The Dead City

A Tragedy

by Gabriele d'Annunzio

Eros, unconquered in strife * * *--Sophocles.
Rendered into English by Prof. G. Mantellini.

Illustrations from the stage production of Eleonora Duse
made expressly for this work.

Laird and Lee, Chicago

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1902,


in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at

Washington, D. C.


When "La Duse," in 1893, made her first tour through the United States under the management of Carl and Theodor Rosenfeld, playing "Camille, "The Wife of Claudius," "Cavalleria Rusticana", "Fedora," "Divorçons," "La Locandiera," and other plays, she was simply the greatest tragedienne of Italy, where all people knew her name and fame; and where no one thought of comparing another artiste to her. Since then ten years have passed and her fame and glory have spread all over the world.
Those who know Eleonora Duse mention her age and beauty. She is now thirty-eight years old, but who can say whether she is beautiful or not? On the stage she is beautiful, but she is homely too; she is tall and she is small; she is young and old; awkward and delicate; apathetic and nervous. She is whatever her part demands What no artiste before her possessed is hers. She has an incomparable power over her nerves and muscles. In sinking her personality in the poet's conception she fascinates, almost hypnotizes us. But it is hard, almost impossible, to suggest an idea of this wonderful woman, who seems to have effaced the boundary that separates nature from art.
Who is Eleanora Duse?
She was born at Vigevano, a small town in Lombardy. Her talent is hereditary, her father and grandfather having been actors of no mean ability. The grandfather, Luigi Duse, was thoroughly legitimate in his work. He recited in Venetian dialect, a new departure in those days. The Duses established the Garibaldi Theatre at Padua.
The life of Eleanor Duse, the granddaughter, has been one of bitter struggles, against poverty and unfavorable environment. But the practice of the stage was her first school, her initiation into artist life was her education; she is an actress from infancy. Perhaps never in the days of her childhood did Eleonora Duse say, "I want to be an actress." Perhaps no symptom of that irresistible desire which is the usual beginning of every triumphant career, foretold to her the glory that to-day sweetens the memory of her sorrowful youth.
She was scarcely twelve years old when she was working almost day and night upon the stage in obscure theaters, those grotesque and sad asylums of inferior companies. Her wages represented the most important item in the income of her not well-to-do family. Those were days of toil and suffering, when, weak from lack of sufficient food, she had to undergo the exhausting fatigues of the stage, and her chief reward was the applause of an audience richer in emotions than in gold or silver. Nor was she compensated by being fêted as an infant wonder. Indeed, she was almost compelled to conceal her youth from both manager and public, lest it might produce a doubt in their minds whether the repertoire of dramas, and tragedies were entirely suited to her tender years. The pressing need of money weighed not only on her genius but on her mind and spirits which, not withstanding the suffering of a life of toil, were naturally gay, due to the open-air exercise and the mirth and mischief of a noisy company. Still she developed force and spirit. She combined the manner of the adult woman with that of the thoughtful child. Almost unknown to herself she became absorbed in part, and the woman inoculated the child with strong emotions, which deprived her gestures, her face and her voice of all childishness, thrilled her audiences and caused her companions to wonder. The germ of a great actress was growing in the little wandering comedienne.
When representing Silvio Pellico's "Fralicesca da Rimini," and "Caverina" in Victor Hugo's "Tyrant of Padua," she divined rather than comprehended, the meaning of these two poets, but she aroused a wild enthusiasm, which marked not simply the girl prodigy but a phenomenal promise of future greatness.
After Victor Hugo she turned her attention to Shakespeare, whom she understood perfectly. Her "Juliet" is a masterpiece in blending sweetness and passion.
At this time Eleonora Duse, as yet but little known in Italy, made a tour of Dalmatia, but, as before, in the minor theaters only. Even in this strange land she was successful. On the picturesque shores of the Adriatic she found and enjoyed beauties of nature, but the turning-point in her career had not been reached.
By a strange, whimsical fate, she, the dreamer of silent, sleepy, and most melancholy Venice, was first comprehended and recognized as a great actress in Naples, the gayest and most beautiful of Italian cities. In this metropolis where the theater has most ancient and honorable traditions, Eleonora Duse found an intelligent appreciation of her genius.
After this, her incomparable success as a great tragedienne was assured. She won triumphs on all the large stages of Italy, and finally, crossing the Alps with an Italian company playing in that language, she gathered new laurels and amazed the severest French critics in Paris, arousing an enthusiasm never equalled since the time of the great Ristori. After France, she continued her triumphant tour through Germany, Austria, Russia, Bulgaria and, as already mentioned, through the United States.
She resuscitated Dumas' "La Femme de Claude," and caused it to be applauded by the public that had formerly condemned it.
She re-created in an exquisite manner "Marguerite Gautier," that always fascinating heroine of the same author.
At will she passes from nervousness to the solemnity of philosophy, arbitrarily applied to the theater; and from philosophy to the merry coquetry of Parisian comedy, artistic as in "Francillon", risque as in "Divorçons." From Parisian comedy she turned to the purely Italian art of Goldoni, who discovered a new type of youth, of happy and smiling beauty in the delicious simplicity of her acting.
Eleanora Duse, the unerring portrayer of the truth, has never renounced and never will renounce upon the stage that perfect charm which Alexander Dumas in one of his brilliant prefaces pronounces to be more necessary on the stage than truth.
If Gabriele d'Annunzio, after having gained fame as a psychological novelist, became a dramatic writer, it is to Duse that we owe his change of methods. It was Duse's naturalistic art that inspired d'Annunzio to write for her "Un sogno d'una Notte d'Estate", (A Summer Night's Dream), "La Gioconda," "La Citta Morta" (The Dead City) and finally, "Francesca da Rimini," which no one but Duse and perhaps Sarah Bernhardt could interpret.
In "The Dead City," Eleonora Duse takes the part of Anna, the blind woman, a part of renunciation; the part of a resigned soothsayer, as in "La Gioconda"; her task, as the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio expresses it, "is to speak of all the beautiful things in the shadow of an antique statue." And Duse speaks of these beautiful things with the sweetest music of her voice, which encircles the beautiful phrases, as precious gems in a golden setting, and makes them glitter in all their splendor.
. . . . . . . . . THE TRANSLATOR.

The Dead City





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