Madame X

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First edition of the novel adaptation by J. W. McConaughy illustrated by Edward Charles Volkert

Madame X (original title La Femme X) is a 1908 play by French playwright Alexandre Bisson (1848–1912). It was novelized in English and adapted for the American stage; it was also adapted for the screen ten times over sixty-five years, including versions in Tagalog, Greek, and Spanish as well as English.[1] The play has been cited as an example of the literary tradition of portraying the mother figure as being "excessively punished for slight deviation from her maternal role".[2]


The protagonist is a woman who has been thrown out into the street without any money by her jealous husband, when he discovers she has been carrying on an affair. She is not even allowed to see their young son. She sinks into depravity.

Twenty years later, she has become the mistress of a criminal. When he finds out that her husband is now the attorney general, her lover decides to blackmail him. Desperate to shield her son from her disgrace, she shoots and kills her lover.

By chance, the lawyer assigned to her turns out to be her own son, on his first case. He is puzzled and frustrated when she refuses to defend herself in court, or even to provide her name (which forces the tribunal to identify her as "Madame X"). During the trial, her husband shows up in support of his son. When the defendant sees that her husband recognizes her and is about to speak out, she makes an impassioned plea, not for mercy but for understanding of what drove her to murder. As she had intended, the hidden message silences her husband. When she faints from the strain, she is carried into a private chamber. There, she kisses her still-unaware son and dies.



  1. ^ Gibbons, William (2013). Building the Operatic Museum: Eighteenth-Century Opera in Fin-de-siècle Paris. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press ISBN 9781580468152. p. 211.
  2. ^ Kaplan, E. Ann (2013). Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama. Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge. ISBN 9781138169760. p. 77.

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