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Chatterton


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A: Alfred de Vigny Pf: 1835, Paris Pb: 1835 Tr: 1847 G: Trag. in 3 acts; French prose S: John Bell's house, London, 1770 C: 5m, 1fChatterton, a 17-year-old poet from Bristol of considerable promise, has come to live in London, where he lodges with the self-made factory owner John Bell and his wife Kitty. Although Chatterton's withdrawn and sensitive nature makes it hard for him to befriend anyone, a fellow lodger, a Quaker, senses that all is not well with the young man, and Kitty develops a strong attraction for him. Since his writing has not produced anything approaching adequate financial support, Chatterton appeals to Lord Mayor Beckford for assistance. Beckford replies the same day by letter, offering him the post of footman. Insulted by this humiliating response, and despairing at the indifference of society towards his genius, Chatterton poisons himself in his garret.

A: Alfred de Vigny Pf: 1835, Paris Pb: 1835 Tr: 1847 G: Trag. in 3 acts; French prose S: John Bell's house, London, 1770 C: 5m, 1f

Vigny wrote Chatterton partly in response to the colourful costume dramas like those of Victor Hugo. His play, written in prose, is based not on exotic events at the Spanish court, but on a historical episode from the previous century, which moreover, especially in the figure of the successful industrialist John Bell, seems to have an even more contemporary feel. In place of Hugo's predilection for incident and intrigue, the plot, which occupies the morning to evening of the same day, could hardly be simpler. Yet, by promoting an essentially self-indulgent young man as a maligned genius, Vigny expresses a Romantic ethos more powerful even than Hugo's. Indeed, during the highly successful first run, a young writer committed suicide.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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