MAETERLINCK, MAURICE (1862— ) , Belgian French dramatist and poet, of Flemish extraction, was born at Ghent on Aug. 29, 1862. He was educated at the College Sainte Barbe, and then at the university of Ghent. In 1887 he settled in Paris, where he immediately became acquainted with Villiers de l'Isle-Adam and the leaders of the symbolist school of French poetry. At the death of his father, Maeterlinck returned to Bel gium, where he thenceforth mainly resided : in the winter at Ghent, in the summer on an estate at Oostacker. His career as an author began in 1889, when he published a volume of verse, Serres chaudes, and a play, La Princesse Maleine, the latter origi nally composed in metre, but afterwards rewritten in prose. In 1890 he published, in Brussels, two more plays, L'Intruse and Les Aveugles; followed in 1891 by Les Sept princesses. His strong leaning to mysticism was now explained, or defined, by a translation of the Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage of Ruys broeck (q.v.) which Maeterlinck brought out in 1891. In 1892 ap peared Pelleas et Melisande, followed in 1894 by those very curious and powerful little dramas written to be performed by marionettes: Alladine et Palomides, Interieur and La Morte de Tintagiles. In 1895 Maeterlinck brought out, under the title of Annabella, a translation of Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, with a preface. Two philosophical works followed, a study on Novalis (1895) and Le Tresor des humbles (1896). In 1896 he returned to drama with Aglavaine et Selysette and to lyric verse with Douze chansons. A monograph on the ethics of mysticism, entitled La Sagesse et la destinee, was issued, as a kind of commentary on his own dramas, in 1898; and in 19o1 Maeterlinck produced a vol ume of prose, in which philosophy, fancy and natural history were mingled—La Vie des abeilles.
The nature of Maeterlinck's early writings, whether in prose or verse, was strictly homogeneous. Whether in philosophy, or drama, or lyric, Maeterlinck was exclusively occupied in reveal ing, or indicating, the mystery which lies only just out of sight, beneath the surface of ordinary life. In order to produce this effect of the mysterious he aimed at an extreme simplicity of dic tion, and a symbolism so realistic as to be almost bare. His plays are occupied with the spiritual adventures of souls, and the ordi nary facts of time and space have no influence upon the move ments of the characters. We know not who these orphan prin
cesses, these blind persons, these pale Arthurian knights, these aged guardians of desolate castles, may be; we are not informed whence they come, nor whither they go; there is nothing concrete or circumstantial about them. Their life is intense and consistent, but it is wholly of a spiritual character ; they are mysterious with the mystery of the movements of a soul. In spite of the shadowy action of Maeterlinck's plays, which indeed require some special conditions and contrivances for their performance, they are pro duced with remarkable success before audiences who cannot be suspected of mysticism, in most of the countries of Europe. His later work, published after he settled in France, presents a marked contrast. Several of his pre-War essays, collected in The Buried Temple (1902), The Double Garden (19o9), Life and Flowers (1907), and more particularly his book on Death (1912), are inspired by a reaction against his early mystic and fatalistic ten dencies. The same contrast applies to the spirit of such plays as Monna Vanna (1909) and Mary Magdalene (1909), in which the action is concentrated in a few important scenes, more according to the Racinian than to the Shakespearian method.
His interest in Shakespeare is nevertheless shown in his essay on King Lear, Life and Flowers, and in the translation of Macbeth (19Io). The Blue Bird (1910), produced in 1911, still increased the popularity of the Belgian writer in English-speaking coun tries. It was followed by The Betrothal (1919), produced in Lon don in 1921. Maeterlinck wrote a war play dealing with the German occupation of Belgium: The Burgomaster of Stilemonde (1920) produced in London by Sir J. Martin Harvey. The Mir acle of St. Anthony and Mountain Paths appeared in 1919, and two more plays in a modern setting, The Cloud that Lifted and The Power of the Dead, in 1923. Most of the works of Maurice Maeterlinck have been translated into English. Maeterlinck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1911.