Trained as a diplomat, Jean Giraudoux first attracted critical attention as the author of essays such as Amica America (1919) and Adorable Clio (1920) and highly intellectualized, rather esoteric novels, such as Simon le pathétique (1918), Suzanne et le Pacifique (1921; Suzanne and the Pacific, 1923), and Juliette au pays des hommes (1924). True fame and success did not come to him, however, until after he began writing for the stage with Siegfried, adapted from his 1922 novel Siegfried et le Limousin (My Friend from Limousin, 1923) at the urging of director Louis Jouvet. The novels and essays of Giraudoux are of interest primarily as sources of the themes that are better expressed in his dramatic works.
Owing in large measure to his long, close, and fruitful artistic partnership with the gifted metteur en scène Louis Jouvet, Jean Giraudoux rose to a position of prominence, indeed preeminence, during one of France’s richest periods of dramatic activity since the seventeenth century. Nearly fifty years of age by the time he discovered the theater, or it discovered him, Giraudoux lost little time in establishing himself in an already crowded field of extremely gifted and talented dramatists. To a large extent, his reputation has managed to survive him, although his lesser works now seem dated, and even his finest plays are, to the modern taste, extremely mannered, daring the most dedicated efforts of actors and director to bring them alive on the stage. More than that of anyone else, the dramatic work of Jean Giraudoux has come to symbolize the literate, exuberant spirit of the Paris stage during the years between the two world wars.
Giraudioux’s theater is, above all, a theater of language—frequently witty, at times intolerably smug, yet invariably triumphant in its implied declaration that human beings alone, of all the animals, are capable of speech. Scholarly and learned, with a regrettable tendency toward academic in-jokes, Giraudoux’s singular style has nevertheless been known to soar when confided to the proper hands—those of Jouvet in particular—reaching hitherto undiscovered heights of eloquence and expressiveness in the...
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Body, Jacques. Jean Giraudoux: The Legend and the Secret. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1991. A biography of Giraudoux that covers his life and works. Bibliography and index.
Buck, Arthur C. Jean Giraudoux and Oriental Thought: A Study of Affinities. New York: Peter Lang, 1984. This study examines the philosophy of Giraudoux, including his attitudes toward war, and compares his ideas with those of Asian philosophy. Bibliography and index.
Cohen, Robert. Giraudoux: Three Faces of Destiny. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968. A thematic study of the theater of Giraudoux in which twelve major plays are divided into three tetralogies or “faces”—politics, fantasy, and sexuality. Contains a bibliography.
Inskip, Donald. Jean Giraudoux: The Making of a Dramatist. London: Oxford University Press, 1958. Attempts to evaluate Giraudoux’s accomplishments as a playwright in the larger context of the literature of the 1920’s and 1930’s; thus, Inskip makes connections to Giraudoux’s prose. Full of theatrical anecdotes that illuminate the relationship between Giraudoux and Jouvet.
Lemaître, Georges. Jean Giraudoux: The Writer and His Work. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1971. Sees Giraudoux as idealist, fatalist, and moralist weighted by a growing...
(The entire section is 568 words.)