Welcome, dear readers, as always.
In my last, I had noticed that Bram Stoker (1847-1912)
appeared to have been influenced by the fairy tale of Blue Beard in certain details of his novel, Dracula (1897).
In that fairy tale, a young woman, newly married to a very odd man, is given a key she’s not supposed to use for a room she’s not supposed to enter.
She does use it and almost loses her life because of it.
In Stoker’s novel, a young man, staying as a guest in a ruined castle is cautioned about doors and even more about sleeping in strange rooms:
“ ‘Let me advise you, my dear young friend—nay, let me warn you with all seriousness, that should you leave these rooms you will not by any chance go to sleep in any other part of the castle. It is old, and has many memories, and there are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely. Be warned! Should sleep now or ever overcome you, or be like to do, then haste to your own chamber or to these rooms, for your rest will then be safe. But if you be not careful in this respect, then’—He finished his speech in a gruesome way, for he motioned with his hands as if he were washing them.” (Dracula, Chapter III)
Like the young woman, the young man disobeys, falls asleep in a room he should never have entered, and is nearly attacked by three voluptuous female vampires.
From these details, I would suggest that Stoker knew the story, but, remembering Stoker’s background, it may not have been that he had read either the original source—Charles Perrault’s (1628-1703)
Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe avec des Moralites (“Stories or Fairy Tales of Time Past with Some Moral Lessons”) of 1697,
or its first appearance in English, in 1719,
or its many later publications or republications, including one Tolkien might have read, in Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book (1889).
(It’s clear, from certain references, that, as a boy, JRRT had read, or had had read to him, The Red Fairy Book, its sequel,
and, in a previous posting—“Roll Out the Barrel”, Wednesday, 13 April, 2022—I suggested a possible link between his work and the earlier Lang volume.)
Stoker had been interested in the theatre from his student days in Dublin and later became the business manager of Sir Henry Irving, one of the most distinguished English actors,
at his theatre, the Lyceum.
There had been theatrical productions of the Blue Beard story from at least 1789, when Andre Gretry (1741-1813)
presented his opera, Raoul Barbe Bleue in Paris, just on the eve of the Revolution. Gretry billed it as a comedy, and, though later successful, initially it appears that critics had had a very mixed view, at least one suggesting that such a story was hardly a subject for joking. (For an interesting, but not always quite accurate, essay on the subject, see: https://repertoire-explorer.musikmph.de/prefaces/2116.html And you can hear the overture with its what I think rather creepy opening, here: https://repertoire-explorer.musikmph.de/prefaces/2116.html
In England, it was a subject for joking, in the form of pantomime, a traditional entertainment often based upon popular fairy tales. As early as 1791—just 2 years after Gretry’s comedy—Karl Friedrich Baumgarten (c.1740-1824) premiered Bluebeard, or The Flight of Harlequin at Covent Garden.
(For more on pantomime, see: https://sites.google.com/site/ibworldtheatreresearch/english-pantomime )
And, throughout the 19th century, Bluebeard became a common subject for such entertainment.
The French, in the form of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880),
even returned to the comic side of Bluebeard with Barbe-bleue in 1866.
This is my favorite of the various treatments, in part because Bluebeard is, for all that he’s a bloodthirsty serial killer (or so he thinks), such a cheerful fellow, as one can see in the first verse of his introductory song. Here’s that verse in French and then my prose translation, which gives no sense of the merriment in the song, although Bluebeard’s carefree attitude about the disappearance of those to whom he was presumably attached comes through—I hope!
Bluebeard enters with some of his troops and addresses them in a kind of lament–
Encore une, soldats, belle parmi les belles !
Pourquoi donc le destin les mets-il sur mes
Ces femmes qu’aussitôt des morts accidentel-
Arrachent de mes bras !
but then breaks into a very cheerful tune.
Ma première femme est morte,
Et que le diable m’emporte,
Si j’ai jamais su comment !
La deuxième et la troisième,
Ainsi que la quatrième,
Je les pleure également.
La cinquième m’était chère,
Mais, la semaine dernière,
À mon grand étonnement,
Sans aucun motif plausible,
Les trois Parques, c’est horrible !
L’ont cueillie en un moment…
Je suis Barbe-Bleue, ô gué !
Jamais veuf ne fut plus gai !
Once again, soldiers, a beauty among the beauties!
Why then does Destiny put them in my way,
These women whom soon some accidental deaths
Tear from my arms!
My first wife is dead
And devil take me
If I’ve ever known how!
The second and the third
As well as the fourth
I wept for equally.
The fifth was dear to me
But, last week,
To my great astonishment,
Without any plausible cause,
The three Fates—it’s horrible!—
Have plucked her in a moment…
I’m Blue Beard, hooray!
Never was a widower more merry!
Here’s my second translation which tries to stick to the French rhythm, if not to every French word:
My first wife was quickly hist’ry,
But how she died’s a myst’ry—
Devil take me if I see!
Then the second and the third one
And then the fourth was soon done–
I mourned them equally!
The fifth to me was just as charming,
But, just last week there came alarming
News—no cause at all to see–
That the Fates—it’s horrifying—
In a moment she was dying—
Had plucked that wife from me!
I am that Blue Beard—hooray!
No widower more merry today!
And here’s a performance, so that you can hear both the French and the jolly tune to which it’s set.
Offenbach’s operetta was first performed in England within the same year as its premiere in Paris, and, as pantomimes and that 19th-century English dramatic art form called the “burlesque”—here’s F.C. Burnand’s 1883 “Blue Beard or the Hazard of the Dye”—
continued to employ the Blue Beard plot throughout the later 19th century, I think that it can be easily seen that, surrounded as he was by so many theatrical treatments, even if he had never read a page of the French or an English translation, the story, in some form, must have been readily available to Stoker.
(For more on 19th-century English burlesque, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque W.S. Gilbert got his start writing such things, the first being Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack, 1866. In one of those odd coincidences which sometimes turn up in these postings, Henry Irving, Bram Stoker’s boss at the Lyceum, was the stage director for this early Gilbert effort.)
Blue Beard as a subject lived beyond its possible influence upon Stoker’s novel and even beyond pantomime and burlesque, moving into the 20th century and film, his first appearance being in a short film by the Lumiere Brothers in 1897-8.
I can’t give you a link to that, but here’s Georges Melies’ (1861-1938)
nearly 11-minute-long version from 1901: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uMctQFV3JI ,t
just over 20 years before the first Dracula film, F.W. Murnau’s (1888-1931)
wonderfully creepy Nosferatu of 1922.
(And here’s a LINK to it: https://archive.org/details/Nosferatu1922 )
And there are more films, including Charlie Chaplin’s 1947 Monsieur Verdoux,
as well as more operas beyond Gretry’s—Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-bleue (1907)
and Bela Bartok’s Blue Beard’s Castle (1918),
but, it appears that I could talk till I’m blue in the face on the subject, doesn’t it?
(This is from Gustave Dore’s 1862 illustrated edition of Perrault. So far, I’ve only been able to locate a 1921 German translation with Dore’s pictures, but, even if you can’t read German, the stories are so familiar that you can simply follow the illustrations: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42900/42900-h/42900-h.htm )
Avoid locked room mysteries,
And know that, as ever, there’s