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Reviews91 come an important sourcebook for research into early seventeenthcentury political drama. RICHARD FINKELSTEIN SUNY, Geneseo Peter Norrish. New Tragedy and Comedy in France, 1945-70. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble Books, 1988. Pp. ? + 156. $28.50. This is a welcome and useful introduction to an important area of twentieth-century French literature. A specialist in the field might find it too unambitious, but the uninitiated reader who comes to a college library looking for a short, clear, well-written, balanced treatment of the major dramatists writing in French from 1945 to 1970 will fall upon it with gratitude. It must be conceded that the dates 1945-70 in the title are quite arbitrary and approximate, and no attempt is made to be encyclopaedic in scope within them. The author flatly states at the outset that his "aim is rather to consider, in as selective and economical a way as seems reasonable, the attempts to modernise tragedy in the 'Theatre of Ideas,' and then the extraordinary transformations in both tragedy and comedy in the 'New Theatre,' which emerged immediately after it." Only the most important dramatists and only their key plays are discussed. After a general introduction that presents unrigorous, carefully-worded, and deliberately uncontroversial formulations of tragedy and comedy, there are two chapters on the "Theatre of Ideas," primarily involving Sartre and Camus, and then six chapters each presenting a single playwright of the "New Theatre," viz., Montherlant, Beckett, Ionesco, Adamov, Genet, and Arrabal. The text is extensively footnoted, and it seems puzzling at first that a writer who has read so conscientiously integrates so little of his research into his exposition. A great many brilliant, controversial, and seminal critical works are casually relegated to the notes at the end of the chapters with a dismissive sentence. Eventually I came to respect this simplification : the author feels it necessary to indicate that he is not unfamiliar with Existentialist philosophy and genre studies and Marxist analysis and semiotics and so forth, but rather that he is setting all that aside in the interest of clarity. It is refreshing to encounter a literary critic and university professor who strives to avoid the reductionist jargon that infests so many journal articles today. Perhaps it is a mercy that those literary critics who spend their lives feverishly pouring old wine into new bottles have somewhat neglected the theater of this period; so many other authors and works have been over-paradigmed and over-typologized to the point that the old wine is no longer in bottles at all but dispersed in eye-droppers, and leaking fast. To pursue this metaphor to the point of absurdity, Norrish may be said to pour out the old wine of Sartre and Camus and Ionesco and Beckett into an honest glass and offer it to us ingenuously, saying, perhaps, like a great writer of another century: 'Mon verre n'est pas grand, mais je bois dans mon verre." It takes a certain courage for an academic to risk publishing a book whose keynote is common sense. There is a temptation to try to impress 92Comparative Drama the reader with the latest meretricious cant. The best writers, like the best teachers, present texts with a willed simplicity. I daresay Norrish's unpretentious book will be readable into the future. Although he does mention a director or a production from time to time in passing, the author does not really discuss the plays in the theater. This might prove a disappointment for the student of theater, who is accustomed to assess the "stageworthiness" of plays he reads about, and previous productions of them, and to speculate about whether they could be done today, and in translation. This is by no means a judgment against the author, who cannot have had the intention to present these plays in such a light. Certainly the translations of dialogue that he occasionally inserts are very sensitively done and are decidedly a cut above many published English translations of the plays he discusses. Indeed, one of the greatest difficulties the author of such a book faces is that the reader who must explore these postwar French dramatists in mediocre translations does not see...


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