François Mauriac Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Although François Mauriac began his career as a poet, he worked in almost every literary genre. He wrote literary criticism, journalism, religious works, biographies, and several volumes of memoirs. However, he is known primarily as a novelist. His career as a dramatist extended only from 1937 to 1951 and resulted in four plays. His career as a novelist began in 1913 and lasted even beyond his death. The publication of Un Adolescent d’autrefoix (1969; Maltaverne, 1970) marked the appearance of his twenty-ninth book of fiction.

Achievements

François Mauriac was elected to the prestigious French Academy in 1933 and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1952. He was also remarkable for his patriotism and courage. Although he was denied entrance to the army at the outset of World War I, he served in the ambulance corps from 1914 to 1917. He contributed to the literary arm of the French Resistance during World War II, protested in print against the use of torture by the French during the Algerian War, and was a founding member of the still-prospering magazine, L’Express.

Other literary forms

François Mauriac (mawr-YAHK) is known primarily for his fiction, although, like many other French novelists both before and after him, he began his career in letters as a poet (with Les Mains jointes, 1909). In his fifties, long after reaching maturity as a novelist, he tried his hand at writing plays, encouraged in that effort by the popular playwright Édouard Bourdet, who was also chief administrator of the Comédie-Française. The first of Mauriac’s plays, Asmodée (pr. 1937; Asmodée: Or, The Intruder, 1939), achieved considerable success on the Parisian stage, a success nearly matched by that of Les Mal Aimés (pr., pb. 1945), which the author himself considered to have been his finest play. Passage du malin (pr. 1947) was somewhat less well received. Gradually losing interest in the stage after the death of Bourdet, Mauriac nevertheless persevered with one more, generally successful, play: Le Feu sur la terre: Ou, Le Pays sans chemin was first performed, to considerable critical acclaim, in 1950. Mauriac is also remembered as the author of short stories (most of them an outgrowth of his novels), as a biographer of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine, and as an essayist.

Achievements

François Mauriac is generally considered to have been the preeminent Roman Catholic novelist of the twentieth century, his accomplishments rivaled only by those of his presumed British disciple, Graham Greene. For a long time, however, Mauriac’s novels sustained strong attack from conservative Catholic critics, who argued with some justice that in Mauriac’s novels God is most conspicuous by His absence. Aided in his strongest works by a keen gift for social observation, Mauriac habitually portrays a fictional universe of almost unrelieved human meanness, with frequent incidence of avarice and lust; the most sympathetic among his characters are those who rebel, however ineffectually, against the drab conformity of their frequently privileged backgrounds.

Although primarily concerned with the inner spiritual state of his principal characters, Mauriac derives considerable effect, and credibility, from his evocation of the social and geographical milieu in which those characters exist. Admittedly influenced by Honoré de Balzac in his portrayal of property and its effects, Mauriac, in his strongest efforts, combines the concerns of the Catholic novel with those of the novel of manners, showing frequent flashes of bitter satire. Set almost exclusively in his native Bordeaux and the surrounding countryside, Mauriac’s novels nevertheless transcend their geographical boundaries to reach a worldwide audience, speaking eloquently of the individual at odds with him- or herself and with society. God, however conspicuous by His absence, emerges from the structure of Mauriac’s novels as the only “reasonable” refuge for those whose pleas for love and understanding go unheard. Despite Mauriac’s notoriously uneven production, the stronger of his novels continue to be read as exemplary studies of human character and destiny, notable also for their influence upon the works of Greene and upon the younger British novelist Piers Paul Read, whose frequently startling works sustain Mauriac’s probing analysis of character and society within a Christian (and specifically Catholic) context.

Bibliography

Brée, Germaine, and Margaret Guiton. “François Mauriac.” In The French Novel from Gide to Camus. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962. An excellent introduction for the student.

Flower, J. E. Intention and Achievement: A Study of the Novels of François Mauriac. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. Especially useful introduction to and analysis of the author’s life and works.

Flower, John, and Bernard Swift, eds. François Mauriac: Visions and Reappraisals. New York: Berg, 1991. Looks at new ways of interpreting Mauriac’s work and career. Presents what is perhaps a more nuanced picture of the author and his work than that typical of pre-1960’s criticism.

Moloney, Michael F. François Mauriac: A Critical Study. Denver: A. Swallow, 1958. An excellent treatment of Mauriac’s poetic imagery.

O’Connell, David. François Mauriac Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1995. Useful introduction to and analysis of the author’s life and works.

Wansink, Susan. Female Victims and Oppressors in Novels by Theodore Fontane and François Mauriac. New York: P. Lang, 1998. In comparing Mauriac with Theodor Fontane, Mauriac’s works Thérèse and Genitrix are analyzed.