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Novelized version of the Great Play, Les Avaries, with the approval of the author Eugene Brieux. American novelist, essayist, playwright, and short story writer, whose works reflect socialistic views. Among Sinclair's most famous books is The Jungle, which launched a government investigation of the meatpacking plants of Chicago, and changed the food laws of America. In Damaged Goods the horrors of venereal disease are explored in this social drama. The story centers on a young couple whose future is endangered when the husband makes a terrible mistake.
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Copyright © 2016 by Upton Sinclair
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
PRESS COMMENTS ON THE PLAY
MY ENDEAVOR HAS BEEN TO tell a simple story, preserving as closely as possible the spirit and feeling of the original. I have tried, as it were, to take the play to pieces, and build a novel out of the same material. I have not felt at liberty to embellish M. Brieux’s ideas, and I have used his dialogue word for word wherever possible. Unless I have mis-read the author, his sole purpose in writing LES AVARIES was to place a number of most important facts before the minds of the public, and to drive them home by means of intense emotion. If I have been able to assist him, this bit of literary carpentering will be worth while. I have to thank M. Brieux for his kind permission to make the attempt, and for the cordial spirit which he has manifested.
DAMAGED GOODS WAS FIRST PRESENTED in America at a Friday matinee on March 14th, 1913, in the Fulton Theater, New York, before members of the Sociological Fund. Immediately it was acclaimed by public press and pulpit as the greatest contribution ever made by the Stage to the cause of humanity. Mr. Richard Bennett, the producer, who had the courage to present the play, with the aid of his co-workers, in the face of most savage criticism from the ignorant, was overwhelmed with requests for a repetition of the performance.
Before deciding whether of not to present DAMAGED GOODS before the general public, it was arranged that the highest officials in the United States should pass judgment upon the manner in which the play teaches its vital lesson. A special guest performance for members of the Cabinet, members of both houses of Congress, members of the United States Supreme Court, representatives of the Diplomatic corps and others prominent in national life was given in Washington, D.C.
Although the performance was given on a Sunday afternoon (April 6, 1913), the National Theater was crowded to the very doors with the most distinguished audience ever assembled in America, including exclusively the foremost men and women of the Capital. The most noted clergymen of Washington were among the spectators.
The result of this remarkable performance was a tremendous endorsement of the play and of the manner in which Mr. Bennett and his co-workers were presenting it.
This reception resulted in the continuance of the New York performances until mid-summer and is responsible for the decision on the part of Mr. Bennett to offer the play in every city in America where citizens feel that the ultimate welfare of the community is dependent upon a higher standard of morality and clearer understanding of the laws of health.
The WASHINGTON POST, commenting on the Washington performance, said:
The play was presented with all the impressiveness of a sermon; with all the vigor and dynamic force of a great drama; with all the earnestness and power of a vital truth.
In many respects the presentation of this dramatization of a great social evil assumed the aspects of a religious service. Dr. Donald C. Macleod, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, mounted the rostrum usually occupied by the leader of the orchestra, and announced that the nature of the performance, the sacredness of the play, and the character of the audience gave to the play the significance of a tremendous sermon in behalf of mankind, and that as such it was eminently fitting that a divine blessing be invoked. Dr. Earle Wilfley, pastor of the Vermont Avenue Christian Church, asked all persons in the audience to bow their heads in a prayer for the proper reception of the message to be presented from the stage. Dr. MacLeod then read the Bernard Shaw preface to the play, and asked that there be no applause during the performance, a suggestion which was rigidly followed, thus adding greatly to the effectiveness and the seriousness of the dramatic portrayal.
The impression made upon the audience by the remarkable play is reflected in such comments as the following expressions voiced after the performance:
RABBI SIMON, OF THE WASHINGTON HEBREW CONGREGATION—If I could preach from my pulpit a sermon one tenth as powerful, as convincing, as far-reaching, and as helpful as this performance of DAMAGED GOODS must be, I would consider that I had achieved the triumph of my life.
COMMISSIONER CUNO H. RUDOLPH—I was deeply impressed by what I saw, and I think that the drama should be repeated in every city, a matinee one day for father and son and the next day for mother and daughter.
REV. EARLE WILFLEY—I am confirmed in the opinion that we must take up our cudgels in a crusade against the modern problems brought to the fore by DAMAGED GOODS. The report that these diseases are increasing is enough to make us get busy on a campaign against them.
SURGEON GENERAL BLUE—It was a most striking and telling lesson. For years we have been fighting these condition in the navy. It is high time that civilians awakened to the dangers surrounding them and crusaded against them in a proper manner.
MRS. ARCHIBALD HOPKINS—The play was a powerful presentation of a very important question and was handled in a most admirable manner. The drama is a fine entering wedge for this crusade and is bound to do considerable good in conveying information of a very serious nature.
MINISTER PEZET, OF PERU—There can be no doubt but that the performance will have great uplifting power, and accomplish the good for which it was created. Fortunately, we do not have the prudery in South America that you of the north possess, and have open minds to consider these serious questions.
JUSTICE DANIEL THEW WRIGHT—I feel quite sure that DAMAGED GOODS will have considerable effect in educating the people of the nature of the danger that surrounds them.
SENATOR KERN, OF INDIANA—There can be no denial of the fact that it is time to look at the serious problems presented in the play with an open mind.
Brieux has been hailed by Bernard Shaw as “incomparably the greatest writer France has produced since Moliere,” and perhaps no writer ever wielded his pen more earnestly in the service of the race. To quote from an article by Edwin E. Slosson in the INDEPENDENT:
Brieux is not one who believes that social evils are to be cured by laws and yet more laws. He believes that most of the trouble is caused by ignorance and urges education, public enlightenment and franker recognition of existing conditions. All this may be needed, but still we may well doubt its effectiveness as a remedy. The drunken Helot argument is not a strong one, and those who lead a vicious life know more about its risks than any teacher or preacher could tell them. Brieux also urges the requirement of health certificates for marriage, such as many clergymen now insist upon and which doubtless will be made compulsory before long in many of our States.
Brieux paints in black colors yet is no fanatic; in fact, he will be criticised by many as being too tolerant of human weakness. The conditions of society and the moral standards of France are so different from those of America that his point of view and his proposals for reform will not meet with general acceptance, but it is encouraging to find a dramatist who realizes the importance of being earnest and who uses his art in defense of virtue instead of its destruction.
Other comments follow, showing the great interest manifested in the play and the belief in the highest seriousness of its purpose:
There is no uncleanness in facts. The uncleanness is in the glamour, in the secret imagination. It is in hints, half-truths, and suggestions the threat to life lies.
This play puts the horrible truth in so living a way, with such clean, artistic force, that the mind is impressed as it could possibly be impressed in no other manner.
Best of all, it is the physician who dominates the action. There is no sentimentalizing. There is no weak and morbid handling of the theme. The doctor appears in his ideal function, as the modern high-priest of truth. Around him writhe the victims of ignorance and the criminals of conventional cruelty. Kind, stern, high-minded, clear-headed, yet human-hearted, he towers over all, as the master.
This is as it should be. The man to say the word to save the world of ignorant wretches, cursed by the clouds and darkness a mistaken modesty has thrown around a life-and-death instinct, is the physician.
The only question is this: Is this play decent? My answer is that it is the decentest play that has been in New York for a year. It is so decent that it is religious.—HEARST’S MAGAZINE.
The play is, above all, a powerful plea for the tearing away of the veil of mystery that has so universally shrouded this subject of the penalty of sexual immorality. It is a plea for light on this hidden danger, that fathers and mothers, young men and young women, may know the terrible price that must be paid, not only by the generation that violates the law, but by the generations to come. It is a serious question just how the education of men and women, especially young men and young women, in the vital matters of sex relationship should be carried on. One thing is sure, however. The worst possible way is the one which has so often been followed in the past—not to carry it on at all but to ignore it.—THE OUTLOOK.
It (DAMAGED GOODS) is, of course, a masterpiece of “thesis drama,"—an argument, dogmatic, insistent, inescapable, cumulative, between science and common sense, on one side, and love, of various types, on the other. It is what Mr. Bernard Shaw has called a “drama of discussion”; it has the splendid movement of the best Shaw plays, unrelieved—and undiluted—by Shavian paradox, wit, and irony. We imagine that many audiences at the Fulton Theater were astonished at the play’s showing of sheer strength as acted drama. Possibly it might not interest the general public; probably it would be inadvisable to present it to them. But no thinking person, with the most casual interest in current social evils, could listen to the version of Richard Bennett, Wilton Lackaye, and their associates, without being gripped by the power of Brieux’s message.—THE DIAL.
It is a wonder that the world has been so long in getting hold of this play, which is one of France’s most valuable contributions to the drama. Its history is interesting. Brieux wrote it over ten years ago. Antoine produced it at his theater and Paris immediately censored it, but soon thought better of it and removed the ban. During the summer of 1910 it was played in Brussels before crowded houses, for then the city was thronged with visitors to the exposition. Finally New York got it last spring and eugenic enthusiasts and doctors everywhere have welcomed it. —THE INDEPENDENT.
A letter to Mr. Bennett from Dr. Hills, Pastor of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn.
23 Monroe Street Bklyn. August 1, 1913.
Mr. Richard Bennett, New York City, N.Y. My Dear Mr. Bennett:
During the past twenty-one years since I entered public life, I have experienced many exciting hours under the influence of reformer, orator and actor, but, in this mood of retrospection, I do not know that I have ever passed through a more thrilling, terrible, and yet hopeful experience than last evening, while I listened to your interpretation of Eugene Brieux’ “DAMAGED GOODS.”
I have been following your work with ever deepening interest. It is not too much to say that you have changed the thinking of the people of our country as to the social evil. At last, thank God, this conspiracy of silence is ended. No young man who sees “Damaged Goods” will ever be the same again. If I wanted to build around an innocent boy buttresses of fire and granite, and lend him triple armour against temptation and the assaults of evil, I would put him for one evening under your influence. That which the teacher, the preacher and the parent have failed to accomplish it has been given to you to achieve. You have done a work for which your generation owes you an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
I shall be delighted to have you use my Study of Social Diseases and Heredity in connection with your great reform.
With all good wishes, I am, my dear Mr. Bennett, Faithfully yours,
Newell Dwight Hillis
IT WAS FOUR O’CLOCK IN the morning when George Dupont closed the door and came down the steps to the street. The first faint streaks of dawn were in the sky, and he noticed this with annoyance, because he knew that his hair was in disarray and his whole aspect disorderly; yet he dared not take a cab, because he feared to attract attention at home. When he reached the sidewalk, he glanced about him to make sure that no one had seen him leave the house, then started down the street, his eyes upon the sidewalk before him.
George had the feeling of the morning after. There are few men in this world of abundant sin who will not know what the phrase means. The fumes of the night had evaporated; he was quite sober now, quite free from excitement. He saw what he had done, and it seemed to him something black and disgusting.
Never had a walk seemed longer than the few blocks which he had to traverse to reach his home. He must get there before the maid was up, before the baker’s boy called with the rolls; otherwise, what explanation could he give?—he who had always been such a moral man, who had been pointed out by mothers as an example to their sons.
George thought of his own mother, and what she would think if she could know about his night’s adventure. He thought again and again, with a pang of anguish, of Henriette. Could it be possible that a man who was engaged, whose marriage contract had actually been signed, who was soon to possess the love of a beautiful and noble girl—that such a man could have been weak enough and base enough to let himself be trapped into such a low action?
He went back over the whole series of events, shuddering at them, trying to realize how they had happened, trying to excuse himself for them. He had not intended such a culmination; he had never meant to do such a thing in his life. He had not thought of any harm when he had accepted the invitation to the supper party with his old companions from the law school. Of course, he had known that several of these chums led “fast” lives—but, then, surely a fellow could go to a friend’s rooms for a lark without harm!
He remembered the girl who had sat by his side at the table. She had come with a friend who was a married woman, and so he had assumed that she was all right. George remembered how embarrassed he had been when first he had noticed her glances at him. But then the wine had begun to go to his head—he was one of those unfortunate wretches who cannot drink wine at all. He had offered to take the girl home in a cab, and on the way he had lost his head.
Oh! What a wretched thing it was. He could hardly believe that it was he who had spoken those frenzied words; and yet he must have spoken them, because he remembered them. He remembered that it had taken a long time to persuade her. He had had to promise her a ring like the one her married friend wore. Before they entered her home she had made him take off his shoes, so that the porter might not hear them. This had struck George particularly, because, even flushed with excitement as he was, he had not forgotten the warnings his father had given him as to the dangers of contact with strange women. He had thought to himself, “This girl must be safe. It is probably the first time she has ever done such a thing.”
But now George could get but little consolation out of that idea. He was suffering intensely—the emotion described by the poet in the bitter words about “Time’s moving finger having writ.” His mind, seeking some explanation, some justification, went back to the events before that night. With a sudden pang of yearning, he thought of Lizette. She was a decent girl, and had kept him decent, and he was lonely without her. He had been so afraid of being found out that he had given her up when he became engaged; but now for a while he felt that he would have to break his resolution, and pay his regular Sunday visit to the little flat in the working-class portion of Paris.
It was while George was fitting himself for the same career as his father—that of notary—that he had made the acquaintance of the young working girl. It may not be easy to believe, but Lizette had really been a decent girl. She had a family to take care of, and was in need. There was a grandmother in poor health, a father not much better, and three little brothers; so Lizette did not very long resist George Dupont, and he felt quite virtuous in giving her sufficient money to take care of these unfortunate people. Among people of his class it was considered proper to take such things if one paid for them.
All the family of this working girl were grateful to him. They adored him, and they called him Uncle Raoul (for of course he had not been so foolish as to give them his true name).
Since George was paying for Lizette, he felt he had the right to control her life. He gave her fair warning concerning his attitude. If she deceived him he would leave her immediately. He told this to her relatives also, and so he had them all watching her. She was never trusted out alone. Every Sunday George went to spend the day with his little “family,” so that his coming became almost a matter of tradition. He interested her in church affairs—mass and vespers were her regular occasions for excursions. George rented two seats, and the grandmother went with her to the services. The simple people were proud to see their name engraved upon the brass plate of the pew.
The reason for all these precautions was George’s terror of disease. He had been warned by his father as to the dangers which young men encounter in their amours. And these lessons had sunk deep into George’s heart; he had made up his mind that whatever his friends might do, he, for one, would protect himself.
That did not mean, of course, that he intended to live a virtuous life; such was the custom among young men of his class, not had it probably ever occurred to his father that it was possible for a young man to do such a thing. The French have a phrase, “l’homme moyen sensuel"—the average sensual man. And George was such a man. He had no noble idealisms, no particular reverence for women. The basis of his attitude was a purely selfish one; he wanted to enjoy himself, and at the same time to keep out of trouble.
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