Sardou, Victorien (1831-1908)
Sardou, Victorien (1831-1908)
Famous French dramatist and member of the Académie Francuise who attracted considerable attention in Spiritistic circles in the 1860s with curious automatic drawings, signed "Bernard Palissy, of Jupiter." He was born on September 5, 1831, in Paris. For a short period, he studied medicine, but gave it up in order to devote himself to writing. He was not successful at first, and was seriously ill and in great poverty when rescued by a Mlle. de Brécourt (whom he later married). She introduced him to a Mlle Déjazet, for whom he wrote successful plays.
In due course, many outstanding actors and actresses acted in a long line of successful plays by Sardou. His plays enjoyed long runs in France, England, and America, and his drama La Tosca became the basis of Puccini's opera Tosca. He wrote plays for the great actress Sarah Bernhardt. One controversial play by Sardou in which Bernhardt appeared was titled Spiritisme. It had a plot that involved mediumship, and it included a discussion between believers in occultism and skeptics.
Sardou himself was a remarkable medium and produced many intricate automatic drawings. Some of these were supposed to delineate the dwellings of people in Jupiter. He sketched the houses of Mozart, Zoroaster, and Bernard Palissy, who were country neighbors on the immense planet that, at the time, was commonly believed to be inhabited by a superior race of beings.
He made his own opinions clear in a letter published in Le Temps at the time when he was putting on his drama Spiritisme. He spoke of himself as an observer, incredulous by nature, who had been obliged to admit that Spiritism concerns itself with facts that defy any present scientific explanation. Further:
"Respecting the dwellings of the planet Jupiter, I must ask the good folks who suppose that I am convinced of the real existence of these things whether they are well persuaded that Gulliver (Swift) believed in Lilliput, Campanella in the City of the Sun, and Sir Thomas More in his Utopia."
In another letter, written to Charles Frohman on the same occasion, he spoke with much greater freedom:
"Everybody knows that for forty years I have been a wonderful medium myself, and I have had in my own house wonderful manifestations. My piano has played by itself. Flowers have fallen from my ceiling upon a table; and it is I who have brought this about, and they dare not lay at my door calumnies such as true mediums are exposed to, and say of me, as they had the impudence to say of Home, that I am a charlatan."
Sardou was elected to the French Academy in 1878. He died in Paris November 8, 1908.
Victorien Sardou (vēktôryăN´ särdōō´), 1831–1908, French dramatist. Author of some 70 plays, he won great popularity with his light comedies and pretentious historical pieces, but his reputation later declined. His best farce comedy is Divorçons! (1880, tr. 1881). Among his semihistorical melodramas are Patrie! (1869, tr. 1915) and Fédora (1882, tr. 1883), in which Sarah Bernhardt made her triumphant return to the Paris stage. Sardou's other plays written for her are La Tosca (1887, tr. 1925), the source of Puccini's opera, and Cléopâtre (1890). Two plays written for Sir Henry Irving, Robespierre (1899) and Dante (1903), were never given in French. Also among his plays in a lighter vein is Madame Sans-Gêne (1893, tr. 1901). Sardou was attacked for plagiarism but defended himself successfully. He was elected to the French Academy.