Can Anyone Be Original?: Searching for the Answer in Jean Genet’s Absurdest Play The Maids

23 May

themaids
Image from Hoopladigital.com

Class, power, and a plot to kill, these seem to be the embodiment of what the play, The Maids by Jean Genet, as theater of the absurd gets across. But it’s not these things that captured me about Genet’s The Maids. It was what lies beneath the surface that drew me in to consider another possible way to read this play.

The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris on April 17, 1947.  While Genet’s The Maids was loosely based on the real life infamous sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933, Genet’s play takes an absurd and more intriguing turn. The Maids is available in print from BCCLS Libraries and as an ebook from Hoopla.  You can also check out the 1975 movie adaptation from Christopher Miles on DVD or stream it from Kanopy.

Jean Genet’s The Maids explores the plight of working class women in early 20th century France. This is seen as these women, Claire and Solange, are forced into assuming the role of subservient, passive, and obedient maids. Even though Genet’s The Maids is the epitome of Theater of the Absurd, it both highlights and challenges gender oppression. The Maids is recognized as absurd because it calls to attention the struggle between the layering of logical and illogical depictions of women of the working class; thus showing how through their performativity the maids manipulate as their own the identity, that of their oppressors.

Now, once the play opens, it is unclear who is whom because we are not granted the privilege of a script. But if you are reading the play before viewing it, you are made aware immediately the identity of the characters. It is this very juxtaposition between performativity that we see how to receive Genet’s personification of identity. Genet’s play through performativity gives way to this idea of false identity, and through irony, keywords, and personification destabilizes the binary original vs. copy.

Genet’s The Maids opens up as a play within a play, thus alluding to the contrast between reality and performativity, and how Claire and Solange break the barrier separating the two. Also, in contrast, Genet’s The Maids undermines the notion of a true identity thus alluding to an origin of a false identity, which then gives way to what can be interpreted as “original.”

If the maids are imitating an imitation of what may or may not even be original, then this calls attention to the question of what is real identity; thus, neutralizing the very difference between classes.  If the maids are performing as Madame, who is putting on a show herself, then what really is Genet saying about identity? How does the binary deconstruct this very question?   These are the questions that caused me to look at the play in a very different light, thus provoking me to analyze my own common interpretation of the surface of this play, to one that may give way to a more elaborate and colorful yet contradicting sentiment that maybe no one is an original but rather refractions.

What are your thoughts about the important conversations this play opens up?  The Maids, a performativity reliant play, sheds light on how as humans we all are performing in our reality, identity, and gender roles.

Written by
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

A Nose for Mystery and Murder: The Essence of Malice, The Sniffer, The Emperor of Scent, The Secret of Chanel No. 5, and Perfume: The Story of a Murder

16 May

Break out the blood hounds this week, the library picks blog is tracking works with the scent of mystery.

The Essence of Malice
by Ashley Weaver

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The Essence of Malice is Ashley Weaver’s fourth book in her Amory Ames Mystery series starring a wealthy British Amateur detective who solves crimes in Europe in the 1930’s.  In The Essence of Malice, Amory tries to unravel a mystery when something smells suspicious in the death of a famous Parisian perfumer and learns that all is not what it seems amongst his family, who are struggling over the control of his perfume empire.  I especially enjoyed the twist ending.  Amory’s husband is a bit of a cad and this, like the other novels, deals with the suspicions and strife that occasionally pop up in their relationship; although this made me mildly dislike Miles, I found it refreshing to see a less than perfect spouse since so often in cozy mysteries the detective’s partner is a paragon of virtue. You can also check out the earlier books in the series Murder at the Brightwell, Death Wears a Mask, and A Most Novel Revenge.  The fifth book in the series, An Act of Villainy will be available September 4 and revolves around a mystery at a theater.

The Sniffer – Season 1
sniffer

The Sniffer is a Russian mystery series that Hoboken Library Resident Card Holders can stream from Hoopla.  “The Sniffer” is both blessed and cursed with an extraordinary sense of smell which helps him solve mystery and thwart crimes, but also plagues him in his private life.  If like me, you enjoyed Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of the brilliant, but irritable protagonist in the series House, than The Sniffer’s prickly detective should appeal.  There are eight episodes in season one so it is perfect for a long rainy weekend binge.

The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses
by Chandler Burr
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The Emperor of Scent is about a scientist, Dr. Luca Turin, who sought to unravel the mystery of what allows us to smell.  Dr. Turin believes that it isn’t the shape of molecules that allows us to smell, but the way the molecules vibrate that allow us to distinguish odors, but he is thwarted in pursuit to publish and promote his theory.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind
Perfume_Murderer
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a historical fantasy novel which was originally published in German as Das Parfum.  The book follows a boy that though born without a scent himself, can perfectly smell the world around him.  This leads him on a quest for the perfect scent, which results in an obsession that leads to murder in order to distill the most pristine of odors.  You can also checkout the film adaptation from BCCLS libraries.

The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume
by Tilar J. Mazzeo
ChanelNo5
Everyone has their favorite scents; I love Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Aunt Caroline’s Joy Mojo, which never fails to brighten my day.  Tilar J. Mazzeo unbottles the mystery of one of the most beloved fragrances of so many in The Secret of Chanel No. 5.  The work moves from Coco Chanel’s success as a fashion icon, through the years to the scents increasing acclaim, and continued popularity even today when shelves are packed with celebrity endorsed perfumes.  It is available in print, but Hoboken Library Patron can check it out right now as an ebook or digital audiobook from Hoopla!

Written by: Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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