Last Updated September 5, 2023.
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.
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.