Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eugenie, or Men Suck

Before Pierre Beaumarchais wrote his most famous play, The Barber of Seville, centering around the famous character of Figaro and his antics, he had created a play of almost equal popularity with a female lead.  The play, Eugenie and centered on the popular 18th century theme of a moralistic woman battling against an immoral world.

Wales must have been considered the country of naive country girls in the Georgian age.  Georgiana's heroine from The Sylph, Julia, and Eugenie both share a commonality of being from Wales and getting mixed up with rakes.  In the play, Eugenie has secretly married the Earl of Claredon and is pregnant with his child.  She leaves Wales to visit him in London and is perplexed when he is a difficult man to get in contact with, despite her husband's knowledge of her visit.  What Eugenie doesn't know is that her wedding to the Earl was staged and that he is in the midst of planning his upcoming nuptials to the daughter of the Duke of Winchester (doesn't that sound like a grand family).  The result of this mess is webs of lies, duels, and risks of estrangement from fathers culminating in Eungenie's near death from the Earl's betrayal.

When the play first premiered it was a bit long-winded, creating a few yawns in the audience.  Baumarchais and the cast noted this and then quickly made alterations so the play wouldn't be as long which did the trick.  Instant success!  Although the play took place in England it took a while to adapt to English due to Baumarchais messing up many facts about British culture that certainly would set English audiences talking during the play.  It was Elizabeth Griffith who managed to create an adaption for the play in 1769, renaming it The School for Rakes.

If you would like to read Eugenie, a new translation has just hit the shelves of Amazon.  Talia Felix, whose amazingly illustrated version of Fanny Hill I enjoyed, put together this new edition of Eugenie.  If there aren't enough rakes or rakish antics in your life you might just have to check this play out!


  1. Nice! Though actually the Griffiths adaption was The School for Rakes. She played up the comedy and interestingly seems to have removed the element of the pregnancy, for the English version. (She considered Beaumarchais's characters to be too "Spanish.")

  2. Thank you for the correction, School for Scandal was Sheridan's play! (I knew I would do that!)

    I didn't know that she took away the pregnancy, isn't that interesting!

  3. The take-away lesson: don't secretly marry people!

    This sounds like it could be fun. Who does have enough rakish antics in their life, after all?

  4. Certainly not I! But then again, when those rakish antics appear I tend to want them away. That's why reading about them is better!

  5. In Eugenia, the Earl's well-publicized wedding to Lady Winchester gets cancelled the morning it was to occur. It's kind of an interesting thought on the heels of the recent royal wedding -- imagine the scandal that would be, if that had been called off hours before the event because William had a secret other wife? Makes Eugenia's alternative of an illegitimate baby seem kind of tame by comparison...