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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330

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In this one-act play, Maurice Maeterlinck creates a somber and mysterious atmosphere well suited to the themes of aging, illness, and death. The Intruder of the title is a constant presence but never seen or even confirmed as actually existing. Rather, the author uses this figure to highlight the preoccupations of each character and the tensions within the family and household. While the characters all have clear statuses and relationships to one another, almost all of them in a single family, some of them are not named and the playwright generally refers to them by their position in the family, such as the father. This approach makes the play more abstract than realistic, in keeping with Maeterlinck’s Symbolist approach.

The play takes place all in one night in a single room of a once-elegant, but antiquated home. This description can apply to the family’s head, the grandfather. The family members, including a visiting uncle, are gathered in the sitting room. While they await the arrival of an aunt, who is a nun, they discuss the mother’s illness, which is her difficult recovery from childbirth.

The identity of the intruder occupies much of their conversation. The opinions of family members vary as to whether there is someone lurking outside in the garden, or perhaps even wandering around the house. Their acceptance or rejection of this idea change through the play. The grandfather is more susceptible to the idea, but the others tend to think his perception is impaired by blindness or mental illness (perhaps dementia).

Beyond holding back from establishing the existence of this character, the playwright adds to the mysterious atmosphere through stage directions and descriptive dialogue. The play is set in the evening, and as it wears on, the mother is inching closer to death. The presence of death, rather than just illness, is indicated by stage directions such as “Silence.” Light and dark hues, and symbolic colors such as black, also contribute to the fatalism.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 165

Country house

Country house. The play’s only location is an ordinary setting in extraordinary circumstances: a dimly lit room in an old country. The room has doors at the left and right and a small concealed door in a corner. Stained glass windows on the back wall are predominantly green, giving an eerie cast to interior objects lighted by the light from the outside. A glass door beside them opens to a terrace. In another corner is a clock, and a lighted lamp provides illumination. There is also a table with chairs around it.

The play opens in the late morning, when a family assembles to wait for news of the mother’s illness; the atmosphere is one of terror and foreboding. Doors open by themselves, and then refuse to close. The lamp casts flickering shadows. Sounds are heard for which no explanation can be found. With very little plot or characterization, Maeterlinck creates an atmosphere of mystery that gradually escalates into full-blown terror.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 356

Bass, Ruth. “Backstage at the Guggenheim.” Review of The Intruder, by Maurice Maeterlinck. Art News 85, no. 6 (Summer, 1986): 16, 18. In this review of Hanne Tierney’s staging of Maeterlinck’s play with puppetlike figures at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in January, 1986, Bass shows how the play lends itself to creative revival and aesthetic innovation. Tierney designed her expressionistic figures, controled them at a keyboard by invisible fishing lines, and spoke all of their parts in a monotone.

Block, Haskell M. Mallarmé and the Symbolist Drama. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1963. Block provides a broad view of symbolist drama and discusses in depth the aesthetic theory of its precursor, Mallarmé, and its masters, of whom Maeterlinck was the most outstanding. Block includes a discussion of The Intruder.

Daniels, May. The French Drama of the Unspoken. Edinburgh: University Press, 1953. After discussing the positivistic mind-set of the end of the nineteenth century, Daniels devotes two chapters to Maeterlinck’s plays, all of which are a strong reaction to naturalistic theater. Analyzes the nature of spectator response to Maeterlinck’s theater of the unexpressed in The Intruder and Pelléas and Mélisande (1892).

Finney, Gail. “Dramatic Pointillism: The Examples of Holz and Schlaf’s Die Familie Selicke and Maeterlinck’s L’Intruse.” Comparative Literature Studies 30, no. 1 (1993): 1-15. Finney describes George Seurat’s pointillistic neo-impressionistic painting style and shows how “temporal or linguistic pointillism” occurs in Johannes Schlaf’s Die Familie Selicke (1890) and Maeterlinck’s The Intruder. She indicates that many of the dramatic techniques found in Maeterlinck’s play are used by such later twentieth century playwrights as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Samual Beckett, and Harold Pinter.

Heller, Otto. Prophets of Dissent: Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918. Includes one essay devoted to Maeterlinck. Heller in 1918 already understood that the dramatist’s secular mysticism represented a retreat into the “central ego” and an effort to express the unknown internal forces that motivate individuals. Maeterlinck’s theater communicates humankind’s frustration before the invisible, uncontrollable forces, both internal and external, that no longer fall under the old categories of fate and religion.


Critical Essays