Doris Lessing’s novel, Love, Again, plays itself out in a theatrical setting. At sixty-something, Sarah Durham, one of the Founding Four of the Green Bird Theatre has reached a successful plateau in her life. Widowed with grown children, she is totally immersed in running the alternative theater she helped to found. She considers herself to have reached “those heights of common sense . . . the evenly lit unproblematical uplands where there are no surprises.” At the opening of the book, she is just about to embark upon the production of an ambitious theatrical piece, underwritten with American, French and English money, which she has coauthored with Stephen Ellington-Smith. In the fevered atmosphere of rehearsals and productions, the illusions and realities of love and grief become inextricably entwined.
Julie Vairon: An Entertainment presents the story of a nineteenth century quadroon girl from Martinque who fell in love with a young French officer, Paul Imbert. The intelligent and talented Julie convinced her lover to take her back to France with him. Although his family refused to accept their liaison and had him sent to Indochina, Paul’s father helped Julie get employment as a tutor in art and music to the daughters of the respectable families in the Provençal town of Belles Riviéres. Inevitably, she had a long and intense affair with the youngest son of the local nobility, Rémy Rostand, which finally ended in the same manner as the earlier episode with Paul. Five years later, the master of the printing works, Phillipe Angers, proposed marriage to her. A week before the ceremony, after a year of planning the wedding and marriage, she drowned herself in a pool near her forest cottage.
The romantic story was “hardly unusual. Beautiful young women without family support, and disadvantaged—in this case double, being both illegitimate and coloured—have this kind of history,” and remained little more than local lore until the Rostand descendants discovered some of Julie’s musical compositions among their papers and in the provincial museum. When her music was played at a local festival, attended by Stephen Ellington-Smith, the discovery of a new talent was proclaimed. Yet her genius was not limited to music. Her watercolors granted her reputation “a small but secure niche” in the art world, and her journals published in French and in an English abridgment brought favorable comparison with Madame de Sévigné.
Fascinated by Julie Vairon’s journals and haunted by her music, Sarah Durham begins a dramatic treatment for a Green Bird production. As the project develops, Julie’s music is added to the words of her journal, and another play about Julie’s life arrives at the theater—a romantic treatment by Stephen Ellington-Smith, the patron who had worked with such great success to ensure the reputation of Julie Vairon that he had become known as Julie’s Angel. When Sarah meets Stephen to discuss collaboration, he declares that “I am hopelessly in love with Julie. . . . I am besotted with her.” Yet he does not like her journals with their cold, intelligent commentaries. Despite their disagreements about Julie’s character, Sarah and Stephen agree that she will adapt his dialogue into her treatment; they will be listed as coauthors, and he will continue his support of the production. They also become fast friends. Their companionable partnership belies the emotional storms about to ensue.
(The entire section is 1423 words.)