Colloques & Conferences de l'Universite Lyon 2, "Rewriting / Reprising" - La reprise en litterature

Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and the Palimpsest of the Courtesan

emmanuel vernadakis

Dernière modification: 2007-06-26


The present paper aims at examining, within the context of rewriting, Wilde's two symbolist dramas, Salome written in 1891, and La Sainte Courtisane, a fragment started in 1894. It will then be argued that in 1948, Tennessee Williams paid tribute to Wilde by composing Summer and Smoke in which he telescoped the characters and plots of the above pieces. However in 1971, Williams staged a new draft of Summer and Smoke under the title The Excentricities of a Nightingale in which he censors, as much as possible, Wilde's hypotexte. The rewriting process will be identified and discussed in all four plays through the female protagonists who, in general terms, can be described as courtesans. Williams' courtesans are partly built on a model present in Wilde's symbolist plays, while Wilde used a French pattern. In fact the courtesan was a popular character in Nineteenth century French literature. Important sections of Wilde and Williams' plays are therefore composed on the same palimpsest - the courtesan. The French courtesans possessed by Wilde gave a crossbreeding possessed by Williams whose heroine, deprived of ''jouissance'', gave him second thoughts on sense and made him enhance ''the critical difference'' of the repetition (Linda Hutcheon). Under the present circumstances, ''reprise'' might appear not only as a textile but also as a physical metaphor.

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