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Rise of Love and the People: French Matter and Manner in the Early Victorian Drama of Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Soulèvement de l’amour et du people : matière et manière françaises dans le théâtre victorien d’Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Ana Fernández-Caparrós Turina

Résumés

Dans la courte période comprise entre 1837, lorsque la Reine Victoria accéda au trône, et 1843, quand la Loi sur la réglementation des théâtres modifia la Loi sur les Licences de 1737 reconfigurant ainsi la liberté et la création théâtrales au Royaume-Uni, la collaboration fructueuse entre le fameux romancier Edward Bulwer-Lytton et l’acteur et directeur de théâtre William Charles Macready se révélerait décisive dans le façonnement du drame londonien naissant et dans l’établissement de normes exigeantes en matière de production et d’intégrité artistiques, des standards qui seraient adoptés par les directeurs successifs. Poursuivant à la fois les réformes théâtrales préconisées par Bulwer, au titre de député du parti Whig, et sa récente incursion dans l’aventure de l’écriture dramatique, l’auteur s’appuya fortement sur les modèles français. L’article analyse l’influence française sur les premières pièces de Bulwer qui constituent son cycle d’œuvres sur l’Histoire française, The Duchess de la Vallière (1837), The Lady of Lyons, or Love and Pride (1838) et Richelieu, or The Conspiracy (1839). Les pièces de Bulwer, dont l’action se déroulait en France et où il puisait également ses sources, sont donc empreintes de culture et d’Histoire de France. Ces inspirations déterminantes insufflèrent à Bulwer un sens de la liberté assez puissant pour qu’il s’essaye dans son art à cette combinaison singulière et intuitive de politique et de romance. Cette liberté est particulièrement présente dans ses premières œuvres où, après l’expérience révolutionnaire, un contexte français devint le cadre le plus approprié pour exprimer des idées libérales, représenter la naissance d’une conscience moderne illustrée par la montée des peuples, et marier ces thèmes à la peinture théâtrale des mœurs, des passions et des sentiments.

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Texte intégral

My mistress France—my wedded wife,—sweet France,
Who shall proclaim divorce for thee and me!

Edward Bulwer-Lytton,
Richelieu, Or the Conspiracy, Act I

  • 1 The only French text that was mentioned by the author is ‘the Tour of Nesle’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 1 (...)
  • 2 According to Robert Knecht (2003, 13–15), cardinal Armand de Richelieu (1585-1642) is among the ver (...)
  • 3 In England and the English only ‘Victor Hugo’s chef-d’œuvres’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 140) are overtly (...)

1In Book 4 of England and the English (1833)—before he had become one of the most popular dramatists of the early Victorian theatre—the Whig member of Parliament and acclaimed novelist Edward Bulwer devoted a whole chapter to the examination of the state of English drama, a field for which the author felt a profound ‘restauration’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 143) was needed at the time. The chapter opens with a brief consideration of the cost of amusement and the general decline of drama; however, from the very beginning Bulwer’s attention is not actually placed on the national scene but rather on the French one. If, according to Nicoll, one-half of the plays that were written between 1800 and 1850 in England ‘must have been suggested by Parisian models, and many were literally adapted by English authors’ (Nicoll 79), it is not surprising that a consideration of English drama should have begun by analysing the sources from which it mainly drew. The assessment of French drama in the early 1830s that was provided by Bulwer is quite grim. The talent for the theatre had become in the neighbour country ‘degenerate’ and ‘eccentric’: having run through ‘the whole catalogue of out-of-the-way crimes’, the author believed there would be an end of materials for French dramatists in the ‘way of atrocity’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 135).1 Would that also be the case for English dramatists and an English theatre that was based ‘upon robberies’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 136)? The acknowledged ‘enormous activity in adaptation that marks out the age dramatically’ (Nicoll 79) prevents us from believing so. Despite deploring the eccentricity of contemporary French drama, Bulwer himself would rely heavily upon French models for his French history plays The Duchess de la Vallière (1837), The Lady of Lyons, or Love and Pride (1838) and Richelieu, or The Conspiracy (1839). The latter, which was successfully performed throughout the nineteenth century, remains Bulwer’s best-known historical play, and it certainly is the one that received major critical attention.2 In fact, whereas an analysis of the French dramatic sources by Lemercier, Hugo and Delavigne in Richelieu has already been conducted and assessed (Qualia, 1927), the French influence in his first two dramas has thus far been neglected. Gallic inspiration in the composition of The Duchess de la Vallière and The Lady of Lyons should be evaluated beyond the consideration of French dramatic sources to recognise a wider spectrum of influence in which French history, institutions, standards, forms and ideals constitute a powerful cultural model for both the dramatic and the theatrical reforms that were sought by Bulwer. In England and the English the writer cogently claimed that ‘no legislature can be more polite to the drama than is the legislature of France. Authors protected, a Dramatic Board, plenty of theatres, no censor’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 134). He would thus strongly advocate the introduction of a similar model in England through a series of parliamentary reforms: the Dramatic Copyright Act, the (unsuccessful) banishment of censorship and, most importantly, the Theatre Regulation Act (1843) that amended the Licensing Act of 1737 and would reconfigure theatrical freedom and production in the United Kingdom. In terms of dramatic writing, the writer was also ‘for both matter and manner . . . strongly attracted to the French’ (Shattuck 7). He may have lacked the programmatic boldness of his admired Victor Hugo; however, considering that ‘France, social, literary, political’—to borrow the title of the volume that was published by Bulwer’s elder brother Henry in 1836—the French influence would become a powerful means for creative innovation beyond the limitations of mere formal imitation and adaptation.3 Bulwer’s indebtedness to his French master might have been, as Shattuck suggests, more ‘a debt of idea’ (Shattuck 7) than an actual attainment of a true romantic drama that blends serious and comedic entertainment, as that which was defended by Hugo in the influential ‘Préface’ to Cromwell (1827), a drama that, as the French writer believed,

Il ferait passer à chaque instant l’auditoire du sérieux au rire, des excitations bouffonnes aux émotions déchirantes, du grave au doux, du plaisant au sévère. Car, ainsi que nous l’avons déjà établi, le drame, c’est le grotesque avec le sublime, l’âme sous le corps, c’est une tragédie sous une comédie. (Hugo 48)

2As I aim to show in this article, more than the sharpening of the tragic with the comic, the inspiration from French culture and French history seems to have been crucial in giving Edward Bulwer a powerful sense of freedom to more specifically work towards his peculiar and intuitive conflation of politics and romance on the early Victorian stage. This is more clearly seen in Bulwer’s first two plays that are set in France: given the neighbour country’s historical revolutionary experience, a French context became the most suitable framework to articulate liberal ideas with an interest in passion and sentiment.

  • 4 At the same time, with Ion (1835), Thomas Noon Talfourd would also almost attempt to revive tragic (...)

3Bulwer was not alone in believing that a dramatic renaissance had to be pursued and, indeed, his short yet intense venture into dramatic authorship was actually the product of a close collaboration between 1836 and 1840 with one of the leading defenders of ‘the best interests of the English drama’ (Booth 43): actor and stage manager William Charles Macready.4 The latter, who was one of the greatest performers of Shakespeare’s roles in the nineteenth century, was ‘a stout supporter of the old order’ (Booth 42). As a public figure, he would in fact be recognised for his indefatigable promotion of legitimate drama: ‘Thine is it that our drama did not die, / Nor flicker down to brainless pantomime’ (Tennyson 369), wrote Lord Tennyson in the sonnet that he dedicated to the actor in 1851 upon the occasion of his retirement. When Edward Bulwer first invited Macready to the Albany in February 1836 to involve him in his personal theatrical campaign, he was, at the age of 33, the most admired and most widely read novelist in England. He had written a play, which he dedicated to the actor, and he was willing to obtain Macready’s opinion and suggestions for any needed alterations. As Shattuck remarks,

the event was momentous with hope for Macready, and it occurred when he sorely needed a lift to his spirits. For two seasons he had been struggling through an engagement as principal tragedian at Drury Lane, at a time when ‘the legitimate’ was rapidly vitiating on a diet of melodrama, menagerie acts, and operatic spectacle. (Shattuck 18)

4Given Bulwer’s literary reputation after the publication of Pelham (1828) and his best-selling acclaimed historical novels The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) and Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes (1835), he could not have been a better partner to engage with in the desired restoration of a national dramatic tradition. However, Bulwer’s first plays in the French manner and matter would prove to be more controversial than expected: the ‘legitimate’ dramas that were presented at Covent Garden between 1837 and 1839 might have been partially conceived as a reinstatement of former canonical models of Shakespearean grandeur, but were instead regarded as a ‘hesitating compromise between the legitimate and the illegitimate, with just a touch of something that suggests that this author, like Knowles, was groping darkly towards something new’ (Nicoll 173). Produced at the very beginning of Queen Victoria’s long reign, they display the ‘grand style’ that characterised artistic productions at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Briggs 228); however, they also acknowledge currents of social change and artistic values that would evolve throughout the century. After the 25-year period between 1810 and 1835 to which William Archer referred as ‘the winter solstice of English drama’ (Archer 246), the ‘slight revival’ (Archer 246) of English drama at the beginning of the Victorian era for which Bulwer was responsible was such because, while his plays still in spirit belonged to the eighteenth century, they also bore a ‘note of modernity’ (Archer 250) that carried British drama into the nineteenth century. Archer already felt that to identify the origins of this burgeoning modernity, one must look to France. The ways in which French influence was determinant in shaping this ‘something new’ of Bulwer’s dramatic venture is considered and analysed in the following pages. As Ramos-Gay claims, ‘la France représente dans l’idéologie du xixe siècle britannique un kaléidoscope d’aspirations, d’observations, de réflexions et de critiques que l’observateur établit per rapport à son propre pays et dans lequel la littérature s’érige en qualité de catalyseur’ (Ramos-Gay 12). Aware of the powerful cultural influence of France in the nineteenth century—which served as both a mirror and a menace for a British nation that was focused on its military and economic expansionism—and of theatre’s crucial role as an export agent of an image of the neighbour country as icon of modernity, Edward Bulwer would actively and deliberately exploit the perception of France as a magnificent Other as the means to introduce to British drama a skilful combination of formal pre-existing elements in a manner that aimed for the recognition of a modern consciousness. The opposing reactions to Bulwer’s historical dramas that were set in France perfectly reflect the conflicts that were created by a public that can be regarded as being radically ‘oscillant entre la gallomanie et la gallophobie’ (Ramos-Gay 21); however, the dramas also highlight the fact that despite Bulwer’s infatuation with romance and ‘ideas which possessed the entire century, like the status of women, a hero’s idea of chivalric service, money’s allure’ (Jenkins 1−2), his choice of French dramatic plots was unmistakably political. Some late eighteenth-century plays, such as George Colman the younger’s Inkle and Yarico (1787), which was adapted from a story by Richard Steele, and Sheridan’s Pizarro (1799), which was an adaptation of Die Spanien in Peru by August von Kontzebue, had already shown an intertwining of theatre and politics and a drama that was ‘more responsive to the social conditions of the mass of people than ever before’ (Trussler 2004, 196) in its recognition of oppressed Indians’ suffering under colonial rule. However, Bulwer’s liberal melodramas would more overtly recognise a democratic spirit, one that was unquestionably indebted to the ideas and the spirit of revolutionary France.

The Maiden of Humbler Fortunes Who Loves from the Depths of Heart: Passion, Penitence and the Shadowed Standing up of the People in The Duchess de la Vallière

  • 5 The emphasis in the excerpt is found in the original text.

We have learnt to consider that emotions are not the most passionately experienced in a court; that the feelings of Kings are not more intense than those of persons who are more roused by the stern excitements of life, nor the passions of the Queen less freed from frivolity, than the maiden of humbler fortunes, who loves from the depths of a heart which hath no occupation but love.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton,
England and the English, (Book 4, Chapter 5: The Drama)5

  • 6 Carwell; or Crime and Sorrow (1830) was the first novel that was published by Caroline Henrietta Sh (...)
  • 7 There were soon many unlicensed adaptations of Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian produced (...)

5In Edward Bulwer’s programmatic essay on the reform of Drama, which is included in England and the English, the then-essayist and novelist suggested that the sources of dramatic interest in which ‘we should now seek the tragic influence, viz. the Simple and the Magnificent’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 145) should be ‘tales of household nature’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971,145) that found an echo in the hearts of the people: ‘the materials of the village tragedy, awaking an interest common to us all; intense, yet homely, actual—earnest’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971,145). Among the narratives of prose fiction that contain such ‘pathos and passions of everyday-life’, the author mentions ‘the stories of Jeannie [sic] Deans or of Carwell’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 145).6 For his first engagement with Charles Macready, Bulwer would not adapt for the stage the fictional adventures of the popular female protagonist of Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian (1818) Jeanie Deans; he instead chose a French historical source befitting his purposes and whose protagonist was equally drawn by a religious commitment as that of the Deans sisters: the story of Louise de la Vallière, one of Louis XIV’s mistresses who, as in the fictional Effie Deans in Scott’s novel, would relinquish mundane occupations and eventually retire into a French convent.7 For an intellectual who believed that emotions were not most passionately experienced in court, the latter was nevertheless chosen as the scenario in which to stage the passions of all its inhabitants. Bulwer understood the ‘SIMPLE . . . as the principal source of modern tragedy’

– its materials being woven from the woes—the passions—the various and multiform characters—that are to be found in the different grades of an educated and highly civilized people;– materials a thousand times more rich, subtle and complex, than those sought only in the region of royal existence, the paucity of which we may perceive by the monotonous sameness of the characters into which, in the regal tragedy, they are moulded. (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 152)

  • 8 Another significant reason for the play’s failure was its unnecessary length, ‘a grievious error in (...)

6By showing the contrasting feelings, attitudes and dispositions of characters who were of both royal and lower rank, Bulwer sought to underscore how civilised the latter were. However, the choice of such a dissipated court as that of Louis XIV in which to do so was possibly Bulwer’s greatest mistake and a significant factor in the play’s failure, as it reinforced an image of France as being ‘synonyme de superstition religieuse, d’absolutisme monarchique, de décadence, de totalitarisme, de corruption et de protectionisme commercial’ (Ramos-Gay 18) and it overshadowed the protagonist’s melodramatic pathos and moreover reinforced the perception the British had of themselves in clear antithesis to what they saw.8

  • 9 In January 1836, a literal translation by Alfred Bunn of Eugène Scribe’s opera Le Cheval de Bronze (...)

7Bulwer’s main literary source of inspiration for his first dramatisation of French courtesan experiences would be the Comtesse de Genlis’s La Duchesse de la Vallière suivie de sa Vie Pénitente (Paris, 1804). In the preface to her novel, the Comtesse de Genlis argued that in most of the historical accounts of the reign of Louis XIV that she had read and gathered for her own historical novel, and especially those that were written during the seventeenth century by Bossuet, Fénelon, Pascal and Boileau, ‘c’est de nos jours que l’on peut reprocher à la plupart des auteurs une certaine pompe, et je ne sais quoi d’exagéré, qui bannissent absolument de leurs ouvrages, le naturel, les grâces et la vérité’ (Genlis ii; emphasis in the original). While Bulwer was likely attracted by the contemporary sensibility that was shown by the countess—and the shift in focus in his drama from the royal figure to an otherwise historically insignificant mistress already reveals the search for an au courant approach—he may have failed to successfully convey natural grace for several reasons, including the choice of topic of courtly intrigue; the ‘electrical theatricality’ (Jenkins 37) of performance at that time, and the formal constraints that were derived from the use of verse. On 4 March 1836, upon reading Bulwer’s manuscript, Macready wrote to the writer, ‘why have we not such works as these, instead of translations from Scribe, upon our stage?’ (Shattuck 23).9 Bulwer’s first dramatic text avoided the display of the spectacularity of Scribe’s multifarious theatrical works, and yet, The Duchess de la Vallière still failed to properly articulate, even if it anticipated it, the new dramatic language of naturalism and its actual mirroring of everyday manners that would evolve throughout the nineteenth century. La Vallière, as a maiden with no occupation but love, is painted by the courtier Grammon at the beginning of the play, after first seeing the king, as a rose of May that ‘seem’d to shrink / Into her modest self, and a low sigh / Shook blushes (sweetest rose-leaves!) from her beauty’,

GRAMMON: …And ever since that hour
She bears the smiling malice of her comrades
With an unconscious and an easy sweetness:
As if alike
her virtue and his greatness
Made love impossible; so down the stream
Of purest thought, her heart glides on to danger.
(
Vallière I.iii, 23; emphasis in the original).

8Louise’s virtue is made to contrast sharply with the coldness of his Majesty, in whom resides ‘The art of pomp, and not the art of love, tutors his skill—Augustus more than Ovid’ (Vallière I.iii, 22). Bulwer’s Louise is, as Jenkins claims, ‘a bride of heaven, an angel who falls yet who somehow remains unsullied’ (1990, 36). At the end of the play—after having been previously taken away by the monarch from the convent from which she had withdrawn in Act II, to later be rejected as first mistress in favour of Madame de Montespan—la Vallière’s ascension to the altar to put on her convent dress affirms the righteousness of her moral choice, which the effeminate and corrupted Louis conceitedly hails:

LOUIS: I will not hear thee!
I cannot brave these thoughts. Thy angel voice
But tells me what a sun of heavenly beauty
Glides from the earth and leaves my soul to darkness.
This is
my work!—‘twas I for whom that soul
Forsook its native element; for me,
Sorrow consumed thy youth, and conscience gnawed
That patient, tender, unreproachful heart. (
Vallière V. iv, 175)

  • 10 Despite Macready’s stated reluctance to propose any alteration to the draft, the letters reveal the (...)

9Despite the respectability of the duchess’s decision, the ritual of Catholic devotion is too extraneous for a British audience, and the affectedness of the king eclipses the triumph of morality and respectability in the duchess’s behaviour. Although in the extant letters between Macready and the playwright, neither the sources nor any of the implications of the play’s plot are discussed at any time, they would become the unexpected object of turmoil and criticism when the play opened at Covent Garden on 4 January 1837.10 The story of the Sun King’s first mistress—described by the Duke of Saint Simon as ‘modeste, désintéressée, douce, bonne au dernier point, combattant sans cesse contre elle-même, victorieuse enfin de son désordre’ (Genlis vii)—was damned by English audiences in Bulwer’s portrayal for its immorality and profaneness, despite her decision to abandon the King’s court to consecrate her life to God at the height of youth. The review that was published in the Times on 5 January 1837 ‘spewed black venom’ (Shattuck 51), as the Tory critic infamously claimed that no man would have dared to write a drama whose subjects were

the heartless debaucheries of a profligate monarch and his equally profligate courtiers. It is in the worst taste of the worst school, the school of the modern French romance…This may pass in Paris, where jaded roués and faded demireps require the stimulus of blasphemy to rouse their exhausted passions, but in England the public mind is, thank God, yet too healthy to demand such abominable incentives (qtd. in Shattuck 51).

10H. H. Davis was almost as harsh in The Monthly Magazine, describing Bulwer-Lytton’s play as Mr. Osbaldistone’s ‘great cheval de bataile [sic]… a steed wounded in the first encounter’ (Sept. 1837, 312). All seven of the plays that were produced under the latter’s enterprise as a manager of Covent Garden were consigned to oblivion: in the case of Bulwer’s play it was performed for just nine nights. The critic of The Monthly Magazine praised a piece with ‘many unquestionable poetic beauties’ (Davis 313), but to which no modern English audience would bear favourable testimony as it belonged to those dangerous plays that ‘insidiously and in courtly phrase teach lessons of the most disgusting immorality’ (Davis 313). For days, both the writer and Macready, who played the role of Alphonso de Bragelone, worked against the clock in the revision of the text and its performance—especially Act III—to amend the initial criticism and attempt to ‘make a more complete and satisfactory impression on the whole audience and seem ‘to point the moral’ (Bulwer to Macready in Shattuck 52). In The New Monthly Magazine and Humorist the dramatic fitness of the original story for stage purposes and the many varieties of interest were nonetheless praised, especially ‘“the conflict between the affections and the conscience” in a woman erring and innocent—swayed alternately by principle and passion’ (‘The Drama’, Feb. 1837, 293). This review of the play’s premiere is particularly relevant given its detailed account of both the performance and the critical reaction. According to the critic, Bulwer had been successful in showing ‘with a delicate and masterly hand, the assumed and the true nature of the courtier’ (‘The Drama’ Feb. 1837, 293) as well as in creating ‘portraitures struck off with historical exactness, yet with broad and bold effect’ (‘The Drama’ 293). However, the author of the review concluded that what was so dramatic to the reader was ultimately not theatrically engaging to an audience. Notwithstanding ‘the palpable deficiency in the acting of the play’ (‘The Drama’, Feb. 1837, 293), which seems to have done poor service to a fine text especially in the case of an unconvincing Miss Faucit, the critic recounts however how, after an admittedly long performance ‘warmly applauded by the public’ (‘The Drama’ Feb. 1837, 293), some critics immediately grounded upon this fact and, on the circumstance of a profane introduction of a crucifix upon the stage, soon took the opportunity to criticise its maudlin immorality and, above all, the fact that it was ‘insidiously political and palpably irreligious’ (‘The Drama’, Feb. 1837, 293).

11In England and the English, Bulwer had bluntly declared: ‘We banish the political from the stage, and we therefore deprive the stage of the most vivid of its actual sources of interest’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 141). Considering that in The Duchess de la Vallière the dramatic action mainly focuses on the vicissitudes of its protagonist, Louise, ‘the victim of loving impulses, and the vanquisher, by the aid of the wisdom that springs from suffering, of the temptation of love’ (‘The Drama’, Feb. 1837, 293), the play might not strike modern audiences as being overtly political. However, Bulwer clearly articulated a political discourse in the contrast between the King and the ‘hunters after power, these shadows, minion’d to the royal Sun’ (Vallière I.i, 10) such as Lauzun, and the nobility of character of the Marquis de Bragelone, mademoiselle de la Vallière’s suitor who, after his military success and sensing that he will never win Louise’s love, when she is in the court, becomes a Franciscan friar. In the first act, as Bragelone is about to depart for the war, thus losing the chance to win the acceptance of his beloved, he is defined by his armourer Bertrand as a man who is ‘scarcely of the modern fashion’:

They tell me, that to serve one’s king for nothing
To deem one’s country worthier than one’s self,
To hold one’s honour not a phrase to swear by –
They tell me now, all this is out of fashion (
Vallière I. ii, 15)

12Instead, in the play, courtiers ‘fatten on royal vices’ (Vallière I.ii, 23), and thus the cunning Lauzun soon best explains what is actually in vogue in Louis XIV’s court as the times indeed have changed: ‘now our wit’s our spear—intrigue or armour; / The antechamber is our field of battle; / And the best hero is—the cleverest rogue!’ (Vallière I.ii, 24). The dichotomies that are established in the first act between Bragelone’s knightly honour and Lauzun’s courtly cunning are meant for the audience to distinguish between two types of male characters by their defining qualities based on issues of honour and deception and honesty and dishonesty—except for the case of the divided Louise, to whom, we learn, her father taught to lisp her ‘sovereign’s name in prayer’ and, simultaneously in her first infant creed, ‘were link’d the lessons ‘to honour God and love the King’ (Vallière I.i, 6; emphasis in the original). However, Bragelone’s subsequent dialogue at the beginning of the second act introduces, in contrast to his apparently anachronous chivalric code of honour, a more politically connoted liberal discourse that, far from being obsolete, reveals the contemporary ideas of equality that followed the French Revolution and that Bulwer deliberately sought to bring to the fore. Arriving at the gardens of Fontainebleau after his military service and wanting to know the gossip of the court and thus determine Louise’s chastity, Bragelone’s deceivingly casual reaction to petty conversation about the millions that have been invested in the palace of Versailles reveals his distinctly progressive and egalitarian ideas:

BRAGELONE: Ay, the people groan at the burthen.

LAUZUN: People, what’s the people?
I never heard that word at court! The
people!

BRAGELONE: I doubt not, duke. The people like the air,
Is rarely heard, save when it speaks in thunder (
Vallière II. I, 40-41; emphasis in the original)

13The allusion to ‘the people’ in Bulwer’s first play is crucial as it reveals the playwright’s first and early attempt on the stage to articulate the repercussion of the ‘shock waves of revolution and war’ (Taylor 2004, 2) and the willingness to participate in the formation of modern consciousness that followed the experience of the French revolutionary decade and its ‘inauguration of a post-sacred sense of the order and structure of reality’ (Buckley 2009, 179). Indeed, the ‘People’ emerges as Bulwer’s real interest in his dramatic exploration of the history of France in the ‘Introductory remarks’ to the 1841 edition of his Collected Works. Tellingly, in the description of the works that ‘constitute a dramatic series’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1841, 5)—namely, The Duchess de la Vallière, The Lady of Lyons, or Love and Pride and Richelieu, or The Conspiracy—it is actually the status of ‘the People’ in each of the epochs that were brought to the stage by Bulwer that are highlighted by the author:

In the time of Richelieu the People, in its own person, awed and sullen, recedes from the stage, as the Minister and the Noble play their desperate game of power: in that of Louis XIV, effeminate and corrupt, the People stands, not invisible indeed, but in silence and shadow, behind the gorgeous throne which the victorious minister bequeathed to the successor of the monarch he ruled and humbled. (Bulwer-Lytton 1841, 5)

14As Charles Taylor has argued, our imagining of ourselves as a sovereign people, together with economies as practices of exchange that involve some type of law-like pattern and the public sphere as a place of free discussion outside of political power in which public opinion is formed, compose ‘the connected chain of mutations in the social imaginary that have helped constitute modern society’ (Taylor 2007, 33). Bulwer’s introduction of a liberal discourse in this regard in the mouth of Bragelone did not go unnoticed; however, the play’s subversiveness would be more strongly associated with its religious content. Nineteenth-century objections to the representation on the stage of religious and scriptural themes were deeply rooted in the theatrical and religious climate of the age and ‘the strength of the Puritan element in Victorian society was something that the theatre could not afford to ignore’ (Stephens 92). Indeed, the religious was the only form of censorship that became more inflexible as the century progressed. Although the play premiered after the death on 28 October 1836 of the most radical of the nineteenth-century examiners of plays, George Colman, who was notorious for his objection to all references to heaven, Lord, God and the angels, his successor’s Charles Kemble’s approval of Bulwer’s play did not prevent an outburst of outraged public opinion against the constant invocations of heaven, or the solemn taking of the veil within the Chapel of the Carmelites in the last scene of the play. According to Stephens (99), Bulwer was one of the first victims of the new sense of public responsibility assumed by audiences in lieu of institutional censorship, which confirms that as he well knew, ‘The mightiest Critic is the PUBLIC VOICE’ (Vallière Prologue, 2). With his second French history play he would more successfully create a drama in which love and romance go hand-in-hand with egalitarian ideas.

‘The revolution of Love’: Romantic Love as Egalitarian Force in The Lady of Lyons

BEAUSEANT: And what could have turned the foolish fellow’s brain? The Revolution, I suppose?
LANDLORD: Yes—the revolution that turns us all topsy-turvy—the revolution of Love.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton,
The Lady of Lyons, or Love and Pride, I.ii

15If, as is shown above, French history clearly epitomised the entrance into a new era for a liberal such as Bulwer, he was nonetheless aware that the dramatisation of the spirit of the age should not prevent the playwright from ignoring dramatic principles and the interests of a wide audience. George Taylor has argued in The French Revolution on the London Stage 1789-1805 (2004) that contemporary reactions to George Colman’s own John Bull, or an Englishman’s Fireside (1803) already showed an awareness that changes in manners on the stage reflected shifts in cultural and class values that would characterise the nineteenth century. Such changes in manners can also be found in the works of Bulwer as a novice playwright: the practice of imputing every virtue to the lowest orders of society and the vices and follies to the wealthy and the noble; the breach in chastity as an essential quality of female characters; and the increasing interest in material success, in poverty and wealth that would more specifically characterise British society. Writing in the Literary Journal in 1803, an anonymous critic attributed changes in the values that were represented in the theatre to the absurdity and immorality that could be found in the obnoxious influence of German drama, rather than to the direct observation of British manners (Taylor 2004, 12). French dramatic manner bore comparable associations, especially after the Revolution, which was a stigma of depravity of which Bulwer was not unaware. The latter’s main characteristic was its intertwining of political dissent and uncontrolled passion. In a long article that was devoted to the analysis of French drama, published in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country in December 1838, after referring to the leaders of the new dramatic school Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, the anonymous author observed that

Political dissensions, by arousing and embittering the passions of men, and allowing them space for action, destroy the calm sentiments of life, and extinguish all perception of duty, whether towards God or towards man. The first French revolution, unfortunately, accomplished all this mischief. (‘Specimens’ 650).

16The Duchess de la Vallière conflated passion and politics; however, a modern political discourse was misplaced in an absolutist and despotic seventeenth-century court, and lust and religious penitence were too radically opposed and performed not to be inevitably associated with a pompous French manner that would be perceived as utterly alien and extravagant by a British audience. In The Lady of Lyons, in which the dramatic action is set during the first years of the French First Republic, an egalitarian discourse and ‘the brief equalisation of ranks’ (Lyons Preface, 3) were more conspicuously brought to the fore. By tempering and domesticating uncontrolled passion and eliminating religious fervour, romantic love became the egalitarian force with the power to level all ranks.

  • 11 In the summer of 1836 Bulwer devoted much of his time to finishing a tragedy on the historical figu (...)

17As Bulwer explained in the preface to his play, ‘having long had a wish to illustrate certain periods of French history, so, in the selection of the date in which the scenes of this play are laid, I saw that the era of the Republic was that in which the incidents were rendered more probable’ (Lyons Preface, 3). Given the choice of period and the fact that Bulwer was a ‘radically inclined Whig member of parliament’ (Stephens 45), it is not surprising that the play should inevitably find harsh criticism by conservative audiences and critics. In fact, of Bulwer’s trilogy, The Lady of Lyons would be the only staged piece to suffer contemporary criticism on political grounds11, for as Stephens bluntly claims, and despite Macready’s public apologia in its defence, it ‘is a political play’ (Stephens 45).

18In the ‘Introductory remarks’ to the 1841 edition of his Collected Works, Bulwer described the French First Republic, with the noble and the king, coronet and crown, both gone, as the period in which ‘the People’,

– emerging from the ghastly and Medea caldron, into which its limbs and heart, long feeble and decrepit, had been cast, rent and bleeding—reappears for a brief time in the character of a second youth, impetuous and ardent, capable of daring all things for glory, unwise to accomplish anything for self-government, resisting a world for the defence of freedom, and rendering freedom to the first warrior who dazzled his imagination and flattered his self-love. (Bulwer-Lytton 1841, v-vi)

19Once again, the allusion to the capitalised ‘People’ emerges in Bulwer’s own writings as the subject matter of his theatrical experiment although the play’s protagonist, Pauline Deschapelles, as a fictional character, is closer in spirit to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet than to any French revolutionary heroine. If the British novelist had grandiosely claimed in the opening lines of her 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’ (Austen 1), in the very first scene of The Lady of Lyons Bulwer likewise defined Pauline’s proper ambition: the making of ‘a great marriage’, and as her mother Madame Deschappelles warns her, ‘Beauty is valuable or worthless according as you invest the property to the best advantage’ (Lyons I.i, 5). Pauline, who is the proud daughter of a rich merchant who aspires to marry in the nobility, rejects Beauseant in the first scene. Thus, the slighted suitor takes revenge with the help of his accomplice Glavis when he persuades Claude Melnotte, the son of a gardener, to take on the guise of Prince of Como, whom the deceived ‘Beauty of Lyons’ eventually marries. The latter, stung by shame when she discovers the deception in her now-husband’s hovel, will eventually come to love the humble Melnotte as she spends time with him and his widowed mother. At the end of Act IV, as he is about to leave for Italy to serve as a soldier in the Directory’s army, a still chaste and now enamoured Pauline exclaims: ‘Claude, take me; thou canst not give me wealth, titles, station—but thou canst give me a true heart. I will work for thee, tend thee, bear with thee, and never, never shall these lips reproach thee for the past’ (Lyons IV.i, 45). By having Melnotte, in Act V, triumphantly return two and a half years later to Lyons as ‘a colonel and a hero! […] wondrously improved’ (Lyons V.ii, 60) who is now suitable to marry the ‘constant woman’ (Lyons V.i, 48) who had waited for him, Bulwer managed, as Booth suggests, to produce a play that represented ‘an evolution of the old poetic tragedy and a compromise with melodrama. The tragic was domesticated; evil failed to destroy good, which emerged not only triumphant but also materially rewarded’ (Booth 154).

20Claude Melnotte, as a theatrical character, is a clear successor of Bragelone in The Duchess de la Vallière. As the author explains in the Introduction to his Collected Works, the humbler and the simpler method he had found of writing a play about the French Directory helped him to avoid setting the action in Paris and guaranteeing that the manners ‘of that loose period were such as could be safely be presented upon the Boards’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1841, x), was treating the subject by recurring to passion rather than humour, and

suffering one man, selected from the People as their representative, to show, in his own irregular passions,—his discursive but strong ambition,—his dream of equality melting into ardour for that martial life in which equality is lost,—something of that young and eager France which had sprung from the Republic—to die under the Empire (Bulwer-Lytton 1841, x).

21The Lady of Lyons opened on 15 February 1838 at Covent Garden with indubitable success. The pit rose to cheer several times at the conclusion and, as John Foster reported in the next Examiner, ‘It was a scene to raise, to revive, to give a new zest to play-going (Shattuck 70). In the summer of 1837 Macready had assumed the management of the theatre; however, the bills he had chosen were not of sufficient interest to audiences, and by mid-November he was ‘sunk in vexation, gloom and arrears of nearly a £1,000’ (Shattuck 56). The success on the first night of The Lady of Lyons (whose authorship had been kept hidden given the failure of La Valliére) was a promising and uplifting reward; however, within a few days, the Tory press expressed ‘deep concern over its scarcely disguised republican sentiments’ (Stephens 45). So bitter was the vituperation, which was led by The Times review that, in an unprecedented gesture, Macready, who performed the role of Melnotte, was forced into making a public apology in the play’s defence, arguing among other things that it had been licensed by the censor. Bulwer’s authorship was still kept hidden for three more nights, until 24 February; however, when the news broke out, the Tory critics’ further outrage and criticism, if anything, eventually made the play even more popular. Much to the Tories’ disappointment, the royal approval of the play that was granted by the young Queen Victoria, who attended the performance of 6 March 1838, amply secured a generous box-office throughout the season, and the run lasted for 33 performances.

  • 12 Beyond regular revivals, in the United Kingdom there were also numerous burlesques (see Nicoll 175) (...)

22Unlike La Valliére, whose protagonist is ‘Né pour les passions et pour le repentir’ (Valliére iii)—as was claimed by the quotation from Voltaire’s Irène opening the published edition of the play—The Lady of Lyons was a play that on the whole managed to appeal to British audiences despite its French political matter. Nicoll claims that ‘for some reason this story of pride captured the emotions of contemporaries’ (Nicoll 175), and indeed it was a play that was performed throughout the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom and in the United States.12 According to George Rowell, its very success with the public ‘is perhaps best attributed to its appeal (discreetly dressed in period costume) to the radical sentiments of the Reform Bill’ (Rowell 51). That is certainly the case and, as is suggested above, consider that France gave Bulwer the liberty to openly express liberal discourse: at the very beginning of the play, when he is rejected by Pauline’s mother for no longer being a marquis and told that perhaps he might be given a preference in case her daughter wanted to marry a commoner, Beauseant poignantly complains: ‘A commoner! We are all commoners in France now!’ (Lyons I.i, 6). However, if the play were more successful than its predecessors it was also because of its eventual portrayal of deceivingly egalitarian politics and its concern with sentiments and manners that were patently British. Under the egalitarian revolution of love, the play addressed the material concerns of a burgeoning middle-class.

23Already in 1833, when England and the English appeared, Bulwer was aware that the success of his experiment to restore the taste of audiences was doubtful: inasmuch as the public had already been spoiled by the show, it would have been difficult ‘to bring them back to a patient love of chaste composition’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 139). He was correct; however, in The Lady of Lyons, combining the freedom that had been obtained with the portrayal of revolutionary France with a focus on the marriage market having been turned into a romantic and uplifting story (Jenkins 43) that aptly defined English society, Bulwer achieved considerable success with a story about the rise of the people and of love.

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Bibliographie

Archer, William. The Old Drama and the New: An Essay in Re-evaluation. Boston: Small Maynard, 1923.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. James Kinsley; intr. Isobel Armstrong; not. Frank W. Bradbrook. Oxford: OUP, 1998.

Bevis, Richard. ‘“Mightier than the sword”: The Anatomy of Power in Bulwer-Lytton’s Richelieu’. Essays in Theatre 8.2 (1990): 95–106.

Booth, Michael R. Theatre in the Victorian Age. Cambridge: CUP, 1991.

Briggs, Asa. A Social History of England. London: Penguin, 1983.

Buckley, Matthew S. ‘Refugee Theatre: Melodrama and Modernity’s Loss’. Theatre Journal 61 (2009): 175–90.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. England and the English. Vol. II. 1833. Shannon: Irish UP, 1971.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. The Duchess de la Vallière. A Play in Five Acts. By the Author of Eugene Aram, The Last Days of Pompeii, Rienzi. London: Saunders and Otley, 1836.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. ‘Introductory Remarks’. The Dramatic Works of Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer, Bart. Now first collected. To which are added, three odes on the death of Elizabeth Cromwell; and the death of Nelson. London: Saunders and Oatley, 1841.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. Bulwer’s Plays: Being the Complete Dramatic Works of Lord Lytton. New York: Robert M. de Witt, Publisher, 1875.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. Richelieu; or the Conspiracy: A Play in Five Acts. To Which Are Added, Historical Odes on the Last Days of Elizabeth; Cromwell’s Dream; The Death of Nelson. By the Author of The Lady of Lyons, Eugene Aram, &c. London: Saunders And Otley, 1839.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. The Lady of Lyons; or, Love and Pride. A Play in Five Acts, by Lord Lytton... The only Acting Edition accurately marked, as produced by W. C. Macready. London: Samuel French; New York: Samuel French & Son, 1879.

Davis, H. H. ‘The Opera and Drama of the Past Season’. The Monthly Magazine (1837): 307–15.

Genlis, Mme de. La Duchesse de la Vallière suivie de sa Vie Pénitente. Paris: Didier, Belin-Leprieu, 1843.

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Hugo, Victor. ‘Préface’. Œuvres complètes: Cromwell, Hernani. Vol. 23. Théâtre, tome I. Paris: Librairie Ollendorff, 1912: 7–51.

Jenkins, Anthony. The Making of Victorian Drama. Cambridge: CUP, 1991.

Knecht, Robert. Richelieu. London: Longman, 1991.

Knecht, Robert. ‘Cardinal Richelieu: Hero or Villain?’ History Today 53.3 (March 2003): 10–17.

Lytton Bulwer, Henry. France, Social, Literary, Political. 3rd edition. London: Richard Bentley, 1836.

Nicoll, Alardyce. A History of English Drama. Vol. IV. Early Nineteenth-Century Drama. Cambridge: CUP, 1959.

Qualia, Charles B. ‘French Dramatic Sources of Bulwer-Lytton’s Richelieu’. PMLA 42.1 (1927): 177–84.

Ramos-Gay, Ignacio. ‘A Sensible Country’. ‘Curious about France’ Visions Littéraires Victoriennes. Ed. I. Ramos-Gay. Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles: Peter Lang, 2015. 11–28.

Rowell, George. The Victorian Theatre 1792-1914: A Survey. 2nd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 1978.

Shattuck, Charles H., Ed. Bulwer and Macready: A Chronicle of the Early Victorian Theatre. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1958.

Stephens, John R. The Censorship of English Drama 1824-1901. Cambridge: CUP, 1980.

Taylor, Charles. ‘On Social Imaginaries’. Traversing the Imaginary: Richard Kearney and the Postmodern Challenge. Ed. Peter Gratton and John P. Manoussakis. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern UP, 2007. 29–47.

Taylor, George. The French Revolution and the London Stage: 1789-1805. Cambridge: CUP, 2004.

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Notes

1 The only French text that was mentioned by the author is ‘the Tour of Nesle’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 135)—the play that was written by Frédéric Gaillardet and then rewritten by Alexandre Dumas, which premiered at Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin in May 1832—which was regarded by Bulwer as the ultimate example of degenerateness.

2 According to Robert Knecht (2003, 13–15), cardinal Armand de Richelieu (1585-1642) is among the very few foreign statesmen who are well known as an average educated Briton, and his unique position and unquestioned popularity is to a great extent attributable to Bulwer’s text and even much more, during the nineteenth century, to Macready’s memorable and splendid performances. In 1873 the stage villain was also revived by Henry Irving with great success, at the Lyceum where the play was performed for 120 nights.

3 In England and the English only ‘Victor Hugo’s chef-d’œuvres’ (Bulwer-Lytton 1971, 140) are overtly mentioned as being superior to the wretched contemporaneous dramas of France.

4 At the same time, with Ion (1835), Thomas Noon Talfourd would also almost attempt to revive tragic drama as Sheridan Knowles had done before him with Virginius (1820)—a play that, in spite of having been rejected for its naïveté and shoddy neo-Elizabethanism, was enthusiastically applauded by English audiences as genuinely showing the spirit of the age and accomplishing for England ‘what Eugene O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon accomplished for America a century later’ (Shattuck 2).

5 The emphasis in the excerpt is found in the original text.

6 Carwell; or Crime and Sorrow (1830) was the first novel that was published by Caroline Henrietta Sheridan, a book that showed the inequitable sentences that were pronounced against people who were accused of forgery.

7 There were soon many unlicensed adaptations of Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian produced early on for the stage in the United Kingdom and abroad. In fact, La Vendéenne by Paul Duport, in which Mademoiselle Rachel had her debut on the French Stage at Théâtre du Gymnase on 24 April 1837, featured a plot that was based on Scott’s novel, according to Rachel’s biographer. However, The Trial of Effie Deans; or The Heart of Midlothian would not be rightfully adapted for the stage until 1860, when it was first produced in Laura Keene’s Theatre in New York City and, later, in 1863, in London’s Astley’s Amphitheatre in the stage adaptation that was penned by Dion Boucicault.

8 Another significant reason for the play’s failure was its unnecessary length, ‘a grievious error in stage management’ which was an ‘ordeal’ on the first night. (Bulwer-Lytton 1841, x-xi)

9 In January 1836, a literal translation by Alfred Bunn of Eugène Scribe’s opera Le Cheval de Bronze was performed at Drury Lane Theatre, and Planché’s adaptation of La Juive, The Jewess was equally a great success at Drury Lane in the 1836-37 season.

10 Despite Macready’s stated reluctance to propose any alteration to the draft, the letters reveal the actor’s thorough editorial comment was aimed at guiding the novice playwright towards the achievement of greater dramatic effect. For a detailed account of the changes in the manuscript that was proposed in Macready’s letters, see Shattuck (1958, 17–55).

11 In the summer of 1836 Bulwer devoted much of his time to finishing a tragedy on the historical figure of Cromwell, which was never staged, although a single copy of it survives and is kept in the Bulwer archives at Knebworth. The extant letters reveal that Macready suggested that the dramatic structure failed completely, and it would have needed to be wholly rewritten to be staged. Although Bulwer would try to rework it on several occasions, it is unlikely to have been licensed by the censors.

12 Beyond regular revivals, in the United Kingdom there were also numerous burlesques (see Nicoll 175). For the performance history in the United States, see the remarks by John M. Kingdom in De Witt’s 1875 edition of Bulwer’s Plays.

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Référence électronique

Ana Fernández-Caparrós Turina, « Rise of Love and the People: French Matter and Manner in the Early Victorian Drama of Edward Bulwer-Lytton », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 86 Automne | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2017, consulté le 25 avril 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cve/3303 ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.3303

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Auteur

Ana Fernández-Caparrós Turina

Ana Fernández-Caparrós is a lecturer in English at the Department of English and German Studies of the University of Valencia. She holds a Doctor Europeus Phd from Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her research mainly focuses on twentieth and twenty-first century American drama, on which she has lectured widely in academic contexts and published in specialised volumes and scholarly journals such as Contemporary Theatre Review, Journal of Contemporary Drama in EnglishAtlantis and South Atlantic Review. She is the author of a volume on Sam Shepard’s drama, El teatro de Sam Shepard en el Nueva York de los sesenta (Valencia, PUV 2015); the co-editor with Natalie Gómez Handford and Stella Ramos of the collection of essays Poéticas por venir, políticas del duelo (Verbum 2014) and, with Noelia Hernando-Real and Fabio Vericat, of the Special Issue of Complutense Journal of English Studies ‘Staging the Sounds of a Nation: The Poetic Soundscapes of the USA’ (2015). She is currently a member of the funded Research Project ‘Fuentes francesas del teatro británico victoriano (1843-1901): Adaptación, industrial teatral e imperialismo cultural’ (FFI 2013-47961-R).
Ana Fernández-Caparrós est chargée de cours en anglais au département des études anglaises et allemandes de l’université de Valencia, en Espagne. Elle est titulaire d’un doctorat européen en philosophie de l’Université Complutense de Madrid. Ses sujets de recherche sont principalement axés sur le théâtre américain du xxe et du xxie siècles. Elle a donné de nombreuses conférences dans des contextes académiques et a été publiée dans des ouvrages spécialisés, ainsi que dans des parutions universitaires telles que Contemporary Theatre Review, Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, Atlantis et South Atlantic Review. Elle est l’auteur d’un ouvrage sur le théâtre de Sam Shepard, El teatro de Sam Shepard en el Nueva York de los sesenta (Valencia, PUV 2015) ; elle co-édite avec Natalie Gómez Handford et Stella Ramos la collection d’essais Poéticas por venir, políticas del duelo (Verbum 2014), et avec Noelia Hernando-Real et Fabio Vericat, le numéro spécial de Complutense Journal of English Studies « Staging the Sounds of a Nation: The Poetic Soundscapes of the USA », 2015 [Mise en scène des sons d’une nation : les paysages sonores de la poésie américaine]. Elle fait actuellement partie du Projet de Recherche financé « Sources françaises du théâtre britannique victorien (1843-1901) : Adaptation, théâtre industriel et impérialisme culturel » (FFI 2013-47961-R).

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