Henri Barbusse, “L’Enfer” (1908)


“L‘Enfer has been more widely read and discussed in France than any other realistic study since the days of Zola. The French sales of the volume, in 1917 alone, exceeded a hundred thousand copies, a popularity all the more remarkable from the fact that its appeal is based as much on its philosophical substance as on the story which it tells. . .
Although the action of this story is spiritual as well as physical, and occupies less than a month of time, it is focused intensely upon reality. Everything that the author permits us to see and understand is seen through a single point of life–a hole pierced in the wall between two rooms of a grey Paris boarding house. The time is most often twilight, with its romantic penumbra, darkening into the obscurity of night by imperceptible degrees.
M. Barbusse has conceived the idea of making a man perceive the whole spiritual tragedy of life through a cranny in the wall, and there is a fine symbolism in this, as if he were vouchsafing us the opportunity to perceive eternal things through the tiny crack which is all that is revealed to us of infinity, so that the gates of Horn, darkened by our human blindness, scarcely swing open before they close again.” [. . .]    –Edward J. O’Brian, L’Enfer Introduction, 1918 (Gutenberg)

Giacomo Puccini, “Gianni Schicchi” (1918)

giacomo-puccini-gianni-schicchiFrom the last scene in Gianni Schicchi, one of Puccini’s three operas comprising Il Trittico, recently performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. “Seeing the two lovers, he (Gianni Schicchi) is moved. He smiles, takes off his hat, and turns to address the audience in a spoken epilogue: ‘Tell me, gentlemen, if Buoso’s wealth could have gone to better ends than this? For this prank, I have been condemned to the Inferno, and so be it; but with all due respect to the great father Dante, if you have been amused, grant me extenuating circumstances!’ He makes a motion of applause and bows to the audience.'”    —Stanford

The other two operas in Il Trittico also have Divine Comedy themes: “Puccini’s last operas abandon realism. The Trittico rebuilds the old vertical, spiritual theater, encompassing all the gradations of nature. Puccini’s original plan was to make the panels episodes from Dante; though that didn’t happen, they still constitute a divine comedy. Il Tabarro is set in an urban inferno, Suor Angelica in a convent which serves as the heroine’s purgatory, Gianni Schicchi in a mercenary Florence which from the heights of Fiesole looks like a radiant paradise. Because Dante’s was a journey through the undiscovered country, all three works map Orphic voyages into the underworld.”    –Peter Conrad, Opera Info (retrieved on May 15, 2007)

See pzweifel for Tuscan sites connected with Gianni Schicchi (retrieved on May 15, 2007).

Contributed by Patrick Molloy