By Evan Adams-Hanson
Maurice Maeterlinck was the recipient of much acclaim for the symbolist plays he wrote from the 1880s to the 1940s. The New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art described him as “one of the accepted teachers of mankind in this hour” and a “leader of thought” (NYT 1901). He was however “famous against his will, or at least through no effort of his own” (NYT 1893). Maeterlinck was essentially hailed as the leader of the symbolist movement after writing half a dozen plays in the style before 1893, but he didn’t accept this role. His works were published “without a word or comment of any kind” (NYT 1893) from the author. As a result, critics categorized his work for him and deplored the lack : “he does not seem to be of the stuff of which popular playwrights are made, to have the kind of common talent to instantly reach the average intelligence of a crowd of all sorts and conditions of men” (NYT 1901).
Critics sometimes viewed Maeterlinck as inconsistent and hyperbolic, which may have been due to their lack of familiarity with symbolism as a theatrical style. They also noted that he concentrates on the souls of men rather than the brain or the heart and plays with fatality, a concept he is grappling with in The Intruder. In “Various Views of Maeterlinck,” two critical works about Maeterlinck are analyzed. Montrose J. Moses wrote that “his early plays have a melancholy, a romance of unreality, a morbidity, combined with innocence, which piques our indulgence. He has no irony to put us on the defensive. Translated into English, he never astonishes us” (NYT 1912). This view simultaneously characterizes his writing as an exercise in sparse and obvious style and celebrates its emotional contradictions. It is innocent, yet morbid; melancholic, but romantic. For Alfred Sutro, Maeterlinck is unique in his “dramatic instinct” (NYT 1912). He doesn’t attempt to write an “ordinary” play, rather he thrives on improving a method all his own. His works were written and performed in a style that was unprecedented in the theatre of the age. As a result, critics and other artists were variously confounded and intrigued by his work.
“MAETERLINCK.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. Sep 28 1901. ProQuest. Web. 12 Apr. 2014 .
“MAETERLINCK ON THE DRAMA.” New York Times (1857-1922): 13. Jun 04 1893. ProQuest. Web. 12 Apr. 2014 .
“VARIOUS VIEWS OF MAETERLINCK.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. Feb 18 1912. ProQuest. Web. 11 Apr. 2014 .