Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), the Belgian author, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. He was an outstanding exponent of symbolist drama and the author of “The Blue Bird” and “Pelléas and Mélisande”, on which Debussy's famous opera was based.
It earned Debussy widespread fame as a musician of outstanding significance. The extent to which his score retained and enhanced the abstract, dreamlike quality of Maeterlinck's play was extraordinary, as was his treatment of melody. In his hands, the latter became virtually an extension, or duplication, of the rhythm of natural speech. Regarded by some critics as a perfectly wedded fusion of music and drama, it has had frequent revivals.
Maeterlinck was born in Ghent and educated in law at the university there. He abandoned the legal profession when he moved to Paris in 1886 and came under the influence of the symbolist poets. Reacting against the prevailing naturalism of French literature, Maeterlinck wrote some symbolist poetry, notably “Les serres chaudes” (Hothouses, 1889).
He is known principally for his plays, for which he received the 1911 Nobel Prize. He lectured in the United States in 1921 and spent World War II there. Maeterlinck returned to Europe following the war and died on 6 May 1949 in Nice, France.
Maeterlinck's plays are characterized by clear and simple writing, by a dreamlike atmosphere, and by the suggestion rather than the direct expression of ideas and emotions. His early plays are marked by an attitude of profound melancholy and pessimism in the face of evil and death. In his later plays this attitude gives way to a belief in the redeeming power of love and in the reality of human happiness. His plays include “The Princess Maleine” (1889, translated in 1892), the melancholy fantasy masterpiece “Pelléas et Mélisande” (1892, translated in 1892 and made into an opera in 1902 by the French composer Claude Debussy) and “The Blue Bird” (1909, translated in 1909), which has become a classic for children.
Less popular are “Monna Vanna” (1902, translated in 1904) and “The Burgomaster of Stilmonde” (1918, translated in 1918). Maeterlinck was also the author of many works in prose that deal with philosophic questions and with nature; they include “The Treasure of the Humble” (1896, translated in 1897), “The Life of the Bee” (1901) and “The Intelligence of Flowers” (1907).