(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the little French town of Argelouse, where she has spent the first part of her life, Thérèse Desqueyroux is known not so much for her beauty as for her charm. Her wit and independence of mind make her conspicuous in the stifling and inbred atmosphere of her native province, and she inspires in her friends and relatives as much disapproval as admiration. Left to her own devices by a father more intent on his political career than on the problems of fatherhood, Thérèse spent her girlhood in isolated brooding. Her one friend has been Anne de la Trave, the half sister of Bernard Desqueyroux, to whom Thérèse is now married.

Thérèse can remember little of her youth and the days before her marriage. For the most part, her memories are clouded by the confusion in her own mind caused by her intense love of life and desire for experience joined to provincial willingness to sacrifice self to tradition. She sees her marriage to Bernard Desqueyroux as the natural culmination of a social cycle, but her honeymoon is not yet over before Thérèse begins to feel acutely the loss to herself that her marriage represents. She discovers in Bernard all that is worst in the provincial character: a fanatical pride of family and material possessions. To a fatal degree, he lacks the insight and imagination to understand his wife. For her part, Thérèse is disgusted by the marriage.

During the honeymoon, Bernard receives a letter from his family informing him that his half sister, Anne, has fallen in love with a penniless young man named Jean Azévédo. To preserve the family name and honor, Bernard prevails on Thérèse to try to help stop the affair. Thérèse returns to Argelouse and persuades Anne to go on a trip. After Anne has gone, Thérèse meets Azévédo and discovers in him that intensity and individualism she misses in her own life. Azévédo admits that he is not really in love with Anne, and he readily agrees to write to her to tell her his true feelings. He and Thérèse meet from time to time and are drawn to each other. When Azévédo leaves Argelouse, he promises that he will return in a year.

After Azévédo has gone, Thérèse settles into the routine of a farmer’s wife. Even the birth of a child, Marie, fails to give her life meaning, for motherhood only further intensifies her frustration. Almost involuntarily,...

(The entire section is 964 words.)