Victorien Sardou

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Victorien Sardou
Sardou in 1880
Born(1831-09-05)5 September 1831
Died8 November 1908(1908-11-08) (aged 77)
Occupation Playwright
Nationality French
Period 19th-century
Genre Well-made play

Victorien Sardou ( /sɑːrˈd/ sar-DOO, French:  [viktɔʁjɛ̃ saʁdu] ; 5 September 1831 8 November 1908) was a French dramatist. [1] He is best remembered today for his development, along with Eugène Scribe, of the well-made play. [2] He also wrote several plays that were made into popular 19th-century operas such as La Tosca (1887) on which Giacomo Puccini's opera Tosca (1900) is based, and Fédora (1882) and Madame Sans-Gêne (1893) that provided the subjects for the lyrical dramas Fedora (1898) and Madame Sans-Gêne (1915) by Umberto Giordano.


Early years

Commemorative plaque at the house in the 4th arrondissement, where Sardou was born Plaque Victorien Sardou, 16 rue Beautreillis, Paris 4.jpg
Commemorative plaque at the house in the 4th arrondissement, where Sardou was born

Victorien was born in rue Beautreillis (pronounced  [ʁy bo.tʁɛ.ji] ), Paris on 5 September 1831. The Sardous were settled at Le Cannet, a village near Cannes, where they owned an estate, planted with olive trees. A night's frost killed all the trees and the family was ruined. Victorien's father, Antoine Léandre Sardou, came to Paris in search of employment. He was in succession a book-keeper at a commercial establishment, a professor of book-keeping, the head of a provincial school, then a private tutor and a schoolmaster in Paris, besides editing grammars, dictionaries and treatises on various subjects. With all these occupations, he hardly succeeded in making a livelihood, and when he retired to his native country, Victorien was left on his own resources. He had begun studying medicine, but had to desist for want of funds. He taught French to foreign pupils: he also gave lessons in Latin, history and mathematics to students, and wrote articles for cheap encyclopaedias. [3]


At the same time he was trying to make headway in the literary world. His talents had been encouraged by an old bas-bleu , Mme de Bawl, who had published novels and enjoyed some reputation in the days of the Restoration, but she could do little for her protégé. Victorien Sardou made efforts to attract the attention of Mlle Rachel, and to win her support by submitting to her a drama, La Reine Ulfra, founded on an old Swedish chronicle. A play of his, La Taverne des étudiants, was produced at the Odéon on 1 April 1854, but met a stormy reception, owing to a rumour that the débutant had been instructed and commissioned by the government to insult the students. La Taverne was withdrawn after five nights. Another drama by Sardou, Bernard Palissy, was accepted at the same theatre, but the arrangement was cancelled in consequence of a change in the management. A Canadian play, Fleur de Liane, would have been produced at the Ambigu but for the death of the manager. Le Bossu, which he wrote for Charles Albert Fechter, did not satisfy the actor; and when the play was successfully produced, the nominal authorship, by some unfortunate arrangement, had been transferred to other men. Sardou submitted to Adolphe Lemoine, manager of the Gymnase, a play entitled Paris à l'envers, which contained the love scene, afterwards so famous, in Nos Intimes. Lemoine thought fit to consult Eugène Scribe, who was revolted by the scene in question. [3]

In 1857, Sardou felt the pangs of actual want, and his misfortunes culminated in an attack of typhoid fever. He was living in poverty and was dying in his garret, surrounded with his rejected manuscripts. A lady who was living in the same house unexpectedly came to his assistance. Her name was Mlle de Brécourt. She had theatrical connections, and was a special favourite of Mlle Déjazet. She nursed him, cured him, and, when he was well again, introduced him to her friend. Déjazet had just established the theatre named after her, and every show after La Taverne was put on at this theatre. Fortune began to smile on the author. [3]

It is true that Candide, the first play he wrote for Mlle Déjazet, was stopped by the censor, but Les Premières Armes de Figaro, Monsieur Garat, and Les Prés Saint Gervais, produced almost in succession, had a splendid run. Garat and Gervais were done at Theatre des Varlétés and in English at Criterion Theatre in London. Les Pattes de mouche (1860, afterwards anglicized as A Scrap of Paper) obtained a similar success at the Gymnase. [3]

Sarah Bernhardt in the title role of Sardou's Theodora in 1884 Sarah Bernhardt as Theodora by Nadar.jpg
Sarah Bernhardt in the title role of Sardou's Théodora in 1884
A sketch of Sardou from 1899 Victorien Sardou in 1899.jpg
A sketch of Sardou from 1899

Fédora (1882), a work that popularized the fedora hat as well, [4] was written expressly for Sarah Bernhardt, as were many of his later plays. This was later adapted by Umberto Giordano, and he made an opera entitled Fedora. The play dealt with nihilism, which was coined from Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. He struck a new vein by introducing a strong historic element in some of his dramatic romances. Thus he borrowed Théodora (1884) from Byzantine annals (which was also adapted into an opera by Xavier Leroux), La Haine (1874) from Italian chronicles, La Duchesse d'Athénes from the forgotten records of medieval Greece. Patrie! (1869) is founded on the rising of the Dutch Geuzen at the end of the 16th century, and was made into a popular opera by Emile Paladilhe in 1886. The scene of La Sorcière (1904) was laid in Spain in the 16th century. The French Revolution furnished him three plays, Les Merveilleuses, Thermidor (1891) and Robespierre (1899). His play Gismonda (1894) was adapted into an opera by Henry Février. The last named was written expressly for Sir Henry Irving, and produced at the Lyceum theatre in London, as was Dante (1903). The Napoleonic era was revived in La Tosca (1887). [3]

Sardou's grave in Marly-le-Roi Sardou Grave.JPG
Sardou's grave in Marly-le-Roi

Madame Sans-Gêne (1893) was written specifically for Gabrielle Réjane as the unreserved, good-hearted wife of Marshal Lefevre. It was translated into English and starred Irving and Ellen Terry at the Lyceum Theatre.[ citation needed ] Later plays were La Pisie (1905) and Le Drame des poisons (1907). In many of these plays, however, it was too obvious that a thin varnish of historic learning, acquired for the purpose, had been artificially laid on to cover modern thoughts and feelings. But a few Patrie! and La Haine (1874), for instance — exhibit a true insight into the strong passions of past ages. [3] L'Affaire des Poisons (1907) was running at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin and was very successful at the time of his death. The play involved the poisoning camarilla under Louis XIV of France. [5] Toward the end of his life, Sardou made several recordings of himself reading passages from his works, including a scene from Patrie!. [6]

Caricature by Jean B. Guth, published in Vanity Fair (1891) Victorien Sardou, Vanity Fair, 1891-05-02.jpg
Caricature by Jean B. Guth, published in Vanity Fair (1891)

Personal life and death

Sardou married his benefactress, Mlle de Brécourt, but eight years later he became a widower, and soon after the Revolution of 1870 was married a second time, to Mlle Soulié on 17 June 1872, the daughter of the erudite Eudore Soulié, who for many years superintended the Musée de Versailles. He was elected to the Académie française in the room of the poet Joseph Autran (1813–1877), and took his seat on 22 May 1878. [3] He lived at Château de Marly for some time.

He obtained the Légion d'honneur in 1863 and was elected a member of the Académie française in 1877. [5] Sardou died on 8 November 1908 in Paris. He had been ill for a long time. Official cause of death was pulmonary congestion. [5]

Sardou in 1901 Victorien Sardou in 1901.jpg
Sardou in 1901

Writing style

Sardou modeled his work after Eugène Scribe. It was reported in Stephen Sadler Stanton's intro to Camille and Other Plays that Sardou would read the first act of one of Scribe's plays, rewrite the rest, and then compare the two. One of his first goals when writing was to devise a central conflict followed by a powerful climax. From there, he would work backwards to establish the action leading up to it. He believed conflict was the key to drama. [7]

He was ranked with the two undisputed leaders of dramatic art at that time, Augier and Dumas. He lacked the powerful humour, the eloquence and moral vigour of the former, the passionate conviction and pungent wit of the latter, but he was a master of clever and easy flowing dialogue. He adhered to Scribe's constructive methods, which combined the three old kinds of comedy —the comedy of character, of manners and of intrigue— with the drame bourgeois, and blended the heterogeneous elements into a compact body and living unity. He was no less dexterous in handling his materials than his master had been before him, and at the same time opened a wider field to social satire. He ridiculed the vulgar and selfish middle-class person in Nos Intimes (1861: anglicized as Peril), the gay old bachelors in Les Vieux Garçons (1865), the modern Tartufes in Seraphine (1868), the rural element in Nos Bons Villageois (1866), old-fashioned customs and antiquated political beliefs in Les Ganaches (1862), the revolutionary spirit and those who thrive on it in Rabagas (1872) and Le Roi Carotte (1872), the then threatened divorce laws in Divorçons (1880). [3]


Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw said of La Tosca: "Such an empty-headed ghost of a shocker... Oh, if it had but been an opera!". [7] He also came up with the dismissive term "Sardoodledom" in a review of Sardou plays (The Saturday Review, 1 June 1895). Shaw believed that Sardou's contrived dramatic machinery was creaky and that his plays were empty of ideas. Sardou's advice to young playwrights on how to be successful was to "Torture the women!" as part of any play construction.

After producer Sir Squire Bancroft saw the dress rehearsal for Fedora, he said in his memoirs "In five minutes the audience was under a spell which did not once abate throughout the whole four acts. Never was treatment of a strange and dangerous subject more masterly, never was acting more superb than Sarah showed that day." [7] William Winter said of Fedora that "the distinguishing characteristic of this drama is carnality."

Sardou is mentioned in chapter two of Proust's The Guermantes Way, the third volume of In Search of Lost Time .

In New Orleans, during the period when much of its upper class still spoke French, Antoine Alciatore, founder of the famous old restaurant Antoine's, invented a dish called Eggs Sardou in honor of the playwright's visit to the city.

The Rue Victorien Sardou and Square Victorien Sardou near the Parc Sainte-Périne in Paris are named after him.


Stage works

Poster for an 1897 production of A Divorce Cure, adapted from Sardou's play Divorcon Victorien Sardou - A Divorce Cure.jpg
Poster for an 1897 production of A Divorce Cure, adapted from Sardou's play Divorçon
Poster for the 1918 film Let's Get a Divorce, based on Sardou's Divorcon Let's Get a Divorce poster.jpg
Poster for the 1918 film Let's Get a Divorce , based on Sardou's Divorçon


Adapted works

Translations of plays

Operas and musicals

Poster for Henry Fevrier's Gismonda Georges Rochegrosse - Henry Fevrier - Henri Cain and Louis Payen after Victorien Sardou - Gismonda.jpg
Poster for Henry Février's Gismonda

Film adaptations

Related Research Articles

<i>La Tosca</i> play by Victorien Sardou

La Tosca is a five-act drama by the 19th-century French playwright Victorien Sardou. It was first performed on 24 November 1887 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. Despite negative reviews from the Paris critics at the opening night, it became one of Sardou's most successful plays and was toured by Bernhardt throughout the world in the years following its premiere. The play itself had dropped from the standard theatrical repertoire by the mid-1920s, but its operatic adaptation, Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, has achieved enduring popularity. There have been several other adaptations of the play including two for the Japanese theatre and an English burlesque, Tra-La-La Tosca as well as several film versions.

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Fédora is a play by the French author Victorien Sardou. The first production in 1882 starred Sarah Bernhardt in the title role of Princess Fédora Romazov. She wore a soft felt hat in that role which was soon a popular fashion for women; the hat became known as a fedora.

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<i>Patrie!</i> opera

Patrie! is an 1886 French-language opera in five acts by Émile Paladilhe with a libretto by Victorien Sardou and Louis Gallet based on the play by Sardou about a 16th-century revolt of Flemish nobles in Brussels. The opera was Paladilhe's greatest popular success and was one of the last in the style of grand opera to premiere at the Paris Opéra.

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  1. "SARDOU, Victorien". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 1556.
  2. McCormick (1998, 964).
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sardou, Victorien". Encyclopædia Britannica . 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 218–219.
  4. Encarta Dictionary, Microsoft Encarta Premium Suite 2004.
  5. 1 2 3 "VICTORIEN SARDOU, DRAMATIST, DEAD; Dean of French Playwrights and Creator of Bernhardt's Famous Roles Leaves No Memoirs. FIRST PLAY WAS HISSED His Last, "L'Affaire des Poisons," He Saw Produced at 75 -- Still Running to Crowded Houses" (PDF). The New York Times. 9 November 1908.
  6. Fonotipia – A Centenary Celebration 1904-2004 SYMPOSIUM 1261 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- May 2005 MusicWeb-International
  7. 1 2 3
  8. Piccolino, comédie en trois actes, 1861 at Google Books
  9. Piccolino, opéra-comique en trois actes, 1876 at Internet Archive.
  10. "THE LATEST 'CLEOPATRA'". In: The New York Times, 24 October 1890.
  11. 1 2 3 Cooper, Barbara T. (1998). French Dramatists, 1789-1914 . Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research. ISBN   978-0-7876-1847-6.

Further reading