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308 BOOK REVIEWS JEAN ANOUILH: STAGES IN REBELLION, by B.A. Lenski. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities -Press, 1975. 104 pp. $4.50. This new presentation of Anouilh's dramas is pleasantly short and unassuming. The style is clear, generally accurate, despite a few oddities: for instance, on page 61, "contemptible" seems to have been mistaken for "contemptuous." The tone remains moderate on the whole, except for a few emergences of conventionally inflated praise: thus, "masterpiece," p. 80. The book begins with a fairly detailed biographical sketch. Anouilh is said to be very reticent about furnishing this kind of material; so one may wonder about the sources of information, which are not indicated. The study then sets about its main business: a classification of characters according to their goals, successes and failures. On the one hand, three apparently stable categories are proposed: mediocre characters, compromisers, heroes. On the other hand, the protagonists provide a spectrum of six kinds of "rebellion," which Lenski tries roughly to match with a chronological order. While not Hegelian, this arrangement confers a seductive unity-and-variety on Lenski's sequence of short chapters and, at the same time, on Anouilh's long sequence of plays. Of course, a price has to be paid for this sort of thing. Each aspect of rebellion is dealt with in one chapter, but illustrated with one, two, three, or more plays. Does this unequal treatment correspond to the intrinsic worth of the plays, according to Lenski's judgment? Le Voyageur sans bagage, for instance, is granted only a few vague allusions which allow this play, along with other pieces noires, to exemplify "rebellion against environment." Can one convey a minimal notion of Le Voyageur sans bagage without stressing, instead, the question of selfhood? Antigone is dealt with in the chapter "Rebellion for a cause," L'Hurluberlu in "Rebellion without a cause." Would the choice be worse if these two examples were switched? Inconsistencies show that Lenski himself doubts the validity of his classification. At the end of "Rebellion for a cause," he tries another label: "Metaphysical Rebellion." Are the two synonyms? He also scores the "vainglorious splendor" of this type of rebellion, "in the course of which an assertion is made and upheld for no other apparent reason than that of its own beauty." Indeed, in the case of pompous characters like Antigone or Becket, how is one to distinguish a "rebel with a cause" from a poseur? Conversely, the chapter "Rebellion without a cause" ends with an unexpected celebration of "the greatness of the man of courage who, abandoned by all and prostrate on the ground, continues to get up to fight for his cause as long as he lives." As far as technique is concerned, the study offers only a few scattered remarks about style. According to Lenski, concocting advertising slogans taught Anouilh how to write with concision and precision (p. 3). The selection of aphorismsculled from the plays which is appended to the study shows that "vague," "witty," and "gratuitous," had better be substituted for "precise." Sometimes, a contradictory proposition would even be more piquant than the quoted mot d'auteur. The study should not be criticized for sticking to one topic: characters, not plot, not style. Yet, what is somewhat bothersome in traditional analyses of characters , or, for that matter, in functional analyses like those of Souriau, is that they are indifferent to the medium: drama, narrative, film, fable. Here and there, BOOK REVIEWS 309 Lenski's book suggests how a link might have been developed between his topic and the nature of the genre. The characters he calls "compromisers" "are in varying degrees conscious that they are playing roles" (p. 38). Is there anything in Anouilh's technique which prevents this reflexive aspect from spreading to characters like Antigone and Becket? If not, they would simply appear to prefer playing tragedy rather than comedy. In Le Voyageur sans bagage, does not Gaston demonstrate a translation of identity from physical to theatrical, from body to role? Lenski's last chapter deals with characters professionally connected with the theatre. It is entitled "Rebellion of the artist." But some of the things that are said suggest instead...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 308-309
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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