Annotated Bibliography of Criticism
Whiting, George W. “Volpone, Herr Von Fuchs, and Les Heritiers Rabourdin.” PMLA 46 (1931): 605-7. Web. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org>.
Whiting examines the similarities between Ben Jonson’s “Volpone” and two adaptations, Emile Zola’s “The Heirs of Rabourdin” and Ludwig Tieck’s “Herr von Fuchs”. Jonson’s main plot point of greedy heirs awaiting the protagonist’s death is used as the main storyline of “The Heirs of Rabourdin,” however, Zola makes certain modifications to the scenario and characters, and omits several of the sub-plots. Whiting holds Zola’s adaptation as superior to Jonson’s original in fleshing out natural and believable characters, saying that Jonson’s characterization did not accomplish much beyond carrying out the plot of the story. “Herr von Fuchs,” which preceded “The Heirs of Rabourdin,” left more of the original plot intact. Whiting states that Zola may have drawn more of his inspiration in his characterization of the protagonist from Tieck’s adaptation than the original. While there is not a single innocent character in “Volpone,” “Herr von Fuchs” takes a lighter tone and creates more innocent, sympathetic characters in the protagonist and his female accomplice. While the plot comes from Jonson, Zola’s Rabourdin and Charlotte very well may have been inspired by Tieck’s “Herr von Fuchs.”
—Danny C. Miller
Emile Zola’s The Heirs of Rabourdin is an English play that was influenced by Jonson’s Volpone. However, the influence was not on the essence of the play, but rather on some of its minor parts. Owing to major innovative elements of Zola’s play, the influence is barely recognized. George W. Whiting, in his article, “Volpone, Herr Von Fuchs, and Les Heritiers Rabourdin,” exposes not only the similarities between Emile Zola’s The Heirs of Rabourdin and Jonson’s Volpone but also the outstanding differences between both plays. The essential element of the “original” of the play that influenced Zola to make his adaptation of The Heirs of Rabourdin is the central theme. However, “the plot and the characters of Les Héritiers Rabourdin have only the most remote resemblance to those of Volpone” (Whiting 605). Zola altered the underplot of “Sir Politic, his wife, and Peregrine,” as well as innovated the main plot that is not in the least involved in the original play’s “mountebank scene, . . . attempted rape, and, consequently both court scenes” (Whiting 605).
In addition to these significant differences between the two plays, Zola highlights his emphasis on his characters and characterization due to their importance to the plot. The heirs are voracious and unthankful. Regarding Rabourdin’s wealth, it “exists only in the imagination of his would-be mercenary heirs,” due to his heirs’ consumption, unlike Volpone, who “has, of course, immense wealth.” Moreover, the main characters of both plays are relatively different with little in common except Rabourdin’s pretense of illness to trap his heirs’ avarice. Rabourdin is a more benevolent and good-natured character than Jonson’s protagonist. Furthermore, the character of Chapuzot, who is remotely similar to his prototype, Corbaccio, is very different in that “he is much more human and plausible than his original.” Additionally, there are many women characters in Zola’s play, unlike Johnson’s. Unlike Johnson’s “puppets,” Zola’s characters signify “a decided advance in naturalism and truth of characterizations;” such an element of the avant-garde renovates “the unique physiological and psychological attitude of personages” (606).
All in all, the two plays are slightly similar yet they are very different from in each other regarding their emphasis. The themes of both plays overlap, highlighting the influence and adaptation of Zola to Johnson’s Volpone. The plots and characterizations of both plays accentuate more their “remarkable contrasts than their similarities.”