Friday, August 1, 2008

The Flying Dutchman As Romantic Image

Elsa (in Lohengren) has already dreamed of just such a knight and fallen in love with him well before she meets him. So much for dreams! Senta, the captain's daughter in The Flying Dutchman has fallen in love with his portrait and his story, before she meets him. Falling in love with an image, actual or dreamed, is a romantic trope--is it not? I'm trying to think of instances but all I can think of are some lines by Yeats:

What portion in the world can the artist have
Who has awakened from the common dream
But dissipation and despair?

And then there is Desdemona, in Othello, who falls in love with him because of the romantic tale he tells about his own life.

Anyway, Senta's father meets the Dutchman at a nearby anchorage and corrupted by the treasure his ship is carrying, sells his daughter to him. He has no idea who he is. The Dutchman (he has no other name) asks him if he will take him home with him; then he asks if he can live with him as part of his family; then, when he learns that the Captain has a daughter, he pulls from his pocket a handful of pearls and other gems and asks for the daughter's hand in marriage. And the Captain, with a covetous grin and gleam in his eye, says it's a deal.

Here I must digress, You all know the story but here it is: the Dutchman's ship, some centuries ago, had been trying to round Cape Horn and, repeatedly twarted by contrary winds, had sworn to keep trying for all eternity if necessary. Satan heard his prayer and cursed him and his ship to sail the seas forever, or until he found a woman who would be true to him till death should them part. Every seven years he is allowed to go ashore to seek such a wife. Every seven years he has tried--and failed. Desperate, he has been trying to end his life but without success. Even pirates flee from him when they find out how he is. Now he fears that only the extinction of the world will end his misery.

When the Dutchman enters the Captain's house, Senta recognizes him from his picture--her dream suddenly becomes reality--and agrees to marry him. But there is a difficulty. Unbeknownst to all, she has already promised to marry a local boy, Erik, a professional hunter. When Erik hears what's going on, he comes to plead with Senta. The Dutchman overhears this conversation and says that's it, I'm outa here.

As the Dutchman is returning to his ship, Senta throws herself into the sea and swims after him. He grabs her, they both sink out of sight, the ship sinks also and that is the end of the story.
Be careful what you wish for.

What attracted Wagner to this story? I'm still thinking about this....

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