Complete manuscript of the play Les Corbeaux, one of the great masterpieces of 19th century theater.
Henry Becque wrote Les Corbeaux in 1875- 1876, but he had to fight to have his play performed: "Few crusades have lasted as long as the one supported by Becque from 1876 to 1881. Seven theaters, or more exactly eleven directors, refused Les Corbeaux" (A.
Arnaoutovitch, Henry Becque, 1927). It was Édouard Thierry, former director, who had it read (March 11, 1881) and received at the Comédie
Française. The rehearsals were difficult with often reluctant actors, and the premiere took place on September 14, 1882 in front of a hostile audience: "It was a battle, and a real one. But, finally, it was won. Last night will count as a victory, not only for M. Becque - but also for realist art and modernity" (Louis Gramont, L'Intransigeant, September 15). Among the creators were Léopold Barré (Vigneron), Charles Thiron (Teissier), Frédéric Febvre (Bourdon), Coquelin Cadet (Merckens), Pauline Granger (Mine Vigneron), Blanche
Barretta (Marie), Marie Martin (Judith), Suzanne Reichenberg (Blanche), Marie Lloyd (Mme de Saint-Genis)... The play was published by Tresse in 1882 (but it was already composed in proofs in March 1881).
Let's mention the excellent revival of 1982 at La Comédie Française, directed by Jean-Pierre Vincent, with notably
Denise Gence, Michel Aumont, Roland Bertin and Christine Murillo.
It has certainly been said that with Les Corbeaux naturalism entered Molière's house, but the ferocity of the painting of these "crows" that fall on the Vigneron family is combined with a tragic force that goes far beyond naturalism. As Patrick Berthier writes in his excellent synthesis on Le Théâtre au XIXe siècle (P.U.F., Que sais-je?, 1986), "Becque, by the solidity of his construction, the sobriety of his effects, the overall purity of a visibly implacable process, is at the opposite of the often verbose discourse of the moment. His art of shortening, of silences, of innuendos imposes a very tight architecture, where the absence of any sentimental concession increases the progressive sensation of suffocation.
wPlus than La Parisienne (Renaissance, February 1885), a more brilliant comedy on the vanity and platitude of adultery, Les Corbeaux deserves to remain as one of the only very great plays of the 19th century.
The manuscript was used for printing.
The title page, which gives as a subtitle "Comédie-Drame en quatre actes" (whereas the edition bears: "pièce en quatre actes"), bears the stamp of the bookseller-publisher Tresse; on the back, the list (not autograph) of the plays by the same author. The list of "Characters" follows. The manuscript is paginated from 1 to 167, with one f. 17 bis and two ff. 101. At the end, two leaves present, one four, the other six replicas to be composed each "in the middle of a page".
The manuscript presents erasures and corrections, and variants with the final text. Thus, in scene 9 (present 8) of the last act, an entire exchange of words between
Teissier and Bourdon is deleted.
Exhibition: Henry Becque, Comédie-Française 1925.
Provenance: former collections of Georges-Emmanuel LANG (ex-libris; I, 240); Sacha
GUITRY (1978, n° 25); then Daniel SICKLES (IV, 1048).