It is clear that popular culture can alter the way a literary work is perceived, but less often considered is the extent to which popular culture can alter the text itself. When Gérard Genette pondered this question, he suggested that divergent interpretations always preserve a single, monolithic text. A closer look at the example of Maurice Maeterlinck’s iconic L’Oiseau bleu, however, provides compelling evidence that interpretations can also lead to divergent texts. At its first performance in Moscow in 1908, Maeterlinck’s dreamlike féerie about a brother and sister’s quest for the elusive bluebird of happiness was considered injouable. In part owing to its technical challenges, by 1976 the play had become a vehicle for many, often lavish adaptations in Hollywood, designed to flaunt the technical achievements of its producers. Three of these productions are considered: the first, directed by Konstantin Stanislavski in 1908; the Hollywood 1940 version starring Shirley Temple; and the novel 1976 USSR-USA co-produced film, starring Elizabeth Taylor. Whereas Americans embraced Maeterlinck for his cheerfulness in times of crisis, Parisian audiences had come to regard L’Oiseau bleu’s Americanized optimism as proof that Maeterlinck had compromised his integrity. éditions Fasquelle nevertheless released a new edition after the 1976 film, which established a different text from that of the first 1909 edition, including several alterations destined to make the piece more light-hearted. An analysis of these texts reveals that the shifting aesthetics we commonly associate with movie adaptations can also play an important role in changing literary texts themselves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
About the Author of ‘The blue bird.’ (1910). New York Times 4 Sep., sec. Society: X3.
Andrew, D. (2000). Adaptation. In J. Naremore (Ed.), Film adaptations (pp. 28–37). New Brunswick: Rutgers UP.
Beachboard, R. (1951). Le théâtre de Maeterlinck aux Etats-Unis. Paris: Société d’Edition d’Enseignement Supérieur.
Cukor, G. Dir. (2004). The blue bird. Lenfilms/Fox. 1976. DVD. Ruscico.
Garber, M. (2008). Good to think with. Profession, (pp. 11–20). New York: MLA.
Genette, G. (1997). The work of art. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Halls, W. D. (1956). “Maeterlinck et l’Amérique: Essai biographique.” Fondation Maurice Maeterlinck, Annales 2, Maurice Maeterlinck Stichting, 41–54.
Lang, W. Dir. (1940). The blue bird. Twentieth Century Fox.
Levy, E. (1994). George Cukor: Master of elegance: Hollywood’s legendary director. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Long, R. E. (Ed.). (2001). George Cukor interviews. UP of Mississippi: Jackson.
Maeterlinck, M. (1909). L’Oiseau bleu. Paris: Charpentier et Fasquelle (5 Actes).
Miller, E. (1976). Hollywood goes Russian over a Belgian bird. Seventeen, 35, 124–5+ (March).
Rouche, J. (1909). L’Art théâtral moderne. Paris: Cornely & Cie.
Simon, J. (1976). Blue bird of sappiness. New York Magazine, 24, 75–76. (9 May).
Stam, R. (2000). Beyond fidelity: The dialogics of adaptation. In J. Naremore, (Ed.), Film adaptation (pp.␣54–76). New Brunswick: Rutgers UP.
Stanislavski, C. (1907). Variétés. Mercure de France, LXVII(240), 756–762 (June 15).
Stanislavski, K. Dir. (1908). L’Oiseau bleu. Moscow Art Theater. Moscow.
Tanselle, G. T. (1990). Textual criticism and deconstruction. Studies in Bibliography, 43, 1–33.
Thomas, E. (2004). Maurice Maeterlinck. Montana: Kessinger Publishing.
Tourneur, M. Dir. (1918). The blue bird. Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.
Verevis, C. (2006). Film remakes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Waldman, H. (2001). Maurice Tourneur: The life and films. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.
Worrall, N. (1996). The Moscow art theatre. New York: Routledge.
Electronic Supplementary Material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Thomas, A.S. Maeterlinck’s L’Oiseau bleu, Hollywood and Textual Instability. Neophilologus 94, 421–437 (2010) doi:10.1007/s11061-009-9178-4
- Maeterlinck, Maurice (1862–1949)
- L’Oiseau bleu
- Textual criticism
- Twentieth-century theatre