Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Chaillot (shay-loh). District of Paris between the Champs Élysées and the Seine River, directly opposite the Eiffel Tower. In this district is located the Café Terrace of Chez Francis on the Place de l’Alma, where the Madwoman and her allies meet. The imaginary Chaillot seems to be a timeless place. There are few references to everyday life, and little appears on stage to suggest any specific part of the actual neighborhood. The play lacks any authentic sense of geography: This Chaillot is a charming, bustling neighborhood filled with funny and interesting people who seem to come and go quite freely. Most of the characters are referred to not by name but by who they are or what they do—the Ragpicker, the Baron, and the Policeman, for example. Against the fantastical backdrop, only a few characters stand out as genuine individuals, notably the Madwomen, who claim particular Paris neighborhoods as their domains: Madame Constance of Passy; Mademoiselle Gabrielle of St. Sulpice; Madame Josephine of La Concorde; and the Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot.


*Paris. Capital of France, which suffered under German occupation during World War II. Jean Giraudoux was deeply disturbed by the fact that some French citizens collaborated with the Germans during their occupation. Illegal financial activities and fraudulent business practices enabled unscrupulous citizens to profit mightily at the great expense of their fellow countrymen. In his play, Paris is a literary symbol for all the cities that experienced the tragedy and destruction of World War II. It is also a symbol for the purity, simplicity, beauty, and culture destroyed by profiteers. The play’s story revolves around a scheme of the president to drill for oil that he believes lies below the city, even though doing so would destroy the beauty and charm of the city.

In this allegory of human purity and human corruption Giraudoux uses the threat to destroy the city as a way to attack modern capitalism. The Madwoman and her friends represent the citizens of Paris just as the profiteers represent the Nazis and their French collaborators. Ultimately, the Madwoman sends the profiteers to the bottomless pit, symbolically ridding the world of greedy exploitation and restoring the city to its former beauty and purity.

The Madwoman of Chaillot Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Body, Jacques. Jean Giraudoux: The Legend and the Secret. Translated by James Norwood. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. A fascinating series of essays draws important connections between the author’s life and his major plays, especially The Madwoman of Chaillot. Offers a wealth of informative facts regarding the play’s composition and posthumous production.

Cohen, Robert. Giraudoux: Three Faces of Destiny. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968. An excellent analysis of Giraudoux’s dramatic works and their philosophical implications. The chapter on The Madwoman of Chaillot is especially helpful for its discussion of how the playwright’s dramatic style and techniques fit his plays’ intellectual and emotional content.

Lemaitre, Georges Édouard. Jean Giraudoux: The Writer and His Work. New York: Ungar, 1971. A good overview of Giraudoux’s career. Offers an accurate picture of how the playwright was regarded until the early 1970’s.

Raymond, Agnes. Jean Giraudoux: The Theatre of Victory and Defeat. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1966. Particularly notable for its assessment of the playwright’s political ideas and the historical context in which his major works were developed. The chapter on The Madwoman of Chaillot provides information on how the German Occupation affected the writing of the play.

Reilly, John H. Jean Giraudoux. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A comprehensive survey of Giraudoux’s dramatic works. Reilly sees The Madwoman of Chaillot as one of the high points of the playwright’s career.