(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In The Woman of the Pharisees, François Mauriac recounts the life of Brigitte Pian and her influence on the lives of her stepchildren Louis and Michèle, her husband Octave Pian, Jean de Mirbel, Monsieur Puybaraud and Octavia Tronche, and Monsieur Calou, the curate of Baluzac. Mauriac tells his story through the voice of Louis Pian, Brigitte’s stepson.

The story opens with an incident of mistreatment at the boarding school where Louis is a pupil. Louis’s friend Jean de Mirbel is under the guardianship of his uncle, Colonel Comte de Mirbel, a brutal man who regularly visits the school to discipline Jean in the most cruel ways. Determined to maintain discipline over Jean and keep him away from his mother, whom he loves obsessively, the colonel arranges for Jean to remain at Baluzac for the summer under the tutelage of Monsieur Calou, the local curate who has a reputation for reforming boys such as Jean. Monsieur Calou’s methods, however, are the exact oppositive of his reputation for toughness. At his home, Jean experiences kindness and understanding. Jean also experiences romantic love with Louis’s sister Michèle.

During this summer, Jean is cruelly disillusioned by his mother. The colonel has finally permitted Jean’s mother to visit him. Jean insists on spending the night with her, but she absolutely refuses him. Jean stubbornly sneaks out of Monsieur Calou’s house and goes to her. Although she is not staying where he believes she is, he eventually finds her: She is with her lover. Jean’s discovery leaves him not only emotionally devastated, but also gravely ill with pleurisy from the rigors of his journey.

During Jean’s illness, Brigitte Pian takes measures to thwart his love affair with Michèle. After being informed of secret meetings between Jean and Michèle, she forbids her stepchildren to see Jean. Brigitte arranges for Michèle to go to boarding school and forbids even written communication between her and Jean. Monsieur Calou attempts to help Jean and Michèle. He delivers a gold locket to Jean, which the young man always wears around his neck. Seriously worried about Jean’s physical and emotional health, the...

(The entire section is 894 words.)