Tuesday, 4 December 2001

Jean Anouilh: Ardèle (1948)

Translation: Lucienne Hill, 1950 (original title Ardèle ou la Marguerite)
Edition: Methuen, 1959 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1002

Ardèle is a tragic idea written in the form of a slightly absurdist French bedroom farce. Its central character is never seen or heard on the stage, which is another unusual feature. It is set in a château where a family conference has been called to discuss what can be done about Ardèle, the old maid of the family. A hunchback from her youth, she scandalises her relations when she and the new tutor, also a hunchback, fall in love.

This is an entirely hypocritical reaction, as every other family member is openly having an affair. (The exception is the General's wife, who never emerges from her room and whose periodic calling for her husband is dismissed as insanity.) Knowing that her future is under discussion, Ardèle has locked herself in her room and refuses to come out, despite the arguments made through the keyhole of her door.

The meaning with the play is connected to the right to have personal freedom, to love and be ones true self. Ardèle shocks the other characters not because of the social distance between her and the tutor, but because they have never considered her a fit person to love or be loved. Ardèle's passion is clearly far more deeply felt than the bedroom-shuffling antics of the rest of the family, and even evoked only through the words of the others she comes across the better deserving of the freedom to love.

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