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Maurice Maeterlinck

Wilde admitted to having only two writers influence his theatrical works: Victor Hugo and Maurice Maeterlinck. A Flemish author writing in French, Maeterlinck was a frequently cited inspiration by Wilde for his decision to write Salomé in French. Yet he owed more than this to Maeterlinck, for
if Flaubert is in a sense responsible for the setting, the sumptuous decoration, some parts of the plot and one or two characters, it was Maeterlinck who influenced him in style and what is more- the development of the main theme- love.” (Satzinger 261)

Specifically,

[Maeterlinck’s] colour, sound, dance, visual description and visual effect offered Wilde a theatrical vocabulary more complete and more innovative than anything the London stage could demonstrate (RABY, Peter; p. 105; Satzinger 269)

Maeterlinck’s influence can be seen at a much more direct level as well. Consider these lines from his play La Princess Maleine:

Vanox: Les étoiles tombent sur le châteeau ! Voyez ! voyez ! voyez !
Stéphano : Je n’ai jamais vu pareille pluie d’étoiles. On dirait que le ciel, pleure ses fiançailles.
Vanox : On dit que ceci présage de grands malheurs !
(MAETERLINCK, Maurice : La Princess Maleine, in Théatre I, p. 13 ; Satzinger 267)
           
Vanox: The stars fall on the castle. Look! Look! Look!
Stéphane: I have never seen such a rain of stars. It seems like the sky weeps its engagements.
Vanox: They say that presages great misfortunes! (Webmaster Transl)

The opening scene of Salomé mirrors almost exactly these lines: both have two minor characters, standing alone, looking at the night sky and commenting on it in mystical terms. Even the language is almost the same: the phrases “on dirait” and “je n’ai jamais vu” are found several times in Salomé as well. The short sentences, repeated words, and simple syntax of these lines are also used by Wilde in Salomé.

Wilde sent a copy of Salomé to Maeterlinck, who replied with this letter:

Je vous prie de m’excuser, Monsieur, si les circonstances ne m’ont pas permis de vous remercier plut tôt au don de votre mystérieux, étrange et admirable Salomé. Je vous ai dit merci aujourd’hui en sortant, pour la troisième fois, de ce rève dont je ne me suis pas encore expliqué la puissance. Croyez, Monsieur, à mon admiration très grande. (Ellmann 375)

Pray excuse me, dear sir, if my circumstances have not permitted me to thank you sooner for the gift of your mysterious, strange, and admirable Salome. I expressed my thanks to you today as I emerged, for the third time, from this dream whose power I have not yet explained to myself. I assure you of my great admiration.

LINKS:

Biography of Maurice Maeterlinck by Edward Thomas

Gutenberg e-text works by Maeterlinck

Online books by Maeterlinck

Literary Influences

Flaubert

Mallarmé

Huysmans

Maeterlinck

Moreau and Beardsley

Images

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