Sardoodledom

Victorien SardouLadies and gentlemen: Victorien Sardou. He was a very popular playwright of the end of the 19th century in France. I have not read any of his plays, but as far as I can determine, he was good at his craft. But I can well see why other playwrights might not like him. He understood the art form perhaps a little too well. And that can get in the way. I often feel that way about Steven Spielberg, who understands the art of film making so well that he produces a lot of really effective dreck. Sardou was know for his big dramatic climaxes. He wrote them first. Then he figured out what conflict would lead to that. Then he wrote the play. It isn’t the most organic approach to narrative art, but it is used to one extent or the another by all practitioners.

One playwright who didn’t like Sardou was George Bernard Shaw. He wrote of Sardou’s play La Tosca, “Such an empty-headed ghost of a shocker… Oh, if it had but been an opera!” That’s not a compliment. And indeed, the plot of the play is melodrama at its worst. And within 3 years of its premiere, Giacomo Puccini wrote an opera based upon it, Tosca.

Later, while reviewing another of Sardou’s gems, Marcelle, Shaw coined a new word, “Sardoodledom.” Most people will react to this word as this young spelling bee contestant did:

I’ve found two competing definitions for the word. The first is from Merriam-Webster (it is behind a pay wall):

Sardoodledom: mechanically contrived plot structure and stereotyped or unrealistic characterization in drama.

That does seem to be what Shaw was getting at. But Wikipedia provides a broader and probably more useful definition:

Sardoodledom: well-made works of drama that have trivial, insignificant, or morally objectionable plots.

I find the “morally objectionable” aspect of this particularly interesting. Sardou focused most of his attacks on the middle classes. Maybe that is to be expected, he was himself middle class. But I don’t get much of a sense that he ever went after the rich. Maybe that’s just self-preservation. But later in his career, he was at liberty. Regardless, I don’t think that was the problem that Shaw had with Sardou. But you’ve got to hate a man a lot to coin a term to describe his work that is as silly as “sardoodledum.”

H/T: Sarah Kliff

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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