Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

Thérèse Desqueyroux is a novel written by French author Francois Mauriac. Mauriac was a liberal Catholic author, and he used his writing as a critique of bourgeois twentieth-century French society. The most famous of his works was his novel Thérèse Desqueyroux, which was published in 1927 and first published in English in 1928.

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The story begins just after Thérèse Desqueyroux, a young Catholic bourgeoisie, has been acquitted of trying to kill her wealthy husband, Bernard. Thérèse poisoned Bernard with Fowler’s Solution—a medicine which contains arsenic. Their marriage was a very unhappy one, and Thérèse poisoned Bernard in order to escape not only his tyrannous control but also the provincial life she is forced to endure. But, as Bernard defends her in court, leading to her acquittal, he in effect maintains his control of her, as he then locks her away in his family’s home. This kind of control of Thérèse can also be seen as her father and her lawyer discuss her as they leave the courtroom. Thérèse's father has also demanded previously that she play the role of the submissive wife for Bernard.

The story is about Thérèse’s search for her own identity, gender roles within the home, isolation, and the idea of slavery within marriage. Bernard traps Thérèse in a place where she is totally reliant on him for everything. She poisoned him to escape his control, but now she has completely lost her freedom and independence. It should be noted that Mauriac’s representation of women was seen as groundbreaking in comparison to other literary works at the time. Thérèse refuses to adhere to what society expects of a wife and mother at that time. However, the aggression and control she endures at the hands of men suggest that she is a victim incapable of protecting herself.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

Argelouse

Argelouse (ahr-geh-LOOZ). Fictional small town in an isolated part of southwestern France, largely abandoned, except for some tenant farmers and two prominent families, the Larroques and the Desqueyroux. Thérèse is from the former family and her husband, Bernard, from the latter. Eventually many members of the two families live a good part of their lives in Saint-Clair, where other former Argelouse families now reside.

Much of Argelouse is falling into a state of disrepair. However, it is a heavily forested region, and resin from its pine trees becomes the source of Thérèse’s income. In her late years, Thérèse learns that most of Argelouse’s pine trees have been cut down and that the town has become an even more desolate place.

Argelouse becomes Thérèse’s “prison” after she is acquitted in her trial for attempting to kill Bernard, who confines her to her room for years. Bernard’s main interest in the place derives from its being a good place for duck hunting. He returns there only for duck-hunting season.

Saint-Clair

Saint-Clair (sah[n]-klehr). Market town six miles from Argelouse, In her younger days, Thérèse often travels between the two towns, which are connected by a neglected road on which nothing more modern than a wagon can travel. However, Saint-Clair is an important stop on the railway and has a station that anyone going to Argelouse finds necessary to traverse. It serves as a milestone in the book.

Because there is no church in Argelouse, Thérèse attends Sunday Mass in Saint-Clair, which she finds a welcome respite. However, Bernard decides that Mass has no meaning for Thérèse, whom he forbids from going to Saint-Clair, which eventually becomes the site of Thérèse’s death.

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France in which Thérèse lives after Bernard permits her to leave Argelouse. Alone in the great city, Thérèse tries to make a new life for herself, but without success. The sense of sin she carries with her perverts all of her attempts to find happiness. As the years pass, she retreats more and more into herself.

During her first years in Paris, she lives on Ile Saint-Louis, a small island in the Seine River. In her declining years, Thérèse lives in an apartment in an old house on the rue du Bac, on the Left Bank of the Seine that crosses the larger boulevard Saint-Germain, where Thérèse feels a temporary relief from the oppression that is usually her lot.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Flower, John E. Intention and Achievement: An Essay on the Novels of François Mauriac. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. In his analysis of Thérèse, Flower links it to other novels by Mauriac with characters who seem increasingly saturnine and enigmatic. Flower contends that Thérèse is a powerful figure of alienation who stands out as an unconventional literary heroine.

Flower, John E., and Bernard C. Swift, ed. François Mauriac: Visions and Reappraisals. Providence, R.I.: Berg, 1991. A lucid presentation of Mauriac’s fortunes. Evaluates Thérèse as an approximation of a Colette figure.

Landry, Anne G. Represented Discourse in the Novels of François Mauriac. New York: AMS Press, 1970. The section on Thérèse emphasizes the austerity of Mauriac’s language and examines the dramatic flow of the novel’s structure between central action and flashback.

Smith, Maxwell A. François Mauriac. New York: Twayne, 1970. Contains many perceptive observations about Thérèse based on Smith’s interview with the author. Mauriac defends himself against critical reactions that are overly pessimistic about Thérèse’s destiny. He insists that he has merely presented an isolated study of oppression and confinement. Smith connects Thérèse with Mauriac’s other literary achievements.

Speaight, Robert. François Mauriac: A Study of the Writer and the Man. London: Chatto & Windus, 1976. An overview of Mauriac’s career, which concludes that Thérèse is a poetic tour de force.

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