Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Maeterlinck, Maurice

(1862-1949) Belgian dramatist and essayist associated with Decadence and the Symbolist movement. The bibliography of his dramatic works is complicated. Many, including several fantasies, were used as bases for Operas.

MM's first fantasy work was the Edgar Allan Poe-like "Onirologie" (1889; 1936 chap). His early plays – L'intruse (1890), Les aveugles (1890) and La princesse Maleine (1889; trans Richard Hovey as Princess Maleine 1894 US) – were initially translated in mixed pairs: Blind & The Intruder (coll trans Mary Vielé 1891 UK) and Princess Maleine & The Intruder (coll trans Gerard Harry 1892 US). These Symbolist plays involve the gradual unfolding of a tragic scheme, apparently at the behest of malign Fate. Three of his shorter plays in this vein were issued as Alladine et Palomides; Intérieur; La mort de Tintagiles; trois petits drames pour marionettes (coll 1894; trans Alfred Sutro and William Archer as Alladine and Palomides, Interior, and The Death of Tintagiles: Three Little Plays for Marionettes 1899 US; vt Three Plays UK; vt Three Little Dramas US). The third of these plays is exceptionally harrowing.

MM's other plays of fantasy interest include two downbeat mock-chivalric romances (> Chivalry), Pelléas et Melisande (1892; trans Erving Winslow as Pelleas and Melisanda 1894 US) and Aglavaine et Sélysette (1896 France; trans Sutro as Aglavaine and Selysette 1897 US), and several quasi-folkloristic romances: Les sept princesses (1891 chap; trans Charlotte Porter and Helen A Clarke as "The Seven Princesses" 1894 US; new trans William Metcalfe as The Seven Princesses 1909 chap UK); Ariane et Barbe-Bleu (1901) and Soeur Béatrice (1901), assembled as Sister Beatrice and Ardiane & Barbe Bleue (trans coll Bernard Miall 1901 UK); Joyzelle (1903 France; trans Alexander Texeira de Mattos 1903 Canada).

MM's most famous play is the allegorical Fairytale L'oiseau bleu (1909 France; trans Texeira de Mattos as The Blue Bird 1909 US); his most optimistic work, it concludes with a mystical transcendence reflective of MM's profound interest in Spiritualism. It was so popular in the USA that its sequel, The Betrothal (1918 trans Texeira de Mattos US), was first produced there and was only belatedly published as Les fiançailles (1922 France). A children's version of the former play was prepared by the actress Georgette Leblanc (1869-1941), who was MM's companion 1895-1918 and took the leading role in most of his plays; this was issued in English as The Children's Blue Bird (trans Texeira de Mattos 1913 US; vt The Blue Bird for Children US). Texeira de Mattos did his own prose version of the sequel as Tyltyl (1920 US; vt The Bluebird Chooses US). The tale was filmed twice as The Blue Bird.

Once MM had parted from Leblanc, the subject-matter of his plays shifted markedly towards naturalistic psychological melodrama, but the farcical Le Miracle de Saint Antoine (1919 France; trans Texeira de Mattos as The Miracle of Saint Anthony 1918 US) and the second item in The Cloud that Lifted, and The Power of the Dead (trans coll trans F M Atkinson 1923 US) are fantasies. MM's curious brand of contemplative fatalism is abundantly expressed in his many essays. [BS]

Maurice Maeterlinck


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.