FICTION: Flecker Fragments

  • Share
  • Read Later

DON JUAN—A Play in Three Acts—James Elroy Flecker—Knopf ($2). This bit will be of interest to those who esteem Flecker's genius of the first order, and to whom even an incomplete sketch from his pen is of value. In the first scene of the play there is a shipwreck. The stage in complete darkness, a shrieking wind carries terror to reader or audience; the lights of a pitching steamer appear and on the instant a grinding crash is heard; the lights shudder, become fixed. For a moment only, the moon escapes from heavy clouds to shine on the face of Don Juan* as he leaps overboard to swim ashore. There is dialog in the scene also, but it is negligible. A triumph of stagecraft has been achieved with a few lights and a howling siren. A poet's art is applied to mechanism.

Flecker's letters show that he was seeking a new conception of Don Juan. Most readers will conclude that the poet's death (1915) occurred with the search still unfinished. But we have glimpses of the Flecker we know best—gorgeous lines. The Don Juan of the play loves a gypsy, deserts her in a motor, is betrothed to a Prime Minister's daughter, murders him to prevent a war, kills his prospective sister-in-law, whom he has unconvincingly kissed a few pages earlier, and finally shoots his fiancee. The late Prime Minister's statue then beckons the hero to his fate. "Many Casualties" would have been a more appropriate title than "Don Juan."

A letter from G. Bernard Shaw is given in the preface. He praises the last encounter of Don Juan and his gypsy, calls it "a stroke of genius." But he also says: "For Heaven's sake remember that there are plenty of geniuses about, and that the real difficulty is to find writers who are sober, honest and industrious and have been for many years in their last situation." Flecker's qualifications were sustained in 1923 when his poetic drama Hassan began a long run at His Majesty's Theatre, London, later appearing in the U. S.

*Legendary gallant of dissolute proclivities, whose story found currency in many European literatures before Byron's 19th Century lady-killer appeared. His Spanish debut was in 1630.