Monday, October 29, 2012

He wrote The Madwoman of Chaillot

Jean Giraudoux
It is the birthday of post-World War i French novelist and playwright Jean Giraudoux (1882), who is credited with creating an impressionistic form of drama that emphasizes dialogue and style rather than realism.  Among his best known works are the plays Siegfried (1928), Intermezzo (1933), The Trojan War Will Not Take Place (1935), Ondine (1939), and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1945). His work is known in the English-speaking countries mainly because of the translations by English playwright Christopher Fry.

Giraudoux adapted Siegfried from his novel Siegfried et le Limousin (1922), his first novel. The play concerns Germany's new national hero, a World War I survivor who doesn't remember his past. It turns out he is really a French writer and soldier. The play and book are considered satirical commentary of the status of Germany and France after World War I.

Intermezzo is an interlude of sorts in which reality leaves a small village as a benign and timid ghost takes power. A young school teacher in the village is the only one who can see the ghost. In the ghost's fantasy world, abused children leave their parents, poor people win the lottery and death comes to greedy and cantankerous old people.

In The Trojan War Will Not Take Place,  Giraudoux draws on Greek mythology to make a point about the jingoism of European leaders. In the play, Hector, the fiercest fighter of Troy, makes an attempt to forestall the war with Sparta.

Ondine was inspired by a German story from 1811  and tells the heartwarming, comic, and ultimately tragic story of a knight who falls  in love with a water sprite while he is on quest.

The Madwoman of Chaillot is a political satire about an eccentric Parisian noblewoman who naively views the world as happy and beautiful and a group of corrupt businessmen who frequent the Cafe de l'Alma. The men plan to excavate Paris to find the oil beneath its streets. They represent wealth and power and greed. One businessman exclaims, "what would you rather have in your backyard: an almond tree or an oil well?" The noble madwoman eventually realizes the evil of the developers.

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