Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Intruder ; The Blind ; The Seven Princesses ; The Death of Tintagiles. Trans. Richard Hovey. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1896.
by Mark-Allan Donaldson, Constantine Jones, and Charles Vassallo
The play opens at night in a room with four doors – three leading into separate parts of the chateau and a glass door leading to the gardens outside. The stage left door opens to a room containing a frail mother and her caretaker, the Sister of Charity; the stage right door goes to a room containing the mother’s newborn baby; the third internal door is in a corner concealing a secret servants’ staircase; the glass door, surrounded by stained glass windows, looks out onto a terrace overlooking the garden and the lane leading up to the chateau.
Waiting in the main room are various family members – The Three Daughters, The Grandfather, The Father, and The Uncle – who are discussing whether to remain inside or to move out to the terrace, as they are experiencing an uncommonly clear night after a spell of bad weather. They quickly decide that the party will remain inside and the topic of discussion moves to that of the health of the mother in the adjacent room.
At the opening, each member of the family takes turns consoling the Grandfather, who is anxious about his daughter’s health after bearing another child; although his sight is failing, he claims to still be able to see in a different way and is convinced that she is still in danger. The Uncle and the Father dismiss his worries and assert that the Grandfather should leave the judgments to those who can still see in the traditional sense of the word. It becomes apparent that the Grandfather’s anxiety stems from simultaneously wanting to visit his daughter and fearing the family’s conversation will disturb her and the newborn; the Father and Uncle assure him that they will keep their voices low. The Uncle remarks how odd it is that the baby has not made any noise since his birth, while the Father expresses some lingering resentment towards the baby for causing the mother trouble. The Father tells the eldest daughter, Ursula, to check in on the newborn, which she does, accompanied by the other two daughters.
Once the Three Daughters exit the Father and Uncle discuss the anticipated arrival of their older sister, a nun, but soon begin to lament that she will probably not be visiting that evening as she cannot travel alone and will likely not make the journey so late at night. The Grandfather again expresses concern and wishes the evening were over. Soon the Three Daughters return and report that the baby is sleeping well.
Ursula moves to the window to look out at the gardens. When asked if she can see the sister approaching, she responds that although the night is clear she can see no one coming up the lane. The Grandfather then remarks that he can no longer hear the nightingales on the path. Despite not being able to see anyone, Ursula believes that someone has just come into the garden and startled the birds. The Grandfather claims that he can hear no footsteps on the path, though Ursula believes that someone must be passing by the pond, for the swans have been frightened and the fish are jumping to the surface. The Uncle assumes it must be his sister and goes to the glass door to call her in, though he receives no reply. A complete silence then washes over the entire garden, which the Father believes to be the stillness of death.
The Father tells Ursula to close the glass door, though she is unable to do so even with the family’s combined efforts. The Father concedes to calling a carpenter in the morning to fix it, though the Grandfather believes a carpenter would cause too much noise in the house. After another silence has fallen, the sound of a scythe being sharpened can be heard outside. The family wonders if the gardener was responsible for scaring the birds, though the Daughters still cannot make out the shape of anyone beyond the window. The sound especially disturbs the Grandfather, who appears hear the continuing sound more clearly than the others, as if the gardener were sharpening his blade from within the house.
The discussion topic quickly changes to the dimness of the room, and the Grandfather falls asleep. The Uncle and Father begin to discuss how they pity him, believing that he is becoming senile in his old age, and they lament how he was once very rational like them. They also discuss his partial blindness and decide that they must take better care of their eyes. The clock strikes ten and wakes the Grandfather who immediately asks if he is facing the glass door, as he has seen someone waiting outside of it. Ursula confirms that he is facing the door but that no one is outside of it. The conversation is again interrupted by a noise, this time one of someone entering the house through the basement.
Again the Father and Uncle believe it is the sister who has arrived, however the Grandfather seems less sure, and the Father calls up the maid to tell them who has come. Soon the maid can be heard making a lot of noise coming up the stairs towards the secret door, and the Grandfather believes she is bringing someone up the stairs with her. When the maid knocks at the door, the Father opens it expecting to find his sister with her. The maid explains that no one has come with her although she did find the basement door ajar, despite having closed it earlier, and that she made no noise on the stairs. The Father dismisses her and attempts to close the door; as with the glass door earlier, the secret door cannot be closed, and he tells the maid to stop pushing at it. The maid says that she is not even standing near the door and cannot be pushing it. Eventually the Father is able to close the door and the maid leaves. The clock strikes eleven.
Upon the maid’s exit, the Grandfather asks the family who has come into the room, as he feels the presence of someone beside him. They all assure him that nobody else is in the room, though he does not believe them. Distrusting the Father and Uncle, he asks the Three Daughters to tell him the truth, though they swear by what they have told him – that they are alone in the room, the six of them. The Grandfather then points to each of them asking if that is where they are seated. When he has pointed out each character he points to a seventh empty place and asks who sits there, to which they all reply no one. The Grandfather then becomes angered and frantic, convinced that they mean to deceive him and that somehow his daughter is in danger. He believes that he alone can see the truth that the others cannot.
The conversation is interrupted by the lamp going out. As the clock strikes midnight, the sound of someone quickly rising from the table is heard, though the family denies it. For the first time during the play, cries are heard from the newborn child’s bedroom, which continue until the curtain falls. At that moment, the sound of hurried and heavy footsteps is heard crossing to the mother’s room. The Sister of Charity then emerges to announce the mother’s death. The scene closes as the family gathers in together to see the mother, leaving the Grandfather groping alone in the dark.
Characters (in order of appearance)
The Three Daughters (Ursula, Genevieve, Gertrude)
The Grandfather (partially blind)
The Father (Paul)
The Uncle (Oliver)
The Sister of Charity
Characters (Mentioned or alluded to but who do not speak or are not seen)
The Stranger / Intruder