Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dumas' Nutcracker

Image from here

Last year I did a post on the original E.T.A. Hoffman story that inspired the ballet The Nutcracker. This year I read the Dumas version, which I knew was based on the Hoffman, but excpected to see an evolution from the Hoffman to the Dumas to the ballet. I was surprised by how similar Dumas' version was to Hoffman's, and even wondered why he bothered to rewrite it in the first place if he wasn't going to change anything significant. This site says it was because Hoffman's tale was considered to morbid for kids so Dumas made it more family friendly. Wikipedia calls the Dumas story a "somewhat watered-down revision." Surlalune featured a book that includes both versions plus an introduction by Jack Zipes, which I would love to read, but unfortunately isn't available to me at the moment.

Westside Ballet School

I don't see Dumas' version as being any different in child-friendliness or morbidness, because the plot is the same, other than he did pare down some of the descriptions and extra details. The only interesting addition I found in Dumas was an explanation of how Drosselmeier lost his eye on his travels, attempting to find the nut Krakatuk, because Drosselmeier almost always has an eye patch in the ballet versions.

Pennsylvania Ballet

Here is the description of Marie finding the Nutcracker, first from Hoffman:

"Objection, considerable objection, might, perhaps, have been taken to him on the score of his figure, for his body was rather too tall and stout for his legs, which were short and slight; moreover, his head was a good deal too large. But much of this was atoned for by the elegance of his costume, which showed him to be a person of taste and cultivation. He had on a very pretty violet hussar's jacket, knobs and braid all over, pantaloons of the same, and the loveliest little boots ever seen even on a hussar officer-fitting his little legs just as if they had been painted on them. It was funny, certainly, that dressed in this style as he was he had a little, rather absurd, short cloak on his shoulders, which looked almost as if it were made of wood, and on his head a cap like a miner's. But Marie remembered that Godpapa Drosselmeier often appeared in a terribly ugly morning jacket, and with a frightful-looking cap on his head, and yet was a very very darling godpapa."

Now from Dumas:

"His body was too long and big for the miserable little thin legs which supported it, and his head was so enormous that it was all out of proportion to the rest. He wore a braided frock-coat of violet-coloured velvet, all frogged and covered with buttons, and trousers of the same material, as well as shiny boots. But there were two things which seemed strange compared with the rest of his dress-one was an ugly narrow cloak made of wood which hung down rather like a pigtail from the nape of his neck to the middle of his back, and the other was a wretched little cap, such as some mountaineers wear, upon his head. But Marie, when she saw these two oddities which seemed so out of keeping with the rest of his dress, remembered that her godfather himself wore on top of his yellow frock-coat a collar of no better appearance than the wooden cloak belonging to the little man, and that the doctor often covered his own bald head with an ugly cap quite unlike all the other ugly caps in the world."

This is a good example of the difference between the versions. Minor detail and wording differences, but anything significant has been carried through both. In this instance Dumas' writing isn't even that much more simplified. So I don't really see why other sources are so insistent upon the fact that the ballet plot is taken from the Dumas-in terms of plot his and Hoffman's stories are nearly identical, and the ballet plot has definitely taken on its own characteristics which differ slightly from production to production but are, overall, universally the same.

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