Paul Claudel Analysis

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111207683-Claudel.jpg Paul Claudel Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although Paul Claudel’s reputation rests primarily on his drama, he also wrote a substantial amount of poetry and a wide variety of nonfiction works. One of Claudel’s most important poetic works is his Cinq Grandes Odes (1910; Five Great Odes, 1967), a five-part poem whose content was inspired by Claudel’s reflection on a sarcophagus. Other important works of poetry include Corona Benignitatis Anni Dei (1915; Coronal, 1943), Poèmes de guerre (1922), and Cent Phrases pour éventails (1927; A Hundred Movements for a Fan, 1992). His nonfiction consists of essays, journals, and correspondence with such personages as Jacques Rivière, André Gide, André Suarès, and Darius Milhaud. His twenty-seven-volume uvres complètes was published between 1950 and 1967.


Paul Claudel’s literary fame did not come with the publication of his first works. Even when the late nineteenth century critics were willing to accept the Symbolist theater of Maurice Maeterlinck, Claudel’s masterpieces were generally ignored. Except for the encouragement he received from friends, he found approval only with the post-World War II generation in his country. His lack of success was partly because he was away from France on diplomatic missions and was hardly in a position to make himself known. Further, he was too religious for the secular Third Republic of France, and his poetry lacked the Alexandrine meter and other conventional forms; most of the time it omitted rhyme. His drama is both a soul-searching and a soul-saving adventure in which the eternal destiny of humanity takes priority over other aspects of life. Some critics have observed that Claudel did not use the kind of literary language that most Frenchmen cherished: They accused him of writing French literature in German. These criticisms contain a bit of truth. Certainly, there is nothing classical in the form that Claudel adopted for his theater, and it is true, too, that the staging of The Tidings Brought to Mary in Hellerau, Germany, in 1913, was considered one of the major events in Claudel’s career as a dramatist: Germany thus understood and appreciated Claudel before France did. In a way, German theatergoers opened the eyes of Frenchmen to their forgotten dramatist. Late in life, however, he achieved the recognition he deserved.


Bugliani, Ann. Women and the Feminine Principle in the Works of Paul Claudel. Madrid: J. Porrúa Turanzas, 1977. This study focuses on the portrayal of women in Claudel’s works. Bibliography.

Caranfa, Angelo. Claudel: Beauty and Grace. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1989. Clearly explains the complex relationship between Claudel’s aesthetics and his belief in Catholicism, as expressed both in his plays and in his poetry. The clearest introduction to Claudel’s religious beliefs.

Chiari, Joseph. The Poetic Drama of Paul Claudel. New York: Gordian Press, 1969. Critical appraisal of Claudel’s plays. Includes bibliography.

Griffiths, Richard. Claudel: A Reappraisal. Chester Springs, Pa.: Dufour Editions, 1970. Criticism of Claudel’s major works, with bibliography.

Humes, Joy. Two Against Time: A Study of the Very Present Worlds of Paul Claudel and Charles Péguy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978. Contains an excellent analysis of the two major French Catholic poets of the twentieth century. The paradox in the title of this book refers to the fact that both Péguy and Claudel were more concerned with the representation of the divine in this life and in the next than with meditations on social and political events.


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