Significance of May 24, 1881
September 14, 2005 1:07 PM   Subscribe

In the play Madwoman of Chaillot by Giraudoux, on the very last page of the Maurice Valency translation, the Countess calls May 24, 1881, the most beautiful Easter known to man. In 1881, Easter was on April 22. Does anyone know what she's referencing? What is the significance of that date?

Google searches turn up a boating accident in Canada, the birthdate of gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell, and the death of landscape painter Samuel Palmer, none of which seem to have anything to so with the play.
posted by smich to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
What about Greek Orthodox Easter? It's generally later than the traditional Easter.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:09 PM on September 14, 2005

Nope. Greek Orthodox Easter in 1881 was 4/12 (Julian Calendar) or 4/24 (Gregorian Calendar)
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2005

Nobody's Easter can ever be in late May, because Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which is always March 21. If anyone can explain to me how there can be only one full moon between March 21 and May 24, I will be exceedingly impressed.

I suspect, though I've not read the play, that it's supposed to be a reference to something in the play itself--someone's "rebirth" or somesuch. Since Giraudoux wrote the play some sixty years after 1881, it would pretty much either have to be that or a reference to a date everyone would instantly recognize, which that—so far as I can tell—isn't.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:37 PM on September 14, 2005

Hell, May 24, 1881 wasn't even a Sunday -- it was a Tuesday.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:43 PM on September 14, 2005

I hate to state the obvious, but it is possible that it is either a)a mistake in the translation, or b) an intentional "mistake" by the author.

Given Gnomeloaf's calculation that on the Gregorian calendar, the Greek Easter was 4/24, it's possible that the translator goofed and put in May instead of March.

Also, I know absolutely nothing about the play (never even heard of it, in fact), but could the Countess be mistaken? Or be taking "Easter" to mean something else entirely?

I'm going way off the deepend here (remember - I know nothing about the play), but Easter is the day that Christ rose from the dead. So is she talking about something similar? An experience in the play that she would equate with an Easter-like resurrection?

Or perhaps that was the day on which she bit the ears off of a chocolate bunny, thereby making it Easter...
posted by robhuddles at 4:06 PM on September 14, 2005

is the countess the madwoman in the title of the play?

'coz y'know she is mad (as in loony), right?
posted by juv3nal at 12:39 AM on September 15, 2005

Best answer: I'm afraid you've been misled by a faulty translation. The French text has "le 24 mai 1880, le plus beau lundi de Pentecôte qu'aient jamais eu les bois de Verrières", which translates as "May 24 1880, the most beautiful Whit-Monday ever known in the forest of Verrières".

I don't fully understand the significance of this date. However, the Countess goes on to talk about "September 5 1887, when they roasted that pike on the grass at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges", which implies that all these dates have a personal significance for her. She seems to be casting her mind back to the past, and remembering long-ago holiday excursions to various beauty-spots around Paris.

May 24 1880 was indeed a Monday -- but oddly, it was one week after Whit-Monday, which fell on May 17 (Easter being on March 28 that year). I can't explain this mistake. However, the Countess also refers to "August 21 1897, the day when the Tsar entered Paris", even though the actual date was October 7 1896 -- so maybe we are meant to assume that her mind is wandering and she is misremembering the dates. Or maybe it's just a mistake by the author.

At least Valency has the honesty to call his version an 'adaptation' rather than a translation ..
posted by verstegan at 6:09 AM on September 26, 2005

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