Jean Giraudoux Additional Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Hippolyte-Jean Giraudoux was born October 29, 1882, in Bellac, France, not far from Limoges. His father, Léger, trained as an engineer, was a career civil servant based in the Limousin region; the boy grew up in a number of neighboring towns and villages, retaining a fondness for the area that he would later express frequently in his work. A gifted and diligent student, often the winner of scholarship prizes, young Jean was attracted early in life to the study of international law and diplomacy. On completion of studies at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Giraudoux crossed the Atlantic to pursue graduate study at Harvard University before embarking on his diplomatic career. Mobilized briefly during World War I, Giraudoux later assumed an active role in negotiations leading to the Treaty of Versailles and continued, in his spare time, to build his reputation as a writer. A dedicated civil servant like his father before him, Giraudoux remained active in diplomacy and government service throughout his adult life, even after his successes as a playwright had brought him fame and material success.

The outbreak of World War II found Giraudoux in charge of press relations for the French diplomatic corps, a position he had first occupied some fifteen years earlier. From the fall of France in 1940 until his death some four years later, Giraudoux spent much of his time, energy, and influence attempting to ensure an influential and prominent role for France in the eventual postwar world. His international reputation somewhat hampered by an acknowledged fondness for Germany and things German, his basic patriotism tempered by a hard-earned practical knowledge of diplomacy and politics, Giraudoux nevertheless clearly foresaw the threat posed to France (and to French national pride) by a coming world order divided between the United States and the Soviet Union. Within months after his death, a number of his plans for the reinstitution of local and regional government in France were in fact put into effect, allowing a more orderly flow of power than might otherwise have been possible. Giraudoux died in Paris on January 31, 1944, survived by his children and his widow, Suzanne.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hippolyte Jean Giraudoux (zhee-roh-doo) grew up in the Haute Vienne and remained a “provincial” throughout his cosmopolitan life. Educated primarily at the École Normale Superieure in Paris, he also studied in Munich, where he developed his lifelong interest in German culture and the often troubled relationship between Germany and France. After failing German in the agregation exams, he spent a year as an exchange student at Harvard University before returning to Paris to work as a journalist for Le Matin and the Paris-Journal. In 1910 he was attached to the press bureau of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, thus beginning a career of diplomatic activity at the Quai d’Orsay.

In World War I Giraudoux served as a sergeant and, later, sublieutenant; he was badly wounded, and was awarded the Legion of Honor. In 1916 he went to Portugal as a military instructor and later to America in the same capacity. In 1918 he resumed his diplomatic career, but when the publication of Bella offended his superiors he gratefully accepted an appointment to inspect allied war damage.

Influenced strongly by writers André Gide and Marcel Proust, Giraudoux nevertheless developed a unique literary style that handles languages in ways that are comparable to the way Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro handled paint. His impressionistic style appears with his very first book, Provinciales, which was followed by an account of his American experience, L’École des indifférents, and a report of his adventures in World War I, Campaigns and Intervals. His most important works are the novelsSimon le pathétique, which is partly autobiographical; Suzanne and the Pacific; My Friend from Limousin, which concerns an amnesiac French prisoner of war who becomes a political power in Germany; and Bella, which deals with Parisian political life. Two important nonfiction works are the piquant farewell to arms Adorable Clio and Pleines Pouvoirs, a critique of French foreign affairs and internal politics. Giraudoux achieved his greatest success as a dramatist. His plays Amphitryon 38, The Enchanted, and Tiger at the Gates, in which Louis Jouvet starred, were especially successful, as was the Broadway production of The Madwoman of Chaillot.

Giraudoux was politically active throughout his life, serving as socialist politician Edouard Daladier’s propaganda director until Daladier was ousted. Giraudoux briefly worked for the Vichy government as curator of historical monuments, but he soon resigned in protest of that government’s policies. He died in occupied Paris in 1944.