dangerous (and successful) in her "seduction" of Gouvignac, not only because she is a great actress, but mainly because she is the "playwright" of a clever comedie that convinces him of the respectability and goodwill of both Henriette and herself. Increasingly, women dramatists and composers were making their presence felt in the Parisian theatrical world (see Letzter and Adelson). More specifically, during the period of the controversy over La Comedienne, several women composers and playwrights were enjoying great success in Parisian theaters. Les Deux Jaloux, an 1813 opera-comique by Sophie Gail (1775-1819) was still receiving regular performances at the Opera-Comique, and Sophie Bawr's (1773-1860) 1813 comedie La Suite d'un bal masque was continuing to draw crowds at the Comedie-Francaise. The Theatre de l'Ambigu-Comique presented melodrames written by women, including Sophie Bawr's Les Chevaliers du lion (1804) and the first performances of Les Deux Valladormir by the extraordinarily prolific Marie Adele Barthelemy-Hadot (1763-1821).
In 1816, Candeille's stage works were still very much in the limelight. Candeille's revision of her father's popular re-setting of Rameau's Castor et Pollux enjoyed several performances at the prestigious Opera in the course of 1816. (17) Even more importantly, on 7 February 1816, the Comedie-Francaise gave, par ordre du roi, a command performance of La Belle Fermiere that was a major event in theater and in society. That among all dramatic works, the King (or perhaps the Comedie-Francaise) chose La Belle Fermiere was a great distinction for Candeille. Her critics did not refrain from commenting that this choice was incomprehensible, but all the newspapers published long reviews, some on the front page (Journal des Debats, 9 February 1816; La Quotidienne, 8 February 1816; Journal de Paris, 8 February 1816). The royalist Journal des Debats did not dare question the king's choice, but could not help but wonder: "Pourquoi dans une representation aussi solennelle, des ouvrages aussi agreables sans doute, mais si inferieurs aux chefs-d'ceuvre de la Scene Francaise? [along with Candeille La Belle Fermiere, Duval's La Jeunesse d'Henri V was performed] Ne pouvoit-on pas offrir au Roi et a sa famille des comedies plus dignes d'aussi augustes spectateurs?" (9 February 1816). The journalist speculated that the king wanted to protect living authors, especially those who could inspire others to emulate their achievements. Indeed, just several weeks earlier the king had granted Candeille a pension that had earlier been denied to her by Napoleon, who had refused because "il ne fallait pas autoriser les femmes a se passer de leur mari" (Pougin 404). Whatever the king's judgment about the relative merits of La Belle Fermiere, his choice of this work can be interpreted to show his support of women dramatic authors, since he found Candeille worthy of emulation.
The honors bestowed upon Candeille and her gratitude to the king gave rise to further publicity. Not only did she receive coverage in the newspapers for her pensions, but she also publicly presented to the king "La Bonte, vers au Roi" on 17 November 1816. (18) Around this time, the publisher Bance included a popular engraving of Candeille in the title role of La Belle Fermiere in his series Galerie Theatrale. This publication, which appeared in thirty-six parts between 1812 and 1834, was a collection of engraved portraits of famous actors and actresses, each preceded by a biographical sketch. Candeille's portrait was engraved by Pierre Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823), one of the leading artists of the day, and would circulated not only as part of the collection, but also as an individual engraving to grace the house of theater lovers. Each portrait in this collection is accompanied by a short quotation from the actor's most famous role. In the case of Candeille, the quotation chosen from La Belle Fermiere reflects the change in the political climate from 1793 to 1816. Rather than focusing on the female character's talents and autonomy, or taking a line from one of her famous arias, the quotation pays homage to the saving father-figure (referring perhaps to the restored king): "Ah Monsieur! oui ... ah, oui; Soyez mon pere! ... J'avais besoin d'en retrouver un!" (2: 58).
The positive publicity of 1816 did not last. In 1817 a scandal erupted with the publication of the biographical entry on Candeille in Louis-Gabriel Michaud's Biographie des hommes vivants (1816-17). Appealing once again to her persona as the proud but virtuous "belle fermiere," Candeille responded immediately, printing at her own expense Reponse de Madame Simons-Candeille a un article de biographie, 17 juin 1817. (19) She claimed that Michaud maliciously misrepresented several facts about her career, with the intent of ruining her reputation. Prominent among Michaud's allegations was his claim that, during her heyday as an actress, Candeille had represented the Goddess of Reason in a revolutionary fete of 1793, scantily clad and adulated by the crowds (Michaud 2: 33-35). Obviously Candeille did not want to be associated with Jacobin ideology during the Restoration, when she was seeking pensions from Louis XVIII for herself and her father.
Attesting to the public's continuing fascination with La Belle Fermiere. Michaud's other allegations all revolved around this work, which was by that time twenty-five years old. Michaud began his article by stating that Candeille's early successes in the theater were due mainly "aux avantages d'un physique tres seduisant" (Michaud 2: 33). He then went on to discuss La Belle Fermiere, but rather than describing the comedy or the circumstances of its reception, he focused on its title, implying that it reflected Candeille's vanity. He appeared to defend Candeille by stating that in her 1793 preface to the work, she had explained that she had first called it simply Catherine, and only later added the subtitle La Belle Fermiere, yielding to pressure from her fellow actors, but this explanation was simplistic and only served to reinforce Michaud's suggestion that Candeille was vain. As Candeille aptly replied to him in her Reponse, the story behind the title was more complicated and linked to the political circumstances of the time. She had originally titled her work Catherine, ou la fermiere de qualite reflecting her source, Marmontel's La Bergere des Alpes, which features a noblewoman who is disguised as a shepherdess in order to escape her past and society. Candeille explained that she had changed the subtitle to La Belle Fermiere only because it was suggested to her that it was not politically astute in December 1792, on the eve of the Terror, to emphasize the main character's social rank (Candeille, "Preface;" Reponse 3). (20) A critic from the Journal de Paris reacted condescendingly to Candeille's Reponse, stating that Michaud's entry on her was not only "exacte" but also "charitable." Nevertheless, he conceded that her explanation of the title of La Belle Fermiere could stand, adding ironically--with a reference to her alleged role as Goddess of Reason that "si Madame Candeille n'a rien eu de commun avec la Raison de 1793, il en est tout autrement en 1817" (23 June 1817).
During the extended period in which the role of Catherine was played by other actresses, Candeille assumed the role of master puppeteer, attempting to control the way the role would be played by influencing the Comedie-Francaise in their casting decisions. In a series of letters to the troupe's comite, spanning a period of fifteen years, she argued that "la faiblesse de cet ouvrage trop long-temps heureux exige pour le soutenir une distribution plus soignee que celles de certaines comedies qui se soutiennent d'elles-m6mes" (Candeille, letter "aux societaires"). The public was aware of Candeille's behind-the-scenes machinations, and complained--especially when they perceived her actions as preventing a fresh face from playing the role. On 31 August 1818, a critic for the Journal de Paris reported:
Ces jours derniers La Belle Fermiere fut representee par Melle Rose Dupuis, et certes jamais le titre n'avait moins menti. Cependant le comite recut des le lendemain, une lettre de l'auteur, Mme Simons Candeille qui demande que desormais le role de Julie [sic] ne soit joue que par Melle Leverd sans quoi elle se verrait forcee de retenir l'ouvrage--en consequence les amateurs qui n'ont eu le bonheur de voir La Belle Fermiere (depuis que Madame Candeille ne la joue plus) que 299 fois, voudront bien attendre pour la 300e fois le retour de Melle Leverd.
Interestingly, in the above passage the critic mistakenly referred to the role of Catherine as "the role of Julie," thereby demonstrating that, even by this late date, Candeille was still intimately connected to the title role in her work, which she had not performed in over twenty years. (21)
Indeed the critics often made reference to Candeille, even when the role was performed by another actress. For example, echoing the compliments he had given to Mlle Leverd, a critic for the Journal de l'Empire paid the following homage to Candeille: "l'auteur etait une femme, une belle femme, et une actrice; et ce fut elle qui joua d'original le role de la Belle fermiere" (16-17 August 1807). We must remember that it was unusual to mention the author of a work in a review, especially a work that had been in the repertoire for a long time. This veiled reference to Candeille served to reinforce the link between the role and the author. In the end, it was perhaps because of this continuing link--as well as the loyalty of her chosen actresses, who benefitted financially from playing the role of Catherine--that Candeille was mostly successful with her requests to the troupe, and that she was able to assure the continuing successful performances of her work.
The remarkable forty-seven-year run of La Belle Fermiere ended with Candeille's death in 1834. There was a single performance in 1835, followed by three years in which the work was not performed. And then finally--and inexplicably--seven performances in 1839. In that year a critic for the Journal des Debats expressed bewilderment at the return of this work on the stage of the Comedie-Francaise, arguing that it was a product of a time past, and that like most eighteenth-century comedies it could not be appreciated when one was used to "les delires du drame moderne." Referring to several successesful romantic dramas, he wondered why the Comedie-Francaise had suddenly decided to replace "le poignard sanglant par la houlette. Le loup se fait berger, Fredegonde garde les moutons, Hernani joue de la flute, Marguerite, de la Tour de Nesle, pince de la harpe." Commenting on the music, he exclaimed: "Quelle idee de faire grincer cette harpe, quand nous entendons a peine le bruit de l'ophicleide et du tambour!" (11 November 1839). A critic for the JournaI de Paris was even more dismissive: "Nous ne cesserons de nous etonner que l'on conserve au repertoire une piece aussi triste, aussi ennuyeuse, aussi nulle sous tous les rapports que La Belle Fermiere. C'est une rapsodie dans toute la force du terme. L'existence d'une pareille mishre au theatre est un outrage permanent au bon gout et 5 la litterature" (12 November 1839). (22) Why were these reviews suddenly so scathing in 18397 One could argue that the Romantic esthetic was more firmly established by that time, but nevertheless the criticism that La Belle Fermiere was old-fashioned could easily have been made a decade or two earlier. The difference is that without Candeille's presence, the connection to the author was broken, and La Belle Fermiere became irrelevant, even as a nostalgic link to times past.
Because women dramatists were still relatively unwelcome during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they had to devise strategies to make their presence in the public arena of the theaters as innocuous as possible. One of the strategies they used was to write works that were perceived by the public as autobiographical. These works were acceptable for women because they were deemed to entail less fiction and artifice than sincerity. They were also considered less ambitious because they were seen as a mirror of nature rather than a product of artistic creativity, and hence they were hardly works of genius that could threaten the male bastion of theater. In her semi-autobiographical Essai sur les felicites humaines, ou dictionnaire du bonheur (1828), Candeille explained the esthetic and moral principles that had guided her dramatic career. Using a language strongly reminiscent of Rousseau's Lettre a d'Alembert, she condemned the theater because it used fiction to mediate between author and audience. Instead she advocated for transparency in the theater, stating that it would be humiliating "de representer publiquement un personnage autre que le sien; de jouer, par consequent, les vertus que l'on n'a pas, et de preter aux vices que l'on deteste les attraits les plus seducteurs" Candeille, Essai (2: 192). By writing herself into her Catherine, ou la belle fermiere, she attempted to eliminate the distinction between theatrical illusion and reality. Her collapsing of her own identity into that of "la belle fermiere" was her way of embracing her society's dominant discourse, that "fiction" and "artifice" were inferior to "reality" and "nature."
At the same time, however, Candeille challenged this ideology by creating a decidedly fictional and artificial public persona in real life based on the dramatic version of herself in La Belle Fermiere. Although her reliance on a performative mode of self-representation is paradoxical in light of her own declared antitheatrical prejudice, she merely reinforced the public's predilection for equating the actress with the leading role she was performing. Moreover, Candeille's performative self-fashioning gave her some control over the public's construction of her private life; a subject of endless fascination when it concerned a young and beautiful actress. Faced with the difficulty of maintaining a balance between being too public in a society that wanted its women in private and being immediately forgotten as a woman author, Candeille seized upon her society's passion for theater and performance in order to fashion a public persona for herself that was enabling to her on and off the stage. But Candeille's indelible identification with "la belle fermiere" was also the reason for the work's almost immediate oblivion after Candeille died. Therefore, even in this case of one of the longest-running theatrical works by a woman, the strong link to the author, which assured the work's success, was also the instrument of its demise.
Appendix: Performance History of Candeille's Catherine, ou la belle fermiere (1792-1839)
Note on sources: the most accurate counts come from the period 1792-99, since these reflect performances at all Parisian theatres. After that, the counts are likely too low, as they only reflect performances at the Comedie-Francaise. Therefore years with "O" performances at the Comedie-Francaise may very well have had some performances at other theaters. Performance counts come from the following sources: Kennedy, et al. (for the period 1792-99); Joannides (for the period 1800-39).
Year Performances Comments 1792 2 premiere was on 27 December 1793 49 10th most-performed dramatic work of the year in Paris; also 4 performances of Bathilde ou le duo 1794 19 including 1 performance at Theatres des Varietes Amusantes; also 10 performances of Commissionaire 1795 6 also 2 performances of Bayadere and 10 performances of Commissionaire 1796 1 (in Paris); 6 (in Brussels); (others in Holland?) performance on 17 January 1797 0 (in Paris); (others in Brussels and Holland?) 1 performance of Commissionaire (7 April); Candeille divorces first husband 1798 8 performances beginning 19 June; 11 February marriage to Simons 1799 28 6 performances at Theatre Francais; 1 perfor mance at Theatre de la Cite; 3 performances at Theatre de Marais; 9 performances at Theatre de Moliere; 9 perfomances at Theatre des Victoires (some theaters offered double perfor- mances on the same day, and on at least one day there were simultaneous performances at different theaters). Mlle Emilie Contat or Mlle Georges in title role. 1800 6 1801 1 1802 0 separation from Simons 1803 6 1804 6 1805 5 1806 6 1807 10 many reviews; Mlle Mezeray takes over title role; beginning in May, 5 performances of Ida ou l'orpheline de Berlin at the Opera-Comique (as benefit performances for her father). 1808 5 also 1 performance of her play Louise ou la reconciliation 1809 2 1810 0 Candeille asks for a revival of La Belle Fermiere with Mlle Leverd in the title role 1811 19 1812 9 1813 4 1814 3 Candeille asks the Comedie-Francaise for more performances; publication of novel Bathilde, Reine des Francs 1815 7 1816 7 Candeille receives a pension from Louis XVIII 1817 7 Candeille asks for a lecture of her totally revised play Les trois ages (first read in 1815 and rejected but with a possibility of correction). Her request is granted six days later; Michaud affair; Candeille prints at her own expense Reponse de Madame Simons-Candeille a un article de biographie, 17 June 1817 (Paris: Gratiot, 1817); she publishes Souvenirs de Brighton 1818 9 Mlle Rose Dupuis is assigned as alternate to Mlle Leverd in title role 1819 6 1820 6 Candeille gives a lecture of a play that is accepted (Les Trois Ages? Le Parvenu ou les deux soeurs?), but she decides not to have it performed because she thinks she could do better with a new play 1821 2 publishes novel Agnes de France 1822 7 death of Simons 1823 10 Mlle Mantes takes over title role; publishes novel Blanche d'Evreux; marries Perie 1825 4 1826 5 1827 2 1828 6 1829 3 1830 8 1831 3 1832 0 1833 4 1834 2 Candeille dies 1835 1 1836 0 1837 0 1838 0 1839 7
(1) See Letzter and Adelson, esp. 112-13, 116-27.
(2) The present study is concerned mainly with performances in Paris, although it is clear that the work was performed over a long period of time in the provinces as well. The Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, for example, had a fresh set of orchestral parts copied on 24 August 1820, implying a significant need for continued use at subsequent performances (Fonds musical, Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles). The work was also performed at the Theatre de Montpellier until the 1830s (Jourda 234).
(3) For occurrences of the name Julie in the libretto, see Candeille, Catherine ou la belle fermiere, anthologized in Lepeintre, 20: 253, 260.
(4) Cange was performed ten times at Candeille's rival theater, the Theatre de l'Egalite, the conservative faction of the former Comedie-Francaise. This work was a piece de circonstance based on a contemporary event and written immediately after the Terror in an attempt to demonstrate Candeille's political innocence. Candeille did not act in it, nor did she immediately reveal that she was the author.
(5) Similar remarks can be found in other reviews, including: Journal de Paris (29 December 1792, qtd. in Pougin 373); La Gazette nationale ou le Moniteur (28 December 1792, cited in Lumiere 116).
(6) Her letter read as follows:
Citoyen, Quand la persecution me poursuit, quand l'injustice et la calomnie s'attachent a ma ruine, je dois a mes defenseurs, je me dois a moi-meme de repousser les insinuations perfides de ceux qui voudroient encore me ravir l'estime du public apres avoir trompe tous les efforts que j'ai faits pour lui plaire. Jamais un orgueil insense, jamais une pretention arrogante ne dirigerent mes pas dans la carriere des arts. La soumission et la necessite me mirent au theatre; l'habitude et l'amour du travail m'ont enhardi a ecrire. Ces deux ressources reunies sont mes seuls moyens d'existence; ma famille a soutenir, d'autres charges plus onereuses, mes besoins actuels et surtout l'inquietude de l'avenir, voila mes motifs pour les faire valoir; j'ose croire que, s'ils eussent ete connus, mes detracteurs euxmemes, n'auraient pu se determiner a me rendre l'objet du ridicule et de l'aversion quand je devois etre celui de l'indulgence et de l'encouragement. Ne refusez pas a mon malheur, citoyens, la dedommagement que je sollicite de votre bienveillance. Ce ne sera pas la premiere ni la plus foible obligation que je vous aurez eue sans vous connoitre. Julie Candeille, femme de R." Journal de Paris. (28 February 1795, qtd. in Pougin 388)
(7) She also gave a concert with the famous singer Pierre-Jean Garat (1762-1823).
(8) There is much controversy among historians about the actual events surrounding the marriages of Miles Lange and Candeille. Jean Stern, biographer of Michel-Jean Simons, maintained that the two marriages (which took place two months apart) were entirely independent of each other: the son having met Lange in Paris in 1796; the father having met Candeille in Brussels during her tour the same year. Stern maintains that the subsequent meeting in Paris between Candeille and Simons pere to persuade Lange not to marry Simons fils is the product of legend. Lange and Simons fils were married in December 1797, as soon as Simons fils could obtain a divorce from his previous wife, after which the couple remained in Paris (130-35). Candeille herself (Notice biographique) maintained that she married first, and that Lange married the son later. In other accounts, Candeille and the father married during the son's honeymoon with Lange (D'Abrantes 3: 112). Of course, what is relevant to the reception of La Belle Fermiere is the legend that circulated, and which the public believed, not the actual facts.
(9) When recounting the Simons-Lange story, the theater historian Lepeintre refers to the author Candeille as "La belle fermiere" (20: 168).
(10) When Candeille, despite her reluctance to write for the theater again, wrote new plays with the hope of improving her financial situation, the critics inevitably compared her new works to La Belle Fermiere. Her most ambitious work was the 1807 opera-comique Ida ou l'orpheline de Berlin, performed six times at the Opera-Comique as a benefit for her father (and also at Brussels Theatre de la Monnaie, on 9 Dec 1812). The critics found Ida a mediocre work, but they were indulgent toward Candeille, whom they remembered as the multi-talented and charming woman who was the author of La Belle Fermiere. See Courrier des Spectacles (20 May 1807).
(11) Later, during Candeille's lifetime, the public knew about the friendship that ensued from her first meeting with Girodet, Querard a: 180. In fact, Candeille wrote a "Notice biographique" to serve as an introduction to her correspondence with Girodet, which was intended for publication soon after Girodet's death in 1824. In the end, this correspondence was never published, but circulated among several potential libraires and the press was aware of this. Querard 1: 180.
(12) The work was originally written in 1811, and was first performed as a comedie de societe "a la campagne" in 1812. Andrieux did not read it before the comite de lecture of the Comedie-Francaise until 1814, and the Paris premiere took place on 6 March 1816 (Andrieux 2: 251-52). The Candeille-Lange-Simons affair might also be seen as an early source for the scenario of a father coming to dissuade his son's mistress from marrying and thus bringing dishonor to the family used by Alexandre Dumas fils in La Dame aux camelias (1848).
(13) Other reviews of La Comedienne explicitly state that the play was based on the Lange-Candeille double marriage. See for example the review in the Journal des Debats (8 March 1816).
(14) This unexpected revelation of an unnamed husband was much criticized by contemporaries who felt that the play would have been stronger if Mme de Belval would have rejected Gouvignac, even though she was a widow and free to remarry (Journal de Paris 15 March 1816). Other critics wanted Mme de Belval to be firmer in her moral victory and refused the marriage, reminding Gouvignac of his own argument that actresses are unworthy of repectable marriage (La Quotidienne, 13 March 1816). Even today, readers are often confused about the ending of the play. Ryland (47) erroneously states that Belval was married to the theater director Daricour.
(15) On 15 March 1816, the critic of the Journal de Paris opened his second article about the play with the rhetorical question: "Quel a ete le but de M. Andrieux en composant cet ouvrage? A-t-il voulu faire l'eloge ou la satire des comediens?" Three days later, another article in the same newspaper remained equally undecided about how to answer this question:
L'auteur de la Comedienne a ete vivement attaque par quelques jansenistes en litterature, qui lui ont fait un crime d'avoir traite les comediens avec une partialite marquee, et de ne les avoir presentes sur la scene que sous un point de vue favorable. D'un autre cote, j'ai entendu quelques personnnes se plaindre de ce que l'auteur de la piece nouvelle avait essaye de jeter du ridicule sur la profession de comedien, en offrant sur la scene un spectacle de leurs caprices et de leurs petites intrigues.
It is noteworthy that in the same year as the premiere of La Comedienne there was a scandal concerning the burial of the famous actress Mlle de Raucourt (Francoise Saucerotte, 1756-1815) (Berlanstein 85). Berlanstein (96) also notes that Andrieux's La Comedienne was perhaps the first play to be performed at the Comedie-Francaise to have an actress as leading character. That this actress was a dramatization of Candeille attests to her notoriety in this period.
(16) Berlanstein dates this transformation in the social acceptability of actresses at the end of the nineteenth century, but the debate surrounding Andrieux's play shows that the process began earlier.
(17) In 1816, there were performances of Castor et Pollux on 10 March, 4 August, and 20 August.
(18) This poem was originally written in 1815 prior to Candeille's stay in England. It later appeared in Almanach des Muses 54 (1818), 31-33.
(19) This scandal was a major event in Candeille's life, as is reflected not only in her correspondence with Girodet (to whom she signals as early as 1808 that Michaud and other journalists were intent on sullying her reputation) but also in an extensive correspondence with Michaud's brother (Michaud le cadet) and M. Bertin of the Journal des Debats. See Candeille and Girodet 5: 1-48, pieces diverses.
(20) Michaud's deliberate truncation of Candeille's explanation reveals his desire to reduce all the issues to Candeille's personal conceit. To be sure, Candeille would not have addressed the subject of the title of the work in her 1793 preface if she had not already received criticism for it. Michaud's airing of this controversy in 1817, however, demonstrates that the ideological climate had become more restrictive with respect to public women than in 1793.
(21) On 31 August 1818 Candeille responded with a letter to the Journal de Paris explaining that the newspaper had misrepresented her complaint, which was motivated by her desire to protect the current actress playing Catherine, Melle Leverd, from unjust treatment by the troupe:
Messieurs, En reponse a un article de votre petite chronique de ce jour, j'ai l'honneur de vous assurer que je n'ai pas ecrit un mot de la lettre cite au sujet de la Belle fermire, que je n'etais pas a Paris quand Melle Dupuis l'a jouee le dimanche 23 et qu'ayant samedi dernier rencontre cette belle personne en maison tierce, j'ai cru devoir, sans le desir qu'elle m'en a temoigne, lui dire qu'elle est bien la maitresse de jouer le role de Catherine en l'absence de Mme Leverd autant de fois que les convenances s'accorderont en cela avec les interets de mon ancienne societe. Permettez-moi, Messieurs, de me plaindre a vous memes de votre facilite a me croire capable d'un mauvais procede; c'est au contraire pour eviter de tomber dans ce tort que j'avais reclame pour Melle Leverd; et ma veritable lettre en fait foi."
A draft copy of this letter exists in Candeille and Girodet 5: 1-48.
(22) The use of the word "rapsodie' can be clarified by reference to the following contemporary definition:
RAPSODIE. s. f. Il se disait, chez les anciens, Des morceaux detaches des poesies d'Homere, que chantaient les rapsodes. Il se dit, figurement et familierement, d'un mauvais ramas, soit de vers, soit de prose. Je n'ai jamais vu pareille rapsodie. Tout son discours n'etait qu'une mauvaise rapsodie. (Dictionnaire de L'Academie francaise, 6th Edition, 1835 [2: 569])
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JACQUELINE LETZTER AND ROBERT ADELSON
School of Languages
University of Maryland
3215 Jimenez Hall
College Park, MD 20742-4815
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2004|
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