Annotated Bibliography of Criticism

 

Pharand, Michel. “Iconoclasts of Social Reform: Eugène Brieux and Bernard Shaw.” Shaw 8 (1988): 97–109. Web. 22 November 2015.

Pharand’s article compares and contrasts Eugène Brieux with George Bernard Shaw, two didactic playwrights whom the author regards as ideologically similar but stylistically antithetical. He characterizes Brieux as a “now-forgotten and, in retrospect, mediocre French dramatist” (98) whose preferred literary mode was the “thesis-play” (98), a genre disdained by Shaw. Pharand notes, however, that because Brieux and Shaw shared so many political views—feminist, socialist, sex-positive—Shaw was inclined to admire Brieux’s work, hence his oft-quoted statement that Brieux was “incomparably the greatest writer France has produced since Molière” (98).

To Pharand, the central difference between Brieux and Shaw is one of characterization: where Shaw wrote richly complex individuals, Brieux never transcended broad archetypes. To illustrate this, Pharand briefly discusses Blanchette, asserting (uncited) that Brieux actually wrote three endings to the play, such that the “two-dimensional” (100) heroine alternately ends up as “a prostitute, a corpse in the Seine, or the wife of a local boor” (100). By contrast, Shaw’s women have agency; he never reduces them to mere victims of circumstance.

Pharand identifies several other areas in which Brieux and Shaw diverge, including their views on family structure (Brieux’s was more conservative), their attitudes toward religion (Shaw was more skeptical of it), and their use of wit and humor (or lack thereof, in Brieux’s work). Pharand concludes that while Brieux and Shaw were “intellectual soul mates” (104), the former was a sociologist, the latter a psychologist, and this fundamental difference accounts for Shaw’s enduring popularity and Brieux’s obscurity today.

—Frankie Thomas

 

Rowland, Durbin. “A Realistic Comedy as a Textbook in French.” The School Review 32

(1924): 469-70. Print.

In this review for The School Review, Durbin Rowland considers Blanchette and other plays such as Le Gendre de Monsieur Poirier and L’Abbé Constantin positive contributions to American high school and college students’ studies of French literature. Through reading these plays, Rowland expects students will believe that the French are mostly made up of people of high social status and wealth. Rowland feels that plays showing the French being “made up largely of people of title, the landed gentry, beaming curés, and flunkeys” are misleading. Therefore, he provides many French plays for reference in order to illustrate that not all French literature is about people with high social status and wealth. This allows his readers to research other French plays similar to Blanchette, which is about a family that possesses little to no social status. He then mentions a play called France, Her People and Her Spirit by Laurence Jerrold as the epitome of a play that Rowland feels shows the true colors of the French nation.

Blanchette, according to Rowland, will be an adventure for the reader. Like many plays by Eugène Brieux, this play proves to be more realistic to the average family trying make a living in the middle-class world. Rowland feels the play will hold the readers’ appeal until the last scene. Rowland closes by thanking the publishers of Blanchette. The play is important in providing “the American student a better understanding of French society as a whole.”

— Porschia Rolle

 

Scheifley, William. “The Déclassé.” Brieux and Contemporary French Society. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917. Print.

The play Blanchette by Brieux serves as a critique about lack of upward class mobility in French society. Scheifley’s book, Brieux and Contemporary French Society, uses Brieux’s plays to show how the peasant class and the government are at a disagreement. Chapter four, “The Déclassé,” looks closely at the situation between the two. Blanchette’s story is one that is becoming more common as peasants try to elevate their class through the educating of their children. According to Scheifly, Brieux points out that although the peasant class feels entitled to better positions in life because of their hard work, French society is not ready for the elevation of the peasant class: “They have been told that talent leads to everything, and they process talent. They have been told that social superiority follows intellectual superiority, and they are intellectually superior. But when they encounter the harsh realities of the world they find all positions taken” (86). Even though the peasant class is willing to send their children on the path to a brighter future, nothing is guaranteed. Most importantly, the guarantees they are seeking are already filled by those higher up in society, leaving their efforts wasted. Scheifley also notes that Blanchette’s family is not along among peasants to have this idea of social mobility; peasants must compete not only with the upper class, but also with those in their own class.

—Erica Small

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