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Empire Builders


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A: Boris Vian Pf: 1959, Paris Pb: 1959 Tr: 1967 G: Drama in 3 acts; French prose S: An apartment building, France, mid-20th c. C: 3m, 3fA family comprising Father, Mother, their daughter Zénobie, and their maid Cruche, have been forced, like their Neighbour, to vacate the apartment below because of the threat emanating from a mysterious Noise and from the Schmürz, a bleeding creature swathed in bandages. They refuse to investigate the source of the Noise, and only Zénobie treats the Schmürz with any kindness. The others attempt to defeat it by brutally attacking it, only each time to flee to a new apartment higher up in the building, relentlessly pursued by the Noise and the Schmürz. As they do so, their possessions become fewer and fewer. Eventually, the maid has left them, and the Neighbour's son has died. When Zénobie crosses the landing to the Neighbour, she finds his door sealed, and on returning to her parents, discovers their door locked. She is abandoned as her parents escape to the attic apartment, where the Mother meets her end. Alone at the top of the building, the Father dons his army uniform and persuades himself that he is still intact by checking all his body parts. As the sounds of the Noise and a knocking at the door grow louder, he retreats to the balcony, where an ambiguous stage direction leaves it unclear whether he drops to the floor or falls out of the window. Finally, ‘And perhaps the door opens, and perhaps schmürzes enter, vague outlines in the dark.’

A: Boris Vian Pf: 1959, Paris Pb: 1959 Tr: 1967 G: Drama in 3 acts; French prose S: An apartment building, France, mid-20th c. C: 3m, 3f

The Empire Builders is an absurdist piece similar to those of fellow Pataphysician Ionesco, but has not lasted so well, perhaps because the physical presence of the Schmürz lends too much definition to the indefinable menace to bourgeois complacency, achieved more persuasively by the undefined Noise.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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