Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Xavier Dartigelonghue

Xavier Dartigelonghue (zhah-VYAY dahr-teezh-LOHNG), a middle-class young man intending to enter a seminary in Paris. Sensitive and intelligent, he is interested in human nature and, by aspiring to the priesthood, hopes to touch the lives of others. On the train to Paris, he meets Jean de Mirbel, who is separating from his wife, Michèle. Through a series of questions on the value of the priesthood, Jean intensifies Xavier’s self-doubts about his vocation and convinces him to return to his home in Larjuzon. This temptation, forcing Xavier to reconsider his plans, is followed by sensual conflict. Attracted by Dominique’s beauty and kindness, he replaces spiritual vocation with passionate desire. Her departure requires renunciation of this love; a higher love for the orphan Roland impels him to make a sacrifice that enables him to perceive the earthly presence of Christ. Through self-sacrifice, he restores dignity to Roland’s life. By recognizing the force of divine grace that sustains his suffering, Xavier resists the third temptation of earthly pleasure proposed by a cynical priest. Financially and psychologically, Xavier ensures Roland’s well-being, but on returning to Jean’s villa on bicycle, he is killed by the car driven by Jean. In dying, Xavier becomes an instrument of divine grace and, like Christ, endures self-sacrifice that leads to self-knowledge and the actualization of love.

Jean de Mirbel

Jean de Mirbel (zhah[n] deh meer-BEHL), a landowner in the Landes, near Bordeaux. A handsome but bitter man, he suffers from an impotent relationship with his wife, Michèle, and seeks separation from her. Worldly, self-centered, and calculating, he exploits and twists for his own demonic purposes Xavier’s intentions to become a priest. His cruelty extends to verbal and...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Because of the fablelike nature of this short novel, the reader is given little insight into the psychological complexity of the residents of Jean’s villa. Jean himself is a cynical, somewhat sadistic, figure who plays the satanic role of trying to seduce Xavier away from his plans to enter the priesthood. He seems incapable of love and interested only in destroying those around him. Michele is even less fully delineated; like Jean she seems primarily dominated by the need to possess others and by her own petty jealousies.

Brigitte Pian is perhaps the most possessive of all, determined to control her young secretary Dominique and cynical about the relationship between Xavier and Jean. Dominique is little more than the object of Xavier’s romantic and sexual attraction. Roland, although unloved by Jean and Michele, is a relatively unlovable character who is jealous of Dominique’s attraction to Xavier. The Cure of Baluzac is, like Jean, jaded and cynical and lacking in faith. All in all, these characters are fairly flat and stereotypical, existing more for the sake of the role they play in the death of Xavier than as individualized characters.

It is into this nest of pettiness, cynicism, jealousies, and ennui that the young and innocent Xavier is drawn. Xavier is primarily characterized by his initial doubt about entering the priesthood and then by his desire to help the helpless. After he meets Dominique he begins to feel that she is the...

(The entire section is 411 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Iyengar, K.R. Srinivasa. François Mauriac: Novelist and Moralist, 1963.

Jenkins, Cecil. Mauriac, 1965.

Maloney, Michael F. François Mauriac, 1958.

Smith, Maxwell A. François Mauriac, 1970.