Paul Claudel


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French poet, dramatist, and diplomat. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1946.

Claudel was born in Villeneuve-sur-Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne. At the age of eighteen he converted to Roman Catholicism after a religious experience in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, on Christmas Day, 1886. In the same year he discovered the poetry of Rimbaud; these two experiences were to have a profound effect on his future literary works, beginning with the play Tête d'or (1889).

Claudel successfully combined a distinguished career as a diplomat with his prolific output as a writer; having entered the diplomatic service in 1890 he held posts in the consulates and embassies of Europe, China, the USA, and South America. His best poetry is to be found in the Cinq Grandes Odes (1910); later notable works included Corona benignatis anni Dei (1914), Poèmes de guerre 1914–1916 (1922), and Feuilles de saints (1925). He developed a free-verse style, characterized by long unrhymed lines, that was subsequently known as the verset claudélien.

Claudel began writing seriously for the theatre in the 1890s. His early plays, such as L'Annonce faite à Marie (1910), first performed in 1912, and the autobiographical Partage de midi (1906), produced by Antonin Artaud in 1928, are lyrical free-verse exposés of his vision of the universe, ordered and governed by God. His best-known play, Le Soulier de satin (1924; translated as The Satin Slipper, 1931), was produced by Jean-Louis Barrault at the Comédie-Française in 1943. Set in Renaissance Spain and South America, it is a story of unconsummated love between the two central characters, who are forced to tread their separate paths towards God; these themes of personal destiny and forbidden love recur in many of Claudel's works. Other plays include La Jeune Fille Violaine (1892), an early version of L'Annonce faite à Marie; the trilogy L'Otage (1911), Le Pain dur (1918), and Le Père humilié (1920); and Jeanne au bûcher (1934), performed in 1938 with music by Arthur Honegger. He also wrote literary criticism, notably Art Poétique (1907); his lengthy Correspondance, 1899–1926 with André Gide was published in 1949.

Subjects: Literature — Theatre.

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