Before becoming a playwright, François de Curel attempted for several years to write fiction. Three of his short stories appeared in French magazines between 1886 and 1894, and he published three novels: L’Été des fruits secs (1885; the summer of withered fruits), L’Orphelinat de Gaëtan (1888; the orphanage of Gaëtan), and Le Sauvetage du gran-duc (1889; the rescue of the grand duke). Charles Maurras, in reviewing the last novel, urged Curel to try writing for the theater instead—a bit of advice that Curel promptly followed.
François de Curel was perhaps the most important new French playwright introduced by André Antoine’s Théâtre Libre , which between 1887 and 1896 freed French drama from the rigid form and trivial themes of the “well-made play” popularized by Eugène Scribe and Victorien Sardou. Produced at the Théâtre Libre in 1892, Curel’s A False Saint and The Fossils failed with audiences but were praised by critics—a pattern that followed him throughout his career until the last decade or so, when he finally achieved some popular success. The critical praise did gain for him entry into the more conventional Parisian theaters, where most of his subsequent plays were produced, though the spirit of the Théâtre Libre remained his chief inspiration (and indeed, Antoine acted key roles in some of his later plays). Curel viewed the theater as a place for airing serious concerns rather than for offering mere entertainment. His part in educating the French public to this view is indicated by the public acceptance of his work in the last stage of his career, when two of his plays had impressive runs and most of his earlier plays were revived.
Aside from his brief vogue and his undoubted historical significance, Curel’s achievement is problematical. He is reminiscent of a less talented Henrik Ibsen. Like the mature Ibsen, Curel presents a surface realism that is broken through by symbolism and poetic passages. Like Ibsen, Curel tends to...
Cardy, Michael, and Derek Connon, eds. Aspects of Twentieth Century Theatre in French. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. In its description of French theater in the twentieth century, this work provides context in which to understand Curel’s later works.
SantaVicca, Edmund F., comp. Four French Dramatists: A Bibliography of Criticism of the Works of Eugène Brieux, François de Curel, Émile Fabre, Paul Hervieu. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1974. A bibliography of the criticism that has been written about Curel and three other French dramatists.
Waxman, Samuel M. Antoine and the Théâtre Libre. 1926. Reprint. New York: B. Blom, 1968. This examination of Antoine and the Théâtre Libre looks at the influence that this theater had on Curel.