In a preface to a volume of Eugéne Brieux’s plays in translation, George Bernard Shaw claimed for the dramatist the distinction of being the greatest French writer since Molière in the genre of true-to-life comedy. A lesser dramatist-critic, Ashley Dukes, taking an opposite view, considered Brieux’s plays to be the work of a dullard. Shaw’s extravagant praise is as wide of the mark as is Dukes’s less-than-generous dismissal. Brieux’s social dramas, with their focus on the stultifying and frequently destructive life of the French bourgeoisie and peasantry, evoked a sharp response from that same middle class he zealously criticized and frequently satirized. Although linked at times with the intellectual elite championed by the theatrical reformer André Antoine at his Théâtre Libre, Brieux’s works rarely verged on the bitterly cynical comédie rosse, the biting comedy so favored by the patrons of Antoine’s avant-garde stronghold. Instead, Brieux found himself more at home in the popular theaters of the Paris boulevards, where he reached a wider audience. If that popularity was achieved by an occasional sentimentalizing of serious subject matter, Brieux nevertheless brought before his public several works that outspokenly underscored the dehumanizing effects of the dowry system in arranged marriages, a barbaric judicial system designed to benefit its practitioners rather than those unfortunates wrongly brought to trial, and the widespread...
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Cardy, Michael, and Derek Cannon, eds. Aspects of Twentieth Century Theatre in France. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Provides context in which to understand Brieux’s later works.
SantaVicca, Edmund F. 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 on the criticism of Brieux, among other French writers. Index.