Long play-by-play essays on Pirandello and Giraudoux. Shorter pieces on Maeterlinck, Artaud, Ionesco, and Beckett. And, as preface, a brief study of the French symbolists. What does this add up to? Certainly not the ""introduction to contemporary drama"" promised by the shamelessly misleading subtitle: Valency ignores, or mentions only in passing, such titans as Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, Brecht, Strindberg, O'Casey, and O'Neill. And even on the more modest terms set out in the preface--a study of symbolism in modern drama--this is a disjointed, fuzzy, over-""ism""-ed volume. Valency is inconsistent in his use of ""symbolism"" as a tag, sometimes applying it to virtually anything that isn't old-fashioned realism, more often tying it to that particular moody style, tone, and psychology associated with Mallarme. This he finds clearly picked up in the fairy-tale-ish work of Maeterlinck, and, later, in whimsical Giraudoux. But with Pirandello (by far the book's longest, best essay) there's little connection made to ""symbolism"" at all; in fact, the strength of Valency's work here is his firm placement of Pirandello (""at bottom a Realist"") in the Italian literary traditions of the novella and ""l'umorismo."" Artaud (""an uncommonly talented lunatic"") is briefly presented as the link between symbolism and ""the new drama"" (though Valency acknowledges the influence of surrealism). Ionesco's theater of ""senseless mummery"" is unconvincingly offered as a Symbolist offshoot. Beckett is pigeon-holed: he ""represents a very advanced stage of nineteenth-century symbolism, perhaps its terminal aspect, the point at which the symbol symbolizes only itself."" And a highly unpersuasive epilogue points to Pinter as the heir to this abstract heritage. As a thesis book, then--ineffectual. But Valency writes well about writers and plays when he isn't straining for academic ethos (""Life seemed outrageous to Pirandello, and it made him angry. It seemed equally outrageous to Giraudoux, but it made him smile""); so students who are fully aware of this mis-packaged book's limitations will find worthy material here--especially the solid Pirandello survey.