Critical Context

Vipers’ Tangle is Mauriac’s masterpiece and a principal example of the Catholic novel in France. The narrator-protagonist point of view, the structure, the dualistic characterizations, and other devices all combine to produce a credible and powerful portrait of conflict and change. The depiction of grace in Vipers’ Tangle is more successful than in any other piece of fiction by Mauriac. In addition, as is typical of his writing, many details are autobiographical. Louis’ anticlerical attitude is drawn from Mauriac’s father, grandfather, and Uncle Louis. His descriptions of the protagonist as sickly, frail, competitive, afraid of being mocked, and superior in intellect and writing to his peers, as well as his descriptions of early life in Bordeaux, reflect Mauriac’s youth.

Many of Mauriac’s other works share several important themes with Vipers’ Tangle. The fictional character with whom Louis shares the greatest affinity is Fernand Cazenave of Genitrix (1923; English translation, 1960). Vipers’ Tangle deals with the hypocritical, religious practices of the bourgeoisie that form a major theme in Mauriac’s works from Destins (1928; Destinies, 1929) to La Pharisienne (1941; A Woman of the Pharisees, 1946). His success in depicting the spiritual void, a world without love, of which Vipers’ Tangle is the best example, earned for Mauriac the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952.