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Paul Claudel (1868-1955)

 

French poet, playwright, and diplomat, whose work shows the influence of Roman Catholic Mysteries, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante. Among Claudel's best known works are the confessional Five Great Odes (1910) and The Satin Slippers (1929). He was a prominent figure in the whole French Catholic Renaissance of the early part of the twentieth century.

Car à quoi servent les pieds sinon à se joindre à la course qui les
entraine? et le cœur
Sinon à compter le temps et attendre la seconde imminente?
Et la voix, sinon à joindre la voix qui a commencé avant elle?
Et la vie, sinon à être donnée? et la femme, sinon à être une femme
entre les bras d'un homme?

(from 'Cantique du Rhône')

Paul Claudel was born in Villeneuve-sur-Fère-en-Tardenois, in Aisne, into a family of farmers and gentry. His father, Louis-Prosper, dealt in mortgages and bank transactions. Claudel's mother, the former Louise Cerceaux, came from a Champagne family of Catholic farmers and priests. At the age of 18 Claudel had a vision, which changed totally his view of the world: while listening to the church choir on Christmas Day in Notre Dame Cathedral, he was suddenly converted to Roman Catholicism on the crest of a spiritual surge. He heard, as a voice from above: "There is a God." In the following years, the Bible became the center of Claudel's world and his inspiration.

Claudel saw that God is the supreme architect of the world, and God has chosen man in the central place in the drama of the world. Thereafter everything that Claudel did or wrote was based on this mystic experience. Claudel's sister Camille (1864-1943) was a determined unbeliever. She acquired fame as a sculptor, most of her work she produced in the late 1800s. Over ten years, she was the lover, Auguste Rodin. After their breakup, Camille went insane and she was confined to a mental asylum, where she spent the remaining thirty years of her life.

"Paul Claudel appears as the most demanding of contemporary poets. To be understood and followed, he requires from his reader a total spiritual submission and attention. It is not only the ornate and complex part of his work which tyrannizes the reader's intelligence, it is above all the harassing and well-night unbearable unity of his books." (Wallace Fowlie in Clowns and Angels, 1943)

Claudel was a brilliant pupil at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, where he read during his last years Baudelaire and Verlaine. After studies at École des Sciences Politiques, Claudel joined the diplomatic service. In 1900 he stayed for a period at the Abbey of Solosmes and the Benedictine monastery of Ligugé as an oblate.

Claudel had in the early 1900s a relationship with a married Polish woman, Rosalie Vetch (1871-1951), the wife of a crook; she appeared as "Ysé" in his poems and in the drama Partage de midi (Break of Noon), dealing with the theme of adultery. Claudel had met her on board the Ernest-Simmons on his way to his diplomatic post in China. Rosalie became pregnant and went back to France, to give birth to their daughter, Louise. Rosalie was abandoned by her second husband. Claudel, who had nearly abandoned his faith, met her again years later.

In 1906 Claudel married Sainte-Marie Perrin; they had five children. As a diplomat he spent the years between 1893 and 1934 mostly outside France, in – amongst others countries – America, China, Italy, Rio de Janeiro, and with the rank of ambassador, Tokyo and Washington (1927-1933), and finally in Brussels. In 1935 Claudel retired to his château in Brangues (Isêre). During World War II, Claudel served in the Ministry of Propaganda. Though an opponent of the Nazis, he managed to write a triumphal ode to Pétain in 1940, and then again one to De Gaulle in 1944, yet without being accused of opportunism. In 1947 Claudel was elected to the Académie Française; he had been rejected in 1935. On May 1, 1950, he was honored by the Pope, in an unprecedented public ceremony. Claudel died in Paris on February 23, in 1955. He maintained his full power as a writer until his death.

In his youth Claudel read Mallarmé, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare. He also attended Mallarme's Tuesday evening gatherings. For his verse, Claudel developed a long line – a cross between Walt Whitman and the King James Bible. Claudel assumed for the poet the godlike prerogative to "possess, his privilege being to give all things a name." Or as he wrote in 'La Ville' (1897): "You explain nothing O poet, but thanks to you all things become explicable." As an intellectual pilgrim Claudel could be compared with Dante. Foremost among Claudel's poetic works is his Cinq grandes Odes (1910, Five Great Odes), a five-part poem, relating the poet's inspiration and his gift of describing with words the mystery of the universe.

"He gives me the impression of a solidified cyclone..." (André Gide on Paul Claudel in Journal, 1905)

Claudel's journalism and literary criticism drew also from his strong religious faith. His temperamental attacks on Richard Wagner are often quoted – Claudel admired Wagner's music but he disliked Teutonism and ridiculed the story of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Most of Claudel's criticism dealt with French literature, although he wrote about Chinese poetry and while serving in Tokyo he became acquainted with Japanese literature. Claudel admired Baudelaire, whom he saw as a confessed sinner doing lifelong penance Rimbaud's Les Illuminations had a profound effect on Claudel. He considered Rimbaud "not a poet, not even a man of letters. He is a prophet on whom the spirit has descended, not as on David, but as on Saul."

As a playwright Claudel made his debut with Tête d'or (1890, Golden Head), which reflected his own religious struggle. The protagonist, Simon Angel, aspires to conquer the earth, but meets at the Caucasus defeat and death. In 1908 he started his trilogy L'Otage (1911, The Hostage), Le Pain dur (1918), Le Père humilié (1920, The Humiliation of the Father), in which he traced the degeneration of the formerly noble families. Partage de Midi (Break of Noon), written in 1905, was not performed until 1948. Le Soulier de satin  (1929, The Satin Slipper), an epic drama in the Spanish tradition, was about the adventures of Rodrigue and his beloved, Doña Prouhèze. Due to its lenght, the play was considered unproducible, but in 1942 Jean-Louis Barrault persuaded Claudel to rewrite the text for stage presentation. The production was a huge success. Many of Claudel's plays dealt with relationship between the material and spiritual worlds. L'Annonce faite à Marie (1912, The Tidings Brought to Mary), set in fifteenth-century Champagne, contrasted two sisters, one dedicated to the flesh and the other to the spirit.

For further reading: Die Kunstanschauung Paul Claudels by H. Dieckmann (1931); Le génie de Paul Claudel by J. Madaule (1933); Le drame de Paul Claudel by J. Madaule (1936); Études Claudéliennes by E. Friche (1943); Clowns and Angels by Wallace Fowlie (1943); Paul Claudel, poète musicien by J. Samson (1948); Introduction to Paul Claudel by M. Ryan (1951); Paul Claudel by L. Barjon (1953); The Poetic Drama of Paul Claudel by J. Chiari (1954); Paul Claudel by W. Fowlie (1957); Paul Claudel by S. Flumet (1958); Claudel plus intime by H. Mondoe (1960); The Inner Stage by R. Berchan (1966); Claudel's Immortal Heroes by H. Watson (1971); Paul Claudel and Saint-John Perse: Parallels and Contrasts by Ruth Naomi Horry (1971); Claudel by A. Blanc (1973); Lecture psychanalytique de l'œuvre de Claudel by M. Malicet (1978); Paul Claudel: The Man and the Mystic by Louis Chaigne (1978); Paul Claudel by B.L. Knapp (1982); Beauty and Grace by A. Caranfa (1989); The Art Criticism of Paul Claudel by M.-T. Killiam (1990); The Empty Cross by C.J. Lambert (1990); Metamorphoses of Passion and the Heroic in French Literature: Corneille, Stendhal, Claudel by Moya Longstaffe (1999); La passion de Claudel: la vie de Rosalie Scibor-Rylska by Thérèse Mourlevat (2001); The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry: 1900 to the Present, ed. by R. Victoria Arana (2008) - Eugène Ionesco: "Claudel may perhaps be the least charitable Christian poet, because the comic characters he puts on the stage are too insignificant for anyone to take pity on." (from Cahiers Paul Claudel, 1960, Vol. H, pp. 26-27) Suom.: Paul Claudelin runoja suomeksi, käänt. Tuomo Lahdelma ja Taimi Tanskanen (1985) - See also: Saint-John Perse, Colette

Selected works:

  • Tête d'or, 1890 (play, in L'Arbre, 1901)
    - Tete-d'or (tr. 1919)
  • La Ville, 1893 (play, in L'Arbre, rev. version prod. 1931)
    - The City: A Play (translated from the French by John Strong Newberry, 1920)
    - Vaihtajat (suom.)
  • Vers d'exile, 1895
  • Agamemnon, 1896 (from the play by Aeschylus, prod. 1963)
  • Connaissance de l'Est, 1900
    - The East I Know (translated by Teresa Frances and William Rose Benét, with an introduction by Pierre Chavannes, 1914) / Knowing the East = Connaissance de l’Est (translated with an introduction by James Lawler, 2004)
  • Le Repos du septième jour, 1901
  • L'Échange, 1901 (play, in L'Arbre, rev. version prod. 1951)
  • La Jeune Fille Violaine, 1901 (play, in L'Arbre, rev. version L'Annonce faite à Marie, prod. 1912)
    - The Tidings Brought to Mary (translated from the French by Louise Morgan Sill, 1916)
  • Connaissance du temps, 1904
  • Le partage de midi, 1906 (play, prod. 1921, rev. version prod. 1948)
    - Break of Noon (translated by Wallace Fowlie, in Two Dramas, 1960)
    - Keskipäivän taite (suom. Tyyne Saastamoinen, 1963) 
  • Art Poètique 1907
    - Poetic Art (translated by Renee Spodheim, 1948)
  • Cinq grandes Odes, 1910
    - Five Great Odes (translated from the French by Edward Lucie-Smith 1967)
  • Théâtre (première série), 1910-12 (4 vols.)
  • L'Otage, 1911 (play, prod. 1913)
    - The Hostage: A Drama (tr. from the French, with an introduction by Pierre Chavannes, 1917) / The Hostage (translated by John Heard, in Three Plays, 1945)
  • Le Chemin de Croix, 1911
  • L'Annonce faite à Marie: mystère en quatre actes et un prologue, 1912
    - The Tidings Brought to Mary: A Mystery  (tr. from the French by Louise Morgan Sill, 1916) / Break of Noon (translated by Wallace Fowlie, in Two Dramas, 1960)
    - Lapsi on meille annettu (suom.)
  • Vers d'exil, 1912
  • Poèmes / Coventry Patmore, 1912 (translator)
  • Cette heure qui est entre le printemps et l'été; cantate à trois voix, 1913 (reprinted as La Cantate à troix vois)
  • Protée, 1914 (play, in Deux poèmes d'été, 1914, rev. version prod. 1929)
    - Proteus (translated by Nora Ratcliff, 1963)
  • La nuit de Noël 1914, 1915 (play)
  • Corona benignitatis anni dei, 1915
    - Coronal (rendered into English by Sister Mary David, S.S.N.D., 1943)
  • Trois  poèmes de guerre, 1915
    - Three poems of the War (tr. 1919)
  • Autres poèmes pendant la guerre, 1916
  • Poèmes et paroles durant la guerre de trente ans, 1916
  • L'homme et son désir, 1917 (ballet, music by Darius Milhaud, prod. 1921)
  • Le pain dur: drame en trois actes, 1918 (play, prod. 1941-43)
    - Crusts (translated by John Heard, in Three Plays, 1945)
  • L'ours et la lune: farce pour un the´a^tre de marionnettes, 1919 (play, prod. 1948)
  • La Messe là-bas, 1919
  • L'introduction à quelques œuvres, 1920
  • Le père humilié:  drame en quatre actes, 1920 (play, prod. 1928)
    - The Humiliation of the Father (translated by John Heard, in Three Plays, 1945)
  • Les Choéphores, 1920 (play, prod. 1935, from the play by Aeschylus)
  • Les Euménides d'Eschyle, 1920 (play, prod. 1949, from the play by Aeschylus)
  • Ode jubilaire: pour le six-centième anniversaire de la mort de Dante, 1921
  • Poëmes de guerre, 1914-1916, 1922 (4th ed.)
  • Un coup d’œil sur l’âme japonaise; discours aux étudiants de Nikko, 1923
  • La Femme et son ombre, 1923 (play)
  • À travers les villes en flammes, 1924
  • Feuilles de saints, 1925
  • L'Endormie, 1925
  • Morceaux choisis, avec un portrait en un autographe de l’auteur, 1925
  • Correspondance, 1907-1914 / Jacques Rivie`re et Paul Claudel, 1926 - Letters to a Doubter (translated from the French by Henry Logan Stuart, 1927)  
  • Le Vieillard sur le mont Omi, 1927
  • Deux farces lyriques, 1927 (8th ed.)
  • L'oiseau noir dans le soleil levant, 1927
  • Sous le Rempart d'Athènes, 1928 (play, prod. 1927, music by Germaine Taillefer)
  • Le repos du septième jour, 1928 (play)
  • Positions et propositions, 1928-34 (2 vols.)
    - Ways and Crossways (translated by John O'Connor, 1933)
  • Le livre de Christophe Colomb: drame lyrique en deux parties, 1929 (play, prod. 1930, music by Darius Milhaud)
    - The Book of Christopher Columbus: A Lyrical Drama in Two Parts (tr. 1930)
  • Le Soulier de satin; ou, Le pire n’est pas toujours sûr, 1929 (play, rev. version prod. 1943)
    - The Satin Slipper;  or, The Worst is Not the Surest (translated by the Rev. Fr. John O’Connor, with the collaboration of the author, 1931)
  • Fragment d'un drame, 1931
  • Écoute, ma fille, 1934
  • La légende de Prakriti, 1934
  • Conversations dans le Loir-et-Cher , 1935
  • Introduction à la peinture hollandaise, 1935
  • Figures et paraboles, 1936 (ed. by Andrée Hirschi, 1974)
  • Toi qui es-tu? (Tu quis es?), 1936
  • Vitraux des cathédrales de France,  XIIe et XIIIe siècles, 1937 (foreword by Paul Claudel, intrioduction by Marcel Aubert)
  • Les Aventures de Sophie, 1937
  • Introduction au "Livre de Ruth";  texte intégral de l’ouvrage de l’abbé Tardif de Moidrey, 1938
  • Un poète regarde la croix, 1938
    - A Poet before the Cross ( translated by Wallace Fowlie, 1958; 2nd ed., with a new introduction by D.C. Schindler, 2007)
  • Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher, 1939 (play, prod.1938, music by Arthur Honegger)
    - Johanna polttoroviolla (suom.)
  • La Sagesse ou la Parabole du destin, 1939 (play)
  • L'Épée et le Miroir, 1939
  • La danse des morts = Der Totentanz / Arthur Honegger, 1939 (poem by Paul Claudel)
  • Contacts et circonstances, 1940
  • Paul Claudel dans ses plus beaux textes, 1940
  • L'histoire de Tobie et de Sara: moralité en trois actes, 1942 (play)
  • Cent phrases pour éventails, 1942
    - A Hundred Movements for a Fan (translated from the French and with an introduction by Andrew Harvey & Iain Watson, 1992)
  • Seigneur, apprenez-nous à prier, 1942
    - Lord, Teach Us to Pray (translated by Ruth Bethell, 1947)
  • L’Europe: paysages et civilisations, 1943 (editor)
  • Pages de prose, 1943
  • Prière pour les paralysés, suivis des Quinze Psaumes graduels CXIX à CXXXIII, 1944   
  • Dodoitzu:  poèmes de Paul Claudel, 1945 (illustrated by Rihakou Harada)
  • Poèmes & paroles durant la guerre de trente ans, 1945
  • Visages radieux, 1945
  • Three plays: The Hostage, Crusts, The Humiliation of the Father, 1945 (translated by John Heard)
  • Les Sept Psaumes de la Pénitence, 1945
  • Le livre de Job, 1946
  • Introduction à l'Apocalypse, 1946
  • Les révélations de La Salette, 1946
  • La Rose et le Rosaire, 1946
  • La sagesse; ou, La parabole du festin, 1946 (play, prod. 1950, music by Darius Milhaud)
  • L'œil écoute, 1946
    - The Eye Listens (translated from the original French by Elsie Pell,  1950)
  • Saint François: poème de Paul Claudel, 1946 (illustrated by J.M. Sert) 
  • Chine, 1946 (photograps by Hélène Hoppenot)
  • Présence et prophétie, 1947
  • Discours et remerciements, 1947
  • Du côté de chez Ramuz, 1947
  • L'Histoire de Tobie et de Sara, 1947 (play)
    - Tobiaan ja Saaran tarina (suom.)
  • L'Endormie, 1947 (play)
  • Théâtre, 1947-1948 (2 vols.)
  • Sous le signe du Dragon, 1948
  • Paul Claudel répond les Psaumes, 1948 (as Psaumes: Traductions 1918-1959, ed. by Renée Nantet and Jacques Petit, 1966)
  • Paul Claudel interroge le Cantique des Cantiques, 1948
  • Accompagnements. Essais, 1949
  • Correspondance, 1899-1926 / Paul Claudel et André Gide, 1949 (ed. by Robert Mallet) 
    - The Correspondence 1899-1926 Between Paul Claudel and Andre Gide (translated by John Russell, 1954)
  • La lune à la recherche d'elle-même, 1949
  • Emmaüs, 1950
  • Œuvres complètes, 1950-59 (20 vols.)
  • L'Évangile d'Isaïe, 1951
  • Une voix sur Israël, 1951
  • Correspondance  1904-1938, 1951 (with André Saurès)
  • Le symbolisme de La Salette, 1952 (2nd ed.)
  • Paul Claudel interroge l'Apocalypse, 1952
  • Mémoires improvisés, 1954 (ed. by Jean Amrouche)
  • Paul Claudel interroge le Cantique des Cantiques, 1954
  • J'aime la Bible, 1955
    - The Essence of the Bible (translated by Wade Baskin, 1957)
  • Théàtre, 1956 (2 vols., ed. by Jacques Madaule and Jacques Petit; rev. ed. 1965-67)
  • Conversation sur Jean Racine, 1956
  • L'œuvre poétique, 1957 (ed. by Stanislas Fumet)
  • Qui ne souffre pas… réflexions sur le problème social, 1958
  • Présence et prophétie, 1958
  • La Rose et le rosaire, 1959
  • Trois figures saintes pour le temps actuel, 1959
  • Correspondance Paul Claudel et Darius Milhaud, 1912-1953, 1961 (ed. by Jacques Petit)
  • Two Dramas, 1960 (translated by Wallace Fowlie)
  • Je crois en Dieu, 1961 (preface by R.P. Henri de Lubac)
    -  I Believe in God: A Meditation on the Apostles' Creed (edited by Agnès du Sarment, translated by Helen Weaver, 1963)
  • Sainte Agnès, et poëmes inédits, 1963 (illustrated by Colette Fovel)
  • Letters from Paul Claudel, My Godfather, by Sister Agnes du Sarment, 1964 (translated by William Howard, Earl of Wicklow)
  • I Believe in God, 1965 (ed. by Agnes du Sarment)
  • Oeuvres en prose, 1965 (ed. by Jacques Petit and Charles Galperine)
  • Au milieu des vitraux de l'Apocalypse: dialogues et lettres, 1966 (ed. by Pierre Claudel and Jacques Petit)
  • Mes idées sur le théâtre, 1966 (ed. by Jean-Pierre Kempf and Jacques Petit)
    - Claudel on the Theatre (translated by Christine Trollope, 1972)
  • The Muses, 1967 (translated by Edward Lucie-Smith)
  • Œuvre poétique, 1967 (edited by Stanislas Fumet and Jacques Petit)
  • Journal, 1968-69 (2 vols., ed. by Jacques Petit and François Varillon)
  • Paul Claudel en verve, 1971 (edited by Hubert Juin)
  • Correspondance 1908-1914, 1973 (with Louis Massignon, ed. Michel Malicet)
  • Correspondance de Jean-Louis Barrault et Paul Claudel, 1974 (ed. by Michel Lioure) 
  • Chroniques du "Journal de Clichy", 1978 (with François Mauriac, ed. by François Morlot and Jean Touzot)
  • Correspondance Paul Claudel-Jacques Riviere: 1907-1924, 1984
  • Théâtre, 1985-89 (2 vols., rev. ed.; edited by Jacques Madaule and  Jacques Petit)
  • Lettres de Paul Claudel à Élisabeth Sainte-Marie Perrin et à Audrey, 1990
  • La crise: correspondance diplomatique, Amérique, 1927-1932, 1993 (edited by Erik Izraëlewicz and  Jean-Marie Thiveaud)
  • Correspondance diplomatique. Tokyo 1921-1927, 1995
  • Gaston Gallimard et Paul Claudel - Correspondance - 1911-1954, 1995 (edited by Bernard Delvaille)
  • Jacques Madaule et Paul Claudel - Connaissance et reconnaissance - Correspondance 1929-1954, 1996 (ed.  Andrée Hirschi and Pierre Madaule)
  • Correspondance, 1920-1954: histoire d’une amitié / Paul Claudel, Stanislas Fumet, 1997 (edited by Marianne Malicet)
  • Le poète et la Bible Volume 1 1910-1946, 1998
  • Lettres à une amie: correspondance avec Françoise de Marcilly (1935-1954), 2002 (edited by Xavier Tilliette)
  • Le poète et la Bible. II. 1945-1955, 2004 (ed. by M. Malicet, et al.)
  • Lettres de Paul Claudel à Jean Paulhan (1925-1954), 2004 (ed. by Catherine Mayaux)
  • Correspondance de Paul Claudel avec les ecclésiastiques de son temps: le sacrement du monde et l'intention de gloire. Volume I, 2005 (ed. by Dominique Millet-Gérard)
  • Une amitié perdue et retrouvée / Paul Claudel, Romain Rolland, 2005 (ed. by Gérald Antoine amd Bernard Duchatelet)
  • Correspondance consulaire de Chine (1896-1909, 2005 (ed. by Jacques Houriez and Andrée Hirschi)
  • Paul Claudel et le Figaro: lettres de Paul Claudel à Maurice Noël, 1937-1955, 2010 (ed. Michel Lioure)
  • Théâtre, 2011 (2 vols., ed. Didier Alexandre and Michel Autrand)  


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