The Madwoman of Chaillot

The Madwoman of Chaillot

Lucia Sturdza Bulandra
in The Madwoman of Chaillot
by George Ștefănescu (1967)
Written by Jean Giraudoux
Characters The Waiter, The Baron, Pierre,
The President, The Prospector,
The Street Singer, The Ragpicker,
The Broker, Irma, Countess Aurelia,
The Sergeant, The Sewer Man,
Mme. Constance, Mme. Gabrielle,
Mme. Josophine, The Presidents,
The Prospectors, The Press Agents
Date premiered 19 December 1945
Place premiered Théâtre de l'Athénée
Original language French
Subject rights of the poor
Genre Comedy
Setting The Cafe de l'Alma in the fashionable Chaillot quarter of Paris

The Madwoman of Chaillot (French title: La Folle de Chaillot) is a play, a poetic satire, by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, written in 1943 and first performed in 1945, after his death. The play is in two acts. The story concerns an eccentric woman who lives in Paris and her struggles against the straitlaced authority figures in her life.

The original production was done with Giraudoux's frequent collaborator, actor and theater director Louis Jouvet, who played the Ragpicker. The celebrated French actress Marguerite Moreno was the inspiration for the piece. The play has frequently been revived in France, with the title role played by Edwige Feuillère, Madeleine Robinson, or Judith Magre.

Plot summary

The play is set in the cafe "chez Francis" in the Place de l'Alma[1] in the Chaillot district of Paris. A group of corrupt corporate executives are meeting. They include the Prospector, the President, the Broker and the Baron, and they are planning to dig up Paris to get at the oil which they believe lies beneath its streets. Their nefarious plans come to the attention of Countess Aurelia, the benignly eccentric madwoman of the title. She is an aging idealist who sees the world as happy and beautiful. But, advised by her associate, the Ragpicker, who is a bit more worldly than the Countess, she soon comes to realize that the world might well be ruined by these evil men—men who seek only wealth and power. These people have taken over Paris. "They run everything, they corrupt everything," says the Ragpicker. Already things have gotten so bad that the pigeons do not bother to fly any more. One of the businessmen says in all seriousness, "What would you rather have in your backyard: an almond tree or an oil well?"

Aurelia resolves to fight back and rescue humanity from the scheming and corrupt developers. She enlists the help of her fellow outcasts: the Street Singer, The Ragpicker, The Sewer Man, The Flower Girl, The Sergeant, and various other oddballs and dreamers. These include her fellow madwomen: the acidic Constance, the girlish Gabrielle, and the ethereal Josephine. In a tea party every bit as mad as a scene from Alice in Wonderland, they put the "wreckers of the world's joy" on trial and in the end condemn them to banishment—or perhaps, death. One by one the greedy businessmen are lured by the smell of oil to a bottomless pit from which they will (presumably) never return. Peace, love, and joy return to the world. Even the earthbound pigeons are flying again.


Theatre Arts magazine described the play as "one part fantasy, two parts reason." The New York Drama Critics' Circle hailed the 1948–50 production as "one of the most interesting and rewarding plays to have been written within the last twenty years", "pure gold, with no base metal" and having "an enveloping and irresistible humor."[2]

Original productions

La Folle de Chaillot was translated into English by Maurice Valency, in Jean Giraudoux, Four Plays, vol. 1 (1958).[3]


  1. La Folle de Chaillot, Editions Bernard Grasset, Paris, 1946, p. 13
  2. 20 Best European Plays on the American Stage, edited and with an introduction by John Gassner (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1957)
  3. Cohen, Robert (1968), Jean Giraudoux; Three Faces of Destiny, p. 159, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-11248-9
  4. Grossvogel, David I. (1958), 20th Century French Drama, p. 341, Columbia University Press, New York.
  5. Inskip, Donald, (1958), Jean Giraudoux, The Making of a Dramatist, p. 182, Oxford University Press, New York.
  6. IBDB Internet Broadway Database, Retrieved 24 September 2010
  7. Lortel Archives
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