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A: Jean Genet Pf: 1947, Paris Pb: 1948; rev. 1954, 1958 Tr: 1954 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Bedroom in a Paris apartment, c.1947 C: 3fA lady gives orders to her servant Claire to prepare her clothes. The servant is by turns obsequious and dominating, while the lady sneers cruelly at Claire's ugliness and at her infatuation for the milkman. The lady says that she has denounced her lover, a criminal, to the police. Suddenly an alarm clock goes off, and the two women huddle together fearfully. The servant is in fact Solange, and the ‘Madame’ turns out to be her younger sister Claire. They are the two maids of Madame, a young high-class kept woman. These two ugly, shabby spinsters console themselves by playing the role of mistress and servant when Madame is away. But now they have to tidy things up quickly before Madame's return. As they are doing so, Monsieur, Madame's lover, phones to say that he has been released from custody. Unwilling to continue in their miserable servitude and afraid that Claire will be identified as the person informing on Monsieur, they plan to poison Madame. Madame returns, kind to her servants, but self-dramatizing and thoughtless. On learning that Monsieur is free, she sends Solange for a taxi. Claire unsuccessfully tries to get Madame to drink the poisoned tea, and Madame rushes off to meet her lover. Their plan failed, with seemingly no escape from their miserable existence, Claire once more assumes the role of mistress and abuses the cringing Solange. When Claire feels ill, Solange takes her to the kitchen, then returns, declaring that she has strangled Madame and fantasizes about her spectacular forthcoming public execution. Claire silently returns and, in the role of mistress, orders Solange to pour her some poisoned tea. As Claire dies on Madame's bed, Solange ecstatically cries that they are now ‘beautiful, joyous, drunk, and free!’

A: Jean Genet Pf: 1947, Paris Pb: 1948; rev. 1954, 1958 Tr: 1954 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Bedroom in a Paris apartment, c.1947 C: 3f

Based on an actual murder case, Genet created possibly the most shocking exploration on stage of perverse sexuality up to the mid-20th century (only Wedekind's Lulu Plays come close). The sadomasochistic homoerotic relationship between the two downtrodden maids (in French having the ironically ambiguous designation of les bonnes, ‘the good women’) is intensified if Genet's recommendation is followed that they should be played by men. Genet, himself abandoned by his parents and living a criminal existence until sentenced to life imprisonment for recurrent theft in 1948, here pleads that attention be paid to ‘the ranks of the despised’.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Jean Genet (1910—1986) French novelist, poet, and dramatist

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