Mauriac, François 1885-1970
(Full name François Charles Mauriac; also wrote under the pseudonym Forez) French novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, essayist, critic, journalist, screenwriter, and autobiographer.
Mauriac is considered one of the most significant authors of the twentieth century. Most of his short fictional works depict individuals tormented by the absence of virtue in their lives. The trials of Mauriac's protagonists reflect his abiding concern with Catholicism's interpretations of sin, redemption, pleasure, and morality. James M. Mellard has concluded: "For Mauriac's characters, mankind's sins may rest on their shoulders, but each man, not mankind, must work out his own redemption; the communal Church seems less crucial than the individual soul."
Mauriac was born in the Bordeaux region of France. His father died soon after his son's birth, and Mauriac was raised by his mother in a strict Catholic household. As a boy he was sent to Catholic schools run by Marian priests. After earning academic degrees in 1904 and 1906, Mauriac moved to Paris where he remained for most of his life. He became close friends with many writers, including André Gide. In 1913 he married Jeanne Lafon, with whom he had four children; their son Claude is also an acclaimed novelist and screenwriter. During World War I Mauriac served as a hospital orderly in Salonika, Greece. During World War II he frequently wrote on political issues and was an outspoken supporter of Charles de Gaulle. From 1954 to 1961 Mauriac was a columnist for the newspaper L'express; after this and until his death he was a regular contributor of reviews and articles to Figaro littéraire. The recipient of numerous awards and literary honors during his lifetime, Mauriac was elected in 1934 to the Académie Française—the prestigious French cultural institution established in the 1600s by Cardinal Richelieu for preservation and perfection of the French language. Mauriac was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Mauriac wrote several short novels and only ten short stories, eight of which were collected in Trois récits and Plongées, the remaining two in Oeuvres complètes. Critics note that these works, like Mauriac's other writings, reflect his conservative, "Jansenist" interpretation of Catholicism. Named for the Flemish theologian Cornells Jansen, whose strict interpretation of St. Augustine's philosophy inspired it, Jansenism was a seventeenth-century movement in French religious thought that espoused the doctrines of original sin and absolute predestination. Jansenists believe that it is impossible to be good or do good without divine grace and that God has already determined the few who will receive salvation. This theology has been called a philosophy of pessimism because of its denial of free will and its conception of the wretchedness of man's fallen state. In accordance with Jansen's idea that mankind "bears the full burden of its condemnation," Mauriac portrayed his characters as essentially evil beings who could be redeemed only after they renounced all worldly pleasures and devoted themselves to the worship of God. Significantly, much of his short fiction contains vibrant depictions of sexual desire. While he was aware of and distressed by the possibility that his work might offend Catholic readers, Mauriac was resolved, in his words, to probe "the secret source of the greatest sins." His early works are semiautobiographical studies of young people on the verge of adulthood. In his first short novel—and first work of fiction—L'enfant chargé de chaînes (Young Man in Chains), the protagonist experiments with political activism and sexual promiscuity before accepting religious devotion as his true vocation. The short novel Le baiser au lépreux (A Kiss to the Leper) is considered by many commentators to be his first major exploration of religious issues. The story concerns the physical and emotional rejection of an unattractive man by his beautiful wife. After her husband's death, which Mauriac suggests was attributable in part to her years of aloofness, the wife belatedly realizes her love for him. In Génitrix Mauriac depicts the desperate dysfunctionality of an upper-class family. Here a weak-willed middle-aged man marries a lower-class woman who is much younger than he as a way of breaking the possessive grip of his domineering mother. Suffering an exceedingly unhappy marriage, which she entered into primarily to obtain wealth and status, the wife dies after several alcoholic binges and attempted affairs. After the death of his mother, the man is left alone, miserably trapped in old patterns of dependence.
Mauriac's most famous fictional character was introduced in the 1927 short novel Thérèse Desqueyroux (Thérèse). Feeling trapped by the conventions of her class, the provincial mores of her community, and by her circumscribed role as a woman, Thérèse unsuccessfully tries to poison her husband, explaining she just wanted "to see in his eyes a momentary flicker of uncertainty." After her crime is discovered, Thérèse becomes an outcast, tormented by guilt yet stubbornly refusing to seek God's forgiveness. Critics have noted that, for Mauriac, Thérèse's real crime appears to be a kind of spiritual arrogance more than attempted murder. Illicit passion and its attendant guilt are the subjects of Destins (Destinies), a short novel about a handsome young Parisian vacationing in Bordeaux who becomes the object of the desires of two lonely women.
Most of Mauriac's relatively few short stories were first collected in Trois récits and Plongées. Critics tend to regard these stories as studies for the novels that Mauriac was writing around the time of their composition. Among the best known of these works—and among the few that have been translated into English—are "Thérèse chez le docteur" ("Thérèse and the Doctor") and "Thérèse à l'hôtel" ("Thérèse at the Hotel"). Both were written in 1933 and continue the story of Mauriac's own favorite character; these short tales were translated and collected in 1947 as Therese: A Portrait in Four Parts. Le mal (The Enemy) is a short novel about a young man and his first serious love affair. The protagonist, raised in a pious, Jansenist household, goes to Paris and becomes involved with a beautiful woman who represents the sensual opposite of his upbringing. Eventually the young man's religious principals reassert themselves and he abandons the woman.
Le sagouin (The Little Misery), set soon after the first World War, also concerns the fate of a young man. Here, the protagonist is the unloved, somewhat slow-witted son of a middle-class woman who married into an old, no longer flourishing noble family. For a time the boy is entrusted to the care of a Communist schoolteacher, who, because he treats him kindly and gives him reasons to participate in the world, becomes his first positive parental figure. The boy is eventually called back by his family, however, and, feeling abandoned by everyone, kills himself. Irving Howe has called this short novel "one of the few successful works of religious fiction written in our time." In Galigaï (The Loved and the Unloved), Mauriac again examines the lives of the high-born. There are four main protagonists in the story: two are described as attractive, two as particularly ugly. The novel thus concerns, as S. M. Fitz-Gerald has put it, "the effects upon a human soul of physical ugliness." L'agneau (The Lamb)—one of Mauriac's last works of fiction—is a version of the Christ story. This short novel tells the story of a young seminary student who determines to sacrifice his life in order to save the soul of a corrupt older man.
Generally, Mauriac's standing among literary critics is very high, as his membership among "the immortals" of the Académie Française and his Nobel Prize attest. However, there has been serious criticism leveled against his work. Chiefly, Mauriac has been accused of promoting misogynistic views in his fiction. Critics have pointed to the roles women often play in his novels—seductresses, tempters, and murderesses—and to his depictions of sexual activity—which frequently convey a certain measure of disgust with not merely the act itself but, importantly, with female anatomy. Mauriac has also had at least one notable detractor, Jean-Paul Sartre. In his essay "M. François Mauriac et la liberté" (in Nouvelle revue Française, February, 1939), Sartre accused Mauriac of hypocritically denying his characters free will. Focusing mainly on the 1935 novel La fin de la nuit (The End of the Night), but extending his critique to include all of Mauriac's work, Sartre demonstrated the ways in which Mauriac violated putative laws of fiction, namely that of identifying with a character but judging him or her by criteria outside the fictional universe. Sartre argued that Mauriac imposed judgments and destinies on characters ostensibly portrayed as autonomous individuals. As Robert Speaight has written: "If Sartre's criticism was well founded, Mauriac would not have been the first Christian to be caught by the problem of predestination and free will, nor the first to find it insoluble." Nevertheless, Gerard Hopkins, the main English translator of Mauriac's fiction, has commented that "Mauriac supplies .. . a moral fervour which was once a common feature of [English] literature." Mauriac's short fiction continues to be celebrated for its distinct prose style and for its psychological insights.
Trois Récits 1929
L'enfant chargé de chaînes [Young Man in Chains] 1913
*Le baiser au lépreux [A Kiss to the Leper] 1922; also published as A Kiss for the Leper, 1950
†Thérèse Desqueyroux [Thérèse] 1927
Destins [Destinies] 1928; also published as Lines of Life, 1957
‡Le mal [The Enemy] 1935
‡Le sagouin [The Little Misery] 1951; also published as The Weakling, 1952
Galigaï [The Loved and the Unloved] 1952
L'agneau [The Lamb] 1954
Other Major Works
Les mains jointes (poetry) 1909
L'adieu à l'adolescence (poetry) 1911
La robe prétexte [The Stuff of Youth] (novel) 1914
La chair et le sang [Flesh and Blood] (novel) 1920
De quelques coeurs inquiets: Petits essais de psychologie religieuse (essays) 1920
Préséances [Questions of Precedence] (novel) 1921
Le fleuve de feu [The River of Fire] (novel) 1923
Le désert de l'amour [The Desert of...
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SOURCE: "Silver-Cord Motif," in New York Herald Tribune Books, August 10, 1930, pp. 3-4.
[A Mexican-born educator and critic who specialized in Spanish literature but also was an authority on Franz Kafka, Flores published extensively in English and Spanish. In addition, he edited more than a dozen books—including The Kafka Problem (1946), Franz Kafka Today (1958), The Kafka Debate (1977), and Explain to Me: Some Stories of Kafka (1983)—and translated the works of major Spanish and South American authors into English. In the following review of the two short works collected in The Family—"The Kiss to the Leper" and "Gentrix"—Flores lauds Mauriac's "understanding of the heart."]
With strange vehemence Mauriac spurs categorical imperatives on to combat. He is an Ibsenite in the grand manner—perhaps the last of Ibsen's inheritors. Only great conflicts concern him. By stressing metaphysical concepts the novelist is likely to lose control of everyday contingencies, and that is why symbolic literature fails so often to persuade the contemporary reader.
But Mauriac's saving grace is his profound understanding of the heart. In "The Kiss to the Leper" (1922), the first part of The Family, the duel is between Christ and Nietzsche. The ugly dwarf Jean, the only son of a wealthy and exalted family, is ashamed of his...
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SOURCE: "The Religious Novel," in The New Republic, Vol. 126, No. 14, April 7, 1952, pp. 18-9.
[An esteemed American critic, essayist, and social historian, Howe was a member of the "New York Intellectuals"—a group of liberal, socialist writers that included, among others, Philip Rahv and Lionel Trilling—and is perhaps best remembered for World of Our Fathers (1976), his history of Jewish-American culture and immigration to New York City. In the following excerpt from a review in which he also discusses Mauriac's work of nonfiction entitled The Stumbling Block, he examines the two short works collected as The Weakling and The Enemy. Howe describes Le Sagouin—here translated as The Weakling—as "one of the few successful works of religious fiction written in our time. "]
[The Weakling and the Enemy] actually contains two long stories, The Enemy, published in France 17 years ago, and The Weakling, which came out last year. Though the idea of sewing a book together from two unrelated items is dubious, and the slyness of the jacket irritating, there is a certain value in having these two pieces together. From them one can surmise something of Mauriac's development; the first revealing his inner troubles as Catholic and artist, the second suggesting at least a partial resolution.
The Enemy is a portrait of a...
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SOURCE: "Revolt Against Nature," in The New Yorker, Vol. XXVIII, No. 8, April 12, 1952, pp. 129-30.
[West was an English-born journalist and author who contributed essays and book reviews to magazines such as The New Yorker. The son of writers H. G. Wells and Rebecca West, he wrote a frank and revealing biography of his father titled H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life (1984). In the following review of The Weakling and The Enemy, West discusses the misogyny evident in Mauriac's work.]
François Mauriac, whose two short novels The Weakling and The Enemy have just been issued in a single volume, is one of the intellectual pillars of the Roman Catholic Church in France. He has been called one of the greatest living writers by many reputable European critics who have judged his work by purely literary standards. His work is, however, primarily religious, and it seems to present a case in which the aesthetic approach is too limited. In 1948 he wrote a statement of his beliefs for a French magazine called La Table Ronde. This statement has now been published here as The Stumbling Block. It was interesting at the time not only as a profession of belief but as a singular revelation of the extent of M. Mauriac's dislike of women. He referred with violence to the cult of Mary and with contempt to those women who found delight in it. He spoke of the organizers of the...
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SOURCE: "Hecate Revisited," in The New Republic, Vol. 127, No. 21, November 24, 1952, pp. 19-20.
[In the following excerpt from a review in which he also examines The Illusionist by Françoise Mallet, FitzGerald discusses realism in The Loved and the Unloved.]
Dorthe, an ugly little community petrifying in the sun somewhere near Bordeaux, is the scene [of The Loved and the Unloved] in which several supernaturally ugly, and two handsome, people reach crucial points simultaneously, split apart and re-combine to the fulfillment of some need in each, whether of love or hatred. Only one is unshackled in the process and able to leave Dorthe freed of idolatry and self-delusion.
Mme. Agathe, the repulsive daughter of an impoverished aristocrat, is governess to Marie, lovely young daughter of M. and Mme. Dubernet, who are personages in the town but are nevertheless somewhat awed by their highborn employee. M. Dubernet is a gluttonous old man, whose private plans form slowly and in silence while he munches through innumerable prawns and joints of mutton and tarts. He leaves to his waspish, dying wife, "a thin woman, but her protuberant stomach gave her a look of royalty," all the concerns proper to arranging a suitably creditable and profitable marriage for Marie, or preventing any other.
Marie's choice, the son of a local doctor, is despised by her mother. Gilles...
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SOURCE: "Light for a Somber World," in The Saturday Review, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3, January 21, 1956, p. 17.
[An American educator and critic specializing in French literature, LeSage is the author of The French New Novel ( 1962), The French New Criticism (1966), and four book-length studies of the writer Jean Giraudoux. In the following favorable review of The Lamb, LeSage argues that Maurìac has "reached in this novel . . . a point of unsurpassable mastery. "]
Françcois Mauriac, often described as the outstanding novelist of the Catholic Renascence and who, among living French writers, is surely the greatest artist in fiction, undertakes in his new novel The Lamb to demonstrate the most sublime of Christian concepts—that of martyrdom for the redemption of mankind.
The solemn mystery is acted out against the vineyards and pine-forests of the Landes country, where old families moulder in ancestral dwellings. We have met this family before in Mauriac's pages. Here is Brigitte Pian, the Woman of the Pharisees, now seventy-eight, a colossus of malevolence, who, with her young secretary Dominique, has come to stay with her stepdaughter Michèle. Here is Jean de Mirbell, now Michèle's husband, of whom Mauriac says, "All that seems strange, perhaps even monstrous, in this man of thirty, will seem less strange to those who remember the years of his...
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SOURCE: "Marks of Eternity," in The Commonweal, Vol. LXVII, No. 4, October 25, 1957, pp. 105-07.
[An American editor and author, Finn worked for the journals Commonweal, Worldview, and Christian Century, in succession, and published several books about war and pacificism. In the following laudatory review of Lines of Life, he briefly discusses the novel's place in Mauriac' s body of work and then assesses it as a great work of art]
Lines of Life, published first in France in 1928 under the title Destins, is part of the "early" Mauriac, those six or seven novels that made him a standard and symbol for young writers in the thirties. It was primarily this group of novels against which the bien pensants leveled charges of "unwholesome" and "corrupt," these novels which M. Mauriac had in mind when he wrote his brilliant apologia, God and Mammon.
Readers who approach M. Mauriac for the first time through the recent, and excellent, translations of Gerard Hopkins may have some difficulty in understanding the furor which attended their first publication, the heightened criticism and praise which was once the author's regular fare. For M. Mauriac, whose literary "position" may not yet be settled, is so established an author that he is readily ignored, and temporarily overshadowed, by the new novelists, who are also, supposedly, more daring. He is a...
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SOURCE: "Private Worlds: François Mauriac," in An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus, Rutgers University Press, 1957, pp. 114-15.
[A French-born American educator and critic specializing in French literature, Brée is widely acknowledged to be an expert on the life and work of Albert Camus. In the following excerpt, Brée and Guiton discuss Mauriac's focus on the morality of material possessions and the "inner landscape" evident in his novels.]
As a novelist, François Mauriac himself, as he has admitted, is haunted by the secret that lies at the heart of all human beings. In one of his last novels, L'Agneau (The Lamb), 1954, he analyzes the satanic nature of the fascination we exercise over each other, preying one on the other to satisfy our emotional needs. The spiritual crisis he went through in mid-career was in part due to his own uncertainty on that score. As Mauriac sees it, the novelist, like the priest, is deeply concerned with the fate of human beings; but unlike the priest, he uses them for his own ends, like a Mephistopheles in disguise.
This somber drama, which lies at the heart of the Mauriac novel, is played out, almost exclusively, in Mauriac's native Guyenne, a region where he still often lives in his estate of Malagar and to which he makes constant imaginative reference. The Bordeaux countryside, with its vineyards and farms and beyond them the...
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SOURCE: "Reservations about Mauriac," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. IX, No. 1, January, 1959, pp. 22-36.
[Davies is an English educator and critic specializing in English literature of the Middle Ages. In the following essay, he argues that Mauriac is concerned with only a very narrow range of themes, and that, while he fails to address certain aspects of life in his novels, the power of his work is nevertheless at least partly related to the concentration of its focus.]
Reading, pondering and re-reading the novels of M. Mauriac over the last eight years, I have not found my first and almost unqualified love for them much diminished. M. Mauriac speaks my language: I am immediately at home in his world because it seems to be my world, and, to me, what he is representing is life. The effect is one of illumination and sheer pleasure: he gets to the heart of certain sorts of character, certain sorts of motive, certain sorts of situation, so that I have a reassuring sense of expanded understanding; and he evokes them so convincingly that I am disarmed and fascinated.
Nevertheless, there are qualifications that must be made. Mauriac communicates, characteristically, a sense that living is a distasteful and hellish affair. His novels suggest, characteristically, that the everyday world is not to be trusted. For example, there is uncommonly frequent mention of the physically repulsive. In The...
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SOURCE: "Tender Conscience," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3093, June 9, 1961, p. 353.
[In the following review of Young Man in Chains, the critic suggests that the questions that have intrigued Mauriac throughout his career were present in this early short novel]
We all know the world of M. Francois Mauriac by now, the landes "steaming with prayer and fornication", the vile meannesses of the men of property (or, better, the women, for men seem to die like drones once they have fecundated the monstrous queen bees) in their shuttered villas round which even the pines are sensuous. Yet we have waited nearly forty years for the translation of L'Enfant Chargé de Chaînes, which was first published in 1913, when M. Mauriac was twenty-eight.
This, the last in the uniform English edition, was the novel that first revealed his sultry, tortured talent and, on reading the translation so many years later, we are struck by the technical mastery the young M. Mauriac had already achieved, the clear classical lines with no loose ends. Like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, M. Mauriac's protagonist, Jean-Paul Johanet, is a sensitive young literary man tortured by the Beatific Vision and Hell, or, as one of his apostolic friends puts it, always "analysing his empty, complicated little mind". No one can say that Joyce's Dublin had less of that strictness and obsession with...
(The entire section is 978 words.)
SOURCE: "A Flawed Eden," in Francois Mauriac: Novelist & Moralist, Asia Publishing House, 1963, pp. 117-22.
[An Indian educator and author, Iyengar has written on a wide range of subjects, variously treating English studies, education in India, religious matters, and the relation between English and Indian literature. In the following excerpt, he discusses the influence of geographical setting—primarily the Bordeaux region and Paris—on Mauriac's characters. ]
In M. Mauriac's fiction we are introduced . . . to a world not less distinctive than the crowded world of Dickens, the agonized and diseased world of Dostoevsky, the intense if also vanishing world of Hardy, or the dark nightmarish world of Faulkner. Geographically, it is the Gironde and Landes country—the region round Bordeaux facing the Bay of Biscay—marked by pine trees and marshy tracts, tall oak trees and endless sandy stretches. Lured to the 'lovely Landes' by Therese, Dilys Powell writes after a recent visit (The Sunday Times, 8 July 1962):
The forest of Landes . . . has the beauty of a landscape in which man has taken a hand, and the variety: the clearings, oases of bright green with farms and maize-fields; the sudden, rare outcrop of silvery pipes .. . It has the curious detail too: the stripped bark of the cork-trees which line some of the roads, the cups for...
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SOURCE: "Mauriac: Poet into Novelist," in Faith and Fiction: Creative Process in Greene and Mauriac, University of Notre Dame Press, 1964, pp. 65-86.
[Stratford is a Canadian educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he discusses the development of and literary influences on Mauriac's early work.]
In the introduction to Commencements d'une vie Mauriac admits that the intensity of his childhood experience was heightened by the habit of self-dramatization. "As a child I played at being solitary and misunderstood," he writes, "and it was the most fascinating of games. Perhaps I found it so because I instinctively knew that much more than a game was involved, a preparation in fact, an exercise for becoming a writer. To enjoy watching oneself suffer is the obvious sign of a literary vocation." It is the change of that instinctive sense of vocation into conscious purpose that I wish to trace in this chapter, furnishing biographical background and evidence from the novels of the period, but still focusing on those elements which determine the character of Mauriac's creative vision.
One of the forces that contributed most to its development was a passionate love of literature. "As a child books were my unique deliverance," Mauriac states, and adds, characteristically, qualifying the idea of escape, "they provided me with the image of my own confusion and anxieties"...
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SOURCE: "The Chemistry of Conscience': François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Julien Green," in Twentieth-Century French Literature to World War II, Southern Illinois University Press, 1966, pp. 96-118.
[An American educator, critic, and author, Moore is best remembered for his studies of the life and works of D. H. Lawrence, though he also wrote and edited books on John Steinbeck, E. M. Forster, Lawrence Durrell, Rainer Maria Rilke, and other authors. In the following excerpt, Moore surveys Mauriac's body of work and finds that, despite a predilection toward didacticism, it is populated with compelling characters and offers trenchant psychological insights.]
Nietzsche's phrase, the chemistry of conscience, might usefully describe the work of François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, and Julien Green. It is the Catholic conscience, in Mauriac the struggle of sensuality and passion against religion, in Bernanos of greed and lack of reason against the realization of good, in Green (especially in his later books) of assurance against emptiness.
Mauriac, eldest of the three, was born in 1885 at Bordeaux, whose area provides the sandy, pine-rimmed coast and the sloping vineyards which appear so often in his novels, as well as the old stone city itself. Mauriac, fatherless before he was two years old, was brought up by his stringently Catholic mother. He was educated at parochial schools and at the...
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SOURCE: "Introduction," in Intention and Achievement: An Essay on the Novels of François Mauriac, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969, pp. 1-8.
[In the following excerpt, Flower discusses Mauriac as a "Catholic novelist. "]
With the exception of one of his earliest critics, Charles du Bos, and more recently Professor Stratford, and in spite of the apparent content of a number of critical studies, no commentators have paid adequate attention to the basic problem of the Catholic novel and to Mauriac's consideration of it. It has, to be sure, been acknowledged as a distinctive form but only in as much as it is a piece of writing which bears witness in some way to the Catholic faith. In other words it is a form of committed literature, but beyond this little attention has been given to the limiting effects of this commitment nor has the basic problem of incorporating a personal belief in a piece of imaginative literature in such a way that it does not obtrude been adequately examined. Sartre in his article 'Monsieur François Mauriac et la liberté' in which he accuses Mauriac of oversimplification and of manipulating his characters, certainly has some pertinent remarks to make, though, as Professor Stratford has pointed out, Mauriac was well aware of these difficulties and has not infrequently admitted that La Fin de la nuit, the target for Sartre's attack, is not one of his better novels. Professor...
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SOURCE: "The Short Stories," in François Mauriac, Twayne Publishers, 1970, pp. 121-28.
[An American educator and critic, Smith was the author of Short History of French Literature (1924), the editor of Short Stories by French Romanticists (1929), and coedited French Short Stories of the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century (1932). In the following essay, he analyzes Mauriac's two short story collections, Trois Recits and Plongées.]
I Trois Récits (1929)
Since Mauriac's most successful novels are brief or at least of medium length, it might be expected that he would find the genre of novella or récit appropriate to his type of composition. He has produced, however, only two volumes of short stories,Trois Récits (Three Tales) andPlongées None of the first volume appear likely to add appreciably to his reputation in fiction. The first two tales in the earlier collection, "Coups de couteau" and "Un Homme de lettres" are so similar in plot that it is difficult not to confuse them in our memory.
"Coups de couteau" ("Knife Blows") is less a story than the recital by a painter to his wife of his amorous desires and frustrations in regard to a young woman he had befriended and protected. Never, perhaps, has the author's irony shown itself more acerbic, never has he illustrated more convincingly...
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SOURCE: "Thérèse Rediviva," in François Mauriac: A Study of the Writer and the Man, Chatto and Windus, 1976, pp. 116-29.
[Speaight was a noted English actor and theater scholar. In the following excerpt, he discusses the composition of La fin de la nuit—a novel featuring the character Thérèse from Thérèse Desqueyroux—and the criticisms levelled against it by Jean-Paul Sartre.]
[In 1933] Mauriac lifted the curtain on the creative process of the novelist in an essay, Le Romancier et ses Personnages. With the deliberate exception of Le Mystère Frontenac, he had proved that 'the novelist begins to take shape in us at the same time as we begin to detach ourselves from our own feelings.' In that conventional family of Frontenacs, he had been the spy—the traitor unconscious of his treachery—who captured, registered, and retained unawares the obscure complexity of daily life. He never conceived a novel without having clearly in his mind, down to its minutest detail, the house and surroundings where the action would take place. He admitted the monotony of atmosphere to which his choice of theme, place, and milieu condemned him; nor was it enough to reproduce, in one book after another, the properties he had known since he was a child. He invaded the houses of his neighbours, using as a theatre for some drama of intolerable tension the salon where old ladies had once...
(The entire section is 2646 words.)
SOURCE: "Mauriac's Thérèse: An Androgynous Heroine," in Writing in a Modern Temper: Essays on French Literature and Thought in Honor of Henri Peyre, edited by Mary Ann Caws, ANMA Libri, 1984, pp. 174-87.
[Festa-McCormick is an American educator and critic. In the following essay on Thérèse Desqueyroux, she traces Therese's motivation for murder to her unrequited passion for Anne.]
Thérèse is a strange heroine. Her story is that of a quest and the quest is, ostensibly, for a conscience, for a confrontation with a crime that defies her understanding. Although she would like to lay bare the mechanism within her that set her on the path to murder and made it urgent to eliminate an undesired presence, Thérèse does not pursue her quest to the end, her search remains unfulfilled, and her questions unanswered. What I propose to do in the following pages is to resume that search, to follow the heroine along the digressions and the labyrinthine ways of her personality, and lay bare her secret. That secret, I believe, is hidden in her androgynous nature.
Thérèse defies definition in the framework of the novel. The story is not a narrative in the manner of Genitrix, nor is it a confession in the French tradition of the "roman personnel." The reader can rely neither on an omniscient author to unravel the heroine's motives, nor on the heroine's own...
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SOURCE: "Sexual Ambiguity in Mauriac's Thérèse Desqueyroux," in Romance Notes, Vol. XXVI, Spring, 1986, pp. 215-21.
[In the following essay, Gallagher argues that Mauriac is purposefully ambiguous regarding the sexual orientation of Thérèse Desqueyroux—much more so than is conveyed by the standard English translations of the novel, which tend to attribute gender to verb forms that in the original French are neutral.]
To the reader of François Mauriac's 1927 novel Thérèse Desqueyroux the complexity of the title character's personality and motivations is readily apparent. Critics have, in fact, suggested affinities between her and such towering fictional women as Racine's ill-facted Phèdre and Flaubert's insatiable dreamer Emma Bovary.
It is for this reason then all the more surprising to encounter in an otherwise sensitive and astute critical reading of Mauriac's novel this simplistic sexual labelling of his heroine:
So it is that Thérèse—another Lesbian—belongs not to the world of Mme. Canaby (whose physical appearance she inherits) but to the inner world of the writer himself. . . . [Cecil Jenkins, Mauriac (1965). In a footnote, Gallagher adds: "The Mme Canaby referred to here, acquitted in 1906 by the Bordeaux Assizes of having attempted to poison her husband, was the inspiration for Mauriac's...
(The entire section is 2268 words.)
SOURCE: "Mauriac and the Art of the Short Story," in François Mauriac: Visions and Reappraisals, edited by John E. Flower and Bernard C. Swift, Berg Publishers, 1989, pp. 77-95.
[A Welsh educator and critic, Griffiths is the author of The Reactionary Revolution: The Catholic Revival in French Literature, 1870-1914 (1966), among other works. In the following essay, he examines Mauriac's short stories and argues that they should be viewed on their own terms as literary works—not simply in relation to the novels.]
François Mauriac is famous above all as a novelist. The fact that he wrote a number of successful short stories appears, on the whole, to have been neglected by the critics. Far from being studied as a genre in their own right, these stories have tended to be studied entirely in relation to the novels, and to have aroused interest only in so far as they give greater insight into Mauriac's general literary intentions.
At times, in his own comments on his works, Mauriac appears to have given the green light to such critical attitudes. Referring to 'Insomnie', for example, he wrote: 'C'est le chapitre d'un roman que je n' ai pas écrit' [Preface to Plongées, in Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. II]. This remark, if unqualified by any of Mauriac's other more ambiguous statements, has led to the belief that in a novelist of the importance of Mauriac...
(The entire section is 8340 words.)
SOURCE: "The Early Fiction and the Short Stories," in François Mauriac Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1995, pp. 28-50.
[O'Connell is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he surveys Mauriac's short stories and relates them thematically to the novels he was writing at the time.]
Mauriac's short fiction appeared during his lifetime in two principal collections: Trois récits (1929), (Three stories) and Plongées (1938), (Fathomings), which contained another five stories. In addition to these collections, there are two more stories, "Le Visiteur nocturne" and "Le Drôle," which were published separately and not gathered into a collection until publication of the Oeuvres complètes. These 10 stories represent the only short fiction that Mauriac chose to pass on to posterity.
With the exception of "Un Homme de lettres" and "Le Démon de la Connaissance," all the stories are more or less directly related to Mauriac's novels. In some cases the connection is obvious, as for instance the two stories dealing with the character of Thérèse Desqueyroux. But even here, the apparent relationship is more complex than it seems at first. In the case of "Thérèse chez le docteur," for example, themes are developed that range far beyond what we usually associate with the character of Thérèse. In fact, it can be argued that she is a mere pretext for treatment...
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Dillistone, F. W. The Novelist and the Passion Story. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1960, 128 p.
Discusses L'agneau as a form of Christian "Passion" narrative.
Fischler, Alexander. "Thematic Keys in François Mauriac's Thérèse Desqueyroux and Le noeud de vipères." Modern Language Quarterly 40, No. 4 (December 1979): 376-89.
Analyzes thematic elements in the two best-known novels of Mauriac's "golden decade."
Flower, John E. "François Mauriac and Social Catholicism: An Episode in L'enfant chargé de chaînes." French Studies 21, No. 2 (April 1967): 125-38.
Demonstrates that L'enfant chargé de chaînes subverted the conservative Catholic traditions of its day by associating them with the Social Catholic movement.
Gartt, Toby. Mauriac: Thérèse Desqueyroux. London: Grantand Cutler, 1991, 76 p.
Closely examines the composition, main themes, and critical reaction to Thérèse Desqueyroux.
Murray, Jack. "Three Murders in the Contemporary French Novel." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 6, No. 3 (Autumn 1964): 361-75.
Compares the murderers in Mauriac's Thérèse Desqueyroux, Albert Camus's L'étranger (1942) and Alain Robbe-Grillet's Le voyeur (1955).
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