(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Although not a sequel, The Lamb includes three of the main characters in François Mauriac’s critically acclaimed novel La Pharisienne (1941; A Woman of the Pharisees, 1946) which appeared thirteen years earlier. Ten years older, the sadistic Jean de Mirbel, the domineering Brigitte Pian, and her stepdaughter Michele are reintroduced to play a crucial role in the tragic destruction of the young man Xavier, the lamb of the work’s title.

Although the narrative portion of the novel focuses on the seduction and sacrifice of Xavier, it is interspersed with sections of dialogue between Jean and Michele in which, after Xavier’s death, they discuss their responsibility for the young man and become reconciled to each other as husband and wife. In fact, these interchapters reveal the result of the sacrifice of Xavier, primarily the change of Jean from a cynic to one who understands the nature of love but does not fully understand the meaning of Xavier’s death.

The narrative begins with Xavier on his way by train from Bordeaux to Paris, where he will begin seminary training. He becomes fascinated with a couple on the train platform; later, when the departing man enters his compartment, he finds out that the man, a well-known local landowner named Jean de Mirbel, has left his wife. Perhaps because of what he believes to be his priestly calling, Xavier is compelled to reunite them. When Jean discovers that Xavier is about to enter the priesthood, he mocks the clergy and takes advantage of Xavier’s desire to help by convincing him to postpone his entrance into the seminary...

(The entire section is 662 words.)