Henri Troyat Katherine Woods - Essay

Katherine Woods

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Judith Madrier"] is set against the background of the early months of the war and was written during [Troyat's] own service as an officer with the French Army; but it is not a reflection of experiences in fighting. It is a study, both explicit and subtle, of the evil which is inherent in idleness, petty smugness, restless unacknowledged greed, unworthy self-content and self-protection against whatever dangers and discomforts may be the lot of man. As a story which is told with a clear, hard brilliance in a foreign setting and with a foreign idiom of society—a story not lacking in compassion but quite unvarnished and unveiled, and generally of the species which is descended from "Madame Bovary"—it may or may not interest a sizable public here. But as an investigation of cause and effect in human conduct, as shown in the lives of two ordinary individuals, it is worthy of considerable attention and some disturbing thought. (p. 7)

[Judith Madrier, despite her marital infidelities,] is not actively an evil woman, or even a dishonest one; she is merely selfish, ungoverned, idle, emotional, spoiled…. Her revulsion from her husband's "goodness" is not indeed unjustified.

For if Charles Madrier lives without conventional reproach, he also lives in selfishness and pettiness and materialistic swaddling-bands. He is crudely, if pathetically, uxorious. If he is always good-natured, so he is always, for all his physical strength, also a little weak; and it is lazy egotism that makes him so tiresome…. Yet there is ground here in which real goodness may grow. And because that growth is possible, the novel becomes Madrier's story….

The story is developed in vivid clarity both of mood and observation, and moves in merciless penetration, on to a challenge of real human faith. (p. 14)

Katherine Woods, "A Study of Evil," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1941 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 1, 1941, pp. 7, 14.