Claudel and the Czech Republic

Around Paul Claudel and Bohemia

Claudel in the Czech Archives

Several Czech institutions possess  documents concerning the short stay of the poet in Bohemia, his Czech friendships and the productions  of his theatre (in Bohemia, in Moravia and in Silesia).They include  manuscripts, studies, theses, letters, summaries of repertory, show programs, press articles, files, reviews  and photographs.

Vaclav Cerny in his study “Paul Claudel and Bohemia in  the light of Prague and Paris Archives” underlines the importance of the letters exchanged between Claudel and his friends Marten (from 1907 to 1917) and Braunerova (from 1909 to 1934). To these published letters are added some still unpublished letters kept at the National Institute of Literature at Prague-Strahov (see the records Milos Marten, Zdenka Braunerova, Klecandova-Martenova, Vaclav Cerny,etc.).One should also refer to the Braunerova records at the Rostoky Museum near Prague, the Archives of the Department of the Performing Arts    at the Prague national Museum, the Claudel collection at  the Prague theatre Institute (which includes  15 files of different Claudel performances from 1947 up to 2006), the records  at the  Department of Performing Arts at  the municipal Prague Library.

The documentation kept in the Czech, Moravian and Silesian theatre archives also deserves  our attention. At the Prague national Theatre, one finds, besides some photographs and posters concerning the first  performance of The Tidings Brought to Mary, a large documentation about the nineties  (in particular on the performance of The Satin Slipper  , that hasso much appealed to  critics). The Vinobrady Theatre owns a program of The   Exchange from 2006 and the South-Bohemia Theatre at Ceské Bujedovice  a program of The Tidings Brought to Mary. . Finally,  for some amateur productions,  one  can consult  the private archives of the directors  Douvravka Svobodova, Frederika Smetanova and Martin Malinek.

Concerning the bibliography, let us point out  Marie Vozdova’s monograph French and Italian plays on the stages of Moravia and Silesia, which makes a list of the performances and critiques  of Claudel’s plays produced in Moravia and Silesia. Let us also add the studies, repertoire appraisals, press articles on Claudel, stored in several Czech libraries (notably the national Library of Prague, the State scientific Library of Olomouc, the  Institute of Performing Arts of Prague) and the Czech scientific Library.

The Poet-ambassador in Bohemia

Studies and press articles have already been written on Cla           udel and Bohemia. Let us recall that it’s in Prague in 1909 that Claudel, appointed consul of France in Bohemia, began his diplomatic mission in Europe. Even if he remains there a little less than two years (he leaves Prague for a new appointment at Frankfort-on-Main in September 1911), this short stay significantly influences his life and his works.

When he arrives, the poet does not  yet know the Czech countries, but he already has two very close friends: the literary critic Milos Marten and the painter Zdenka Braunerova. It’s Marten who had  Czech readers discover Claudel, due to first translations in their language. This remarkable translator starts with Tête d’or in 1906 (published only in 1918), then follow Camille Claudel statuaire (1907), Magnificat (1910), Break of Noon  (1910), The Tidings Brought to Mary  (1913), Saint Venceslas (1914).

However, Claudel remains on the fringe of  Czech society. His Catholic vision of the world leads him to reject the idea of a division of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and to be opposed to Protestantism and socialism. He feels little sympathy for  Czech politicians and does not make many efforts to  deepen  French-Czech relationships during his stay in Bohemia.

It’s in Prague that Claudel composes Images saintes de Bohème, among which the famous poem Saint Venceslas. Under the influence of aliturgical spectacle on the  resurrection of Christ presented at the Emmaüs monastery in 1910, Claudel reshapes La Jeune fille Violaine which  becomes The Tidings Brought to Mary . Monsanviergeisin fact the ruins  of the Trosky fortified castle in Bohemia. Claudel also wrote  two fantastic tales (La lanterne aux deux pivoines and Le cheval qui apportait le soleil – Slovakian legends). The Prague baroque  inspired a famous scene of the third Day of The Satin Slipper,  situated in the  Saint Nicholas church of the Mala Strana in Prague, some time  after the Battle of the White-Mountain.

Bohemia influenced Claudel who, in return, had some influence on the Czechs, authors of studies and of articles on him and even of fictions. So there is this dialogue with Milos Marten Nad Mestem (Above the Town) between Allan (Claudel) and Michel (Marten).

Claudel produced  at the theatre

The first translations of Claudel’s theatre in Czech  led to its performance on the stage. The first to  welcome Paul Claudel’s works in Bohemia was the Prague national Theatre. Gustav Schromanz (manager and producer) and Jaroslav Kvapil produce  The Tidings Brought to Mary  . The contemporary press attacks this first production (performed three times) above all because of the author’s Catholicism. The director  Kvapil speaks out  against those negative criticisms and defends the author’s thought in a letter sent to Milos Marten.

Between the two wars, after the creation of the first Republic, period of intense political and cultural exchanges with France, The Exchange is presented  at the Municipal Theatre of Vinohrady  at Prague in Bohemia in 1922 and obtains a relative success. The same thing happened  at the time of its only performance in Moravia, on the small stage of the Czech Theatre at Olomouc in 1933. The trends towards producing Claudel’s plays on more intimate stages continue with Proteus  (1935), performed  nine times in Prague and Break of Noon  (1937) performed  eight times. Those plays are little appreciated, either because of the setting and the use of  disturbing  music, or for the bad distribution of the roles.

During the Second World War, due to the closing of the theatres,  the imprisonment of several actors and  censorship, Claudel is absent from  the repertoire of our theatres. After the war,  only Proteus is produced   i in 1947 at the little Prague theatre Disk, his works are completely forgotten. Due to its Catholicism, the work clashes with the communist conception.

At the time of the Prague Spring, Claudel briefly reappears on the Czech stage. In 1968 (political thaw period) and in 1969, our theatres present Tidings   and  The Book of Christopher Columbus (which is the  Czechoslovakian première). According to the critics, Tidings  in the Sokolovsky scenery is no longer a mainly  spiritual play, the most important for the director  being the love theme. However the critics wonder if the choice of  Tidings  is a judicious one, the play inspiring in the Czechs a feeling of coldness, of hesitation and even of mockery, says Anna Patockova. Later on, Claudel is “forbidden” in Czechoslovakia up to the political change in 1989.

The true “rebirth” begins after the “velvet revolution”. Since the 1990’s, critics  speak of a real Claudel comeback in the Czech repertoire. Tidings, Proteus, The Satin Slipper  (almost at the same time on the stage of two theatres), The Exchange, The Book of Christopher Columus, or the oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake  are presented.

It’s a genuine “boom” for Claudel in the Czech Republic, proclaim the titles of some articles. But it’s for the realization of The Satin Slipper , produced in Prague in 2003 that  critics show the greatest interest.

Since the year 2000 Claudel is again less performed. However let us report The Tidings Brought to Mary   in Martin Malinek’s production  at Usti nad Orlici in 2000. It’s a  Tidings   of exceptional boldness, presented  in  Marten’s translation. It raises huge interest from Czech critics (also in France). People talk about  the great success of a sensitive and respectful producer of Claudel’s thought. The same director later produces  Break of Noon in 2002, L’Impossible partage  in 2003 at Ceska Trebova, in collaboration with a French company, and finally  in 2004 The Hostage .

The success of these spectacles by amateurs is illustrated by the number of performances given in regional houses or on  church squares (The Tidings Brought to Mary  shown 53 times, Break of Noon  10 times and The Hostage  18 times), a number that exceeds that   reached by the performances on official stages.


Department of Literature and of roman languages

Letters Faculty of the Palacky University at Olomouc

Extrait : L'ENFANT-JÉSUS DE PRAGUE Il neige. Le grand monde est mort sans doute. C'est décembre. Mais qu'il fait bon, mon Dieu, dans la petite chambre ! La cheminée emplie de charbons rougeoyants Colore le plafond d'un reflet somnolent, Et l'on n'entend que l'eau qui bout à petit bruit. Là-haut, sur l'étagère, au-dessus des deux lits, Sous son globe de verre, couronne en tête, L'une des mains tenant le monde, l'autre prête A couvrir ces petits qui se confient à elle, Tout aimable dans sa grande robe solennelle Et magnifique sous cet énorme chapeau jaune, L'Enfant-Jésus de Prague règne et trône. Il est tout seul devant le foyer qui l'éclaire Comme l'hostie cachée au fond du sanctuaire, L'Enfant-Dieu jusqu'au jour garde ses petits frères. Inentendue comme le souffle qui s'exhale, L'existence éternelle emplit la chambre, égale A toutes ces pauvres choses innocentes et naïves ! Quand il est avec nous, nul mal ne nous arrive. On peut dormir, Jésus, notre frère, est ici. Il est à nous, et toutes ces bonnes choses aussi : La poupée merveilleuse, et le cheval de bois, Et le mouton, sont là, dans ce coin, tous les trois. Et nous dormons, mais toutes ces bonnes choses sont à nous ! Les rideaux sont tirés… Là-bas, on ne sait où, Dans la neige et la nuit sonne une espèce d'heure. L'enfant dans son lit chaud comprend avec bonheur Qu'il dort et que quelqu'un qui l'aime bien est là, S'agite un peu, murmure vaguement, sort le bras, Essaye de se réveiller et ne peut pas. Décembre 1910 Corona Benignitatis Anni Dei, Œuvre Poétique, Gallimard,La Pléiade, pp. 444, 445