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By Maurice Maeterlinck
Two plays translated by Bernard Miall
Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920
143 pages

Bob Corbett
December 2014


As the play opens Sister Beatrice is a humble little nun whose primary responsibility is to tend the main door to the convent. Just inside is a magnificent statue of the Virgin Mary, which the nuns hold, miraculous.

At the door there arrives a noted military man who is madly in love with the beautiful nun. He pleads desperately with her to come away with him and she is so smitten, she decides to go. However, when she leaves the statue of the Virgin comes to life, puts on Beatrice’s humble clothes and takes her place.

When the nuns discover this they see the missing statue, but never recognize that Beatrice is not this nun, and they hold her responsible for the missing statue of the Virgin since she was the responsible person at the door when it was stolen. As time goes on they mainly ignore her (actually the Virgin) who remains the door keeper for many years.

Finally, after 25 years, broken, ugly, beaten and near death, Beatrice herself returns and collapses just at the door of the convent. At this time the Virgin ceases to take her place, and replaces herself on the pedestal as the statue.

When the nuns find Beatrice they assume she has caused this incredible “miracle” of the return of the holy statue and believe she is some saint, not a dying woman. Beatrice tries to tell them of her horrible life over these years, but they believe she is just ranting and imagining things since she, for them, is this holy and previously unappreciated nun who miraculously returned their precious statue.

I found this to be a challenging and delightful play. There is, on the one hand, the very saintly “tone” to all that goes on in the convent, and to that extent this seems like a very “holy” play with mystical overtones. Yet, at the same time, Maurice Maeterlinck pulls no punches as he describes her life and degradation with her lover and many others. There is such a contrast with Beatrice’s actual life and the view of her saintly being as held by the nuns. I found that not only refreshing, but quite original and ingenious.


This is a very strange tale of Ardiane, one of 6 women who Barbe Bleue has chosen to be his wives. Five of them, Selysette, Melisande, Bellangere, Ygraine and Alladire have been imprisoned by him in his castle. When Ardiane arrives Barbe Bleue gives her keys to secret doors, six of them filled with precious stones of different sorts, but tells he not to use the seventh. She does and finds that he has not killed the other women as the local peasants had thought, but imprisoned them in a dark underground cavern.

Ardiane leads the women out of their prison and to safety and in the meantime the peasants break in on Barbe Bleue and his guards, defeat them and loot the castle.

Ardiane surprises them all when she tells Barbe Bleue that she will not marry him, but is leaving. All the other women stay, planning to marry the fellow.

It’s certainly a very strange macabre story and eventually became an operetta.

I can’t say that I much liked the story, but I was so puzzled and gripped by the drama that I read it straight through without stopping.

These two stories do suggest that Maurice Maeterlinck is a very strange story teller for sure!

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett