Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494
Thérèse was published by French author François Mauriac in 1927. The novel is set in rural France and opens with a dismissal of the attempted murder case against Thérèse, who was accused of poisoning her husband, Bernard. The novel explores a few different themes related to love, loyalty, and family.
One of the first themes that shows up in the novel is that of loyalty. This theme is evident in different relationships throughout the novel, but it's most visible in the situation at the core of the novel. Despite the fact that his wife attempts to poison him, Bernard defends her in court and helps her to eventually be acquitted. Bernard knows that his wife is miserable in their isolated country home, but he stands by her in court. Thérèse and Bernard return home and he makes it clear that he has only defended her to save their family from a scandal. He confines Thérèse to a life in her bedroom, where her mental and physical health continuously deteriorate. The readers can see Bernard's loyalty to Thérèse, but we must decide if he is loyal to her because he loves her or because it suits his own purposes.
Another theme explored in the novel is gender roles. This theme is used in terms of how gender roles create a power dynamic and how that dynamic impacts the characters. Thérèse seeks autonomy over her own life throughout the novel and is often jealous of others she encounters who are in control of their own lives. This desire increases the misery she feels in her own marriage throughout the novel, which eventually leads to her attempted murder of her husband. It is clear that women in society during this time period are not able to seek out independent lives.
However, Bernard's sister, Anne, determines that her brother is at fault for his wife's misery. Anne's visit to her brother during Thérèse's imprisonment has a positive impact on Thérèse's mental health, but it also shows Anne what her brother is really like. She sees that he is so self-absorbed that he does not understand that he is slowly killing his own wife by keeping her locked up. Bernard is in charge of his wife, as is accepted as the appropriate power dynamic for the time, but it is not because he is a particularly strong character. Anne realizes that her brother is oppressive because he is so weak and seeks control over his life in order to maintain the proper public image—even if it is at the expense of his wife. Bernard and Thérèse are living in the appropriate "roles" for the time period, but neither is particularly happy doing so. Anne eventually convinces her brother to allow Thérèse to go free so that Thérèse can begin her life over again.