Brieux, Eugène. Blanchette, and The Escape: Two Plays. Trans. Frederick Eisemann.
Boston: J.W. Luce, 1913. Print.
By Poschia Rolle, Erica Small, and Frankie Thomas
The play takes place in rural France, inside a small tavern owned by a peasant family named Rousset. The first act opens with M. and Mme. Rousset serving their happy customers, including Galoux, the wealthiest landowner in the area. They all discuss Blanchette, the twenty-one-year-old Rousset daughter: she has just received her teacher’s degree and is searching for work, but teaching jobs are scarce, and Rousset wonders when his investment in her education will pay off.
Morillon, a local farmer, appears with his son, Auguste, to discuss a possible land deal with Rousset. Privately, Auguste pesters his father to tell Rousset he wishes to marry Blanchette; Morillon promises to do so soon, and they leave.
Blanchette herself enters for the first time, and her parents immediately begin to exclaim over her intelligence and talent; they summon a passing road-mender, Bonenfant, to serve as an audience to whom they can show off their daughter’s accomplishments. Bonenfant reminisces fondly about Blanchette’s rural childhood, but the subject embarrasses Blanchette, who treats him with cool distance.
Blanchette receives a visit from George and Lucie, the son and daughter of the wealthy Galoux family; Blanchette treats them with great warmth but is extremely self-conscious about her parents, criticizing their clothing, grooming, and behavior. In a private conversation with Blanchette, Lucie promises to arrange for George to marry Blanchette, so that Blanchette can join the wealthy Galoux family. Blanchette is ecstatic at the idea. When Bonenfant the road-mender reappears, interrupting their tête-à-tête, and orders a cup of coffee from Blanchette, she refuses to serve him, explaining to Lucie, “I can’t stand those peasants.” He is offended.
After Lucie leaves, Blanchette attempts to read a novel, but Rousset scolds her for reading too much. Auguste and Morillon return to the tavern, and after a game of dominoes, Morillon asks Rousset if Blanchette and Auguste may be married. Rousset refuses, boasting that now that Blanchette is educated, she’s worth more than Morillon’s land: “You’ll have to come again when you’re a millionaire.”
In the second act, Blanchette, still unemployed, shares an idea with her mother: taking ideas from books, she plans to turn the family tavern into an upscale café, serving exotic luxuries like ice cream. She has also convinced her father to invest in a costly chemical fertilizer she read about, which she insists will increase his wheat production. She claims to have all the numbers worked out: by her calculations, she’ll make the family rich in three years. Doubtful, Mme. Rousset worries about the debt Blanchette is racking up on expensive books.
Rousset enters in a rage: Blanchette miscalculated how much chemical fertilizer he ought to use, and as a result, his wheat field is ruined for the year. He and Blanchette argue angrily; she calls him old-fashioned, and he accuses her of wasting his money on a worthless education that has only made her unemployable. At that moment, their quarrel is interrupted by the delivery of Blanchette’s birthday gift for her father, a fancy ornamental lamp, which Rousset dismisses as fussy, impractical, and too tall.
Hurt by his reaction, Blanchette complains to her mother, “Neither of you love me as I should be loved”—she cries every day, she admits, out of boredom and loneliness. In response, Mme. Rousset confesses that she also cries to herself on Blanchette’s account: she knows that her daughter is ashamed of her, and she once even overheard Blanchette pretending at school that Mme. Rousset was only her governess. Blanchette is abashed by this story, and the two of them cry together.
Rousset returns with the lamp, having sawed off the column, the very thing that distinguished it from a regular lamp. Infuriated, Blanchette smashes the lamp on purpose. A violent family squabble ensues: she calls him stupid, he slaps her, and Mme. Rousset calls her a little devil and a fool. Blanchette declares that she would do anything to escape her parents’ house.
The Galoux family visits again, and Blanchette begs Galoux to pull strings to find her a job. They work out an arrangement wherein Blanchette will live with the family as Lucie’s tutor. Just when it seems that everything is settled, Rousset returns with Bonenfant the road-mender, who has told him of Blanchette’s refusal to serve him coffee. Rousset confronts Blanchette, and Blanchette admits to the snub, causing Rousset to fly into a rage. Galoux tries to defend Blanchette, but Rousset, unmoved, accuses Blanchette of being spoiled and ungrateful and preferring the Galoux family to her own. From now on, he declares, Blanchette is forbidden to read books; instead, she will take over all her mother’s duties in the tavern. Feeling disrespected and unloved, Blanchette decides to leave home forever. She tries to hug her mother goodbye, but Mme. Rousset angrily rejects her embrace. Rousset warns Blanchette that if she leaves, he will never welcome her back. She replies that she would rather die than return. She bids her parents farewell and walks out the door.
When the third act begins, M. and Mme. Rousset are alone, and it is soon established that Blanchette has been gone for over a year. A postman attempts to deliver a letter for her (an outstanding bill for all those books), and though M. and Mme. Rousset pretend they’ll forward it to her, they secretly have no idea where Blanchette is living; she has never written to them. Mme. Rousset is amazed, then, when Bonenfant arrives bringing the news that he has just seen Blanchette—and even more amazed when, at that very moment, Blanchette appears at the door. She has changed: she now looks unhealthy, poorly dressed, and in very bad shape. She apologizes sincerely for her past actions, and her mother forgives her. But both women fear that Rousset will not be so forgiving, so when he returns, Mme. Rousset hides Blanchette upstairs. It doesn’t take him long to pick up on hints that Blanchette has returned, at which point Blanchette comes out of hiding to beg for her father’s forgiveness.
At first, he is unsympathetic and orders her out of the house. But he softens as Blanchette begins to describe how she has suffered on her own: her plan of marrying George Galoux came to nothing, because she had no dowry, and she was dismissed from the household after refusing to be George’s mistress. After a string of similar jobs cut short by the sexual advances of her male employers, she ended up in Paris, where she was unable to find any honest work. She became so poor, she wonders now if she ought to have become a prostitute after all. She concludes that while it is not wrong to educate children, it is important to “show them how to make use of their education,” which no one did for her.
Just then, Bonenfant reappears and asks for a cup of coffee, and this time Blanchette offers to serve him herself, a gesture that surprises and moves Rousset. Their next customers are Morillon and Auguste. Auguste, upon seeing Blanchette again, reveals that his family has become wealthy in the last year, and then he asks Blanchette to marry him. She happily accepts, and both fathers give their blessing. The play ends with a big group hug between Blanchette, Auguste, Mme. Rousset, and, finally, Rousset, who has at last forgiven Blanchette for everything.