Saturday, 26 April 2008

The Son of Don Juan, by José Echegaray (winner 1904)

I invariably eschew the reading of a book’s introduction until after I have read the book itself, and I duly did so upon picking up The Son of Don Juan by José Echegaray. However, I judged it would be safe to read the author’s preface, since he is surely not going to give away the secrets of his own work… Not so! Not only did Jose reveal the twist in the tale, but he did so in the following sentence ‘[Critics have said] that from the moment when it is perceived that x will happen, the interest of the work ceases’. Well, if that is so, perhaps the reader shouldn’t bother at all now you’ve told us what happens!

In any case, I persevered, and forewarned as I was, could but enjoy the heavy foreshadowing leading up to the afore-not-quite-mentioned event. I may as well mention here that I found the stage directions particularly charming: Echegaray, for example, mandates the furniture should be a bookcase and a cabinet, of ‘if this be impossible, two equivalent pieces of furniture’, and later says a character’s appearance and behaviour should be like such-and-such ‘in short, as the actor may think fit’.

But to the subject proper, I thought it to be an average piece of work. I must admit, reading plays is not my favourite pastime (so we’ve disposed of plays, poems, and short stories now – yes, the novel is king with me), but even if it were a novel, I imagine it would still be overwrought and rather hysterical in places. Perhaps a more thorough knowledge of the mystique of Don Juan was in order to fully appreciate it, although I think the play gives an adequate grounding in that gentleman’s career for even someone wholly unacquainted with his story to grasp what’s going on – essentially, that the son of Don Juan is punished for the sins of his father – apparently the consequences of licentiousness are genetically transmitted.

I had, of course, formed my opinion of the piece prior to reading the introduction, which is just as well, because the introduction really made me want to punch Echegaray in the face. Apparently, he was a mathematical genius, professor of mathematics in one of Spain’s top institutes, a cabinet minister, lectured and wrote on mathematics, physics, civil engineering, politics, economics and geology, and wrote over 50 plays (crowned, of course, with Nobel-Prize-winning success). But it is the priggish anecdotes that really make you hate the man: apparently, after a conversation with friends, he decided to take up fencing and within three months was able to defeat his fencing master. On another occasion, some friends were discoursing on German philosophy, a subject he knew nothing about. For some reason, they advanced the opinion that it would be impossible to master the intricacies of any school of philosophy within a short period of time. This, for Echegaray, was a challenge, and within two months he apparently not only learnt all about German philosophy, but he learnt sufficient German to read and quote the works in the original. Vomit.

Anyhoo, I don’t feel my life has been particularly enriched by the reading of The Son of Don Juan, although there are some nice poetic passages, and the opening scenes showing the former lothario in his twilight years are quite nice. Overall, however, its emotional pitch is just set too far into melodrama for me, so I am one of those (according to the author of the introduction) very few readers able to ‘turn away with calmness’ from the play.

PS Old José was JOINT winner his year. Say it with me, 'ha ha!'


Anonymous said...

Don't hold back, eh, Gwan!

Madman said...

The equivalent of a bookcase or a cabinet eh? My imagination runneth riot. First, a bookcase - what could its equivalent be? A wine rack? A small refrigerator ( door left ajar)? I know a Welsh Dresser - problem solved!
But wait! This could be mistaken for a cabinet and then what would we do? Unless of course the cabinet was a small chest. But if someone then put a book in the small chest!!!! Arrgh I think I'm going mad.

Gwan said...

Lol. Hence the name?