Study Guide

Vipers' Tangle

by François Mauriac

Vipers' Tangle Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Vipers’ Tangle is Louis’ record of the social and psychological forces which have shaped his solitude. The first part of his account is prompted by an explosion of hatred and vengeance resulting from his wife’s forty-five years of silence and separation. His need to be understood as more than merely a miser set upon disinheriting his children and to probe the sources of his feelings sets him upon a spiritual adventure of discovery and change. What Louis begins as a letter to Isa, his wife, to be read after his death, subsequently becomes a diary and, more important, a defense, a confession, and a self-revelation to be passed on as a part of the family inheritance.

Louis’ rage confusingly leads him from an account of the day of his solitary sixty-eighth birthday to a report of his youth, his training as a lawyer, and his meeting and marriage with Isa. Interspersed with observations on the hypocritical religious practices of the bourgeoisie and on the power which money and property afford, Louis’ thoughts gradually focus on the major incident that destroyed his faith in love and set off his fury with Isa: her confession of love for a man named Rodolphe. Louis discovers that he had been deceived into a marriage created only to save Isa’s reputation. He feels not jealousy but horror at the confirmation that he was, after all, one of those whom others cannot love.

The Easter season provides Louis with an opportunity to depict his family’s long-term conflicts: the contesting of his liberal, anticlerical attitude and the attempts to secure money for the family—this time for a business project of Genevieve’s son-in-law. Then, Louis slowly reveals further sources of his rage against Isa: her complete focus on the children, even to the extent of ignoring works of charity; her indifference, especially to his notable success with the Villenave case; her battles with him over the religious training of the children; her not loving him, thereby forcing him to turn to infidelity and financial gain as the only sources of satisfaction; and her inability to believe that the soul of their daughter, Marie, lives on after death.

To complete this indictment of Isa and...

(The entire section is 902 words.)