Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

From 1890, when Tête d’or (English translation, 1919) was published, until his death in 1955, Paul Claudel remained a very active writer. His plays and lyric poems are still held in the highest esteem. Although he was born and died in France, Claudel spent most of his adult life in other countries. Between 1893 and 1935, he was a member of the French diplomatic corps. Thus, he wrote his lyric and dramatic masterpieces far from his native land. He integrated diverse cultural traditions into his own spiritual and aesthetic perception of the human condition. The very history of the composition, publication, and performance of The Satin Slipper suggests the importance of cultural diversity for Claudel. It was during his service as the French ambassador to Japan that he completed The Satin Slipper, which was first published while he was the French ambassador to the United States. The play was first performed eight years after his retirement from the diplomatic corps.

Critics were somewhat reserved in their praise of the play’s original version. Claudel was quite displeased when several influential French Catholic writers, including François Mauriac and Gabriel Marcel, suggested that The Satin Slipper would interest only Roman Catholics. Claudel rejected such restrictive interpretations of his dramatic masterpieces. In his 1964 book on critical reactions to The Satin Slipper, Pierre Brunel noted that many of the most enthusiastic admirers of this play have been non-Catholics and even nonbelievers. Although The Satin Slipper clearly contains overt references to the Catholic traditions Claudel knew so well, it is nevertheless a work of universal significance. Sensitive readers and spectators from diverse cultures can appreciate the psychological depth and keen moral insights in this dramatic exploration of the meaning of love, personal growth, and self-sacrifice.