[Alfred JARRY]. Christian-Dietrich GRABBE.

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[Alfred JARRY]. Christian-Dietrich GRABBE.
The Silenes. [1900-1906].
Autograph manuscript fragment of 18 pages in-8 numbered 14 - 31, 1 corrected printed page, buff paper folder with autograph title.
Autograph manuscript of The Silenes, a translation of the comedy
Jest, Satire, Irony and Deeper Meaning by Christian-
Dietrich Grabbe. The only autograph manuscript still in private hands; it comes from the archives of the Italian poet Marinetti.
The manuscript offers a clean-up with autograph corrections of the act
III. The last page is an excerpt from the Revue Blanche of January 1900.
The whole is contained in a buff paper folder, bearing, in Jarry's hand in blue pencil, "Théâtre mirlitonesque. Alfred Jarry. Les Silènes translated from the German by Chr.-D. Grabbe". Each page has been numbered in blue pencil by the author.
Its text corresponds to scenes II, III, V, VI of the German play.
The division of these scenes has been adapted by Jarry to the French classical tradition, marking a change of scene at each entry or exit of a character. The title chosen by the translator, totally foreign to Grabbe's work, refers to the Prologue of Gargantua.
The translation of Christian-Dietrich Grabbe's comedy occupied Jarry from 1898. At the time, the German playwright, who had died prematurely in 1836, was totally unknown to the French public: on the other side of the Rhine, people were only beginning to recognise the innovation of his work.
Although announced in the Mercure de France of 1 February 1898 by the Théâtre des Pantins, Les Silènes was never performed. It was only partially published in the Revue blanche in January 1900.
France had to wait for the Surrealists to bring Grabbe - and with him Jarry's translation - out of oblivion for good: "In Grabbe's dramatic production, the play translated by Alfred Jarry [...] occupies a very special place. A brief analysis can only hint at the merits of a work whose genial buffoonery has never been surpassed, which stands out at the highest level in its time and is endowed more than any other with innumerable extensions up to the present day" (Breton, Anthologie de l'humour noir, in OEuvres II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1992, pp. 928-929).
Although it is established that the present manuscript was written after its publication in the Revue blanche in January 1900, there is little evidence to date its writing:
It "may have been produced by Jarry in the last eight years of his life; one hesitates to go any further, but as the calibration of the text of this manuscript corresponds roughly to that of the volumes published in 1906 by the publisher Sansot in the collection of the 'Théâtre mirlitonesque', one may wonder whether it was not in those years, indeed, that Jarry wished to publish this unpublished part of his translation, and that he made this 19-sheet manuscript for that purpose.
If this last hypothesis is correct, one could argue that, discovered in 1896, translated in 1898, partially published in 1900, Grabbe's comedy was a constant preoccupation of Jarry. No doubt he felt that it expressed a style of theatre similar to his own, and that he did not entirely despair of imposing it..." (Jarry, OEuvres complètes II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1987, p. 701).
"A work whose genial buffoonery has never been surpassed" (André Breton)
Two other manuscripts of Les Silènes have been listed in the Pléiade edition:
The complete 1898 manuscript of 103 pages, intended for the Théâtre des Pantins. Acquired by Tristan
Tzara in 1954, it was included in the sale of his library (1989, lot 238). It is now kept in the Jacques Doucet Library.
A 23-page manuscript corresponding to the publication in the Revue blanche, also kept in the Jacques Doucet Library. It only partially overlaps with the present manuscript.
The present autograph document thus remains the only manuscript trace of the Silenes still in private hands.
Long buried in the collections of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, it was only revealed with the publication of Jarry's Complete Works in the Pléiade edition in 1987.
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