Madeleine Bourdouxhe was born to a middle-class family in Liège, Belgium. In 1914, she moved with her parents to Paris, where they lived for the duration of World War I. She spent the rest of her childhood between the two countries. She went to Brussels to study languages and philosophy. In 1927, she married Jacques Muller, a mathematics teacher with whom she had a daughter. The publication of her novel La femme de Gilles (1937) brought her fame. At the outbreak of World War II, she fled with her husband and baby to a small village near Bordeaux, but was forced to return to Brussels. There the couple became active in the Belgian Resistance.
After the war, she traveled regularly to Paris, frequenting the cafés patronized by her friends and fellow writers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Raymond Queneau and by painters such as René Magritte and Paul Delvaux. Madeleine Bourdouxhe's work was rediscovered by feminist literary critics in the 1980s, resulting in new editions and translations. She was the subject of a 2004 documentary, Une lumière la nuit: Un portrait de Madeleine Bourdouxhe by Nadia Benzekri, her granddaughter.