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Maeterlinck, Maurice (1862 - 1949)
"A truth that disheartens because it is true is of more value than the most stimulating of falsehoods."

-- Count Maeterlinck


Count Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck was a Belgian poet, playwright, and essayist.

Count Maurice Maeterlinck was born in Ghent, Belgium, in a wealthy, French-speaking family. He wrote poems and short novels during his studies, which he destroyed later; only fragments are left. After finishing his law studies, he spent a few months in Paris, France. He met there some members of the then new Symbolism movement, Villiers de l'Isle Adam in particular. The latter would have a big influence on the work of Maeterlinck.

In 1889, he became famous overnight after his first play, La princesse Maleine had received enthusiastic praise from Octave Mirbeau, the literary critic of Le Figaro. In the following years, he wrote a series of symbolist plays characterized by fatalism and mysticism, most importantly L'Intruse (The Intruder, 1890), Les Aveugles (The Blind, 1890) and Pelléas et Mélisande (1892, this last of which received several well-known musical treatments (see below).

His greatest contemporary success, however, was the fairy play L'Oiseau Bleu (The Blue Bird, 1909). This play has been made into several films with variations on the title Blue Bird, including Blue Bird (1940) starring Shirley Temple and the joint United States/Soviet Union production The Blue Bird (Russian: Sinyaya Ptitsa) (1976), starring Elizabeth Taylor.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. Main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life. He had a relationship with the singer Georgette Leblanc from 1895 till 1918. In 1919 he married Renée Dahon; together they went to the United States.

In 1926 he published La Vie des Termites (The Life of the White Ant) plagiarising "The Soul of the White Ant" researched and written by the South African poet and scientist Eugene Marais (1871 - 1936). In 1930 he bought a château in Nice, France, and named it Orlamonde, a name occurring in his work Quinze Chansons.

He was made a count by King Albert I of Belgium in 1932.

According to an article published in the New York Times in 1940, he arrived in the United States from Lisbon on the Greek Liner Nea Hellas. He has fled to Lisbon in order to escape the Nazi invasion of both Belgium and France. The Times quoted him as saying, "I knew that if I was captured by the Germans I would be shot at once, since I have always been counted as an enemy of Germany because of my play, 'Le Bourgmestre de Stillemonde,' which delt with the conditions in Belgium during the German Occupation of 1918."

He returned to Nice,France after the war and died there in 1949.

Musical posterity
In the English-speaking world at least, his works are largely forgotten save for Pelléas et Mélisande, and then only because of, first, the opera by Claude Debussy, (L 88, Paris, 1902), and then at least three additional enduring musical works: the incidental music to the play composed by Jean Sibelius (opus 46, 1905), an orchestral suite by Gabriel Fauré (opus 80, 1898), and a symphonic poem by Arnold Schoenberg (opus 5, 1902/03).

Partial bibliography

Plays
1. La Princess Maleine (1889)
2. L'Intrus (The Intruder) (1890)
3. Intérieur (Interior) (1891)
4. Pelléas et Mélisande (1892) - his most famous Symbolist drama, made into an opera in 1902 by Claude Debussy
5. La Mort de Tintagiles (The Death of Tintagiles) (1894)
6. Aglavaine et Sélysette (1896)
7. The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck (1899)
8. Princess Maleine
9. The Intruder
10. The Blind
11. The seven Princesses
12. Alladine and Palomides
13. Pelléas and Mélisande
14. Home
15. The Death of Tintagiles
16. Sister Beatrice (1901)
17. Ariane and Barbe Bleue (1901), made into an opera by Paul Dukas
18. Monna Vanna (1902)
19. Joyzelle (1903)
20. L'Oiseau Bleu (The Blue Bird) (1908)
21. Mary Magdalene (1910)
22. Le Bourgmestre de Stilmonde (The Mayor of Stilmonde) (1918)
23. The Miracle of St. Anthony (1919)

Verse
1. Serres chaudes (1889; Hot House Blooms)
2. Douze chansons (1896, in 1900 re-issued as Quinze chansons)

Prose
1. Le Trésor des humbles (1896; The Treasure of the Humble)
2. La Sagesse et la destinée (1898; Wisdom and Destiny)
3. La Vie des abeilles (1901; The Life of the Bee)
4. L'Intelligence des fleurs (1907; The Intelligence of Flowers)
5. La vie des termites (1926)
6. Bulles bleues (1948), autobiography

 
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