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EUGÈNE BRIEUX (1858-1932)

The following biography was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 157-8.

Eugène Brieux, the son of a carpenter, was born in Paris in 1858. He showed an early liking for literature, and soon went into the field of journalism. He was for some years editor of Nouvelliste at Rouen, and it was in that city that he wrote his earlier plays, sending them to Paris for production. One of the first of these, Ménages d'Artistes, was accepted and produced by Antoine at the Théâtre Libre (1890) and two years later the same manager brought forth the young dramatist's first important success, Blanchette. Returning to Paris, as soon as he could make a living there, he married and devoted himself to the writing of that series of plays to which he now owes his international fame. In 1910 he was made a member of the French Academy. [He died in Nice in 1932.]

Brieux and Hervieu are the best exponents [of their day] of the thesis play in France. Hervieu ... attacks certain phases of the law, especially those regarding the marriage relation. He attacks, however, in a cold and absolutely logical way, proving each step in argument. Brieux attacks many institutions and prejudices; he declares himself the enemy of every "abuse of power" and all authority, for he believes that men are too frail to sit in judgment over their fellow-beings. He attacks society because it will not give young girls an opportunity for earning an honest living by teaching (Blanchette); he lays bare the evils of the political "system" (The Machine); of charity and its abuse (The Philanthropists); of science and its abuse (The Evasion); of marriage arrangements (The Three Daughters of M. Dupont); of the attitude of secrecy concerning the nature, effects, and cure of the so-called unmentionable (venereal) diseases and renovates and brings to light the truth of the matter (Damaged Goods); in the Red Robe he shows how certain parts of the legal system are inherently bad. In Maternity he declares war on those who fail to regard motherhood as sacred, something to be protected for the good of the race. In each play, he criticizes some aspect of a living question. His purpose is always to treat in a sincere and direct manner every plague-sore that he believes can be treated. Of necessity he is often brutally outspoken; he must be in order to make himself heard and believed. He says "We [the dramatists] must have an idea in our plays ... taken from the life about us, from among the sufferings of our fellow-beings."