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The Useless Mouths and Other Literary Writings$

Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret A. Simons, and Marybeth Timmermann

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036347

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036347.001.0001

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The Useless Mouths

The Useless Mouths

Chapter:
(p.33) The Useless Mouths
Source:
The Useless Mouths and Other Literary Writings
Author(s):

Simone de Beauvoir

Liz Stanley

Catherine Naji

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252036347.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

A play in two acts and eight tableaux

To my Mother

The events take place in the 14th century, in Vaucelles, a town in Flanders.

The play was performed for the first time in November 1945 under the directorship of MICHEL VITOLD, in the Théâtre des Carrefours....

A play in two acts and eight tableaux

To my Mother

Characters

Louis D’Avesnes

Lucien Blondeau1

Jacques Van Der Welde

Roger Bontemps

François Rosbourg

Georges Vitsoris

Jean-Pierre Gauthier

Jean Berger

Georges D’Avesnes, son of Louis

Jean-Roger Caussimon

The Captain

The Site Foreman

Soldiers, masons, drapers, deputies, ordinary people.

Catherine, wife of Louis

Jacqueline Morane

Clarice, her daughter

Olga Dominique

Jeanne

Marise-Manuel

Women of the people

The events take place in the 14th century, in Vaucelles, a town in Flanders.

The play was performed for the first time in November 1945 under the directorship of MICHEL VITOLD, in the Théâtre des Carrefours.

(p.34) First Act

First Tableau

A lookout post under the ramparts of Vaucelles,2 at the foot of a tower. Three soldiers around a fire. They are stamping their feet to keep warm.3

FIRST SOLDIER:

  • 4 It’s freezing!
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • I’m hungry. Isn’t the angelus bell going to ring soon?
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • Once we’ve eaten, it’s even worse; we’re just as hungry as ever and we’ve nothing left to look forward to.
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • If something was happening, at least it would take our minds off it.
  • A woman accompanied by a child comes in and huddles up5 against the wall.

    THIRD SOLDIER:

  • We’re here, we don’t move, the Burgundians don’t move either. This siege has lasted for a year now! It will never end.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • It will end. We can’t live for long on straw and husks.
  • A Sentry comes down the ramparts pushing Jean-Pierre Gauthier ahead of him.

    THIRD SOLDIER:

  • Where is the Captain? We’ve caught a Burgundian spy.
  • GAUTHIER:

  • It’s me who’s the spy!
  • THIRD SOLDIER:

  • Gauthier!
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • It’s Jean-Pierre Gauthier!
  • GAUTHIER:

  • I’m really glad to see you! It was devilishly cold in that ditch. Quick, give me some good hot soup.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • Come and sit down next to the fire. You look frozen.
  • THE SENTRY:

  • I want to hand this man over to the Captain.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • But I’m telling you, it’s Gauthier.
  • THE SENTRY:

  • Nobody has the right to breach the walls.
  • THIRD SOLDIER:

  • Stubborn as a mule.
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • All right; I’ll go and fetch the Captain for him.
  • He goes into the tower. An old woman comes in and lines up next to the first woman.

    FIRST SOLDIER:

  • Have you seen the King of France?
  • (p.35) SECOND SOLDIER:

  • When will he come to defeat the Duke?
  • GAUTHIER:

  • I’ll tell that to Master D’Avesnes. Give me some soup.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • It’s that … we don’t have any soup.
  • GAUTHIER:

  • Give me anything I can eat, with a good drink of wine.
  • The soldiers look at each other, embarrassed.

    SECOND SOLDIER:

  • We haven’t got any wine.
  • THE SENTRY:

  • But where has this fellow come from?
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • We have to wait for the angelus bell.
  • GAUTHIER:

  • What, there’s nothing to eat here? Nothing to drink?
  • THE SENTRY:

  • He understands nothing.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • Twice a day we’re given a soup of boiled husks and some bread made from straw.
  • Two women pass them and join the others.

    GAUTHIER:

  • We have come to this?
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • Yes, the King of France has to hurry himself.
  • GAUTHIER:

  • What are these women doing?
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • Every day they come to beg a little food. I don’t like to see them!
  • He turns his back.

    THE CAPTAIN:

  • But yes, it’s Gauthier. (To the Sentry.) Go and inform Master6 D’Avesnes. (The Sentry leaves.) Did you get back without too much trouble?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It wasn’t difficult to get across the Burgundian camp. But our town is well guarded.
  • THE CAPTAIN:

  • What’s being said about us in Paris?
  • GAUTHIER:

  • The bourgeoisie7 admire us, but they wouldn’t have the audacity to overthrow their King and govern themselves. They don’t think enough and they are too prudent.
  • THE CAPTAIN:

  • Not everybody is capable of what we’ve done here.
  • THIRD SOLDIER:

  • For that, we had to be tough. If our plot had failed, we’d all have been hanged.
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • But it’s the Duke’s Bailiff that was hanged! (They laugh.) Another great day!
  • (p.36) GAUTHIER:

  • We’re going to have others just as great!
  • SECOND SOLDIER:

  • You think so?
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • Will we ever be at the end of our troubles?
  • GAUTHIER:

  • Yes, that day will come. Soon we’ll be happy and free men.8 We will work for ourselves, we will live for ourselves.
  • THE CAPTAIN:

  • All the other towns9 will envy us; we will set a great example to the world. Keep your hopes up: we won’t have suffered in vain.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • If we didn’t have hope, we couldn’t put up with all this.
  • Louis D’Avesnes enters. Gauthier goes toward him. The Captain leaves.

    GAUTHIER:

  • Master D’Avesnes! You can see I didn’t delay.
  • LOUIS:

  • It’s true, you came quickly. What’s the news?
  • GAUTHIER:

  • The King of France will come to our aid. He said, “It’s in my interest as much as it’s in yours.” But he won’t come until spring.
  • LOUIS:

  • Until spring!
  • GAUTHIER:

  • First of all he has to hunt the Burgundians from his lands. And his army couldn’t undertake this long journey in winter: they would find neither food for themselves, nor fodder for their animals.
  • LOUIS:

  • Until spring!
  • The angelus bell rings. Two soldiers from the field-canteen10 enter carrying a soup-kettle and a basket of bread. They start to serve the soldiers. The women come closer to them.

    FIRST WOMAN:

  • For pity’s sake! A little soup for my child who is dying of hunger!
  • OLD WOMAN:

  • A little morsel of bread, for pity’s sake!
  • One of the soldiers from the field-canteen takes a loaf and hesitates.

    THIRD WOMAN:

  • I haven’t eaten for three days.
  • The soldier from the field-canteen holds out the loaf to them. The other one seizes it.

    SECOND SOLDIER:

  • You’re mad! It’s our bread.
  • FIRST SOLDIER:

  • Do you think our ration is too big?
  • The women begin to cry.

    THIRD WOMAN:

  • I’m hungry! I’m so hungry!
  • (p.37) The soldiers eat with a stubborn air without looking at them.

    GAUTHIER:

  • Are you going to let them die of hunger? (Silence. The soldiers continue to eat.) Friends, have your hearts become so hard?
  • LOUIS, approaching:

  • Leave them alone. They never have enough bread.
  • GAUTHIER:

  • But what can we do for these women?
  • LOUIS:

  • Nothing.
  • Second Tableau

    In front of the belfry11 being built. A square with closed shops.

    The sound of hammering and sawing. Some laborers are at work. In a corner, in front of the Town Hall, women, children, old men, stand in line with food dishes in their hands.

    OLD WOMAN:

  • What is it you’re eating?
  • ANOTHER:

  • He’s eating!
  • ANOTHER:

  • Who is eating?
  • ANOTHER:

  • What’s up?
  • ANOTHER:

  • Mathieu is eating!
  • MATHIEU:

  • It’s some straw.
  • OLD WOMAN:

  • Where did you find the straw?12
  • Jeanne and Jean-Pierre pass by them.

    JEANNE:

  • Have you seen how the belfry has grown since you left?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It’s grown. And you’re thin and pale, little sister.
  • JEANNE:

  • Am I so pale? I don’t feel ill. Did you eat white bread in Paris?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Yes, white bread. What are these people waiting for?
  • JEANNE:

  • Some food is distributed every day to the townspeople.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Dried grass! And they wait for hours! (A pause.) When I left Vaucelles, there were still children playing in the streets and sometimes a woman singing.
  • JEANNE:

  • Three months have gone by.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Three centuries! I’d like to flee far from here! Since I crossed your walls, every breath of air that I breathe tastes of remorse. Even though none of it is my fault.13
  • (p.38) JEANNE:

  • Don’t torment yourself.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • All the looks that I meet seem to be either reproaches or prayers. Everyone is a beggar in this town, but I’ve never asked anything from anyone. I want to be left alone at peace with myself.
  • JEANNE:

  • Come on, you’ll get used to it.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Do you think so? It was good galloping by myself along the roads! (A pause.) How is Clarice?
  • JEANNE:

  • She’s fed up.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • And Georges?
  • JEANNE:

  • You know him.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Tell me frankly: do you love him?
  • JEANNE:

  • Is it necessary14 that I love him?
  • Clarice runs in, sees Jean-Pierre, stops, then comes forward with a show of indifference.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Clarice!
  • CLARICE:

  • Hello, Jean-Pierre.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Were you looking for me?
  • CLARICE:

  • No. I was out walking.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I’m so happy to see you!
  • CLARICE:

  • Really?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Do you doubt it? Since I crossed the ramparts, I have wanted nothing else! (He takes her hands. They look at each other.)
  • CLARICE:

  • Since you crossed the ramparts … Did you think about me during the previous three months?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Often.
  • CLARICE:

  • But did you miss me?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • What could I miss? It was enough to know that these blue eyes, this smile, were somewhere in the world.
  • CLARICE (disengaging herself):

  • Me, I didn’t think of you. I never think about the dead, nor the absent. I don’t like ghosts.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I’m no longer a ghost. (He makes a movement toward her. She pulls back.) Why are you pulling away from me?
  • (p.39) CLARICE:

  • We have lived for three months like strangers and we haven’t suffered because of it. What’s the good of seeing each other again?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It’s good that we haven’t suffered. If your absence hollowed out a void in me, if my image hid the world from you, then that would be a reason why we ought not to see each other again.
  • CLARICE:

  • You’re right. I hate suffering.
  • JEAN-PIERRE (Taking her in his arms.):

  • You are here; I see you; I smell you: there is nothing more to wish for. I’m glad that you haven’t thought about me.
  • CLARICE:

  • Are you happy about it?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Oh, if I thought it was my fault that these eyes were sullied by tears …
  • CLARICE:

  • What would you do?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I would feel smothered at your side like I feel smothered in this town.
  • CLARICE, after a pause:

  • Why have you come back?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I left so I could come back.
  • CLARICE:

  • I wouldn’t have come back.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • You would have forgotten your home?
  • CLARICE:

  • I would have forgotten everything. I would have lived alone and free. I would have lived.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • And you would never have thought about me?
  • CLARICE:

  • Maybe I would have thought that somewhere in the world there were these green eyes, this smile. (Jean-Pierre looks at her in silence with a smile.) Why are you looking at me like that?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • You please me, Clarice, you are real, pure and alone.15
  • CLARICE, appealing to him:

  • Jean-Pierre … !
  • JEAN-PIERRE, perturbed and tender:

  • What do you want?
  • CLARICE:

  • Don’t worry. I’m not angry with you about anything. I had forgotten to tell you that my father wishes to speak to you as soon as possible. Perhaps he is still at the house. Go quickly.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Won’t you come with me?
  • CLARICE:

  • It’s better that he doesn’t see us together.
  • (p.40) JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Until this evening, then, my beautiful black diamond.16
  • He leaves, she follows him with her eyes.

    CLARICE:

  • Fool! Blind fool!
  • She sits in a corner and stays still. Two masons enter carrying a stone.

    FIRST MASON:

  • We’re not getting very far.
  • SECOND MASON:

  • I feel weak as a woman.17
  • FIRST MASON:

  • Give me a hand. I can’t lift this stone, I no longer have enough strength.
  • SECOND MASON:

  • How do they expect us to work, with just this paste of straw in our stomachs!
  • THE SITE FOREMAN:

  • 18 You have only to say the word and the Council will stop the work.19
  • FIRST MASON:

  • What would become of us, walking around empty-handed with hunger in our guts, in this town where there isn’t a strand of wool left to weave?20
  • SECOND MASON:

  • Wouldn’t that be a nice thing, if the belfry wasn’t finished by spring for when the King of France arrives!
  • THE SITE FOREMAN:

  • Well then, stop complaining.
  • FIRST MASON:

  • We’re not complaining. We’re saying we’d do better work if we were better fed.
  • FIRST WOMAN:

  • They aren’t in a hurry.
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • They’re never in a hurry.
  • CHILD:

  • Mother, I’m bored. Can’t I go and play?
  • SECOND WOMAN:

  • No, my child. You must be here when the bread is given out.
  • THE CHILD:

  • 21 I’m bored.
  • SECOND WOMAN:

  • Be good. In a little while you’re going to see the Deputies of the Three Arts22 go past, with their beautiful embroidered banners.
  • OLD MAN:

  • I’d really like to know what they’re going to decide.
  • ANOTHER:

  • They’ll certainly cut down the rations again.
  • Jacques van der Welde enters. Clarice notices him and gets up to leave.

    JACQUES:

  • I’m making you run away?
  • (p.41) CLARICE:

  • I must go home.
  • JACQUES:

  • Will you please listen to me for a moment?
  • CLARICE:

  • If you like.
  • Silence.

    JACQUES:

  • Have you heard the news?
  • CLARICE:

  • What news?
  • JACQUES:

  • The King of France has promised to come to our aid in the spring.
  • CLARICE:

  • Yes, I know that. (She laughs brusquely.) In the spring! We will all be dead a long time before then. I know there isn’t even six weeks supplies left in the granaries.
  • JACQUES:

  • In a while the Council is going to meet. We will take steps.
  • CLARICE:

  • Can they make wheat grow in the streets? What are you going to decide?
  • JACQUES:

  • How would I know?
  • CLARICE:

  • You are a man without ambition, Jacques van der Welde. If I were in my father’s place or in yours, I would not allow myself to be dictated to by thirty craftsmen.23
  • JACQUES:

  • We overthrew the Duke so that Vaucelles would be free. (A pause.) We will soon have the most beautiful belfry in all Flanders.
  • CLARICE:

  • These stones bore me.
  • JACQUES:

  • I’m afraid of boring you too. (A pause.) Clarice, will you ever love me?
  • CLARICE:

  • I don’t believe in love.
  • JACQUES:

  • If you would let me, I would know how to love you.
  • CLARICE:

  • You would take me in your arms, you would press me to your heart while smiling at me with your big green eyes, and then you would go off on your own pleasures.
  • JACQUES:

  • My eyes are grey.
  • CLARICE:

  • They are grey! (She laughs.) That changes nothing.
  • JACQUES:

  • I would never leave you. I don’t like pleasures.
  • CLARICE:

  • Well, I do. (A pause.) I’m not a suitable wife for a leading Alderman. I’m not like my mother.
  • (p.42) Cries of horror. A commotion. A man runs past them.24 He is shouting, “A doctor, a doctor!” Men cross the building-site carrying a body.

    JACQUES:

  • Don’t look.
  • CLARICE:

  • Why not?
  • JACQUES stops two masons on their way past:

  • What has happened?
  • FIRST MASON:

  • He fell from the scaffolding.
  • SECOND MASON:

  • He fell from weakness. It’s going to happen to us all.
  • They go out.

    CLARICE:

  • It serves them right.
  • JACQUES:

  • What are you saying?
  • CLARICE:

  • It serves them right; they are more obstinate than ants. Soon worms will eat their hearts and they’re amusing themselves piling up stones.
  • Louis D’Avesnes and François Rosbourg enter.

    LOUIS:

  • What is this dress, Clarice? Aren’t you ashamed? Two soldiers could be clothed with the material from your skirt. And I have forbidden you to wear your jewelry before the siege ends.
  • CLARICE:

  • Must I wait until I’m dead in order to be allowed to live?
  • LOUIS:

  • Go home. I will lock you in your room and you won’t come out until after the Burgundians have gone. (Clarice leaves.) Have you spoken to her?
  • JACQUES:

  • She doesn’t want to listen to me.
  • LOUIS:

  • I swear she will have no other husband but you. (A pause.) Why is the building-site empty?
  • JACQUES:

  • A mason collapsed from weakness and fell from the top of the scaffolding.
  • LOUIS:

  • It’s the third accident since Sunday. The work is too hard for badly fed men.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Hard and useless.25 What do we need a belfry for?26
  • JACQUES:

  • These men accept their suffering only because they have their eyes fixed on the future. Let’s not force them to live in the present.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • This work must27 be stopped. It is not the moment to waste our strength.
  • LOUIS:

  • We cannot make so important a decision so lightly. I will convene a (p.43) meeting with the Site Foreman and the Master Masons so we can deliberate with them.
  • They stop talking and listen to the voices.

    VOICE:

  • Are they coming? I can’t see anyone.
  • A CHILD:

  • It’s been so long. I’m hungry.
  • THE MOTHER:

  • Everybody is hungry.
  • ANOTHER WOMAN:

  • They’re not going to come.
  • ANOTHER:

  • I can’t stand it any longer!
  • JACQUES:

  • Do you hear?
  • LOUIS:

  • I hear.
  • JACQUES:

  • What can we do?
  • LOUIS:

  • I don’t know.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • A decision must be made in the next two hours.
  • LOUIS:

  • Yes, it must.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • In the next two hours a way must be found to hold out for another three months.
  • LOUIS:

  • It must. (Long silence.) I don’t see any way.
  • JACQUES:

  • Nor I.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Nor I.
  • JEAN-PIERRE, entering:

  • Master D’Avesnes, they told me you want to see me.
  • LOUIS:

  • Yes, we need to speak. You have rendered the town exceptional service. Because of this, we have decided to offer you an exceptional reward.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • A reward? I don’t want anything.
  • LOUIS:

  • We want you to govern this community with us.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • What, me, govern?
  • LOUIS:

  • We will ask the Deputies to create the position of Prefect of Provisions for you. They will agree to it, for they know that your help can be useful to us. Come to the Council meeting with us.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I can’t accept.
  • LOUIS:

  • I know that you have always refused political office, but today you must accept. Victory has never been more sure, nor more impossible. The (p.44) siege will be relieved in the spring. But how to hold out for three months with only six weeks food left in our granaries? You can’t refuse to join our deliberations with us.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I don’t know anything about public matters.
  • LOUIS:

  • I know that we will gain from listening to your views. And then …
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • And then?
  • LOUIS:

  • I don’t know what measures we will have to take; but they will be hard. People trust you, they like you; they will accept things getting worse from you better than from anyone else.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Ask me to cross the Burgundy camp again. Ask me to swim the sea, or to walk back to Paris, but don’t ask me to share power with you.
  • LOUIS:

  • Why?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • If I had to think that I am the one who is condemning these old men and these women to beg for their bread, and that I’m responsible for their suffering, then my heart would break. I do not want to weigh out their rations each day. I will not be complicit in their fate of being crushed.
  • LOUIS:

  • If I had folded my arms and bowed my head in front of the Duke’s Bailiff, wouldn’t the misfortunes of this town have been greater?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • How can suffering and joy be measured? Can one28 compare the weight of a tear to the weight of a drop of blood? I wish that tomorrow the men of Vaucelles could be free and prosperous. But these children who are dead of hunger today, nothing will ever give them their lives back. I want to keep my hands clean.29
  • LOUIS:

  • And what does the color of our hands and the peace of our hearts matter? Before our uprising, men were crawling about like animals in misery and pain. It’s not too much, to sacrifice a few lives, so that henceforth life will have meaning.30
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I don’t want to pay in blood for the tears and sweat of others.
  • LOUIS:

  • So be it. We will do without you.
  • Jean-Pierre walks away. A procession, with banners, enters and climbs the steps of the Town Hall.

    THE MOTHER:

  • Look at the beautiful golden banners.
  • THE WOMAN:

  • Here are the Master Weavers!
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • What are they going to decide?
  • (p.45) A WOMAN:

  • Maybe they’re going to give out the secret supplies to us.
  • ANOTHER WOMAN:

  • There are no secret supplies.
  • ANOTHER:

  • Well then, what can they do?
  • LOUIS:

  • Let’s go. The Deputies of the Three Arts have arrived.
  • JACQUES:

  • May God direct us!
  • They go toward the Town Hall.

    THE CHILD:

  • Here they are, here they are!
  • VOICES:

  • Here they are, here they are! They’re bringing the bread! We’re going to eat. At last! I couldn’t hold out any longer!
  • Two men carrying bags of bread cross the stage.

    A CHILD:

  • Here they are!
  • FIRST MASON:

  • What are they carrying?
  • SECOND MASON:

  • It looks like bread.
  • FIRST MASON:

  • What are you carrying there? (The men continue on their way.) Hey there! Do you hear us? What are you carrying there?
  • The masons surround the men and feel the bags.

    THE PORTER:

  • Let us pass. It’s the bread for the townspeople.
  • A MASON:

  • We’re dying of hunger and the townspeople are being fed!
  • FIRST MASON:

  • Give us this bread. Those who don’t work don’t need to eat.31
  • THE PORTER:

  • Someone help! Help!
  • They start fighting.

    LOUIS:

  • Drop your hands. Would you steal the bread of old men, of children, of women?
  • FIRST MASON:

  • We need to be strong. But what good are they?
  • Silence. François puts his hand on Louis’ arm.

    FRANÇOIS:

  • Yes. What good are they?32
  • They look at each other in silence.

    Third Tableau

    In Louis D’Avesnes’s house. In a big room on the ground floor are Catherine, Jeanne, Georges, Clarice. At the back of the room are large cauldrons. By the half-opened door, Catherine is ejecting an old woman.

    (p.46)

    CATHERINE:

  • There is nothing to eat! I’m telling you, there is nothing more to eat!
  • She slams the door shut.

    MANY VOICES OUTSIDE:

  • Open up! Open up! We haven’t eaten for two days; have pity on us. Open up! We can’t last any longer. We’re not animals. Open up! We’re all going to die!
  • Fists are pounded against the door.

    GEORGES:

  • Let them die! Good riddance!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Go away. I have nothing more to give you.
  • VOICES:

  • Food. For pity’s sake!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Why isn’t Louis coming back?
  • JEANNE:

  • Aunt Kate, what are they going to decide?
  • CATHERINE:

  • How should I know?
  • GEORGES:

  • There has to be some action here!
  • CATHERINE:

  • But what action?
  • GEORGES:

  • Any action.
  • VOICES:

  • Open up! We want to eat.
  • CLARICE:

  • Shut them up! Can’t they think of anything else but eating?33
  • JEANNE:

  • Clarice!
  • CLARICE:

  • Shut them up!
  • CATHERINE:

  • What can I say to them? We have to wait until your father returns.
  • CLARICE:

  • Waiting! More waiting!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Waiting, that should be easy. Just stay there. Let the time just pass and give up on living. (She makes a gesture of weariness, then she pulls herself together, goes toward the back of the room and takes hold of a cauldron.) Help me, Clarice.
  • They leave carrying the cauldron.

    GEORGES:

  • Stupid wretches! Those cauldrons should have been put away before they were emptied.
  • JEANNE:

  • Would you have those poor people die of hunger?
  • (p.47) GEORGES:

  • If I were in charge, I’d have got rid of those vermin a long time ago. (A pause.) Is it true that my father offered the post of Prefect of Provisions to your brother this morning?
  • JEANNE:

  • It’s true. Jean-Pierre refused it.
  • GEORGES:

  • He’s offered it to him! Aren’t I his son?
  • JEANNE:

  • Exactly. The two of you can’t govern together.
  • GEORGES:

  • Who’d dare complain about it?
  • JEANNE:

  • Have patience. In a year the Council will name new Aldermen. Then you will succeed your father.
  • GEORGES:

  • A year! My hour will have passed! By then, Vaucelles will be lost or saved. But today, in famine, in fear, it’s for the taking. Oh, to feel all this strength in me and not do anything with it.34 It will kill me!
  • JEANNE:

  • Why aren’t you doing anything?
  • GEORGES:

  • I stand guard when it’s my turn.
  • JEANNE:

  • You can work on the belfry.
  • GEORGES:

  • I don’t have the soul of a mason. Building, weaving, is that action? I want to shake the world down to its foundations. (A pause.) Well then! Say something!
  • JEANNE:

  • What could I say?
  • GEORGES:

  • You don’t love me, do you?
  • JEANNE:

  • Are you concerned about my love?
  • GEORGES:

  • Perhaps. (A pause.) Has Jean-Pierre seen my sister again?
  • JEANNE:

  • Yes, this morning.
  • GEORGES:

  • Were they alone together?
  • JEANNE:

  • Why are you asking me these questions?
  • GEORGES:

  • Clarice is very beautiful today. She has put on her finery and her eyes have never shone so brightly.
  • JEANNE:

  • She is beautiful.
  • GEORGES:

  • She loves Jean-Pierre, doesn’t she?
  • JEANNE:

  • Well, I don’t know.
  • GEORGES:

  • What’s between them?
  • (p.48) JEANNE:

  • I don’t know.
  • GEORGES:

  • You’re lying!
  • JEANNE:

  • I won’t tell you anything.
  • GEORGES:

  • I will make you speak.
  • He grabs her wrists.

    JEANNE:

  • You’re hurting me.
  • GEORGES:

  • I’ll make you speak.
  • JEANNE:

  • I will tell you nothing. Aaaah!
  • She lets out a stifled scream. Someone knocks. Georges lets go of Jeanne.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Open up! It’s Jean-Pierre.
  • Jeanne goes and opens the door. Jean-Pierre enters and a few women try to come in as well.

    THE WOMEN:

  • Give us food!
  • GEORGES, pulling out his sword and dashing forward:

  • Back! Everyone back! Empty the place or I’ll empty it with the point of my sword! (He re-closes the door and turns toward Jean-Pierre.) What are you here for? An Alderman’s robe?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I was told that Aunt Kate wanted to see me.
  • JEANNE:

  • I’ll go and tell her.
  • She leaves.

    GEORGES:

  • You seem to be the savior of Vaucelles, then!
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I did what I had to.
  • GEORGES:

  • It seems that no reward is good enough for you.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • You don’t need to hate me: I’m not ambitious.
  • GEORGES:

  • Be careful of becoming so.
  • A silence. Catherine enters.

    CATHERINE, to Georges:

  • Leave us alone, please. (Georges leaves. To Jean-Pierre): Sit down. Is it true that you refused the post of Prefect of Provisions this morning?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It’s true.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Are you lazy, or a moral coward?
  • (p.49) JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I am not able to take things lightly enough, nor am I presumptuous enough to agree to govern men.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Do you want always to remain uninvolved, an adventurer?35 Was it for this that I raised you with so much care?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I know what I owe you. You have been more than a mother to me and my sister. But now let me lead my life without your help.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Who could look at you wasting your gifts without being impatient? You have a head, a heart, two hands, don’t you want to do anything with them?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I would prefer to cut off these hands, tear out this heart; I live, I breathe, and already this is enough to make me feel a criminal. If I could completely efface myself from the world …
  • CATHERINE:

  • But you can’t.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I could at least try not to weigh upon the earth.
  • Catherine gets up and leads Jean-Pierre to the window.

    CATHERINE:

  • Look, what do you see?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I see the belfry, a part of the Town Hall, roof-tops.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I laid the first stone of this belfry. The flag which floats on the Town Hall, I sewed it with my own hands. Will you never know the joy of looking around you and thinking: this is my doing.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I also see women and children wandering in the streets and crying with hunger.
  • CATHERINE:

  • When the bells on the belfry ring for victory, they will quickly forget their troubles. (A pause.) Without us, this world would lack a face; it’s up to us to shape it with our hands.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I admire your attempt to tailor, to cut, to build in the material of living flesh.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I want to build happiness.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • You want it. And do you know what you are doing? There are so many hidden threats in each of our gestures, in each of our words; our actions are going to explode far away from us with unknown consequence.36 I would never have the audacity to throw the weight of my will over someone else’s life. (A pause.) Jeanne doesn’t love your son.
  • CATHERINE:

  • She’s a child. She will know later that I have acted for her own (p.50) good. (She sits down.) You are so afraid of doing or saying something that you let happiness wither right next to you instead of picking it. Have they told you that Jacques van der Welde wants to marry Clarice?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • No.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Her father wants this marriage. (Silence.) Why don’t you want to occupy the place in the town that you deserve? You’re the one that I would give Clarice to.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Give her to me? Do you think that I would agree to lock her up and tell her that I alone am her portion of the world. I don’t have the soul of a jailer.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Love isn’t a prison.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • All commitment is a prison.
  • CATHERINE:

  • You believe yourself to be free, you who are capable neither of action nor of love.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I do not want to lie to Clarice nor to myself. Everyone lives alone, and dies alone.37
  • CATHERINE:

  • No. If a man and a woman propel [élan] themselves toward the same future, in what they have built together, in the children they have engendered, in this whole wide world that has shaped their common will, they would find themselves merged indissolubly.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Clarice is not like you. She is a stranger to this world and expects nothing of the future. It is enough for her to be herself. There is nothing I could give her, nothing she could give me.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Are you sure you know what Clarice thinks?
  • Clarice enters in a lively way.

    CLARICE:

  • Who’s talking about me? What are you plotting? I forbid you to involve me in your arguments.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I was warning Jean-Pierre that from now on I forbid you to see him or speak to him. He is not your fiancé, nor your brother, and you are no longer children.
  • Cries from outside.

    VOICES:

  • We don’t want to die like dogs! Open up! Open up!
  • Jeanne and Georges come running in.

    (p.51)

    JEANNE:

  • They’re here again!
  • GEORGES:

  • I’ll shove their screams down their throats.
  • He takes out an arrow, opens the window and takes aim.

    JEANNE:

  • Don’t shoot!
  • She rushes forward and pushes his arm aside.

    GEORGES:

  • Bitch! You made me miss my aim!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Put down that bow.
  • GEORGES:

  • Should they be allowed to break down the door and sack the house, then?
  • CATHERINE:

  • Put down that bow.
  • Georges takes aim. Jeanne hides against Catherine’s shoulder. Jean-Pierre takes a step toward Georges, but Clarice stops him.

    CLARICE:

  • A man who’s afraid is very ugly.
  • GEORGES, turning toward her:

  • You think I’m afraid?
  • CLARICE:

  • You are afraid of a pack of women and old men.
  • GEORGES:

  • All right, let them howl to their hearts content. (He goes toward the door. Clarice laughs). Why are you laughing?
  • CLARICE:

  • I’m laughing because you have thrown down your bow.
  • GEORGES:

  • You asked me to throw it down.
  • CLARICE:

  • I asked you nothing.
  • GEORGES:

  • I forbid you to laugh.
  • CLARICE:

  • Don’t shout. When you shout the veins in your forehead swell and you become red.
  • GEORGES:

  • One day I’ll strangle you!
  • He goes out slamming the door.

    JEANNE:

  • He would have killed them!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Don’t cry. He is still young. He will change, you will change him.
  • JEANNE:

  • He doesn’t love me.
  • CATHERINE:

  • He needs a woman like you at his side.38
  • JEANNE:

  • I’m not strong enough.
  • (p.52) CATHERINE:

  • You are strong; otherwise, do you think I would have chosen you to one day take my place, in this house and in this town?39
  • JEANNE:

  • Aunt Kate, I wouldn’t be happy with him.
  • CATHERINE:

  • There are many kinds of happiness.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It is not for you to choose hers for her. (To Jeanne.) Listen only to your heart, my little sister. You are not tied by any oath.
  • CATHERINE (breaking away from Jeanne):

  • An oath! (Jeanne hesitates. A pause.) You are free, Jeanne.
  • JEANNE:

  • You know full well I will do what you expect of me.
  • CRIES:

  • Bread! Open up, open up!
  • There is banging on the door. Catherine goes toward it.

    JEANNE:

  • What are you doing?
  • CATHERINE:

  • They want to come in, so let them! (She opens the door. Women, old men, children, come in.) Come in, search the house from the cellar to the attic, you won’t find a grain of wheat nor a handful of husks.
  • The people stop, intimidated.

    A WOMAN:

  • Are they going to let us die of hunger?
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • Why don’t they throw open the storehouses?
  • CATHERINE:

  • Measures are going to be taken.
  • A WOMAN:

  • What measures?
  • ANOTHER:

  • To give us bread.
  • CATHERINE:

  • You know what’s in store for you if the Duke enters the town? (Silence.) Accept and suffer, then. Go to your homes. The Council is in the process of deciding. Await its decisions patiently.
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • What are they going to decide?
  • CATHERINE:

  • You will know soon.
  • A WOMAN:

  • Are our misfortunes going to end?
  • CATHERINE:

  • They will end. Patience. If you will wait, deliverance will come. (She closes the door.) More waiting! If only I could sleep …
  • She half-faints. Jeanne and Jean-Pierre rush forward and hold her up.

    JEANNE:

  • Aunt Kate, you are at the end of your strength. You have eaten nothing since yesterday.
  • (p.53) The three of them go out. Clarice follows them with her eyes.

    CLARICE:

  • Food, more about food!
  • She goes to the mirror. She brings her face close to it and looks at herself for a long time. Jean-Pierre comes in. He approaches Clarice and kisses her.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • How beautiful you are! All the other women have become so ugly. How do you manage to stay as beautiful as ever?
  • CLARICE:

  • They won’t get the better of me.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Wonderful Clarice. How I love it that you exist.
  • He takes her hand. She pulls it back. Georges enters without being seen, and hides in order to spy on them.

    CLARICE:

  • But don’t you love me at all, Jean-Pierre?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • We agreed that this word doesn’t have any meaning.
  • CLARICE, sitting down:

  • Don’t worry. I don’t love you either. I was asking that question on principle. What do you think of Jacques van der Welde?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Is it true that your father wants you to marry him?
  • CLARICE:

  • It’s true. And it’s also true that I’m going to marry him.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Jacques van der Welde. But he’s a weaver by trade, he’s not a man.40
  • CLARICE:

  • He is a man who dares to love me.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • He dares, but such promises are lies. Since when do you believe his words? You used to press your hand against my mouth and look at me with that silent and vulnerable face that is so dear to me …
  • CLARICE:

  • Don’t.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Have you forgotten our silences? Do you prefer the chatter of promises?
  • CLARICE:

  • He will make me his wife and his life will be my life.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • He will put a ring on your finger and there will be only one roof over your heads. But it will still be your heart in your breast, and his thoughts in his head, the thoughts of a draper and an Alderman.
  • CLARICE:

  • And you, what could I expect from you?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Nothing.
  • (p.54) CLARICE:

  • So then, go.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Goodbye, Clarice.
  • He leaves. She bursts into tears. Catherine enters, followed by Jeanne.

    CATHERINE:

  • You’re crying? (Silence.) I had forbidden you to speak to him.
  • CLARICE:

  • Let me be.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Do you think I haven’t heard you weeping all these nights? He leaves: you cry. He returns: you cry. Is this my daughter, this suffering flesh?
  • CLARICE:

  • I’m not suffering. I’m not crying. I will never see him again. (A pause.) I am going to have a child by him.
  • GEORGES:

  • Bitch! Whore!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Clarice! Does he love you?
  • CLARICE:

  • I detest him.
  • GEORGES:

  • You will pay me for this.
  • He seizes her by the shoulders.

    CLARICE:

  • Don’t touch me.
  • GEORGES:

  • You weren’t so fierce with him. He lifted up your dress, he ran his hands over your body and this arrogant face41 laughed with pleasure.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Stop it!
  • GEORGES:

  • You closed your eyes, you slipped your tongue into his mouth, you moaned under his caresses. Whore!
  • CLARICE:

  • Let go of me. You stink like a soldier. I can’t stand that smell.
  • GEORGES:

  • How long has he been your lover? How many nights have you spent in his arms? (He shakes her.) Answer.
  • CLARICE:

  • I won’t answer you.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I order you to let her alone. She doesn’t have to answer you.
  • A pause. He lets go of her.

    GEORGES:

  • You’re right. It’s up to my father to sort this out. He will know how to make her speak.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Georges! Do not say anything to your father.
  • GEORGES:

  • You won’t hold your head up so high. We will hear you sing, my beautiful.
  • (p.55) CATHERINE:

  • I forbid you to say anything to him.
  • JEANNE:

  • Georges! For pity’s sake stop! He will kill her!
  • CLARICE:

  • Let him beat me! Let him drive me away! Let him kill me! I don’t care about any of you.
  • GEORGES:

  • You’re laughing, you whore. You won’t feel like laughing when he’s finished with you.
  • He shakes her violently.

    JEANNE:

  • Let go of her. You’re hurting her! Let go of her.
  • The door opens. Louis D’Avesnes enters.

    LOUIS:

  • What noise!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Here you are at last. How tired you look! (She kisses him.)
  • LOUIS:

  • Why all this noise?
  • JEANNE:

  • Georges, be quiet.
  • GEORGES:

  • Your daughter is pregnant by Jean-Pierre Gauthier.
  • Silence.

    LOUIS:

  • Oh, well! They have only to marry.
  • He sits down.

    CLARICE:

  • I don’t want to marry him; I will throw his child in the river.
  • LOUIS:

  • Don’t marry him, then. Why are you crying?
  • GEORGES:

  • Father, whatever are you thinking? She must be locked up in a convent.
  • LOUIS:

  • I do not want her bothered.
  • Silence.

    CATHERINE:

  • You’re frightening me. (She looks at him. A pause.) What has the Council decided? (Silence.) You’re not surrendering the town?
  • LOUIS:

  • No.
  • CATHERINE:

  • What will you do?
  • LOUIS:

  • We will ask for help from Bruges.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Bruges has always refused to help us.
  • LOUIS:

  • I know.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Well then?
  • (p.56) LOUIS:

  • What are you worrying about? And why is Clarice crying? Why do you look so sad?
  • CATHERINE, to the three children:

  • Leave us. (They go out.) Tell me the truth. (Silence.) You know full well that no help will come before spring.
  • LOUIS:

  • Do not ask me anything, Catherine.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Has there ever been a secret between us? (Silence.) If all is lost, if we must die in a hopeless attempt to escape, don’t be afraid to tell me: I’m ready.
  • LOUIS:

  • It would be easy to die holding you in my arms.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Why do you turn your eyes away? One42 would think that you are afraid to look at me.
  • LOUIS:

  • Leave me alone. Do not ask anything of me.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Whatever the future will be, I want to face it with you. Speak to me.
  • LOUIS:

  • As soon as I have spoken, we will be separated forever. (Silence.) The Council has decided to get rid of the useless mouths.43 Tomorrow before sunset they will be driven into the ditches: the infirm, the old men, the children. The women.
  • Curtain

    Act II

    Fourth Tableau

    The three leading Aldermen. The Site Foreman. Three Masons.

    LOUIS:

  • So then, these men are grumbling because they are hungry, not because they don’t want to work. Wouldn’t they grumble even more if we condemned them to a fruitless wait?
  • THE SITE FOREMAN:

  • That’s so, that’s exactly so.
  • LOUIS:

  • Then do you agree to continue with the work?
  • FIRST MASTER MASON:

  • It would be very hard to have labored so much, to have given our sweat and our blood, and the belfry not be ready for the King of France!
  • SECOND MASTER MASON:

  • If you don’t want the belfry completed, you shouldn’t have asked us to start it in the first place.
  • (p.57) LOUIS:

  • It seems to me that the question has been settled, then.
  • JACQUES:

  • Without any doubt.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • I beg your pardon! We need to know if these men are the best judges of what’s good for them.
  • JACQUES:

  • Who should judge it, then, if not they themselves?
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • The people have put themselves in our hands. It’s up to us to guide them, not follow them blindly.
  • JACQUES:

  • They know the situation as well as we do, but even more so because they feel it in their flesh; we have nothing to do but to respect their decision.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Are you telling me these men are infallible? They don’t know what’s good for them!
  • LOUIS:

  • They know it. A mistake is impossible because their good is precisely what they will choose it to be; no other good exists.44
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Of what use is this belfry? We overthrew the Duke and took power in order to govern our town with wisdom and efficiency. We should no longer permit these men to waste their lives in worthless ventures. Markets, storehouses, workshops, that’s what we have to build. From now on, every action should have purpose, every breath must have purpose and every heartbeat.
  • LOUIS:

  • Vaucelles isn’t made to serve. There is nothing higher than herself for her. If she wishes to build this belfry, then let her. It’s her will that commands.45
  • Catherine enters.

    CATHERINE:

  • Is it true? You’re worried about a pile of stones, on a day like today?
  • JACQUES:

  • We would be happy to hear your opinion.
  • CATHERINE:

  • What kind of men are you?
  • LOUIS:

  • Leave. (The masons leave.) She knows.46
  • CATHERINE:

  • I know. Don’t lower your eyes; that would be too easy. It’s me here and I know. (Silence.) I sat in this chair and you asked for my advice. You were looking for hope in my eyes. For you and me the same hope. We told each other: our suffering, our victory. We had one future between us. (p.58) And suddenly, here I am alone, in front of you; you will throw me in the ditches, where cold cinders, peelings, bones, old rags are thrown. But at least look me in the face!
  • LOUIS:

  • I am looking at you, Catherine. This community is your achievement as much as ours, and you want its triumph, just as we do; we can ask you to lay down your life for her.
  • CATHERINE:

  • You’re not asking me. You have condemned me.
  • LOUIS:

  • Why do you hate us? When it is necessary, we will agree to die.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Am I free to agree? What would you do if I refused? (Silence.) I am no longer permitted to have a will. I was a woman and now I am no more than a useless mouth.47 You have taken from me more than life itself. All that is left to me is my hate.
  • JACQUES:

  • Should we have agreed to open our gates to the besiegers?
  • CATHERINE:

  • We could have thrown ourselves at the Duke’s army, set fire to our houses and all died together.
  • LOUIS:

  • Vaucelles must live! (A pause.) Something has been accomplished here which hasn’t yet happened anywhere else. A town has overthrown its prince; men48 have chosen to become free and to determine their happiness for themselves. And the other towns of Flanders, of France and of Burgundy are looking at her intently with hope-filled eyes. We must have victory.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Your wives, your fathers, your children will be dead, and Vaucelles will live! Were we not her flesh and blood too? Can we be cut off like a rotting hand? (She calls.) Jeanne, Clarice! (Jeanne and Clarice enter.) Come here. Look at these men. They have met with thirty other men49 and they have said, “We are the present and the future, we are the entire town, only we exist. We decide that the women, the old men, the children of Vaucelles are no more than useless mouths. Tomorrow they will be driven outside the town and condemned to die of hunger and cold in the ditches.”
  • Silence. Jeanne throws herself into Catherine’s arms.

    CLARICE:

  • This is what you’ve come up with? You are going to murder us so that you can eat your fill! (A pause. To Jacques): Is this what you call love?
  • Silence.

    LOUIS:

  • It is true that we have become executioners. Certainly the points of spears, the flames of death, would be more merciful to us than the horror (p.59) which from now on will be our lot.50 But because it is necessary either to die as innocents or live as criminals, we choose crime because we choose life.
  • CATHERINE:

  • You choose life for yourselves, but death for us.
  • LOUIS:

  • It’s not about you, or us: it’s about our community and the future of the entire world.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Won’t the men who’ll be left tomorrow be made of the same flesh as us? If in your eyes we are only hungry cattle, what are they? Why sacrifice us for them?
  • LOUIS:

  • To choose life, is to always choose the future. Without this choice [élan] which carries us forward we would be nothing but vegetation on the face of the earth. Of what importance is it, then, whether our hearts beat or are silent. To reduce Vaucelles to ashes, to reduce the future to ashes, also reduces our past to ashes and denies all that we are.
  • A pause.

    JEANNE:

  • No! No! It’s too unjust.
  • CATHERINE:

  • We shall not beg for their pity.
  • She leads her out. Clarice follows slowly.

    JACQUES:

  • Clarice! (Clarice stops.) I want to speak to her.
  • LOUIS:

  • All right. You may speak to her.
  • Louis and François go out. Jacques goes toward Clarice.

    JACQUES:

  • Tonight when everyone is asleep, slip out of your room; come and knock at the door of my house: the little door that leads out to the side-street. Knock twice. Tomorrow the guards will search the camp. But nobody will dare suspect me. You will be in safety until the end of the siege. (Silence.) I swear on the Virgin to respect you like a much-loved sister.51 (Silence.) Well then! Why do you say nothing?
  • CLARICE:

  • Do you expect me to fall at your feet while kissing your hands? Keep your presents.
  • JACQUES:

  • Do you prefer to die of cold and hunger?
  • CLARICE:

  • I can choose my death.52 Go away.
  • Jacques moves away.

    JACQUES:

  • I will wait for you all night.
  • He goes out. She shuts the door after him, takes down a dagger from the wall,

    (p.60) looks at it and quickly puts it back in its place on hearing footsteps.53 Georges comes in.

    GEORGES:

  • Are you alone?
  • CLARICE:

  • Yes.
  • GEORGES:

  • Jeanne and Mother are praying. They told me about the Council’s decision. Don’t you want to pray?
  • CLARICE:

  • No.
  • GEORGES:

  • Aren’t you afraid?
  • CLARICE:

  • What are you worried about?
  • GEORGES (approaching her):

  • It’s cold at night in the ditches. There are slimy creatures slithering under the grass.
  • CLARICE, recoiling a little:

  • I’m not frightened.
  • GEORGES:

  • You are beautiful, Clarice. You are alive and warm. And soon you will rot under the earth. The worms will eat these sweet lips.
  • He embraces her.

    CLARICE:

  • Georges! You are my brother!
  • GEORGES:

  • I am a man that desires you, Clarice.54
  • CLARICE:

  • Stop it!
  • GEORGES:

  • Why should I stop! I desire you, and you know it.
  • CLARICE:

  • Yes, I know it. I have felt your troubled gaze linger on me and your dirty thoughts. I also know that hunger, thirst and death would be easier to put up with than this kiss that you have inflicted on me.
  • She wipes her mouth.

    GEORGES:

  • Insult me! Kill me with your hate-filled eyes! Until this morning I felt ashamed, but now you’re going to die; your tongue is no more than a piece of red flesh which will become blackened and disintegrate. These eyes will dissolve, their look will no longer burn me.
  • CLARICE:

  • Must I spit in your face?
  • She spits.

    GEORGES:

  • What’s that? Nothing but a little saliva on my cheek. (He seizes her.) You are going to die, and all your thoughts will die with you. They are already dead. I am alone with your body, alone with my desire.
  • (p.61) CLARICE:

  • Georges!
  • Louis enters. Georges lets Clarice go and she runs off.

    LOUIS:

  • Get out of this house. You are no longer my son.
  • GEORGES:

  • And so what! Aren’t you going to kill her?
  • LOUIS:

  • How dare you look me in the face! Get out or I will kill you like a dog!
  • GEORGES:

  • Why these hypocritical accusations? You yourself have done something appalling. From now on there’s neither good nor evil. Force rules.55
  • LOUIS:

  • Be silent! (A pause.) I put force to the service of the good, the good of my town, the good of the world.
  • GEORGES:

  • You’ve served your own desires.
  • LOUIS:

  • My desires! I have sacrificed more than my life.
  • GEORGES:

  • You’ve chosen your sacrifices yourself. I choose my pleasure.
  • LOUIS:

  • What? Must I justify myself to you? Go away! (Georges leaves. Louis paces up and down. He calls very quietly:) Catherine! (He calls more loudly, with anguish:) Catherine!
  • Catherine enters.

    CATHERINE:

  • You called me?
  • They look at each other. A pause.

    LOUIS:

  • No!
  • Fifth Tableau

    Scenery the same as in the second tableau. The building-site is empty. It’s morning. People are going toward the Town Hall. Three old men are passing through.

    FIRST OLD MAN:

  • What do you think they’ve gone and invented again?
  • SECOND OLD MAN:

  • Nothing good, nothing good.
  • THIRD OLD MAN:

  • Walk more quickly. All the good places will be taken. We will hear nothing.
  • Two merchants are passing.

    FIRST MERCHANT:

  • We don’t want to surrender the town; so we won’t ever surrender her. And the Burgundians aren’t able to take her, so they won’t ever take her.56
  • (p.62) A couple pass.

    THE WOMAN:

  • I’m frightened.
  • THE MAN:

  • What are you frightened of?
  • THE WOMAN:

  • What are they going to tell us? Why are the streets full of armed men?
  • Catherine has come in during the last exchange. She looks at the belfry, touches the stones.

    CATHERINE:

  • No, it’s useless.57 Things no longer have any voice, or perhaps it’s me that no longer understands them. They have cut me off from the world; there is nothing left for me. (She sits down.) I’m tired. (A pause.) And for him, all this will continue to exist. The belfry will be completed, the rose trees will bloom again: for him.
  • JEAN-PIERRE runs in:

  • I’ve been looking for you everywhere.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Go away!
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Just a word.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Go away. I can’t stand the sight of a man.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • What are they going to do?
  • CATHERINE:

  • You will know soon enough.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It will be too late.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Too late?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Too late to save you. There are horrible rumors flying about.
  • CATHERINE:

  • The most horrible is true.
  • A pause.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • The people will not permit this crime. I’m going to speak to them.
  • CATHERINE:

  • You’re wasting your time. The people are proud of the leaders they have chosen. They will obey them. (A pause.) Why are you worried about us?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Am I worried about you? Or am I worried about myself? The smell in the air has changed and the saliva in my mouth has a bitter taste. I can’t stand the color of this sky! Where are the three leaders?
  • CATHERINE:

  • They will pass this way. But don’t hope to influence them. They’re blind and deaf.
  • (p.63) JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I will speak to the men of Vaucelles. I will know how to convince them.
  • CATHERINE:

  • No, it’s too late! Yesterday you should have taken the destiny of the town in your hands. Yesterday the members of the Council would have listened to you; you would have turned them away from this crime. But you wanted to keep yourself pure.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • How could I know that my silence would make a murderer of me?58
  • CATHERINE:

  • A murderer, an executioner. From the moment you were silent, you accepted any outcome.
  • A pause.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Where is Clarice?
  • CATHERINE:

  • I don’t know. (She gets up.) They are coming. May God be with you.
  • She goes out. The three leading Aldermen enter.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Just a minute, please! I want to speak to you.
  • LOUIS:

  • We can’t listen to you now. The people are waiting for us.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Let them wait. I know what you are going to tell them. Be careful. The men of Vaucelles will revolt against so barbaric a decision.
  • JACQUES:

  • They love their town; they will obey the law.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Get out of the way or I will have you seized by the guards.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • They will revolt! You have noticed that I have influence over them. Now I won’t hesitate to use it. I will turn them against you.
  • JACQUES:

  • You won’t do that. You won’t betray your town.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • This is no longer a town, there are only executioners and their victims here. I will not be your accomplice.59
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • This man should be thrown into prison.
  • LOUIS:

  • Go away!
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I will stop this crime from being accomplished.
  • They go out. People hurry across the stage. Bells ring.

    FRANÇOIS:

  • What, you’re letting him go?
  • JACQUES:

  • What crime has he committed? What law authorizes us to punish him?
  • (p.64) FRANÇOIS:

  • Is this the moment for us to worry about justice? Is what we are about to do just?
  • LOUIS:

  • All decrees voted by the Council are just.60 But we three don’t have the right to take an arbitrary decision.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Cowards! You will let Vaucelles be lost for fear that your mirrors will reflect you as tyrants.
  • JACQUES:

  • I fear that Vaucelles is less dear to you than power. Under pretext of saving her, you would not hesitate to reduce her to slavery.
  • ONE WOMAN, to another:

  • Hurry up! The bells are ringing.
  • ANOTHER WOMAN:

  • Has it started?
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • It’s started?
  • A MAN:

  • It has started.
  • VOICES:

  • It’s started! It has started!
  • They run out. Clarice and Jeanne had come in during the last exchange.

    CLARICE, leading Jeanne along:

  • Come this way.
  • JEANNE:

  • Did you catch sight of Jean-Pierre? I’m sure that he was looking for you.
  • CLARICE:

  • Exactly. I don’t wish to see him.
  • JEANNE:

  • If we stay here we won’t hear anything.
  • CLARICE:

  • You will know soon enough how the people react to what they say.
  • JEANNE:

  • When going to the square, women were leaning on the arms of their husbands, and sons were holding up their old fathers. They are going to revolt.
  • CLARICE:

  • Does our future depend on the capriciousness of their feelings?
  • JEANNE:

  • They’re speaking. Your father is speaking. They’re listening to him. What is he saying? (A pause.) What silence! Not a word! Not a cry! (A pause.) They are saying nothing. They are saying nothing! How cold it will be tonight in the ditches!
  • CLARICE:

  • There are slimy creatures slithering under the grass.
  • JEANNE:

  • Clarice!
  • CLARICE:

  • Don’t be afraid, we can escape from them.
  • (p.65) JEANNE:

  • How? Where to flee to?
  • Clarice pulls a dagger from her belt.

    CLARICE:

  • I want my father to find me dead on these steps.61
  • JEANNE:

  • I don’t want to die.
  • Catherine enters.

    CATHERINE:

  • What are you doing? Are you going to let them see you praying and crying?
  • JEANNE:

  • Is there no longer any hope?
  • CATHERINE:

  • As soon the vespers bell rings, the children, the women and the old men will be assembled in the Town Hall square, and the police will herd them to the other side of the ramparts.
  • JEANNE:

  • So the men of Vaucelles have accepted this judgment!
  • CATHERINE:

  • First, they looked at their wives, they took hold of their hands; then they averted their eyes, and their fingers let go.
  • JEANNE:

  • Oh, God!
  • CATHERINE:

  • It won’t be so easy for him to let go of my hand.
  • She goes out.

    CLARICE, taking the dagger:

  • Goodbye forever!
  • JEANNE:

  • Stop! As long as we are alive, there is still hope.
  • CLARICE:

  • What have I to hope for? There is nothing except this little life moving inside that tomorrow will tear itself from me.
  • JEANNE:

  • Clarice, don’t leave me alone!
  • CLARICE:

  • You are alone and I am alone! Goodbye!
  • JEANNE:

  • No, stay with me. The night will be less cold if I sleep in your arms. At least that is left to us; until our last breath, we can still smile at each other, love each other, cry together.62
  • CLARICE:

  • I don’t know how to smile, nor to cry. I don’t know how to love. They haven’t allowed me to live. But they will not rob me of my death.
  • She lifts the dagger. They struggle.

    JEANNE:

  • Jean-Pierre! Jean-Pierre!
  • They struggle.

    (p.66)

    CLARICE:

  • Give it to me!
  • JEANNE:

  • No. Jean-Pierre! Jean-Pierre!
  • Jean-Pierre runs in. Jeanne gives him the dagger. A pause.

    CLARICE:

  • Give it to me, or I will throw myself from the top of the belfry.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Do you believe that I would let you die alone? (Jeanne moves away and goes to sit among the stones on the site.) I am going to speak to the men of Vaucelles. I am going to persuade them to try to break out.
  • CLARICE:

  • The breakout will fail and we will all be massacred.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • At least we will all die together.
  • CLARICE:

  • We will die together! (A pause.) I don’t want your pity.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Pity? Who would dare have pity for you? I can’t bear to live if you are dead. I love you, Clarice.
  • CLARICE:

  • Yesterday you said that that word had no meaning.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Was it yesterday? It seems so far away to me now!
  • CLARICE:

  • It was yesterday, and you didn’t love me.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I didn’t dare to love you because I didn’t dare to live. This earth seemed impure to me and I didn’t want to sully myself. What stupid pride.
  • CLARICE:

  • Does it seem purer to you today?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • We belong to the earth. Now I see it clearly; I was pretending to cut myself off from the world, but it’s on earth that I was running away from my duties as a man, on earth I was a coward and I was condemning you to death by my silence. I love you on earth. Love me.
  • CLARICE:

  • And how does one love on this earth?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • We struggle together.63
  • A pause.

    CLARICE:

  • You said that everyone is alone.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • This suffering in my heart is you, Clarice, and at the same time it’s me.64 You are my life because your death will kill me.
  • CLARICE:

  • This joy that has just been born in me, is it you then?
  • JEAN-PIERRE takes her in his arms:

  • Tell me that you love me.
  • CLARICE:

  • My love! How I have suffered from not loving you!
  • (p.67) They kiss. They go out. The crowd comes back into the Town Hall square. The women and the old men form one group, the men another.

    A WOMAN:

  • I will hide.
  • ANOTHER:

  • Where will we hide? The police will search all the houses.
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • My God, have pity on us! My God, have pity on us!
  • A WOMAN:

  • Nobody will have pity on us. God is deaf !
  • THIRD WOMAN:

  • Murderers, why don’t you cut our throats and be done with it?
  • FOURTH WOMAN, going toward one of the men:

  • You’re my husband, and you’re going to let me die. (The two groups stop.) Answer me! Speak to me! Have you become deaf?
  • FIRST MAN:

  • The Council has decided, Maria. I have nothing to say to you.
  • JEAN-PIERRE goes up to the men:

  • The Council has decided! I believed up to now that you were free men. The Duke would never have dared ask of you what these men are asking. And you bow your heads to their authority!
  • SECOND MAN:

  • We want to save our town.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • You could try to break out. Are you afraid?
  • THIRD MAN:

  • We aren’t afraid.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • So then, let’s arm ourselves and attack the Burgundian camp.
  • Silence.

    FIRST MAN:

  • It isn’t what the Council has decided.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Wake up! Aren’t you fighting for your wives and your children?
  • THIRD MAN:

  • We’re fighting for our community.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Are you going to turn your town into a den of murderers?
  • FIRST MAN:

  • We will do what we are ordered to do.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • You speak like slaves!
  • François and Georges enter.

    FRANÇOIS:

  • No gathering in the streets. Disperse.
  • The crowd disperses.

    JEAN-PIERRE to Clarice:

  • This is not their last word on it. I will eventually shake their resolve.
  • (p.68) They leave. Georges looks after them, then turns toward François.

    GEORGES:

  • What scruples are holding you back? My father and Jacques van der Welde have set us an example. They haven’t hesitated to smite the weak and the useless. Are you more cowardly than they?
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • I will be in control at last!65 Nothing could stand in my way!
  • GEORGES:

  • Say the word, and I will slaughter them. Do you hesitate? We don’t have another life to live: this is our only chance. If we let it go, we will never have the chance again. Vaucelles is for the taking. It must be taken.66
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Vaucelles will be mine! I will collect all these men who grow haphazardly like wayward plants into one straight and hard sheaf. I will not allow a gesture, a word, to be lost uselessly in the air. What great things I will be able to do!
  • GEORGES:

  • No other law but our will shall exist. Nobody will dare call us to account: nobody will dare judge us. Each beat of our hearts will be inscribed on the face of the earth. I will be myself at last and the whole world will bear my stamp!
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • We will send for women from the neighboring countries, childbearing women who will give us sons capable of conquering Flanders and the world. I will build a new universe; I will make something so perfect and so fulfilling that it will no longer be possible for men to dream.
  • GEORGES:

  • We must act quickly. I want to take advantage of the confusion after the women and children’s exodus.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Come and find me before vespers.
  • GEORGES goes to leave from the other side of the stage and stops:

  • Who’s there? (Silence.) There’s someone here! (Silence.) You were spying on me!
  • He leaps forward and drags out Jeanne.

    JEANNE:

  • I’m glad! For all these years I dared not believe my heart, but now I know I was right to hate you.
  • GEORGES:

  • Yes, my angel! And even more than you might have thought.
  • Sixth Tableau

    In Louis D’Avesnes’s house. Catherine comes in, followed by women who are hanging onto her.

    THE WOMEN:

  • Save us. Save our children! You are our last hope.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I implore you, leave me. Leave me alone.
  • (p.69) THE WOMEN:

  • Master D’Avesnes has always listened to your voice. Beg him. Persuade him. He is good, he is just. He will listen to your prayers. Save me. Save us.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I can’t do anything more for you.
  • THE WOMEN:

  • Don’t abandon us.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I can do nothing. Leave me alone.
  • A WOMAN:

  • What was the use of giving us soup and bread each day? I would prefer to die of hunger in my house than be thrown to the Burgundians.
  • ANOTHER:

  • Be quiet.
  • ANOTHER:

  • She is right. Why not have let us die? It would have been done with.
  • CATHERINE:

  • My God, you’re blaming me for having wanted to help you!
  • ONE WOMAN, to another:

  • Shut up. Aren’t you ashamed?
  • A WOMAN, to Catherine:

  • We’re blaming you for nothing.
  • CATHERINE:

  • I am going to be thrown to the Burgundians as well.
  • A pause.

    A WOMAN:

  • Forgive us.67
  • They begin to leave.

    CATHERINE:

  • All that I can do for you, I will. (They leave.) In truth, it would have been better to have let them die of hunger. (She goes to the window and looks out.) I can do nothing more, I am nothing now.68
  • A pause. Clarice enters.

    CLARICE:

  • Mother darling! (Catherine looks at her.) Mother, how sad you look, what’s the matter with you?
  • CATHERINE:

  • What is the matter with me, Clarice?
  • CLARICE:

  • Yes, I know. But don’t be sad, Jean-Pierre will save us.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Has he spoken with the men of Vaucelles?
  • CLARICE:

  • He has spoken to them, and they didn’t listen to him. The Council has decided, that’s enough for them. But we will escape them. Jean-Pierre knows a way through the Burgundian camp. Tonight he will slip down into the ditches and help us to flee. We will reach France.
  • CATHERINE:

  • France!
  • (p.70) CLARICE:

  • And if we are caught, we will kill ourselves together! Now I am no longer afraid of either death or life!
  • CATHERINE:

  • You love him then.
  • CLARICE:

  • He loves me too.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Leave with him for France, Clarice, and be happy.
  • CLARICE:

  • Mother, you’re frightening me. Aren’t you going to escape with us?
  • CATHERINE:

  • Nothing can save me now. For me, everything is finished.
  • CLARICE:

  • Don’t talk like that. Doesn’t life begin anew each day? (A pause.) My child will be born. Don’t you want to smile at it?69
  • CATHERINE:

  • It will be your child, your future, your happiness.
  • CLARICE:

  • I will share everything with you.
  • CATHERINE:

  • No, I want my life, my future. Our life, our future. Or if nothing else is left to us, our death.
  • CLARICE:

  • What are you trying to say?
  • CATHERINE:

  • Don’t worry about me. Think of Jean-Pierre, think of your child, think of yourself. Be happy and my life will not have been completely in vain. (A pause.) Now you must leave me. I need silence. (Clarice leaves. Catherine takes her dagger from her belt.) No. That will not be. There will not be this separation between us. It will not come to that.
  • A pause. Louis comes in a door at the back. A long silence. Louis and Catherine look at each other.

    CATHERINE:

  • Is it you? I must look at you. You and I were so intermingled that I could no longer distinguish your face from mine: and now here you are in front of me with those two creases at the corner of your mouth, and those frightened eyes.
  • LOUIS, speaking in a low voice:

  • Catherine, my wife.
  • CATHERINE:

  • No, not your wife. An instrument that one breaks and throws on the scrap-heap when one has finished with it.70
  • LOUIS:

  • You are here, but I am alone.71
  • CATHERINE:

  • You have betrayed me! To die is nothing, but you have erased me from the world. All the promises of the past, you have turned them into lies. A lie the day that I brought Clarice into the world, and that sunny (p.71) morning when I laid the first stone of the belfry. A lie our kisses and our nights. Our love was only a lie.
  • LOUIS:

  • You can save our love, Catherine. You can save the past and the future. Say one word only: accept!
  • CATHERINE:

  • Can I repudiate my very self? (A pause.) You spoke to me, I answered, and I was a living and free woman in front of you. And I spoke to you and you freely replied to me; neither one of us ever accomplished an act in which the other didn’t recognize their own separate will. And now, you have disposed of me as just one more stone; and you are no more than this blind force that is crushing me.
  • LOUIS:

  • I ask you again and you answer me again. Accept our decree: recognize your own separate will in it: our common will is to save Vaucelles at any cost.
  • CATHERINE:

  • It is too late. You have decided without me and all the words that I say will be no more than the words of a slave. I am your victim; you are my executioner. (A pause and very sadly.) We are two strangers. (There is knocking. Jacques and Jean-Pierre enter carrying Jeanne.) Jeanne! What has happened?
  • JACQUES:

  • Our servants found her at the foot of the belfry swimming in blood. She is saying strange things.
  • Jean-Pierre goes out, carrying Jeanne. Catherine follows, but she stops near the door and listens.

    LOUIS:

  • What is she saying?
  • JACQUES:

  • Your son is conspiring against us. He wants to kill us and take power. (Silence. Louis sits down, stricken.) But we mustn’t lose a moment.
  • LOUIS:

  • Georges wants to kill me! (A pause.) Is it our fault?
  • JACQUES:

  • Our fault?
  • LOUIS:

  • I don’t know anymore.
  • JACQUES:

  • Call the Captain of the Guard. Give the order to seize your son. He is the one who is going to strike against us.
  • LOUIS:

  • There is no longer good or evil. Force rules.
  • JACQUES:

  • What are you saying?
  • LOUIS:

  • That is what he said; was he wrong?
  • JACQUES:

  • Wake up! Summon the Captain.
  • (p.72) LOUIS:

  • Why?
  • JACQUES:

  • Wake up. (A pause.) I know.72 It’s your son.
  • LOUIS:

  • What does my son matter to me?
  • JACQUES:

  • But it concerns your life.
  • LOUIS:

  • What does my life matter to me!
  • JACQUES:

  • It concerns Vaucelles.
  • LOUIS:

  • Does Vaucelles still exist? We wanted to save her and it seems to me we have killed her soul.
  • JACQUES:

  • This is not the time for questions and remorse. We must act.
  • LOUIS:

  • Forgive me. I need to be alone for a while.
  • Jacques goes out. A pause.

    CATHERINE:

  • Why are you sad? You had already lost your daughter and your wife. You no longer have a son. The future is wide open before you!
  • LOUIS:

  • You hate me, Catherine?
  • CATHERINE:

  • No … come here.
  • He gets up.

    LOUIS:

  • Will you leave me without having forgiven me?
  • CATHERINE:

  • Can I forgive you? Can I curse you? Aren’t we a single flesh? Take my hand. (She gives him her left hand and presses herself to him.) A single flesh, a single destiny. Nothing will be able to part us. Neither death, nor life!
  • She tries to stab him. He seizes her wrist. The weapon falls to the ground.

    LOUIS:

  • My dear love! You still love me, then?73
  • CATHERINE:

  • If you live, I have lost you!
  • LOUIS:

  • You have been given back to me, my wife. No kiss or promise has bound us as tightly as this dagger blow. You love me and I can hold you in my arms.
  • He takes her in his arms.

    CATHERINE:

  • I have lost you.
  • LOUIS:

  • No! Can’t you feel my heart beating against your heart, like it used to. I am not your executioner; you are not my victim. For you and me, the same destiny; and its cruelty cannot destroy our love. We are now reunited forever.
  • (p.73) CATHERINE:

  • Why did you hold my hand back? (Silence.) There is still time.
  • A pause.

    LOUIS:

  • I do not have the right to run away.
  • CATHERINE:

  • You love me and you will let me die alone!
  • Long silence. Clarice enters.

    CLARICE:

  • She is dead.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Did she say who struck her?
  • CLARICE:

  • It was Georges.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Georges! It’s all my fault! (Silence.) The love and the joy which I denied her, who will give them back to her? I’m a criminal! I thought: later, she will be happy. But her life has stopped now, in suffering and in hate; she died with this crushing weight on her heart: the weight of my stupid will. (Silence. She turns toward Louis.) You can sacrifice me without remorse. How could I ever have believed that this world was malleable clay [pâte] which I could shape and fashion by my will? Do what you want. I deserve to be thrown into the ditches, to die there alone and lost.74
  • LOUIS:

  • No!
  • CATHERINE:

  • What are you saying?
  • LOUIS:

  • I have denied half of my people, and the whole town has turned into a horde without law and without love. How can we reach a higher life if we first of all kill all our reasons for living? (He takes her in his arms.) A single flesh, a single destiny! We will triumph together, or we will be buried together in the earth.
  • CATHERINE:

  • What are you going to do?
  • LOUIS:

  • I am going to call the Council together.
  • Seventh Tableau

    The Council Chamber. The Deputies. The three leading Aldermen. Some guards.

    LOUIS:

  • Did you sleep last night?
  • VOICES:

  • What is he saying? What a strange question! Why has he brought us together?
  • LOUIS:

  • If you have slept, you are lucky. (A pause.) We made a mistake. (p.74) What we decided yesterday was wrong and should not be carried out [s’accomplir].
  • Murmurs of surprise.

    FRANÇOIS:

  • Be careful; there are things that cannot be said without courting death.
  • LOUIS:

  • Do you think that I want you to surrender Vaucelles? I would sooner kill myself! (A pause.) We will not buy our victory with a crime. Let us arm the men, the old men, the women and even the children. Under the cover of night, let us storm the Burgundian camp. Together we will triumph or together we will die.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • We know that you are a good husband and a good father. But aren’t you forgetting that you are first of all the leader of this town? You admitted yesterday that a successful breakout would need a miracle.
  • LOUIS:

  • Ghent was at the end of its strength; the enemy promised to spare it if all the young people of the town were handed over to them.75 But the inhabitants preferred death to shame; without hope they attacked the besiegers’ army; and they swept them away.
  • JACQUES:

  • Why should we run this senseless risk when we know that victory is secure if we hold out until spring?
  • FIRST DEPUTY:

  • Ever since yesterday every one of us has heard a wife, a cherished mother, crying in his house; when our little children smiled, we turned our heads away and wiped our tears. We didn’t sleep. But we don’t have the right to lose Vaucelles in order to soothe our own feelings.
  • VOICES:

  • We don’t have the right.
  • LOUIS:

  • The right? Then who decides, if we do not? Nobody before us has ever resolved this question that we have to answer, and nobody can answer it for us. It is for us alone to choose: what do we want?
  • JACQUES:

  • We want victory.
  • VOICES:

  • Victory. We want victory!
  • LOUIS:

  • What victory? (A pause.) The people of Vaucelles were crawling about in misery and slavery. We said that we will turn these slaves into men; and as soon as these words were pronounced, poverty, hunger, death took on a different face. For eighteen months, we have struggled side by side, and, despite suffering, joy was ours. Ever since yesterday, joy is dead. From where do we draw the strength to be men, if not in those looks lifted (p.75) toward us with trust? Now all eyes are averted. Each one is alone like an animal. What does our triumph or our ruin matter, if we are no more than a wild horde? No. We will not end this struggle by trampling under foot all our reasons for struggling. That would be the worst of all defeats.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • There is only one defeat and that is not reaching the goal we have chosen. We have not overthrown the Duke for death but life. And we will live.
  • LOUIS:

  • We have overthrown the Duke to win liberty and justice.
  • FIRST DEPUTY:

  • Today we dare to behave like tyrants for the love of freedom and justice,76 otherwise we will be vanquished and we will lose them forever.
  • SECOND DEPUTY:

  • What he’s saying is true. We need strength first. The time for justice will come.
  • VOICES:

  • No weakness. It’s not the time for us to weigh ourselves down with scruples. It is useful to the community that these people die: they will die!77
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • What good is it to continue this chattering any longer? Our decisions are already taken. I ask the Council to vote.
  • VOICES:

  • Yes, let’s vote, let’s finish it.
  • JEAN-PIERRE, bursting into the room:

  • Wait!
  • VOICES (together):

  • What does he want? What’s he doing here? It’s out of order! Who let him in? What a nerve! How dare he?
  • LOUIS:

  • Don’t you know that it is forbidden to cross this threshold during the Council meeting?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • For the love of Vaucelles, in the name of the service I’ve given to this community, listen to me. It will be time to punish me later if you judge that I’ve breached your laws lightly. The news that I bring cannot wait.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • You will be made an example of ! (To the guards.) Take him away.
  • JACQUES:

  • No. Let him speak. The things that he has to say to us must be important.
  • THE DEPUTIES:

  • Let him speak! We want to hear him. He wouldn’t run such a risk without having good reason.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • This is unlawful.
  • (p.76) JACQUES:

  • We make the law.
  • LOUIS:

  • Speak then.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • First I will ask you a question: doesn’t our constitution require that our laws be voted by the three leading Aldermen, assisted by the Council?
  • LOUIS:

  • Without doubt.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Well then! I tell you that none of the decisions you will make today will have the force of law, because here there are only two Aldermen and a traitor. (He points at François.)
  • VOICES:

  • What? What is he saying? Is it possible? What is he trying to say? What treason does he speak of? He is accusing François Rosbourg?
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • This is too much!
  • LOUIS:

  • Explain yourself.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • My sister has just died, murdered. Do you know who murdered her?
  • LOUIS:

  • I know, it is my son.78
  • Movements on the stage.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • And do you know why? He was conspiring against the community and she discovered his plans. He wasn’t alone; before dying, Jeanne revealed to me the name of his accomplice: François Rosbourg.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • Are you allowing one of your leading Aldermen to be insulted with impunity in full Council? I demand that this man be thrown in prison!
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • He wanted to get rid of Master Van der Welde and Master D’Avesnes and to rule alone. My sister heard his words!
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • It is easy to invoke the witness of the dead. Once more, I ask you to put an end to this outrage.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I have succeeded in finding another witness. (To Louis.) Will you allow him to enter?
  • LOUIS, to the guards:

  • Let him enter.
  • The guards open the door. Georges enters surrounded by three youths holding him at spear-point.

    JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I won’t ask you to repeat here the confession that we’ve taken (p.77) from you. Tell us just this: this man accuses you of having attempted to corrupt him and he claims to have rejected your offer with horror. Is this true?
  • GEORGES:

  • Corrupt him, really? He was very quick to listen to what I had to say. I even ask myself if he isn’t the one who suggested it in the first place.
  • VOICES:

  • Is it possible? François Rosbourg? What awful treason!
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • He is lying!
  • GEORGES:

  • Do you think I’d agree to take the blame for you? No, if I must hang from the gallows, I want you to keep me company. I know very well that if our plan had succeeded, you’d have tried to get rid of me.
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • It’s a plot! They have come up with these lies to get me out of power.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • We have obtained from Georges the name of your accomplices, and we have been able to seize many of them. Does the Council want to hear them?
  • Jean-Pierre’s friends open the door and let some men in.

    FIRST DEPUTY:

  • You traitor! You took advantage of our misfortune to serve your ambition.
  • THIRD DEPUTY:

  • And you dared speak to us of the good of Vaucelles, you hypocrite!
  • FRANÇOIS:

  • It is true. I wanted power. But it’s also true that it was for the good of Vaucelles. Your feeble hearts will never be capable of giving her the destiny that I dreamed for her. In my hands, she would have become the queen of Flanders and of the world.
  • JACQUES:

  • She would have become the docile instrument of your pride: the good of this town is what she herself chooses as her good.79 If she received the world as an empire from the hands of an outsider, she would be only a slave.80
  • LOUIS:

  • His admission is enough! (To a guard.) Take him away.
  • François steps down from the rostrum; the guards take him away, as well as Georges and the witnesses.

    JACQUES:

  • You have saved Vaucelles. I propose that the Council call on Jean-Pierre Gauthier to occupy this vacant place at our sides.
  • VOICES:

  • Yes! He deserves it! Let him be a leading Alderman!
  • (p.78) VOICES:

  • Let him be an Alderman!
  • LOUIS:

  • Do any members of the Council oppose this decision? (A pause.) The responsibility of being an Alderman is offered to you, then: will you accept it?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • I accept it. (He climbs the rostrum.) As I am now permitted to take part in your debates, I want to ask you: this man that you have just expelled from your midst, is he not a criminal?
  • VOICES:

  • Yes. Certainly. He is a criminal.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Well then! All he did was to follow your example. (Movements.) You had decided that the old men and the infirm are useless mouths; why wouldn’t a tyrant judge your liberties useless and your lives insignificant? If one man alone can be seen as disposable, a hundred thousand men together are merely so much waste.
  • Silence.

    JACQUES:

  • Must a whole town be condemned to die to save half of it?
  • LOUIS:

  • We will condemn nobody! The men of Vaucelles are free and we will appeal to their liberty. They have agreed to obey you because they trust our wisdom. But tell them you will allow them to risk their lives to save that of their children and their wives, and they will risk it with joy.
  • FIRST DEPUTY:

  • They will risk it and they will all perish.
  • LOUIS:

  • A freely chosen death is not a bad thing. But these women and old men that you will throw in the ditches are not allowed to choose. And so you will rob them of both their deaths and their lives. We will not do that! On this night, united in a single will, a free people will confront its destiny.
  • SECOND DEPUTY:

  • Vaucelles must live!
  • LOUIS:

  • Who is Vaucelles? Between each of us and all the others there is a pact; if we break it, our community crumbles into dust.
  • SECOND DEPUTY:

  • Vaucelles won’t cease to exist because our women and children will be dead. We will find other wives who will give us other sons.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Other wives? Other sons? But with what eyes will they look at us? And what words will we dare speak to them?
  • A pause.

    FOURTH DEPUTY:

  • What he says is true. Since yesterday I have not dared to (p.79) lift my eyes for fear of meeting those of a victim or an accomplice. Our mouths will never be able to smile again.
  • THIRD DEPUTY:

  • Imagine the King of France arriving. He will enter a town of assassins, so will the bells of our belfry ring for joy or instead as a death toll?
  • FIRST DEPUTY:

  • And can you imagine our belfry razed to the ground, our walls reduced to rubble?
  • LOUIS:

  • We are not fighting for stones.
  • SECOND DEPUTY:

  • Vaucelles must live.
  • LOUIS:

  • Is an accursed people eaten up by shame still living?
  • SECOND DEPUTY:

  • Is it living when its bones nourish the earth?
  • LOUIS:

  • It could live forever in our hearts. Yes, Vaucelles must live. Let us not kill her soul.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Can you look this future in the face that you have built with crime and with treason? Some of you, eaten up by remorse, will run from the town; the others will be eaten away in solitude and silence. We will have sacrificed our flesh, our blood and all that will be left in the middle of the plain is an empty tomb. Will you be satisfied with such a victory? (Silence.) Reply!
  • THIRD DEPUTY:

  • I don’t know anymore.
  • FIFTH DEPUTY:

  • I don’t know anymore.
  • FOURTH DEPUTY:

  • He is right, we will be cursed.
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • What woman will cross our walls? What friend will touch our hands?
  • JACQUES:

  • He is right. We will have killed trust and love. We will no longer be a town but a horde. We wanted to serve as an example to the world, and instead we will be an object of horror to it.
  • FIRST DEPUTY:

  • Our goal is within our reach: will we renounce it?
  • LOUIS:

  • What is the goal? We have overthrown the Duke to be free men. We have only to say one word, make one gesture, and this goal is attained. Failure is no longer to be feared. Whether we succeed in breaking out or are massacred, we will triumph. (A pause.) We will vote by raising hands.
  • In silence, they all raise their hands.

    (p.80) Eighth Tableau

    At night, under the ramparts, in front of a gate. To the right, a Captain is giving out arms. To the left, Catherine and Clarice are giving out soup and bread.81 There is a large crowd of men, women, children and old men.

    CATHERINE:

  • Who wants more soup?
  • A MAN:

  • I’m not hungry anymore.
  • A MAN:

  • Nor me.
  • ANOTHER:

  • Nor me.
  • AN OLD MAN:

  • I dreamed of eating my fill before I die!
  • A WOMAN:

  • This is perhaps our last meal.
  • A MAN:

  • Come on now! Tomorrow, we will drink the Burgundians’ wine and slaughter their pigs!
  • ANOTHER:

  • What a feast!
  • ANOTHER:

  • We will make them pay for these months of famine.
  • CATHERINE:

  • Tomorrow! There will be the same black sky around the earth, the same icy wind will sweep the plain. Will we still see this sky, or will our eyes be closed forever?
  • CLARICE:

  • It doesn’t matter, we will have lived.82 I’ve had my share of life.
  • Louis and Jacques come in from the two sides of the stage.

    LOUIS:

  • Is everything ready?
  • JACQUES:

  • We only need a spark to set fire to the belfry, the ramparts and the houses. The infirm and the old men are at their posts. Before the Burgundians could reach our gates, the town would be in flames.
  • LOUIS, to the Captain:

  • Are they all armed?
  • THE CAPTAIN:

  • Yes.
  • LOUIS:

  • Have they eaten enough?
  • CATHERINE:

  • We’ve given out two weeks rations to them. (Jean-Pierre runs in.) Well then?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • It’s exactly like the other night. They are sleeping and, at this side of the camp, the sentries are playing dice. I came to within a hundred paces of them without being seen.
  • (p.81) LOUIS:

  • We will start when two o’clock strikes. (A pause.) The gate will close behind us.
  • VOICES:

  • We will not go back.
  • Louis and Jacques move away.

    THE CAPTAIN:

  • In your places! Men in front. Women and children at the back.
  • They rush, bumping into each other.

    CLARICE:

  • Are these the same people as yesterday?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Today, their future is in their hands. (To Catherine.) Vaucelles owes you her salutations.83
  • CATHERINE:

  • Perhaps it would have been better to have let myself be thrown into the ditches without resisting. Have I saved these children and women? Have I condemned these men to death?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • Your silence would perhaps have saved these men. It would certainly have lost these women and children. Instead we will weigh upon the earth.84
  • CATHERINE:

  • How can we know?
  • JEAN-PIERRE:

  • We cannot know. Now I see it clearly: our lot is to take the risk and the anguish. But why should we hope to be at peace?
  • THE CAPTAIN:

  • To your places.
  • Jean-Pierre kisses Clarice. The three of them go back to their places. Louis comes toward Catherine.

    LOUIS:

  • Farewell, Catherine!
  • CATHERINE:

  • No, not farewell. Now we are together forever.
  • They kiss. Two o’clock strikes.

    LOUIS:

  • Let joy be ours! We are fighting for liberty, and liberty will triumph through our freely given sacrifice. Alive or dead, we are the victors.
  • Two o’clock strikes for the second time. Louis goes to his place at the head of the column.

    LOUIS:

  • Open the gate!
  • The gate starts to open.

    THE END

    Our grateful thanks to Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir for permission to translate Les bouches inutiles for publication in the Illinois edition of Beauvoir’s work. We would also like to thank Marybeth Timmermann for helpful suggestions on the specifics of our translation, Margaret Simons for general encouragement and support, and Joan Catapano and the University of Illinois Press for embarking on this major publishing project.

    Notes:

    Les bouches inutiles (Paris: Gallimard, 1945). © Éditions Gallimard, 1945.

    (1.) As a translation of the original publication of Beauvoir’s play, we have followed the Gallimard edition in including the names of the actors who played each of the characters.

    (2.) When this is said it is heard as “vaut-elle,” which, in a play on words, implies the question “does she have worth?”

    (3.) The stage directions are at points rather schematic. Our Introduction discusses Michel Vitold’s directional style.

    (4.) The original Gallimard text capitalizes all the dramatic personae. Some (names, and names taking the form of titles) start with capital letter of a larger size, and these have been capitalized here. However, the women and other “ordinary people” who speak are not individualized, to indicate that they are “the useless mouths” and do not have value, and so they have not been capitalized here. Even when the children or women or old speak, they are not accorded a name or title, which connotes individuality and worth.

    (5.) The verb “se coller” here in the Gallimard text is the first use of a reflexive verb in the play. The frequent and “strong” use of reflexives in French is one of the marked differences between it and English, and it brings particular difficulties in translating. A reflexive verb is one that is preceded by a reflexive pronoun—a pronoun that refers to the self. In English, the word “self” preceded by the possessive pronoun comes after the verb; for example “she throws herself into the work” is translated as “elle se lance dans le travail,” with the word “self” being included in the “se” here. This difference between the two languages means that the French rendering imparts much less of a sense of ownership, and as a result the self and the subject are more integrated.

    (6.) The French “maître,” used in the Gallimard text, contains a number of different meanings. A more literal translation as “mayor” or “magistrate” is not appropriate here, given that well-known terms existed for the various ruling groups in the Flanders city-states. In Ghent, the model for Vaucelles, the three leading Aldermen were known as the “Three Members.” The appropriate title to indicate the status of Louis D’Avesnes, Jacques van der Welde and François Rosbourg as the “Three Members” of the Aldermanate of Vaucelles is the honorific “Master.” What Beauvoir terms as the “Council,” the historical Aldermanate, is in the case of Vaucelles composed of thirty representatives from the guilds and dominated by the weavers’ guild, “top dogs” because of the supreme role of cloth in the creation of wealth. See our Introduction for more detail.

    (7.) “Bourgeoisie” has a double meaning here. It was the term used at the time the play is set to describe the citizens of the city-states of Flanders; but when Beauvoir wrote The Useless Mouths and still now, it conveys a class characterized by complacency as well as prudence.

    (8.) “Freedom” has central place within Sartrean existentialist thinking and Sartre, particularly in his earlier philosophy, held by this as an “absolute freedom.” However, The Useless Mouths instead emphasizes that freedom of decision and choice is always conditional and (p.83) is often in fact determined by social situation and category-membership. This comment by Jean-Pierre Gauthier is the first time that Vaucelles is named as being composed by its men. Indeed, the “nous” in the original French—“nous serons,” “nous travaillerons pour nous,” and “nous vivrons”—is multiply repeated; and “des hommes” is explicitly used, rather than “un peuple” or “des gens,” both appearing elsewhere in the play, so Beauvoir is making the point very clear here.

    (9.) That is, the other city-states in Flanders, which included Bruges, Antwerp, Lille, and Oudenburg as well as Ghent.

    (10.) Now associated with “a canteen of cutlery,” in a military context a canteen is a traveling mess that serves food to frontline soldiers. There is no suitable English word for the kind of soldiers that do this: neither a “mess orderly” nor a “canteen orderly” sounds right, so we have opted to use a description—a “field-canteen”—as the occupational title.

    (11.) This is the first mention of the immensely important belfry being built in Vaucelles. Its significance both in the real Flanders city-states and in the fictional Vaucelles is explored in the Introduction.

    (12.) As this indicates, in the in extremis situation the town is in, even straw and husks have value as desirable foodstuffs.

    (13.) This comment points up Jean-Pierre’s disassociation, his disengagement or “désengagement” in French.

    (14.) Here Jeanne is acting as a mouthpiece concerning the role of necessity in (Sartrean) existentialist ideas and in a way parroting Catherine’s ideas, expressed later in the play, about there being different kinds of happiness, only one of which concerns love and with “higher” forms existing. Beauvoir’s approach in the play is instead concerned with authenticity, with people coming to recognize the fundamental nature of the self as “self-and-other.”

    (15.) His statement positions Clarice as the principle of solipsism personified, and a direct parallel of how Jean-Pierre situates himself. Our Introduction discusses the role of characters in The Useless Mouths as embodying philosophical positions and changes to these.

    (16.) This is a curious phrase, indicating “exceptionally rare.” Most diamonds come in the form of a solitaire, a word also indicating being by itself, solitary and alone. The actor playing Clarice was Beauvoir’s close friend Olga Dominique, a dark-haired woman; newspaper photographs of cast members suggest that her costume was a striking black and white.

    (17.) This is literally what the mason says; the intimation is, women are useless.

    (18.) The French “chef de chantier” is still used of someone who is a “site foreman.” Although the present-day meaning of this loses the power and status of the role in the medieval hierarchy, Beauvoir quite explicitly does not term this person a “master” of a trade in the way she does some of the masons and weavers. Consequently, we have decided to translate it as “Site Foreman” rather than elevating it in a way that would disregard Beauvoir’s choice.

    (19.) He is being sarcastic, because the three leading Aldermen and the Council are not likely to do the heeding of two ordinary masons.

    (20.) This is the first explicit intimation of the leading position of the weavers’ guild in the traditional power structure of Vaucelles. Later in this tableau, these two masons attempt to take bread that is intended to feed the townspeople from a porter, showing that they do not accept some decisions made by the Council, all of whom are weavers. The power base of the weavers’ guild no longer exists because there is no more cloth to weave or sell: what counts is the belfry, and thus what the masons do.

    (p.84) (21.) There is no indication that the child is male: the text says simply “enfant,” so we treat the child as intentionally unsexed.

    (22.) The “Three Arts” are painting, sculpture, music.

    (23.) Thirty is symbolic here and again later in the play because thirty pieces of silver were paid to Judas to betray Jesus.

    (24.) The stage direction does not indicate very clearly what is happening here. Clarice and Jacques are the center of the scene; the commotion breaks out at one corner where the belfry is being built. Then the man, followed by a group of masons, some of whom are carrying the body, pass in front of Clarice and Jacques. Jacques stops two of this group to question them about what has happened.

    (25.) This is the first occurrence of the word “useless.” Beauvoir is using it here to intimate that the only useless thing is actually the belfry, not the so-called useless mouths.

    (26.) At this point, François sees the belfry as useless and the work on it as without value; over the course of this tableau, however, his philosophical position undergoes a complete volte face.

    (27.) This is the first of some strong “musts” in the play, and these signal significant points in the developing events.

    (28.) There are five highly significant uses of “one,” the impersonal form, in The Useless Mouths, of which this is the first. They all indicate an important degree of distance and disengagement on the part of a character from something that is happening or that has been said to them.

    (29.) This is another expression of being disengaged, or désengagement, on Jean-Pierre’s part, and again gestures toward the betrayal of Jesus.

    (30.) Louis says in French, and he means, “men” in the second sentence here. However, at this point he knows that the “few lives” would actually be all the women, as well as all the children and the old and infirm, but not the men. He is lying.

    (31.) This, together with the fact that only men can work, as work is being defined in Vaucelles, is the crux of the decision about the useless mouths.

    (32.) This is a strong remark and shows how much François’ philosophical position has shifted and also how much the emphasis for him is on women’s uselessness. It is omitted from the Francis and Gontier translation.

    (33.) Clarice is behaving with childish petulance here, as Jeanne’s response indicates—of course they cannot, they are starving.

    (34.) For Georges, action entails doing anything. Catherine later points out that it matters in a fundamental sense what it is that action consists of.

    (35.) The adventurer as a moral type, like the tyrant, is developed from Beauvoir’s interest in Hegel and is commented on in Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity (New York: Citadel Press, 1976 [1948]), 58–62, 63. Solipsism is thus an element within the adventurer position.

    (36.) At this point, Catherine fails to realize that she has been permitted to have this symbolic role, but that she has always been excluded from real power because she has never been seen to have the use and value that men have.

    (37.) This is a stark expression of a solipsist stance.

    (38.) Catherine’s approach is a very instrumental one, of just using Jeanne to “change” and tame Georges.

    (39.) Catherine’s comment here is made in bad faith—she knows full well that Jeanne is not “strong” but has surrendered her will to another, that is, to Catherine herself.

    (p.85) (40.) Jean-Pierre here is expressing a patrician scorn for the weavers, who are seen by others as central to the economic and political life of Vaucelles.

    (41.) Georges means that Clarice’s face laughed with pleasure, perhaps indicated by touching it.

    (42.) This is perhaps the strongest use of the impersonal pronoun in the play, indicating Catherine’s attempt to gain emotional distance from the horrors happening.

    (43.) This is the first time that the precise words “the useless mouths” are used, although the idea has been intimated before. It comes at a very dramatic point and is the culmination of the events unfolding in Act I. What Louis’ saying this makes clear is that it encompasses “the women” as an absolute, the category membership in total, but that it is only certain kinds of men, those who are sick, old, and children, who are useless.

    (44.) This tautological two-part “logic” appears a number of times in the play. Louis’ false argument here is that the ends of the decision are by definition good, so any decision to produce these ends is also good.

    (45.) There is immense irony here. Louis is emphasizing the femaleness of Vaucelles and that it must be saved, while in the play it is femaleness that has to be sacrificed. The fact that orally Vaucelles sounds like “vaut-elle” (see footnote 2) makes the irony resound. Beauvoir uses “elle” here three times for Vaucelles, so there can be no mistaking her meaning, which is to emphasize the absurdity of what is going on.

    (46.) Louis’ bald statement that “she knows,” and then Catherine’s “I know,” involve a quantum leap kind of knowledge, knowledge that changes everything.

    (47.) What Catherine does not yet appreciate is that, as a woman, she never had worth and that there has been no change concerning this, but rather the open recognition of where ethically this leads to in the in extremis situation Vaucelles is in.

    (48.) That this is indeed men is shown by Catherine’s response, contrasting it as she does with “the useless mouths.”

    (49.) This is the Aldermanate.

    (50.) “Our” lot is used duplicitously here by Louis, for there has been no choice for Catherine or any others of “the useless mouths.”

    (51.) There is an immense irony here that the audience will be aware of at this point: Georges, for whom Clarice is a literal sister, does not respect her sexually at all.

    (52.) Clarice has been denied the ability to make her own choices in life. By choosing her death, Clarice exercises her free will for the first time and in doing so comes to “grow up” and become an adult person or self.

    (53.) There is probably a mistake in the stage directions, because Clarice is not alone from this point on, but in the next tableau takes a dagger from her belt to kill herself. It would be more appropriate if Clarice had hidden the dagger in her belt rather than replacing it on the wall, and it may well have been done like this in actual performance.

    (54.) Georges’ incestuous desire for Clarice is a Hegelian in extremis behavior, one of a number that Beauvoir makes use of in The Useless Mouths.

    (55.) This statement from Georges does not have to be true, and later Louis comes to realize this.

    (56.) The tenses of these two parallel statements of entirely faulty two-part logic are crucial—“if we don’t want to, then we won’t have to; and they haven’t so far, so they never will.”

    (57.) The French is “non, c’est inutile” and involves a very deliberate use of “inutile” or (p.86) “useless” to describe the belfry, offering a direct contrast to the men’s application of “useless” to women.

    (58.) This is clearly intended as a universal statement, not only about the specific situation in Vaucelles. Silence always entails “accepting any outcome,” as Catherine phrases it, and involves complicity, and only the exertion of will in contrary action does not.

    (59.) This is the point at which Jean-Pierre refuses the complicity that comes from silence.

    (60.) This is tautological. It is also patently untrue.

    (61.) Clarice intends to kill herself, while a little later in this tableau Catherine intends to kill Louis. They both see Louis as responsible for the decision and therefore the person who is “going to be shown” through the consequences of their freely chosen actions. This is important for the development of the ethical ideas being developed about the relationship between self and others with regard to free will and wider notions of freedom.

    (62.) While not a very developed character in the play, Jeanne is more than a cipher, for she is connected to others, committed to them, and she acts in concert with them; indeed, these things are her undoing, leading to bad faith through her relationships with Catherine and with Georges. Her commitment also leads her to be murdered off stage in the next tableau.

    (63.) “On lutte ensemble” (we struggle together), is a major statement in the play of what it is to be what we term in our Introduction “self-and-other” and to live purposefully in the world.

    (64.) This comment by Jean-Pierre is a key statement of Beauvoir’s idea of self-and-other and an indissoluble interconnection rather than solipsism characterizing the human condition.

    (65.) What François is clearly meaning is, “I will be dictator.” When Beauvoir drafted The Useless Mouths she thought she would have to submit it to the German censor so that it might be licensed for performance, and presumably she does not use the word for this reason. François, however, is revealing himself as a kind of Hitler figure, intent on achieving a putsch, and is a tyrant and dictator in the terms she explored later in The Ethics of Ambiguity (62, 71).

    (66.) This is the same faulty two-part tautological logic as the merchants earlier used: “this could be, therefore it must be.”

    (67.) For the women, Catherine has suddenly stopped being “one of them” and has become “one of us”; Beauvoir expands on this idea in her Introduction to The Second Sex (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (New York: Vintage Books, 2010).

    (68.) The Sartrean emphasis is on the movement from doing to being, while here Beauvoir is in a subtle way reversing this: unless Catherine has human worth and “being” in this sense, she is unable to “do,” to act in the existentialist sense of the term. It is of course also reminiscent of Descartes’ formulation, but his “je pense donc je suis” (I think, therefore I am) has been reworked by Beauvoir to become “je peux donc je suis” (I can, therefore I am).

    (69.) The word for child in French is necessarily residually sexed (that is, it appears under the covering law of “il” and “ils”), whereas the English allows what is more likely here, which is that only the child’s existence is being indicated.

    (70.) The two uses of “one” by Catherine here again distances her, in this case from the terrible fact that it will be Louis doing this, killing her “like an instrument that you will break.”

    (p.87) (71.) This is a statement about solipsism and it is a condition existing between him and Catherine that “the useless mouths” decision, and the wider notions of use and value underpinning it, have brought about. However, at this point in the play Louis cannot grasp that this is so.

    (72.) This comment from Jacques parallels the even more portentous repetitions of “I know” earlier in the play.

    (73.) There are echoes here of Françoise killing Xavière in She Came to Stay, as someone who was loved but who also threatened Françoise’s very selfhood. It is another example of the Hegelian in extremis situation that Beauvoir was so much engaged by when she wrote The Useless Mouths and is discussed further in the Introduction.

    (74.) This is a particularly “writerly” speech-act from Catherine, involving two colons and a semicolon which are highly consequential for the development of her thinking but which cannot be “heard” by the audience and can only be read.

    (75.) Morally speaking, Louis is using this as a direct parallel to what he now thinks Vaucelles should do. Given the details of the play, and as noted in our Introduction, we think that Beauvoir saw it as such too. That is, she saw the intended genocidal banishment of the women as a product of the wider dynamics of power operating, and not as implying a different basis for the intended expulsion of women.

    (76.) The First Deputy is assuming that it is possible to behave like a tyrant without actually being a tyrant, that doing and being are different things. The whole import of the play is to reject the means/end separation implicit in this.

    (77.) This is the same false logic indicated earlier—“it is useful to us, so therefore they will die.”

    (78.) This is another resounding “I know” in the play.

    (79.) This repeats once more the tautological false logic that underpins many of the men’s decisions in Vaucelles.

    (80.) These statements by François and then Jacques express aspects of the master/slave relationship in Hegelian thinking, which Beauvoir rejects.

    (81.) As this stage direction indicates, the sexual division of labor in Vaucelles remains intact, but it now means something very different because different ideas about usefulness and worth underpin it.

    (82.) That is, Clarice will have lived both in the specific sense of “being together forever” which is stated by Jean-Pierre immediately before everyone leaves Vaucelles, and in the more profound sense of “struggling together” that is fundamental to Beauvoir’s ideas about self-and-other.

    (83.) Elsewhere in the Series “salut” has been translated as salvation. This would be an inappropriate term at this juncture, when the inhabitants are possibly all about to be slaughtered—“salut” in the sense of a salutation which is owed is what Beauvoir intends in the text here and was the prevailing 1940s meaning of the word.

    (84.) That is, they will have “lived” and “acted” in the sense of “struggling together” fundamental to Beauvoir’s argument in The Useless Mouths. (p.88)