Marie Dorval: France's Theatrical Wonder
To trace the life of Marie Dorval through the turbulences and exhilarations of her epoch is to engage not just with the genesis and the full flowering of a rare theatrical genius but also with the teeming literary, emotional, economic and material dramas in which such a genius is implacably embroiled. Dumas, Vigny, Hugo, Sand, Gautier and many others mingle their creative and affective energies with Dorval’s in a ceaseless dynamic interplay. But to read Bettina Knapp’s exceptional story is to realize too the so easily overlooked backcloth to life in Marie Dorval’s times: poverty, the need to will one’s survival, unimaginably trying circumstances in which theatre is performed, whether in the provinces or in Paris. And the account that follows further seeks, upon this at once intimate and societal canvas, to give us some real insight into the uniqueness of Dorval’s acting techniques, simultaneously instinctive, viscerally natural, and learned, studied, though more from life than instruction. A book for actors, indeed; but a book, too, for lovers of the theatre and, beyond that, of the sheer improbable drama of existence.