Paul Willems Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Paul Willems began his literary career with novels that bear the imprint of his family chateau, the Rousseau-like retreat Missembourg. Like his mother, poet Marie Gevers, Willems celebrated intense sensory experiences that open a passage to lost paradise, a recurring theme in his work. Paradise, for Willems, resembled an Edenic garden of childhood innocence, unsullied by modern civilization and humankind’s inhumanity. He also published numerous articles and prefaces, two collections of short stories, and Un Arrière-pays: Rêveries sur la création littéraire (1989), a book of lectures on his creative process that he delivered during his year’s appointment as poetry chair at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Because of changing linguistic politics in Belgium, Paul Willems was the last of the great Belgian dramatic poets, such as Maurice Maeterlinck and Fernand Crommelynck, who were Flemings by birth but who conducted their literary life in French. Willems’s plays have been translated into more than twelve languages and performed all over the world. He was particularly popular in Germany, with more than a hundred productions (some plays premiering before their Belgian openings). His musical comedy Le Marché des petites heures was written on commission for the Salzburg Festival. The Sailing City won the international Marzotto Prize for drama in 1966 and (like Willems’s novel Blessures, 1945) was published by the prestigious French publishing house Gallimard.

Willems’s plays were also produced in his home country. The Belgian government awarded the playwright its Triennial Prize for Dramatic Literature in 1963 and 1966, followed by the Quinquennial Prize for the body of his work in 1980. The Rideau de Bruxelles revived It’s Raining in My House eight times over the years following the play’s Belgian premiere (1962), always to sold-out houses.

Perhaps one of Willems’s greatest contributions is the opportunity his plays offer actors, as well as audiences, to experience poetic fantasies that explore deep human truths. Following his death, one actress spoke her appreciation for “the precious gift of Paul Willems’ words [that] allowed me to enter the mystical world of a waking dream which gives voice to the secrets of our souls.”


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Burgoyne, Suzanne. “Belgian/American Theatre Exchanges: Reflections and Bridges.” In New Theatre Vistas: Modern Movements in International Theatre, edited by Judy Lee Oliva. New York: Garland, 1996. Author’s description of rehearsals for a revival of It’s Raining in My House at the Rideau de Bruxelles and her own production of the play in the United States.

Burgoyne, Suzanne, and Shirley Huston-Findley. Forward to Paul Willems’ The Drowned Land and La Vita Breve, translated by Donald Flanell Friedman and Suzanne Burgoyne. Belgian Francophone Library 1. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. Jungian analysis of La Vita Breve and comparison of the play with E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story “The Sandman.” Volume also contains a discussion of Willems’s novella, The Drowned Land.

Burgoyne Dieckman, Suzanne. Introduction to Four Plays of Paul Willems: Dreams and Reflections, edited by Suzanne Burgoyne Dieckman. New York: Garland, 1992. Analysis of the plays in the anthology: It’s Raining in My House, The Weight of the Snow, The Sailing City, and She Confused Sleeping and Dying. Includes production photographs and a bibliography of Willems’s published work, including major articles.

Emond, Paul, Henri Ronse, and Fabrice van de Kerckhove, eds. Le Monde de Paul Willems: Textes, entretiens, études. Brussels: Éditions Labor, 1984. Contains important analyses of Willems’s plays and novels by contributing scholars, as well as excerpts from Willems’s writings and numerous photos. In French.

Friedman, Donald F. “Spaces of Dream, Protection, and Imprisonment in the Theater of Paul Willems.” World Literature Today 65 (1991): 46-48. Analysis of the ambiguous nature of seclusion in The Weight of the Snow, Les Miroirs d’Ostende, and She Confused Sleeping and Dying.

Otten, Michel, and Pierre Halen, eds. “Lectures de Paul Willems.” Textyles; Revue des Lettres Belges de Langue Française 9 (1988). An international array of scholars interpret Willlems’s work. Of particular interest are Michel Otten’s treatment of the role of the reflection in the search for lost paradise and Alberte Spinette’s study of the structural evolution of La Vita breve. In French.

Quaghebeur, Marc. Introduction to Four Belgian Playwrights. Gambit International Theatre Review 11, no. 42-42 (1986): 9-24. Belgian scholar Quaghebeur puts the work of Willems and three other playwrights into the context of the Belgian theater tradition. This special issue also contains a translation of It’s Raining in My House, translator’s notes on Willems, and a bibliography on Belgian theater.