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Bohemian Lights


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AT: Lights of Bohemia A: Ramón del Valle-Inclán Pf: 1963, Paris; 1971, Madrid Pb: 1920; rev. 1924 Tr: 1968 G: Tragicom. in 15 (originally 12) scenes; Spanish prose S: Various locations in Madrid, c.1917–20 C: 42m, 10f, extrasMax Estrella, a blind old writer, has been sacked by his newspaper, and has to resort to selling books to buy food for his wife and daughter. [Added in 1924 version: Max has an intellectual discussion with Don Latino, an unscrupulous publisher, in a bookshop.] Max holds court with down-and-outs in a tavern. Against a background of street riots, Max protests against the aestheticism of a group of modernist poets. He is arrested for disturbing the peace and responds wittily to the Inspector's questions. [1924 version: Max, by confronting the experiences of a fellow prisoner from Catalonia, recognizes how empty his own protests are.] The modernist poets protest at the newspaper office about Max's imprisonment. Max himself complains to the Minister of the Interior but is silenced by accepting money from the government. Disillusioned at being so easily bought, Max becomes sardonically self-deprecatory, first with his ‘disciple’ Rubén Darío, then with the prostitute Lunares. [1924 version: there is a confrontation between the army and workers, amongst them a woman holding a dead child.] Max believes that the only adequate response to the violence of the world about him is to represent it through the grotesque. Max dies, and the matter-of-fact talk of Hamlet-like gravediggers is contrasted with that of intellectual mourners. Don Latino has won with Max's lottery ticket, and will make money from an edition of his works. Max's desperate wife and daughter commit suicide. Mediocrity has triumphed.

AT: Lights of Bohemia A: Ramón del Valle-Inclán Pf: 1963, Paris; 1971, Madrid Pb: 1920; rev. 1924 Tr: 1968 G: Tragicom. in 15 (originally 12) scenes; Spanish prose S: Various locations in Madrid, c.1917–20 C: 42m, 10f, extras

Like Dürrenmatt over 30 years later, Valle-Inclán believed that the chaos of the 20th century must be depicted through the ‘concave mirrors’ of the grotesque; so he created his own genre of esperpento, ‘an aesthetic criterion that distorts systematically’. Bohemian Lights with its wide theatrical range, anti-heroic protagonist, and effective blending of contemporary politics with personal tragedy, and comedy with suffering, made this the first major play of modern Spanish theatre.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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