Friday, September 16, 2016


Satan the Waster is the most unusual play I have discuss on this blog.   Vernon Lee was born Violet Paget (1856-1935) in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France of British parents. She lived in France and Italy as well as Great Britain. When Lee wrote Satan the Waster during the years encompassing World War One, she was an internationally recognized author and critic, who lived an international life and had friends in all the countries involved in the war.
Vernon Lee
Lee wrote The Ballet of Nations in late 1915 and it was quickly published by Chatto and Windus. Since the publisher planned to promote this book for Christmas sales, it has illustrations by Maxwell Armfield (1881-1972) an English artist and illustrator, who had an established career in both England and France. 

The Ballet of Nations was continuously reworked by Lee during the years of the war and it became the centerpiece of the play’s 1920 publication titled Satan the Waster. This version was published by John Lane Company for distribution in Great Britain and the United States. Vernon Lee added Part I “Prologue in Hell”.  This was followed by Part II The Ballet of Nations. The new Part III is titled “Epilogue”.  The publication also includes a lengthy INTRODUCTION prior to Part I and NOTES to both the “Prologue” and “Ballet” following the end of the playscript. Satan the Waster is a powerful denunciation of World War One, but no single country is denounced as the initial aggressor. Lee was an independent thinker who refused to acknowledge patriotism to support aggression. This stance isolated her from many individuals who were anti-war.

Each section of the play is dedicated to one or more individuals.  The Prologue is dedicated to G.F. Nicolai (1874-1964) the German author of “DIE BIOLOGIE DES KRIEGES” (The Biology of War) and Rudolf Goldscheid (1870-1931) the Austrian author of “MENSCHENOKONOMIE” (The Economy of Human Beings).

Following this dedication page is a note TO THE READER: “The whole of this drama is intended to be read, and especially read out loud, as prose; the passages which scan conforming as much as the rest to the vocabulary, the punctuation, the syntax, and the essential logic which differentiate prose from verse.” Although Vernon Lee made this request for readings instead of staged productions, she describes the settings, costumes, lighting and other production elements with clarity of detail and wonderful theatrical imagination. 
The Prologue is set in Hell, Satan is alone and he is attired “very much like that Michelangelo statue.” After Satan’s first speech, Clio, the Muse of History, enters the scene. She is described as bearing the “marble impetuosity of the Victory of Samothrace, and very angry in an operatic way.”  Satan is the Impresario of the play and he desires Clio to report glowingly about his new ballet since he envisions it as a possible final act for humankind.

Part II, The Ballet of The Nations is dedicated to Romain Rolland (1866-1944), a French novelist and dramatist greatly admired by Lee.  In 1915 Rolland received the Nobel Prize for Literature.  

The Ballet of The Nations is divided into two acts. Act One is set “No Place, No Where.”  However, Lee describes a street that widens into a square and has a building front with the sign “The World; a Theatre of Varieties, Lessee and Manager, SATAN.” There are also facades of adjoining houses that display large door plates with names such as SELF-INTEREST, WIDOW FEAR, JUSTICE, TEMPERANCE, etc.  There are many musicians with names such as LOYALTY, GREED and COMRADESHIP. There is the BALLET MASTER DEATH and his dancers such as NEUTRAL NATIONS, AGES-TO-COME and others. Most of the characters have non-speaking roles. This Act sets the atmosphere and introduces many of the characters who arrive to participate in Satan’s most adventurous, dangerous and colossal event. 

Act Two is set “Inside the Theatre of the World.” SATAN sits on a raised seat and MUSE is on a low stool by his side, holding her tablets and stylus. Behind her is the chorus of AGES-TO-COME.  Other characters are seated in front of the stage in an area inscribed “Patriotism; reserved for Members of the Orchestra.” The background gradually darkens and a starlit vault givens the impression of a cavern that “gradually fills with fire, smoke, rockets and explosions.” Muse declaims what she is recording about the performance that is taking place on the stage. Throughout the ‘Ballet” segment of the piece, Lee continues to explore the psychology of war and the cultivation of a psychology for peace. Visually stunning theatrical effects are described by Lee along with the heavy dose of  psychology related to war.

The Epilogue is dedicated to Arthur Ponsonby (1871-1946) a British politician, writer and social activist. A subtitle for this segment of the play appears above the description of the scene.  It is “Mors Stupebit” or Death is Struck. The scene is “No Place, Nowhere.” But Lee describes Satan as seen from the topmost steps in a theatre where a segment of the stage, stalls and orchestra are visible. The characters either are sleeping or drunkenly passed out on the set. They awaken as if having experienced a nightmare. It is in this section of the play where the remaining issues of the World War One and its aftermath are discussed.

NOTES follow the script, but a dedication proceeds them. “TO THE MEMORY of Mario Calderoni and also of Clement Miles.”  Mario Calderoni (1879-1914) Italian law theorist and Clement Miles (18??-1918) author of Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan published in 1912. Lee states “both of them my juniors by a generation, but to whose conversations I owe so much of what is written in these notes.”  The Notes are extensive and cover pages 115-297. A Postscript to the Notes follows for two more pages.

My next post will continue the discussion regarding Vernon Lee and Satan the Waster, an extraordinary piece of antiwar drama.

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