Françoise Mallet-Joris Essay - Critical Essays

Mallet-Joris, Françoise


Mallet-Joris, Françoise 1930–

Mallet-Joris is a Belgian-born novelist, poet, short story writer, and editor now residing in France. Her first novel, Le Rempart des béguines, drew critical comparisons to the work of Françoise Sagan, largely because of its theme of lesbianism. Mallet-Joris's conversion to Catholicism is considered a major influence on her work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)

Rima Drell Reck

With the appearance of [Le Rempart des Béguines and La Chambre rouge] Françoise Mallet-Joris … was hailed as a modern successor to the Marquis de Sade and Laclos. Combining a striking command of novelistic technique with scandalous subject matter, Mme Mallet-Joris revealed a preoccupation with the politics of conflicting wills which could not fail to recall these masters of the eighteenth century. The publication of [Cordélia, Les Mensonges, and L'Empire Céleste], however, has seen the eroticism of constraint take second place to an elaboration of the anatomy of will. Closer to the classical seventeenth century in its analysis of motives and illusions, this inquiry into the will is almost geometrical in form and moralistic in intent.

The exercise of will takes on varying forms in Mme Mallet-Joris' novels. It is expressed primarily by contempt and an effort at isolation…. (p. 74)

[Hélène of La Chambre rouge] makes a discovery common to the elite in Mme Mallet-Joris' gallery of willful spirits: they are all capable of the degradation they so despise. (pp. 74-75)

Alongside the more disciplined practitioners of will, Mme Mallet-Joris ranges those who devote their lives to elaborating a lie or an illusion which makes existence bearable for them. The original illusion is an ingenuous creation, a harmless fiction, a day-dream voiced once too often. These illusions involve clashes of will only when the existence of one illusion demands the annihilation of another. (p. 76)

A third form of exercise of the will is depicted in Mme Mallet-Joris' novels. This form is simple defiance by those who will not sacrifice themselves to the delicate structure of hypocrisy. Such defiance in no way intends to impose a substitute lie or illusion. It merely demands an independent existence. (p. 77)

However, from the loving care with which Mme Mallet-Joris elaborates a complex anatomy of will in its diverse forms, it would be false to infer that only the simple-minded triumph. They escape the complexities, and also never participate in the clash of wills which exalts more complex persons…. For most persons a life without some measure of fiction would be impossible, and for a few a life without a dangerous exercise of will would not be worth living. (p. 78)

Rima Drell Reck, "Françoise Mallet-Joris and the Anatomy of the Will," in Yale French Studies (copyright © Yale French Studies 1959), No. 24, 1959, pp. 74-9.

Genevieve Delattre

["The look", a term used to describe Françoise Mallet-Joris' predominantly visual, highly objective temperament,] is a look which first of all catches objects, observes them with curiosity, details them with love, perceives their harmony; a look without which the descriptive talent of the author would not succeed…. (p. 121)

If this look, objective and creative as well, only embraced things, it would be but a source of joy. It turns, however, towards human beings and scans them with the same eagerness. At this point, from a well delineated world of gleaming objects … we pass into a world of mist and uncertainty, the realm of the lie. Why this transformation? Precisely because objectivity becomes impossible where human beings are involved. The reality of a landscape, of an object, coincides with their appearance. The eye can know them and fix them, at least at a given moment. When we look at Françoise Mallet-Joris' characters, on the contrary, our eyes are met by their appearance only, that is by what they are willing to let us see. Their truth hides behind the fortress of lies which they have erected, in a secret realm where they are overcome by fear when faced with their nudity and vulnerability, with what the novelist sometimes calls their soul.

She is the first one to encounter this opacity of beings. She cannot see more than their external aspects, their physical features, their attitudes—in short, their masks. To surmount this obstacle, she has but a single means: to carry her objectivity to the extreme, that is, renounce all personal intervention and judgment. The author's objectivity then becomes the character's subjectivity. The two possible techniques for such a reversal are narration in the first person, used by Françoise Mallet-Joris in her first two novels (Le Rempart des béguines and La Chambre rouge), or the interior monologue, of which she makes more and more use in the next two novels (Les Mensonges and L'empire céleste).

Whatever the technique, the look remains for...

(The entire section is 854 words.)

Marian Engel

["The Underground Game"] is a story of some complexity, amusing to recall. Guibal [the protagonist], it seems to me, is one of the few warm characters in French fiction in recent years, and as a literary man he is both a study and a warning. He can't please anyone but is himself so easily pleased that he is constantly confused….

This is the work of a mature and knowing talent. Mallet-Joris has always been good, but it is a pleasure to see her swimming in long easy strokes against the tide of intellectuality. She handles scenes and characters with great authority, neatly sectioning her narrative so as to take advantage of every point of view. Her unpretentious hero is a man much sinned against, but he is not resentful, and Mallet-Joris handles developments and changes in his relationships with a light hand. A varied and shifting canvas is more difficult to bring to life than a single, intense subject. (p. 20)

Marian Engel, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 24, 1975.