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The Maids and Deathwatch: Two Plays Paperback – February 16, 1994

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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About the Author

Jean Genet (1910-1986) was a prominent and controversial French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but later took to writing. His major works include the novels Querelle of Brest, The Thief's Journal, and Our Lady of the Flowers, and the plays The Balcony, The Blacks, The Maids, and The Screens.

Sarte won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1964.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Revised edition (February 16, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080215056X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802150561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Genet based 'The Maids' on an actual event, one he felt a certain kin-ship with. In 1933 french police found Madame Lancelin and her daughter face down, in their living room, utterly mutilated. The eyes had disappeared, all teeth had been knocked out, fragments of bone and flesh were strewn about the floor, walls covered in blood. Upstairs the two servant-maids, the Papin sisters, were found naked, huddled together in one of two single beds. Immediately they confessed. Immediately, also, the papers picked up the story. The public was facinated how these two soft-spoken, mild-mannered girls, without provocation could have acted with such wild brutality. Senseless, irrational violence - Genet's speciality. He uses this story as a means to attack conformaty. A massive revolt against obedience, servitude, and the upperclass. A bloody triumph of individuality . Like other of Genet's works, it primaraly is concerned with Man's free will, or lack there-of. It is an existential story , revealing the darker sides of freedom, and the horror of the responsibility that comes with it. A tale worthy of Genet's genious. Exellent translation. Fans of Genet should also Check out Octave Mirbeau.
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Many people find "The Maids" better than the novels of Genet, but it still has a tendency to attempt to shock and depend on artifice and theatricality to make its point.

"The Maids" has three characters: The older sister, Solange, who hates Madame and isn't afraid to show it, even though she's often maternal to her younger sister, Claire. Claire defends Madame at times and shows a creative streak. Madame is ditzy, sometimes generous - especially to Claire, and overly romantic toward her husband (or is it her lover?) who has been accused of various crimes by an unknown agent (it's the maids, of course).

If you don't know the set-up, the opening fantasy between "the maids" would be over the top and lead you to worry that you are in for a night of miserable theater. But once you figure out that they are play-acting and practicing the murder of their Madame, it all becomes much more interesting. Genet wanted the three characters to be played by men, which would explode the themes of falseness and theatricality. Like so much Genet, it starts out jokey, turns absurd, and ends tragically. I think that Solange's closing monologue is strangely moving as she moves between playing herself, her younger sister, and Madame. And the ending is shocking and sad, but I'm not sure that Genet is as interesting to read as he is to see or to discuss.
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Format: Paperback
I have not read 'Deathwatch' yet but the'Maids' lived up to what I was expecting from Genet. To learn more about Genet, I would highly recommend his biography by Edmund White - this is one of the best biographies I have read.

The 'Maids' is a play in one act with three charactors. Within this act Genet captures the role-playing of the classes of society rather brilliantly. He does not capitalize on the brutality of the actual case of murder (it is based on an actual murder) but looks instead at the motivations for doing it. There is a film adaptation of the story called 'Murderous Maids' which is pretty good but focuses mainly on the act of murder - and throws in a lesbian twist.
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Format: Paperback
That's 3 stars for "Deathwatch" and 7 stars for "The Maids", for an average of 5 stars. It's not that "Deathwatch" is mediocre, it's just "The Maids" is that good.

If you can't find a performance, you may still be able to see "The Maids" performed as it has been available on VHS and DVD. The American Film Theatre presented the play in movie theatres back in the 70's. Not as a loose film adaptation of the play, but retaining the play's script by filming it. Solange and Claire were played by Glenda Jackson and Susannah York. I saw it but it was so long ago all I remember was its power.

Who, when honest, likes their job and the inevitable kowtowing to the boss? B.F. Skinner in "Science and Human Behavior" wrote: "Payment of wages is an obvious advance over slavery, but the use of a standard wage as something which may be discontinued unless the employee works in a given manner is not too great an advance."

Solange and Claire at least understand the tensions in boss-employee relationships. Each realizes how easy it is to lose oneself in a role. Have we, in adjusting to meet our boss's expectations, internalized too well what it is to be the boss?

But the extent to which our need to work shapes who we are isn't something we are usually conscious of. Perhaps it would be too painful. The desire to be like the boss, the resentment of the boss, the confusion due to our jobs about who we really are: this and more is explored by Genet thru Solange and Claire. Brilliant insights, brilliant language. Our unnoticed thoughts made explicit in ceremony by these maids: we fail to see ourselves performing at all. Not like you? Read or watch again.
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