François Mauriac Drama Analysis
Like his novels, François Mauriac’s plays indicate his preoccupation with cruelty and hypocrisy in the stifling atmosphere of the bourgeois family. Perhaps even more than his novels, Mauriac’s plays expertly exploit the confinement and terrible constraints of homes and families in which power, meanness, and evil threaten any presence of goodness, love, and faith in God. Psychological and spiritual tension are magnified in spatial situations in which family members cannot escape each other, try to hide and fail, meet in secret, conspire, and scheme in rooms of remote houses, resorts, and estates.
This spatial and physical tension, as well as other qualities of Mauriac’s plays, indicate his admiration for the plays of seventeenth century French classicism, particularly those of Jean Racine (whose biography Mauriac wrote in 1928). However, although Racine’s plays are tragedies in the Greek tradition (most often culminating in a death or deaths and ending in some kind of explanatory denouement), Mauriac’s plays are open-ended to some degree. A character may be trapped in his or her life and perhaps held prisoner in some way by others, but other characters escape to some kind of freedom. In this somewhat limited sense, the endings of Mauriac’s plays are happy, at least for some characters.
Although Mauriac is known to many as a Catholic writer, it is not easy to determine in his plays—or in many of his novels—what if any Catholic or even Christian perspective is present. Clerics—former, present, and future priests—appear in some of the plays, but they are not major characters (except perhaps for Blaise Coûture of Asmodée). None of Mauriac’s characters seems to speak consistently or insistently in favor of God, religion, or Catholicism, and good does not resoundingly triumph over evil in the plays. The Roman Catholic presence in Mauriac’s drama resides in more subtle phenomena. For example, the sudden, unexpected realization that one ought to sacrifice one’s own happiness for that of another may show how grace works in people’s lives. Or one character may realize that he must cut his ties with the past, as tempting as they are, to honor commitments to the present and future, commitments made as signs of love.
These realizations contain the ultimate Christian message in Mauriac’s plays: that those who love may suffer, but they do what they know is right. They accept their losses and give what they can to others.
The play’s title aptly indicates the conflict between its characters. Asmodée is a biblical demon, known in the French literary tradition for lifting the roofs of houses to discover what was really going on inside, behind the facade that people ordinarily presented to the world. The Asmodée in the play is Englishman Harry Fanning, who comes to France as an exchange student. It turns out that Harry is twenty years old, not fifteen, as the family had expected. As a result of Harry’s surprising sophistication, his presence in the de Barthas home, headed by the beautiful widowed mother, Marcelle, exposes the passions and frustrations of the members of the household. Harry toys with the affections of Marcelle, seventeen years older than he, but he truly falls in love with her daughter, seventeen-year-old Emmanuelle, who had been planning on life in a convent. Harry disrupts the relationship between Marcelle and Blaise Coûture, the children’s tutor (and Marcelle’s secret admirer). While Blaise pursues Marcelle, over whom he has exercised a sinister control, he breaks the spirit of Mademoiselle, the family governess, who loves him. Blaise is a former seminarian, dismissed from his school for unspecified bad...
(The entire section is 1525 words.)