Mauriac, François (11 October 1885 - 1 September 1970)
Mauriac, François (11 October 1885 - 1 September 1970)
François Mauriac (11 October 1885 - 1 September 1970)
Slava M. Kushnir
This entry was revised from Kushnir’s Mauriac entry in DLB 65: French Novelists, 1900-1930.
SELECTED BOOKS: Les Mains jointes (Paris: Falque, 1909);
L’Adieu à l’adolescence (Paris: Stock, 1911);
L’Enfant chargé de chaînes (Paris: Grasset, 1913); translated by Gerard Hopkins as Young Man in Chains (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1961; New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1961);
La Robe prétexte (Paris: Grasset, 1914); translated by Hopkins as The Stuff of Youth (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960);
La Chair et le sang (Paris: Emile-Paul, 1920); translated by Hopkins as Flesh and Blood (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1954; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1955);
Petits Essais de psychologie religieuse (Paris: Société Littéraire de France, 1920);
Préséances (Paris: Emile-Paul, 1921); translated by Hopkins as Questions of Precedence (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1958; New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1959);
Le Baiser au lépreux (Paris: Grasset, 1922; New York: Macmillan, 1922); translated by James Whitall as The Kiss to the Leper (London: Heinemann, 1923); translated by Lewis Galantière in The Family (New York: Covici, Friede, 1930);
Le Fleuve de feu (Paris: Grasset, 1923); translated by Hopkins as The River of Fire (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1954);
Génitrix (Paris: Grasset, 1923); translated by Galantière in The Family (New York: Covici, Friede, 1930);
La Vie et la mort d’un poéte (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1924);
Le Mal (Paris: Grasset, 1924); translated by Hopkins as The Enemyin The Desert of Love and The Enemy (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1949; New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1958);
Le Désert de l’amour (Paris: Grasset, 1925); translated by Samuel Putnam as The Desert of Love (New York: Covici, Friede, 1929); translated by Hopkins in The Desert of love and rile Enemy;
Orages (Paris: Champion, 1925);
Bordeaux (Paris: Emile-Paul, 1926);
Coups de couteau (Paris: Trémois, 1926);
Le Jeune Homme (Paris: Hachette, 1926);
Proust (Paris: Lesage, 1926);
La Province (Paris: Hachette, 1926);
Un Homme de lettres (Paris: Lapina, 1926);
La Rencontre avec Pascal; suivi de L’Isolement de Barrès (Paris: Editions des cahiers libres, 1926; expanded, Paris: La Table Ronde, 1994);
Conscience, instinct divin (Paris: Emile-Paul, 1927); expanded as Thérèse Desqueyroux (Paris: Grasset, 1927); translated by Eric Sutton as Thérèse (London: Secker, 1928; New York: Boni & Liveright, 1928);
Destins (Paris: Grasset, 1928); translated by Sutton as Destinies (London: Secker, 1929; New York: Covici, Friede, 1929); translated by Hopkins as Lines of Life (London: Eyre & Spottiswode, 1957);
Le Démon de la connaissance (Paris: Trémois, 1928);
La Vie de Jean Racine (Paris: Plon, 1928);
Le Roman (Paris: L’Artisan du Livre, 1928);
Supplément au Traité de la concupiscence de Bossuet (Paris: Tri anon, 1928);
Divagations sur Saint-Sulpice (Paris: Champion, 1928);
Dieu et Mammon (Paris: Capitole, 1929); translated by Bernard Wall and Barbara wall as God and Mammon (London: Sheed & Ward, 1936);
Mes Plus lointains souvenirs (Paris: E. Hazan, 1929);
La Nuit du bourreau de soi-même (Paris: Flammarion, 1929);
Trois Récits (Paris: Grasset, 1929);
Ce qui était perdu (Paris: Grasset, 1930); translated by Harold F. Kynaston-Snell as Suspicion (London: Nash & Grayson, 1931); translated by J. H. F. McEwen as That Which was Lostin That which was Lost and The Dark Angels (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1951);
Paroles en Espagne (Paris: Hartmann, 1930);
Trois Grands Hommes devant Dieu (Paris: Capitole, 1930);
Blaise Pascal et sa sæur Jacqueline (Paris: Hachette, 1931);
Le Jeudi-Saint (Paris: Flammarion, 1931); translated by Kynaston-Snell as Maundy Thursday (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1932); translated by Marie-Louise Dufrenoy as The Eucharist: The Mystery of Holy Thursday (New York & Toronto: Longmans, Green, 1944); translation republished as Holy Thursday: An Intimate Remembrance (Manchester, N.H.: Sophia Institute Press, 1991);
Souffrances et bonheur du chrétien (Paris: Grasset, 1931); translated by Harold Evans as Anguish and Joy of the Christian Life (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Dimension, 1964);
Commencements d’une vie (Paris: Grasset, 1932)–comprises Bordeauxand Mes Plus lointains souvenirs;
Le Nœud de vipères (Paris: Grasset, 1932; New York: Macmillan, 1932); translated by Warre B. Wells as Vipers’ Tangle (London: Gollancz, 1933; New York: Sheed & ward, 1933);
La Drôle (Paris: Hartmann, 1933); translated by Anne Carter as The Holy Terror (London: J. Cape, 1964; New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1967);
Le Mystère Frontenac (Paris: Grasset, 1933); translated by Hopkins as The Frontenac Mystery (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952); translation republished as The Frontenacs (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1961),
Le Romancier et ses personnages (Paris: Corrêa, 1933);
Discours de réception à l’Académie Française et réponse de M. André Chaumeix (Paris: Grasset, 1934);
Journal,3 volumes (Paris: Grasset, 1934-1940);
La Fin de la nuit (Paris: Grasset, 1935); translated by Hopkins as The End of the Nightin Thérèse (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1947); translation republished as Thérèse: A Portrait in Four Parts (New York: Holt, 1947);
Les Anges noirs (Paris: Grasset, 1936); translated by Hopkins as The Dark Angels in That Which was Lost and The Dark Angels (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1951); translation republished as The Mask of Innocence (New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1953);
L’Education des filles (Paris: Corrêa, 1936);
Vie de Jésus (Paris: Flammarion, 1936); translated by Julie Kernan as Life of Jesus (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1937; New York & Toronto: Longmans, Green, 1937);
Asmodée (Paris: Grasset, 1938); translated by Basil Bartlett as Asmodée; or, The Intruder (London: Secker & Warburg, 1939); translated by Beverly Thurman (New York: French, 1957);
Plongées (Paris: Grasset, 1938);
Les Chemins de la mer (Paris: Grasset, 1939); translated by Hopkins as The Unknown Sea (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1948; New York: Holt, 1948); Les Maisons fugitives (Paris: Grasset, 1939);
Le Sang d’Atys (Paris: Grasset, 1940);
La Pharisienne (Paris: Grasset, 1941); translated by Hopkins as Woman of the Pharisees (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946; New York: Holt, 1946);
Le Cahier noir,as Forez (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1943); bilingual edition (London: Burrup, Mathieson, 1944);
Le Bâillon dénoué, aprés quatre ans de silence (Paris: Grasset, 1945);
Les Mal-Aimés (Paris: Grasset, 1945);
Pages de journal (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1945);
La Rencontre avec Barrès (Paris: Table Ronde, 1945);
Sainte Marguerite de Cortone (Paris: Flammarion, 1945); translated by Bernard Frechtman as Saint Margaret of Cortona (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948);
Du côté de chez Proust (Paris: Table Ronde, 1947); translated by Elsie Pell as Proust’s Way (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950);
Journal, 1932-1939 (Paris: Table Ronde, 1947);
Journal d’un homme de trente ans (Paris: Egloff, 1948); Passage du malin (Paris: Table Ronde, 1948);
Mes Grands hommes (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1949); translated by Pell as Great Men (London: Rockliff, 1949); translation republished as Men I Hold Great (New York: Philosophical Library, 1951);
Journal [1944-1946] (Paris: Flammarion, 1950);
La Pierre d’achoppement (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1951); translated by Pell as The Stumbling Block (New York: Philosophical Library, 1952); translated by Hopkins (London: Harvill, 1956);
Le Feu sur la terre; ou, Le Pays sans chemin (Paris: Grasset, 1951);
Le Sagouin (Paris: La Palatine, 1951); translated by Hopkins as The Little Misery (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952); translation republished as The Weaklingin The Weakling and The Enemy (New York: Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1952);
Galigaï (Paris: Flammarion, 1952); translated by Hopkins as The Loved and the Unloved (New York: Pelle grini & Cudahy, 1952; London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1953);
Lettres ouvertes (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1952); translated by Mario A. Pei as Letters on Art and Literature (New York: Philosophical Library, 1953);
La Mort d’André Gide (Paris: Estienne, 1952);
Ecrits intimes (Geneva & Paris: La Palatine, 1953);
Journal[volume 5] (Paris: Flammarion, 1953);
L’Agneau (Paris: Flammarion, 1954); translated by Hopkins as The Lamb (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955; New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1955);
Paroles catholiques (Paris: Plon, 1954); translated by Edward H. Flannery as Words of Faith (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955);
Les roses de septembre (Paris: Flammarion, 1956); translated by Hopkins as September Roses (London: John Lane, 1958);
Bloc-notes, 1952-1957 (Paris: Flammarion, 1958);
Les Fils de l’homme (Paris: Grasset, 1958); translated by Bernard Murchland as The Son of Man (Cleveland: World, 1960);
Mémoires intérieurs (Paris: Flammarion, 1959); translated by Hopkins (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960; New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1960);
Le Nouveau Bloc-notes, 1958-1960 (Paris: Flammarion, 1961);
Ce que je crois (Paris: Grasset, 1962); translated by Wallace Fowlie as what I Believe (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1963);
De Gaulle (Paris: Grasset, 1964); translated by Richard Howard (London: Bodley Head, 1966; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966);
Nouveaux mémoires intérieurs (Paris: Flammarion, 1965); translated by Herma Briffault as The Inner Presence: Recollections of My Spiritual Life (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968);
D’autres et moi,edited by Keith Goesch (Paris: Grasset, 1966);
Mémoires politiques (Paris: Grasset, 1967);
Le Nouveau Bloc-notes, 1961-1964 (Paris: Flammarion, 1968);
Un Adolescent d’autrefois (Paris: Flammarion, 1969); translated by Jean Stewart as Maltaverne (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970; New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970);
Le Nouveau Bloc-notes, 1965-1967 (Paris: Flammarion, 1970);
Le Dernier Bloc-notes, 1968-1970 (Paris: Flammarion, 1971);
Maltaverne: Roman (Paris: Flammarion, 1972);
Paroles perdues et retrouvées,edited by Goesch (Paris: B. Grasset, 1986);
Onze lettres à un jeune prêtre homosexuel (N.p.:Imprimerie coopérative de Malagar, 1990);
La Paix de cimes: Chroniques, 1948-1955,edited by Jean Touzot (Paris: Bartillat, 1999);
Chercheurs d’absolu: Mauriac et de Gaulle, chroniques et discours 1945-1948,by Mauriac and Charles de Gaulle, edited by Malcolm Scott (Le Bouscat: L’Esprit du temps, 2002);
D’un Bloc-notes à l’autre: 1952-1969,edited by Touzot (Paris: Bartillat, 2004).
Editions and Collections: Œuvres complétes,12 volumes (Paris: Fayard, 1950-1956);
Œuvres romanesques et théâtrales complétes,4 volumes, edited by Jacques Petit (Paris: Gallimard, 1978-1985);
Œuvres autobiographiques,edited by François Durand (Paris: Gallimard, 1990);
Œuvres romanesques: 1911-1951,edited by Jean Touzot (Paris: Librairie générale française, 1992);
Le Feu secret,edited by Jean-Louis Curtis (Paris: La Différence, 1992);
Bloc-notes,5 volumes, edited by Touzot (Paris: Seuil, 1993);
Mozart & autres écrits sur la musique,edited by François Solesmes (La Versanne: Encre marine, 1996);
Génitrix: De Genetrix: Le Manuscrit et sa genèse,edited by Pier Luigi Pinelli (Fasano: Schena / Paris: Didier érudition, 2000);
Les Mains jointes, et autre poèmes, 1905-1923,edited by Paul Cooke (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005).
Editions in English: The Knot of Vipers,translated by Gerard Hopkins (Andover: Eyre & Spottiswode, 1951);
Second Thoughts: Reflections on Literature and on Life, translated by Adrienne Foulke (Cleveland: World, 1961; London: D. Finlayson, 1961);
Cain, Where is Your Brother? (New York: Coward-McCann, 1962).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Asmodée,Paris, Comédie-Française, 22 November 1937;
Les Mal-Aimés,Paris, Comédie-Française, 1 March 1945;
Passage du malin,Paris, Théâtre de la Madeleine, 9 December 1947;
Le Feu sur la terre,Lyons, 12 October 1950; Paris, Théâtre Hébertot, 7 December 1950.
OTHER: Blaise Pascal, Les Pages immortelles de Pascal,edited by Mauriac (Paris: Corrêa, 1940; new York: Editions de la Maison Française, 1941); translated by Doris E. Troutman as The Living Thoughts of Pascal (New York: Longmans, Green, 1940; London: Cassell, 1941);
Alfred Dreyfus, Cinq Années de ma vie, 1894-1899,preface by Mauriac (Paris: Fasquelle, 1962);
Jean-René Huguenin, Journal,preface by Mauriac (Paris: Seuil, 1964);
Maurice Barrès, L’Œuvre de Maurice Barrès,20 volumes, preface by Mauriac (Paris: Club de l’Honnête Homme, 1965-1968);
Michel Suffran, Surune génération perdue, preface by Mauriac (Bordeaux: Samie, 1966);
François Mauriac is one of the most important and prolific French authors of the twentieth century. A poet, he began his literary career with the publication in 1909 of a collection of poems, Les Mains jointes (Clasped Hands), reviewed with enthusiasm by the established writer Maurice Barrès, who predicted celebrity for the young author. To this success Mauriac added in 1925 Orages (Storms), and in 1940 Le Sang d’Atys (The Blood of Atys), a long poem on which he worked intermittently for close to ten years. A literary critic, Mauriac meditated on the art of fiction in such works as Le Roman (1928, The Novel) and Le Romancier et ses personnages (1933, The Novelist and His Characters). A Christian moralist, he wrote many essays on Catholic thinkers and saints (such as Saint Margaret of Cortona, Blaise Pascal, and Henri Lacordaire) as well as Vie de Jésus (1936; translated as Life of Jesus,1937). He also produced autobiographical works, the most noted of which are Commencements d’une vie (1932, Beginnings of a Life) and Mémoires intérieurs (1959, Interior Memoirs). In addition, he wrote four plays—Asmodée (performed 1937; published 1938; translated as Asmodée; or, The Intruder,1939), Les Mal Aimés (1945, The Ill-loved), Passage du malin (performed, 1947; published, 1948, Passing of the Evil One), and Le Feu sur la terre (performed, 1950; published, 1951, Fire on Earth). Despite this varied production, Mauriac was, above all, a novelist. One might say that for Mauriac the novel is the genre where the poet, the moralist, the critic, the autobiographer, and the dramatist meet.
Mauriac strikes many readers as a profound but narrow writer, exploring a limited field of experience, rewriting the same novel. “Je fais toujours le même livre” (I continue to write the same book), he once said. Among French writers, he was the most French, supremely Gallic, even in his appearance, intensely devoted to his country, her problems, and her culture. He professed a distaste for travel, and, although well informed about foreign literatures and cultures, he indeed had nothing cosmopolitan about him. He was also a son of Gascony, a bordelais,attached to his native region with the same poetic passion as to his childhood, celebrating this remote corner of France in everyone of his novels. He was, finally, his whole life an outspoken Catholic, evolving within his Catholicism from a rigid, almost Jansenist position to a more tolerant Christian worldview but never once hesitating in his faith. Yet, this writer, so bordelais,so French, so Catholic, attracted readers and admirers from outside France and outside the Church. His works have been translated into all major languages of the world. This truly universal appeal that his work had during his lifetime and beyond is undoubtedly the best indication of Mauriac’s greatness.
Mauriac was born in Bordeaux on 11 October 1885, the fourth child of Jean-Paul and Claire Coiffard Mauriac. Jean-Paul Mauriac, a banker, died when François was not quite two, and the family moved in with Claire Mauriac’s mother, who also lived in Bordeaux. Young François showed an early interest in writing; as a boy of thirteen, he wrote a novel of about thirty-five pages titled “Va-t-en” (Go Away), in which he already revealed his gift for social satire and his keen interest in strong human passions. In 1904 Mauriac completed his baccalauréat,and in 1906 he earned a licence ès lettres,writing a thesis titled “Les Origines du franciscanisme en France” (The Origins of Franciscanism in France). In 1907 he went to Paris in order to prepare for entering the Ecole des Chartes. After failing his first entrance examination, he was accepted in November 1908. But six months later he resigned in order to devote himself entirely to literature. What decided him was an invitation by Charles-Francis Caillard, director of the Revue du Temps Présent,to collaborate as poetry editor, and an offer to publish his first volume of verse for the sum of 500 francs. Les Mains jointesappeared in November 1909 and was highly praised by Barrès, who detected in it “the poetry of a child of a happy family” and a “charming gift of spirituality” but with “a mad note of voluptuousness.” This early recognition by a master was a turning point in Mauriac’s career, bringing him to the attention of the critics, gaining for him friends such as Robert Vallery-Radot and the poet André Lafon, and opening several salons, among them that of Mme Alphonse Daudet, Where he met Léon Daudet, Jean Cocteau, and Marcel Proust.
In 1911 Mauriac was already working on his first novel, L’Enfant chargé de chaînes,which appeared in 1913, shortly before his marriage to Jeanne Lafon on 3 June. In 1914 the first of his four children, son Claude (who later became a novelist and critic), was born, and Mauriac produced his second novel, La Robe prétexte (translated as The Stuff of Youth,1960). When world war I broke out, Mauriac was rejected by the army for physical disability but joined the Red Cross. Sent to Salonika, he contracted a fever and had to be repatriated. On his recovery, he completed his third novel, La Chair et le sang (1920; translated as Flesh and Blood,1954), begun in 1914.
In La Robe prétexte (a basic novel, since a part of it was written before L’Enfant chargé de chaînes),José Ximénès, the friend and guide of the hero-poet Jacques, points the way to self-realization and gives the key to the understanding of all Mauriac’s fiction: “Le goût de la réussite jene pense pas qu’il soutienne long-temps des âmes de notre qualité. Ce qui les pousse en avant, c’est cette force terrible qui entraînait ton père loin du berceau où tu étais un petit enfant—la vocation enfin!” (The taste for success, I do not think that it can long support minds of our quality. What pushes them onward is this terrible power which took your father away from you when you were a little child—the artistic vocation!).
Criticism of Mauriac’s fiction has been hampered from the beginning by a confusion made by critics between Mauriac the artist and Mauriac the man, who was a devout and militant Catholic. They assume that religion played a most important role in his fiction. Mauriac himself contributed to the misunderstanding by making public statements about his fiction in interviews or essays, or by intervening in a rather heavy-handed fashion at the end of the novel, as in Le Désert de l’amour (1925; translated as The Desert of Love,1929), in which he tells the reader that only God could bring solace to his characters. This tendency to impose upon the reader a certain interpretation of his novels testifies to a conflict in Mauriac between the artist and the Catholic. The devout Catholic often felt ill at ease about his art, considering his poetry a channel for the indulgence of the senses and his portrayal of human passions a possible source of scandal to his Catholic readers. Artistic freedom appeared as moral laxity; however, moral integrity spelled the death of his art.
Thus, the critics, considering Mauriac a Catholic novelist, disregarded the specific nature or tenor of his imaginative writing, which is poetic and symbolic. Mauriac was finally forced to explain: “Je ne suis pas un romancier catholique; je suis un catholique qui écrit des romans” (I am not a Catholic novelist; I am a Catholic who writes novels). Indeed, if many of Mauriac’s novels could be loosely viewed as a portrayal of man’s fallen nature, of man as a sinner in need of divine grace, this interpretation is too facile; it does not account for the richness, for the psychoanalytical complexity of Mauriac’s characters, and, furthermore, it hardly applies to such important novels as Génitrix (1923; translated in The Family,1930) or Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927; translated as Thérèse,1928). In fact, in Mauriac’s novels the issue is not eternal salvation, but rather human happiness. Many of Mauriac’s characters are pagan, such as Félicité and Fernand Cazenave in Génitrix. Thérèse Desqueyroux, the central character of Mauriac’s fiction, is unequivocally un-Christian in all her responses to life, a complete stranger to religion, despite the fact that Catholicism is practiced extensively in her class. God is absent from the preoccupations of Mauriac’s characters and when he becomes a presence in their lives, as for Louis in Le Nœud de vipères (1932; translated as Vipers’ Tangle,1933), it is as a result of an altogether different activity, central to Mauriac’s and to his heroes’ concerns.
Mauriac’s novels can be divided into three categories corresponding to the three major stages both in his life and in the evolution of his heroes. His first four novels are apprentice works, largely autobiographical, introducing a particular type of hero-“le poète en herbe,” or the budding poet. The second group comprises the masterpieces of the 1920s that made Mauriac famous. In these poignant narratives the central character is always a mutilated personality, a poet who fails to realize his vocation, succumbing to such obstacles as religion, society (both viewed as hostile to art), or sexuality (dissipation or passion for women, which mobilizes all men’s energy). In the end the hero dies psychologically or even physically. This period corresponds to Mauriac’s own fear of his artistic nature, to the conflict in him between his art and his religious and moral conscience, culminating in the spiritual crisis of 1926-1929. The third group includes the novels of the 1930s, written during the decade of Mauriac’s election to the presidency of the Societé des Gens de Lettres (1932) and to the Académie Française (1933). Less tragic in tone, more complex, written after resolution of the crisis, these manifest new confidence on the part of Mauriac in his capacity to reconcile the two “destinies” in his life: his poetic vocation, inherited from his father, and his Catholic faith, inculcated in him by his devout mother when he was a child. In most of these novels the hero is a poet who conquers the obstacles, writes, and thus arrives at the unity of self often symbolized by a turning of the whole of his being to God.
The first novels, somewhat awkward and groping in technique, include the basic polarizations of Mauriac’s artistic vision, providing basic patterns for what is to come. It is significant that religion occupies little space here, except in L’Enfant chargé de chaînes,in which the hero is temporarily attached to a social Catholic movement called “Amour et Foi”-Love and Faith-resembling Le Sillon, the Christian Democratic movement of Marc Sangnier. In these works religion is simply part of the young man’s heritage, at best a source for him of aesthetic and sensuous enjoyment. The hero in each of these early apprentice novels is a budding poet. In L’Enfant chargé de chaînesthe twenty-year-old Jean-Paul Johanet has his poems published in obscure journals. In La Robe prétexte Jacques is the narrator, telling about his adolescence, about the formative years in which he became conscious of his vocation. A similar situation exists in Préséances (1921; translated as Questions of Precedence,1958). In La Chair et le sangClaude is going through an apprenticeship in life that makes him a writer.
These first novels introduce another important Mauriac character: the friend of the poet, a doppelgänger figure, but also a guide who confirms the hero in his vocation. Vincent, in L’Enfant chargé de chaînes,who used to listen to Jean-Paul’s poetry when they were in school; Edward, in La Chair et le sang,who introduced Claude to the more sophisticated world of poetry and music; José, the solitary stranger in La Robe prétexte,who instructed Jacques to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Gauguin-like character who abandoned his family and went to Tahiti in search of inspiration; Augustin, in Préséances,a Rimbaud-like figure, are all figures of the guide. They are based on Mauriac’s own extremely positive experiences of friendship. But this character type undergoes modifications in the novels of the 1920s in which the creative imagination overpowers the autobiographical element. In these works the friend is absent, physically or psychologically, from the hero’s life, and consequently the hero fails to become a poet.
Mauriac’s first novels introduce all the important themes that are developed and orchestrated in the later novels, above all, the theme of the divorce between absolute values of childhood and adolescence—their purity and idealism-and the relativity of the external world. This theme is traditional in the novel, but Mauriac brings to the treatment of it his own lyrical tone. His mature novels show that only artistic creation can provide, through its synthetic or transformative power, a bridge between the overprotected childhood and the threatening adult world characterized above all by sexuality. In Mauriac’s fictional universe, creativity becomes the condition for the acceptance of or coming to terms with reality.
Mauriac contributed lectures and articles with some political content early in his career, for example, to the Revue Montalembertshortly after his arrival in Paris. In 1914 he contributed, under the pseudonym of François Sturel, twelve political articles to the Parisian Journal de Clichy,directed by Daniel Fontaine, who in fact deserves credit for pushing Mauriac into journalism. In 1919 some of his journalism appeared in a more important conservative newspaper, the Gaulois. Mauriac reveals himself in these early articles to be a skilled polemicist, a Christian social conservative defending Catholic values against corrupt and radical France. Yet, these articles reveal a conflict between his bourgeois upbringing tinged with barrésisme (cult of one’s individuality) and his sympathy for social Catholicism and announce his future liberalism and pragmatism. For example, Mauriac is rather prudent in his denunciation of bolshevism, recommending flexibility and dialogue. This journalistic activity, however, was abandoned for poetry, essays, fiction.
Le Baiser au lépreux (1922; translated as The Kiss to the Leper,1923) was Mauriac’s first great success (his first book to exceed the sale of three thousand copies and reach a broad public), free of the hesitancy and confusion of plot typical of first novels, marks the beginning of the second stage in Mauriac’s fictional output, in which the central character is always a mutilated poet. On a superficial level, the novel is a story of the failure of a provincial, middle-class Christian marriage arranged for material and social reasons by the two families through the intervention of the parish priest. It is also a sexual drama, the failure of love and, above all, of sexual union, which is seen as degrading. But there is another level: the failure of the central character, Jean Péloueyre, to realize his poetic vocation and thus transcend his suffering in art. Michael Moloney called Péloueyre a “potential Keats” and correctly observed that “Mauriac dramatizes the poet in Jean.”
Jean Péloueyre, with his sad, ugly face and morbid sensitivity, loves solitary walks through the fields and reading poetry and philosophy. He is above all fascinated with Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886), a most significant title; he dreams of writing a vast work titled “The Will to Power and Sanctity” in which he will reformulate the foundations of Christian morality. Péloueyre dreams of a wider morality—a transformation of Christian ethics in the direction of a new tolerance, beyond the traditional good and evil. But Péloueyre does not realize his dream. He becomes discouraged, wasting his passion on a woman, the beautiful Noémi, who, although desirous of love and fulfillment, is forced to marry him for his wealth and family prestige. He goes to Paris, the city of liberation, but is unable to free himself from the city of Bordeaux, which he carries within him. He wastes his time, taking refuge in cafés and in churches (both seen as symbols of the womb), thinking of Noémi, rather than throw himself into the streets and crowds of Paris, or dream, read, and create. The narrator stipulates that not once does Péloueyre enter a library while in Paris. He returns to Bordeaux and in despair contrives to catch tuberculosis from a sick friend and die. In his agony he does not pray but recites Pierre Corneille.
Péloueyre is killed by the alliance of three forces that are systematically presented in Mauriac’s fiction as hostile to the poet, to the life of the mind and of literary creation: the family, microcosm of society; the Church, here represented by the parish priest who pushes Jean into a disastrous marriage; and woman, who represents nature and sexuality. There is no counter to this triple influence, no friend or guide, no masculine figure to help Péloueyre. His friend Daniel Trasis has neglected him; his father, a mediocre, egocentric figure, is absorbed by his own narrow bourgeois interests and, after Jean’s death, will force Noémi to give up all ideas of remarriage. Mauriac said that Péloueyre is an antidote to Nietzsche, the “exaltavit humilis” of the Magnificat. But this is Mauriac the Catholic making an ideological statement about his fiction from outside. The novel gives a totally different impression—that of a useless, absurd sacrifice of youth, love, and, above all, of poetic talent, to the forces of mediocrity, hate, and death represented by the family and the Church. Passion, a sign of quality in Mauriac’s character, has not been channeled by Péloueyre into a creative form; it has destroyed him. Stifled by his experience of Bordeaux, Péloueyre is unable in Paris to reach beyond the contraries, to transform his passion into a spiritual equivalent, a new synthesis, a new life.
In Génitrix,another masterpiece, possessing “something of the luminous simplicity of nightmare,” according to Cecil Jenkins in Mauriac (1965), Fernand Cazenave is also a potential poet but held back by a woman—in this case, his possessive mother. Félicité—the name is ironic—is a caricature of all Mauriac mothers, a strong, authoritative, passionate woman, sexually unhappy, unfulfilled in her marriage. She transfers her unsatisfied love to her son Fernand, all the more so since she has lost one male child. The novel is a story of the various ways this Jocasta figure paralyzes her son’s emotional development, making him weak, thoroughly dependent on her, and emotionally impotent. Fernand dreams of self-expression. In fact, he has a habit of cutting out, from a book by Epictetus, various maxims, pasting and arranging them in a collage, thus hoping to obtain through this type of bricolage, this child’s play, not only pleasure and liberation but also the meaning of life and death. The collage expresses the artistic tendency in Fernand, made absurd by its immature, undeveloped aspect. It is, however, interesting to note that well before the modern critics Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, Mauriac called attention to the ludic and libidinal aspects of art.
Félicité Cazenave is not simply a grotesque embodiment of the bourgeois rage to own, as has been suggested by some superficial and reductive criticisms of Mauriac. Génitrixis a remarkable book in which the terrible possessive aspect of the Jocastian mother who kills her son emotionally and psychologically is expressed with unprecedented force. Fernand is unable to break away from his mother; he behaves at the age of fifty like a child cut off from adult reality, completely alone in a matrocentric universe, hostile to intellect and to creativity, with no masculine figure to counterbalance the pull of the feminine. Fernand is stifled by his mother, who continues to have a hold on him, even after her death. At the end he is a living corpse, cared for by a servant, Marie Lados, a surrogate mother figure.
In 1928 Mauriac conceived another memorable character reminiscent of Fernand. Auguste Duprouy of “Le Rang” (Rank), a short story providing a scathing condemnation of the bourgeoisie of the Bordeaux region, is a man possessed with a poet’s sensitivity and a brilliant mind. There are hints of greatness about him. But he is immolated by the female family—his mother and his two sisters who prevent him from pursuing his studies, from marrying, and from leaving Bordeaux. He dies of hunger while trying to pay for the funeral of his sister.
Le Désert de l’amour,winner of the 1925 Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française, is another study of a mutilated personality, of a young man unable to come to terms with an Oedipal situation. There is no reference here to writing; but Raymond Courrèges has a passionate nature, a sign of election in Mauriac’s fiction. He seems to share this vocation with Maria Cross, whom he loves and who is also gifted with a certain intellectuality and a taste for reading. As an intellectual woman, however, she is doomed in her bourgeois society, which permits women to be only wives, mothers, or mistresses.
Humiliated in his adolescence by Maria, who is also loved by his father and is therefore a surrogate for the mother, Raymond spends all his passion on other women and leading a life of debauchery. At the end of the novel the narrator intervenes to tell the reader that only God could save Raymond. The opinion, expressed in a clumsy fashion and given completely outside the awareness of Raymond, who is a total stranger to religion, shocks the reader. It is as if Mauriac himself did not realize at that time the function of art and creativity and felt obliged to give a Catholic ending to his novel. The meaning implicit in the novel is different.
Raymond is another victim of the matrocentric universe. He has no one to confirm him in his uniqueness, to recognize the specific needs of his nature. His father, although a noted physician, is always absent, a weak, ineffectual figure. His friends are shallow, unable to introduce him to the higher things in life—to art and literature, which would enable him to synthesize the aspirations of his adolescence and the relativity of the adult world. Raymond does not read—a capital sin in Mauriac’s novels—and, therefore, is unable to understand his own heart, to apply a more imaginative approach to his situation. He cannot come to terms with woman, he cannot transform the bad mother (frigid, part virgin, part prostitute) into the good mother, a source of inspiration.
Thérèse Desqueyroux, the best known of all Mauriac fictional heroes, is the central character of this period of Mauriac’s life, a key figure for the understanding of the rest. In the novel Thérèse Desqueyrouxshe does not write, but she dreams of writing: made a virtual prisoner by her husband in their home in Argelouse, ill, feverish, she imagines herself in Paris, a distinguished and admired novelist. In the first version of the novel, published under the title Conscience, instinct divin (1927, Consciousness, Divine Instinct), she actually does write, addressing a letter-confession to a priest. She also writes a short story titled “Thérèse à l’hôtel,” which, in fact, is cast in the form of Thérèse’s diary.
Thérèse Desqueyroux was written in 1927 at the height of Mauriac’s spiritual crisis, at the same time as the essay La Vie de Jean Racine (1928, The Life of Jean Racine) and the novel Destins (1928; translated as Destinies,1929). These three works form a trilogy in the exploration of the theme of human division. Thérèse is in a sense a doppelgänger of Racine, and both are doubles of Mauriac himself. In Destinsone has a further illustration of the cleavage within the artist’s personality. Bob Lagave, the sensualist, representing the excesses of the flesh—and Pierre Gornac, the ascetic and intellectual, representing the excesses of the spirit—are the two opposite sides of the same personality and epitomize, as Mauriac claimed, the author’s own profound contradiction. Both die, Bob physically, Pierre by burying himself in a monastery, because each represents a tendency in its extreme one-sidedness. Only an interaction, a living synthesis of contraries, can produce life.
If, in the later novel La Fin de la nuit (1935; translated as The End of the Night,1947), Thérèse does not write, that is precisely the reason why she is dying. She has dissipated her heart (she dies of heart failure) and her life in impossible love affairs instead of channeling her energy into a more creative form. An avid reader in her youth of the popular books of Charles-Paul de Kock, of the essays of Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, and of Napoleonic history, she is now too weak to walk, dream, and read; she spends her time sitting in cafés, a sad, gaunt figure. Mauriac once said that he could not find a priest to convert Thérèse on her deathbed: that is because in his novels only writers find redemption. Mauriac seems also to be making a statement about the feminine condition. A woman gifted with an intellectual and especially artistic personality is not only viewed as a monster by the bourgeois society but is also a victim of the fatality of gender, for she cannot possess that exalted relationship with the mother that is the determining factor in the artistic vocation.
Thérèse is the epitome of duality. Resembling all the other Mauriac heroes, she represents the artist’s lack of adaptation to the world, yet also his deep attachment to it. Two women are at war in her: the “Thérèse landaise,” conservative, conformist, proud to have married a Desqueyroux, passive yet passionate, sensually bound up with the sun-parched landscape of the Landes; and the “other Thérèse,” whose cold, critical, and aggressive intelligence is known in the whole region. Narcissistic, egocentric, exploring herself in the books she reads, she is also curious about others and wishes to communicate and love. Her propensity for talking, arguing, confessing herself is a sign of a deep need for self-expression. But there is no one to listen to her. Her mother died when she was an infant; her father, a local politician, was never interested in her; her friend Anne and Thérèse’s husband, Bernard, possess a provincial detestation of books and all things intellectual and do not understand her; her Aunt Clara, a surrogate mother figure, is completely deaf. Only Jean Azévédo, Anne’s lover, confirms Thérèse as a unique individual who should break through the family wall. He represents the pole of Paris, where Thérèse will arrive at the end, but he is not really a guide; he is too shallow and one-sided, and he does not point the way to creativity. He does, however, bring Thérèse self-awareness at a time when her individuality is submerged by pregnancy and motherhood, when she functions exclusively as the wife of Bernard and the receptacle of the future inheritor of the combined properties of the Larroques and the Desqueyroux. The irony is that the offspring is a girl, Marie.
Thérèse moves between these two extremes, these two opposite poles of her soul—Argelouse, “une extrémité de la terre,” and Paris, the capital of the world-and between the two men in her life representing the contrary forces of her psyche: Bernard Desqueyroux, heavy as the sound of his name, solid as rock and earth, a bourgeois rooted in the land and the peasant customs of his region, and Jean Azévédo, light and free as the vowels of his name suggest, an uprooted intellectual, a Jew, apostle of the new gospel of the realization of the self. Thérèse will abandon both in the end, for each represents not a synthesis of contraries but the opposing tendency in its radical form.
At the height of her division bordering on schizophrenia, Thérèse resorts to crime. The crime is a radical expression of her neurosis, as if the repressed part of her-the free, intelligent, and independent woman—demands to be heard. If division led Mauriac to writing, to the expression of his contradiction, it leads Thérèse to crime. “Un livre est un acte violent” (A book is a violent act), said Mauriac, and Martin Turnell has suggested in The Art of French Fiction (1959) that Mauriac’s novels are “symbolical Acts of Violence which give the illusion of escape from the trap.” Thérèse’s crime is akin to an artistic process: it appears sudden but is linked to neurosis, to a long frustration, as art is, but it lacks the concomitant discipline and the ultimate balance provided by art; it is progressive-three times Thérèse poisons Bernard, increasing the doses, torturing him, never killing him; it is half-conscious, compulsive, mobilizing all Thérèse’s energy; and it is in a sense intellectual, motivated by curiosity and desire to reach Bernard at a deeper level of his self; finally, it leads to liberation. In a truly Nietzschean fashion Mauriac establishes a link between neurosis, crime, and creativity.
As a result of her descent into hell, symbolized by her train journey and her subsequent expiation in Argelouse, Thérèse arrives at the comprehension of the truth of her personality. One spring day in Paris—the season and the place of liberation in Mauriac’s fiction—she will formulate this new knowledge into language: the contrary tendencies in her not only exist but are also indispensable to her survival, and they cannot be sacrificed. A third term is needed, integrating the opposites—the call of Argelouse or tradition and the call of Paris or freedom, reaching beyond good and evil. This third term, in Thérèse’s case, can only be literary creation. Mauriac’s heroes of the 1930s complete the journey begun by Thérèse and transmute their suffering into a work of art.
In Mauriac’s novels the poet is pitted against a certain social milieu—that of the provincial bourgeoisie of the Bordeaux region. There are glimpses of the Parisian bohemian circles, presented as shallow and impersonal; of degenerate aristocracy; of peasants of the Landes, who differ from the bourgeois only in wealth and social prestige. But it is essentially the bourgeoisie that Mauriac presents in his novels, painting a scathing portrait of his class. This class is conservative, acquisitive, materialistic, wary in the management of its wealth, fearful of risk and change. All progress is feared, unless it is commercial. It is a highly conformist and hypocritical society, for conformism breeds hypocrisy: appearance, name of family, social prestige are the only features that count. Through its routine, ordered existence this society wants to build a protective wall against anguish, disintegration, and death. This drive for solidity and permanence—for what Sartre called the being-in-itself—explains the bourgeois suspicion of intellect and outside influence: intellectuals, artists, foreigners, above all Jews (such as Azévédo), are perceived as agents of change and disorder.
Bourgeois society in Mauriac’s fiction is in its final stage of disintegration—a decaying family, a dyingrace. Decay is suggested by the theme of the end of the family, which reveals a presentiment of the end of one’s class. Mauriac, however, did not wish to destroy his class. In many of his essays he accorded considerable importance to the family—the microcosm of society, a traditional disciplinary force, and a model of social hierarchy. He claimed that the defects of the middle class were the defects of all social classes in an advanced state of development, and he considered them to be characteristic not of a class but of human nature.
The evocation of the bourgeoisie gives unity to Mauriac’s fiction. His portrayal of society is restricted to a certain geographical area and also isolated in time (the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries). In addition, many of Mauriac’s characters mentioned or appearing in one novel reappear in another, although not as systematically as in Balzac, thus providing a picture of a closely interrelated society and giving cohesion to Mauriac’s fictional world.
Technically, Mauriac’s fiction, with its social content, appears traditional. It respects all the major novelistic conventions: a coherent plot, a realistic setting, a clear situation distinguishing between what is to be taken as actually happening and what is dreamed or remembered, and characters who are real human types, never anonymous (anonymity being one of the chief features of the modernist novel). It is not parodic of former novels, nor is it concerned with a purely semiotic basis of reality. It is teleological, exploring the hidden life at its source, aiming at the revelation of the mystery of life. It is, therefore, representative, pointing, as though through a windowpane, to the actual world and to actual historical events. Yet, despite its overall vraisemblance, or transparence, this fiction also draws attention to its own “literariness,” a feature that is endemic to the New Novel in France.
Mauriac was always much preoccupied with style, revealing a self-conscious attitude to language. He was close to the new novelists when he said that he was always rewriting the same book, when he experienced language as a system of signifiers in its materiality and sensuality, often reading parts of his novels aloud, seeing and hearing language, when he recognized in literature the importance of play and pleasure, that is, its ludic and erotic aspects.
Mauriac offered, on several occasions, important information about his method of writing. Describing himself as an “instinctive writer,” he claimed in an interview with Frédéric Lefévre in 1924 that his writing was “entirely subconscious.” In Le Romancier et ses personnagesas well as in many other essays and interviews, he explained that he wrote the first draft of a novel quickly, sometimes in three weeks, always in isolation from his family and from the external world. His writing was compulsive: he was often surprised by the content of his novels and by the conduct of his characters, whom he could not control. Concentrating intensely upon a theme, he did not deliberately structure his novels: control in his fiction was basically organic. He claimed that he neither observed nor described, but rediscovered. He rediscovered through the medium of art his childhood and his adolescence, which were the true material of his books.
Mauriac employed techniques that at the time were modern and that continued to be applied thirty years later in the new novel, but more radically and thoroughly. These included, above all, cinematic effects: close-ups (Le Désert de l’amour),flashbacks and traveling (Thérèse Desqueyroux),and switching of point of view, thus imitating the displacement of the camera. Destins was technically inspired by the cinema. At the same time the abundant use of rhetorical devices and imagery such as metaphor, which undermines fiction by rejecting mimesis, contributed further to make these novels, despite their realistic or “transparent” aspect, consummate works of art and therefore artificial and opaque. The brevity and concentration of these novels also demanded high degrees of stylization or art. But it is especially through a certain narrative strategy called represented discourse or free indirect style, of which Mauriac is a master in France, that his novels, above all Thérèse Desqueyroux,refer to themselves, pointing not to the world beyond them but to language that constitutes them, thus subverting representation. Mauriac also uses, within the general symbolism of fire, Water, earth, and air, a great deal of sensory symbolism, above all, olfactory impressions, but also auditory, visual, and tactile images. The sense symbolism becomes most effective in synthetic combinations, Where odors, sounds, sights, and touch fuse at the most dramatic movements of a novel.
In 1929 Mauriac produced Trois Récits (Three Narratives)—short stories that had been separately published in 1926 and 1928, roughly at the same time as Thérèse Desqueyroux, La Vie de Jean Racine,and Destins, that is, in the middle of his spiritual crisis. They deal with the dual problem of art and the realization of human personality. Coups de couteau (1926, Stabbings) is about an artist-painter who tortures his wife with a confession of his love for a younger woman, in whom he worships his own youth. The story may be symbolic of any novelist’s situation with regard to his family. Un Homme de lettres (1926, A Man of Letters) is a story about a writer and his relationship with two women. In the most interesting of the three stories, Le Démon de la connaissance (1928), a young musician, who is an intellectual devoted to Nietzsche and wishing to become a writer, hears mysterious voices telling him to discover the “secret of his soul” and use both the good and the evil in him to realize the secret that is his personality: “Ecrire, écrire! Et que mes livres soient le commentaire de l’âme qu’à chaque instant je me crée” (To write and write. So that my books become a commentary on my soul that I create at every moment).
Mauriac’s novels of the 1920s are informed by the painful conflict between the exigencies of his artistic nature and his Catholic conscience, culminating in his moral crisis and “conversion” of 1929. Souffrances et bonheur du chrétien (1931; translated as Anguish and Joy of the Christian Life,1964) refers to this conversion and seems to give to the crisis a religious character. The conflict was exacerbated by an open letter, both eulogistic and taunting, written by Andre Gide to Mauriac and published in the Nouvelle Revue Françaisein 1928. Gide spoke of Mauriac’s “compromise” that allowed him to love God without “losing sight of Mammon.” The crisis was not really religious, for Mauriac never lost his faith. It was a complex experience, a midlife crisis, partly a result of a conflict between Mauriac’s emotional dilemmas and his rigid Catholicism. The artist rebelled against the strictures imposed upon his sensuality and his art by religion. The Catholic, afraid that his portrayal of human passions might bring scandal to his Catholic readers, was alarmed at that revolt. Art appeared as Mammon, the opposite of God. But in 1929 in Dieu et Mammon (translated as God and Mammon,1936)—the conjunction etis significant—Mauriac accepted his nature and his art as part of that nature, with all the risks that it entailed. He saw his novels as part of a natural process that could not be stopped. Dieu et Mammon,a retort to Gide, seemed to transcend the conflict between “good and evil,” marking a new phase in the individuation process as well as a veritable assumption on Mauriac’s part of his identity as a poet. His conversion was in fact a conversion to literature.
Mauriac emerged into the 1930s a new man, redoubling his activity, embarking on a truly new phase of creativity. His novels of the 1930s reflect this transformation. Almost all include a conversion. This conversion, skillfully integrated into the structure and imagery of the novel, is indeed an existential turning to God, but it occurs as a result of creative activity-reading and writing. The older critical view of Mauriac in the 1930s purging his work of “unhealthy” elements such as sensuality in order to flower into a great Catholic novelist has been completely abandoned. Sensuality actually flows with unprecedented power in Le Nœud de vipèresand in Les Chemins de la mer (1939; translated as The Unknown Sea,1948). But this sensuality is no longer feared; it is confronted and integrated into a new synthesis which gives it meaning. The opposite view of Mauriac declining as a novelist in the 1930s is also outdated. The novels of this period—vaster, more ambitious, synthetic—represent in Mauriac’s career a definite achievement, one of lasting importance.
These novels of the 1930s were accompanied by a series of other activities of a highly synthetic nature. In addition to poetry, essays, drama, and fiction, there is another field in which Mauriac became prominent. In 1932, after emerging from his spiritual crisis as well as from a serious illness—cancer of the vocal cords—Mauriac turned to political journalism. He remained in the political arena until his death in 1970, contributing hundreds of articles to such newspapers and journals as Echo de Paris, Sept, Temps Présent, Figaro, Figaro Littéraire, Table Ronde,and Express. He brought to journalism on the one hand his inimitable style, a blend of lyricism and polemics, and on the other hand his vibrant faith, his scrupulous Catholic conscience.
As a political commentator, Mauriac left a permanent mark on French journalism. His newspaper articles are at once a record of an individual response to everyday social and political reality and a diary of the French nation. Above all, Mauriac was the creator of a new type of journalistic article particularly suited to his temperament: the bloc-notes. This loose genre, a fourretout or holdall, permitted him to use a multiplicity of styles and techniques—dialogue, narrative, personal meditation, portrait, satire—and treat a variety of subjects. Political comments are interspersed with memories, religious meditations, reflections on literature. The blocnotesthus becomes a fusion of two registers: the lyric and the polemic, a synthesis of the two meanings of the French Word journal:the newspaper, a public account of events in the world, and the diary, an account of an intimate individual experience. The ephemeral political event somehow acquires quality or eternity through the resonance it elicits in the psyche of the poet-journalist. The bloc-notes,by integrating the public and the private, the social and the psychological domains of personality, aims in its own way at that union of opposites for which Mauriac seemed to search all his life.
In 1932 Mauriac produced an autobiographical work: Commencements d’une vie,composed of seven chapters which were published in 1929 under the title Mes plus lointains souvenirs (My Earliest Memories), and four chapters published in 1926 under the title Bordeaux. What was dispersed—memoirs, impressions— was collected, unified, and viewed as forming the “beginnings of a life.” Only a man confident of his identity, perceiving his life or a part of his life as a complete and unified whole, could write such an autobiographical work. In Dieu et Mammonand in the preface to Trois Récitshe actually spoke of the joy of seeing, in the middle of his life, his personality finally emerge. This new conception of his self involved some fabrication and imagination; but the feeling of this identity was strong. Mauriac had defined himself as a poet, and he fixed this identity in an autobiographical form; for autobiography and the novel can be viewed as different modalities of the same effort to construct a self.
In Mauriac’s first postconversion novel, Le Nœud de vipères,old Louis (his surname is never given), a brilliant lawyer now retired, begins to write, at the age of sixty-eight, what is part diary and part memoir. Louis is pushed into writing by an extreme situation: years of solitude and frustration in his marriage, illness (heart disease), and the proximity of death. He begins his narrative on Holy Thursday, which is also his birthday. At the end of his narrative–which is a descent into hell to confront before death his childhood, his mother, and his love/hate relationship with his wife, Isa, and his children–he arrives, after years of hate and revenge, at understanding and forgiveness. The process of writing untangles the knot of contrary tendencies, releasing the flow of creative energy. Louis possesses the features of all Mauriac’s poets–intense narcissism and desire to communicate, high intelligence, a complex, sensitive nature yet capable of coldness and cruelty–but he was prevented from pursuing a literary career by his mother, who pushed him into law and into amassing a fortune. By writing, Louis expresses his nature and thus understands it better. He goes further than Thérèse: he becomes a writer and will be saved.
Le Mystère Frontenac (1933; translated as The Frontenac Mystery,1952) has been hailed as a hymn to the family. Mauriac seems to be making amends for his severe indictment of the family in Le Nœud de vipères. This novel is a tender and optimistic story, because it is more directly autobiographical: Yves Frontenac, the alter ego of Mauriac, succeeds, as the author did, in realizing his vocation. The whole family here participates in the poet’s vocation, while the poet appears as a transcendent sum total of all the ancestral traits. Yves inherits his talent from his father; he is raised by a Jocastian mother, authoritarian, possessive, yet intelligent and tender, who grants her youngest son the freedom to go to Paris in order to launch his literary career; his older brother Jean-Louis serves as the friend and guide of the poet. The poetic vocation is exalted, compared to a holy, priestly vocation, a road of self-sacrifice ultimately leading to self-realization.
Les Anges noirs (1936; translated as The Dark Angels,1951) is another novel about a poet, Gabriel Gradère. An orphan, excessively sensitive and sensuous, yet also brilliant, Gradère was corrupted in his childhood by his cruel father and by women who were attracted to him: Aline, the prostitute, who took care of him in his youth when he was poor and ill; and Adila, eight years older, who became his wife. Both are surrogates of the mother, the two faces of Jocasta–Aline the bad mother, Adila the good mother.
The first part of the novel is a letter written by Gradère to a priest, Alain Forcas, whom Gradère calls his double. The second part is told in the third person. But it is clear that the written confession to the priest has an influence on the events in the second part of the book. Given the complex, half-conscious nature of some of these events, the third person, more discreet, indirect, oblique, is a more suitable method of relating them. Gradère’s descent into hell liberates pent-up energies, and he confronts the anima–the mystery of woman, always a mother, the feminine that is also a mirror of his soul. He kills Aline (Adila is already dead, killed by Gradère’s cruelty) and thus liberates himself from woman. The brutal killing of Aline, which shocks many readers, is in fact a symbolic killing of the negative aspects of woman-mother. That is why it brings liberation and a turning to God.
It is noteworthy that in 1936, the year Mauriac created Gradère, his greatest sinner-criminal, he also produced his Vie de Jésus. Jesus, significantly, is no longer seen as simply the crucified one, but rather as “une nourriture pour le corpsautant que pour l’esprit” (a nourishment for the body as well as for the soul), a fusion of contraries, a symbol of wholeness or the self.
Les Chemins de la mer,written at the height of Mauriac’s maturity and published in 1939, deals explicitly with a poet, Pierre Costadot, author of a long poem titled “Cybele,” which, like the poem Le Sang d’Atys,which Mauriac was completing at the time for publication in 1940, presents itself as a synthesis of pagan and Christian values. The preceding novels seem to have liberated the poet in Mauriac’s fiction. Mauriac now directly explores the poet’s specific nature, above all his sensuality, which flows freely in this novel in its various forms: the sensuality contained in the relationship between Jocasta and the son; that of the poet in love with a young woman–a sublimated mother figure; a girl’s sexual awakening and her love for her fiancé; and homosexuality. The relationship with the possessive, castrating mother has been sublimated or transmuted into Costadot’s platonic love for a girl, Rose Revolou, the sister of a friend. Rose is a substitute for the young mother, the sororof the alchemists, a symbol of wisdom. She is the final metamorphosis of the woman-mother in Mauriac’s fiction. The poetic vocation is clearly viewed here as the primary source of self-definition, of psychic integration and fulfillment. It is stated, albeit in a some what cursory manner, that Pierre Costadot arrives at happiness.
The Spanish Civil War became a turning point in the evolution of Mauriac’s political ideas. It kept him in the political arena, permitting the journalist to supersede the novelist, and it pushed him away from the Right. After some hesitation at the beginning of the war, when Francisco Franco appeared to most Catholics as a crusader against Communist barbarism, Mauriac joined a small circle of liberal Catholics grouped around such leftist and Christian Democratic papers as Septand Temps Présent. He had no illusions about the Republican side, feeling that Spain was being exploited by foreign powers, but he was particularly offended by Franco’s effort to bind his own cause, the cause of the Right, with that of the Church. Mauriac’s denunciation of Franco was unequivocal and courageous since he risked alienation from his family, his friends, his class.
The second event that helped push Mauriac even further to the Left and hastened the maturation of his political observations was World War II. Again Mauriac initially welcomed the party of law and order—that of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. But he quickly switched allegiance to General Charles de Gaulle and his resistance movement. During the Nazi occupation of France, he was part of the intellectual resistance, denouncing Nazi ideology in the poignant pseudony-mously published Le Cahier noir (1943, Black Notebook; translated, 1944). The liberation of Paris, 25 August 1944, revealed a writer transformed: given the proportion of his writing devoted to the political scene and the confidence with which he expressed his opinions, it was clear that Mauriac had embarked on a second career, that of a political commentator in sympathy with the Christian Democrats who soon, in 1946, took power in France. At first he even played the part of a professional newspaperman, attending press conferences and debates in the Assembly, but later commenting on the issues from an independent personal perspective.
The great theme of his writings in this immediate postwar period was the need for the reconciliation of enemies, for burying the ideological differences in the common cause—that of rebuilding a strong France. The working classes’ role—and that meant the Communists’ role—in the Resistance was such as to demand recognition. Christians and Communists could cooperate. Mauriac sought to establish a dialogue with the French Communists, whom he deemed necessary to establish a unified Left in France. His effort toward a rapprochement with the Communists ended in a fiasco. With the intensification of the Cold War, he found himself drawn again into the more politically conservative and pro-American camp.
Among Mauriac’s later novels, such as La Pharisienne (1941; translated as Woman of the Pharisees,1946), Le Sagouin (1951; translated as The Little Misery,1952), Galigai (1952; translated as The Loved and the Unloved,1952), and L’Agneau (1954; translated as The Lamb,1955), the first two deserve mention. La Pharisienne,an ambitious novel technically, with many secondary characters and subplots, is another portrait of the poetic personality drawn against the backdrop of the Bordeaux middle class. It is about Louis Pian, the narrator of the story; his sister Michéle, who replaces to a certain extent his deceased mother; and his friend and later brother-in-law Jean de Mirbel, son of the noted novelist the Countess de Mirbel. Mauriac again explores the Oedipal complications in the life of a poet through the triangular relationship of the poet-sister-friend. This novel is also a story of conversion: Brigitte Pian converts from a rigid, almost Jansenist Catholicism to a more tolerant worldview, to a more permissive and forgiving Christianity, and, above all, to literature, art, and love.
Le Sagouinis a short but poignant novel about a mutilated child-poet. Mauriac returned to the formula of the 1920s for this work, as if to show his readers that he was still capable of producing a powerfully concentrated and tragic narrative. Little Guillou, an ugly duckling, is a genius, gifted with a poetic temperament: he is brilliant, an avid reader, also a dreamer, full of active imagination. But he is all alone in the female family, hated by his mother, Paule, a woman of the middle class who despises him as the living image of her sick, degenerate, aristocratic husband, Baron Galéas de Cernés. One day Guillou meets Robert Bordas, an intellectual, a militant leftist, a teacher. His life is transfigured; his imagination and sensitivity are intensified by the hope of being tutored by Bordas and of meeting his son Jean-Pierre, a boy of Guillou’s age who undoubtedly could become a friend and a guide. But Bordas has only scorn for aristocracy and will not agree to seeing Guillou on a regular basis. When he hears one day of the death—by drowning—of both Guillou and his father, he refuses ever to forgive himself for his indifference. The novel is a poignant exploration of the psyche of a child-poet sacrificed by the combined forces of family and society, the latter represented by two social classes: degenerate aristocracy and republican bourgeoisie.
In 1945 Mauriac was named Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur. In 1947 he received an honorary degree from Oxford. In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life,” as the citation read. This award coincided with the out break of violence in the French protectorate of Morocco. Mauriac claimed that the honor he received made him more aware of his social and political responsibility as a writer and as an intellectual. He embraced with enthusiasm the cause of the Moroccan and Tunisian struggle for independence, becoming president of the association France-Maghreb, attacking on the back page of the Expressthe leaders–usually Christian Democrats–of the Fourth Republic for their ineffectiveness and their shortsightedness, moving again into the orbit of the Left. He gave his full support to only one leader of the Fourth Republic: the Radical Pierre Mendès-France, who terminated the Indochina war in 1954.
In 1958 Mauriac welcomed the return to power of General de Gaulle. In his view, de Gaulle was the only man capable of resolving the Algerian problem. During the Fifth Republic, Mauriac gave ardent support to de Gaulle’s handling of the Algerian War, which ended in Algeria’s independence in 1962, as well as to de Gaulle’s subsequent political and social policies, becoming thus almost an unofficial “historiographer du roi.” He remained an ardent Gaullist to the end of his life.
In 1969, at the age of eighty-four, one year before his death, Mauriac wrote his last novel, partly autobiographical, about an adolescent from the past, Un Adolescent d’autrefois (translated as Maltaverne, 1970). At the end of his life Mauriac returned to fiction and to the topic of adolescence, the privileged age in his novels, as if to explicate, before dying, the deeper meaning implicit in all his previous novels. Alain Gajac, the hero-narrator of the novel, is the final metamorphosis of the Mauriac poet. An accomplished writer, he resembles all the other Mauriac poets. He is raised by a widowed mother to whom he is much attached, a mother as strong a personality as Félicité Cazenave, yet tender as Blanche Frontenac. She belongs to the group of the positive Jocastian mothers in Mauriac’s fiction. She does not care for her son’s intellectuality and literary tastes, but she does realize that he is a “chosen one” and permits him freedom to pursue his literary vocation. Although a believer, Alain is critical of the narrow Catholicism of his class. He holds in execration bourgeois materialism, egoism, and conformism; yet, he is part of this milieu, the very type, as he admits, of the “fils Gajac.” He goes through an emotional and sexual apprenticeship with his young mistress Marie, to some extent a surrogate mother, and his intellectual and literary ambitions are supported by two friends–figures of the guide–André Donzac and Prudent Duberc. Donzac serves as narratee, the one to whom the narrator is telling his story, one who apparently comments on the text and gives advice, although this action is not represented in the novel.
In Gajac, Mauriac for the last time epitomizes the conflict between Bordeaux, the maternal city, representing nature and traditional values, and Paris, the opposite pole, symbolizing more masculine values associated with the father and the life of the mind and freedom. Gajac is the first Mauriac hero who clearly formulates the truth of the Mauriac conflict: that between Bordeaux and Paris one cannot choose, for to choose would be tantamount to a mutilation of the self. Yet, not to choose could kill. In fact, the conflict must be lived and transcended. Only a third term, a vaster whole fusing the two calls of body and of spirit, can solve the dilemma. Gajac will leave Bordeaux, Jocasta, and her kingdom, for Paris, the city of liberation, where he will transform the capital amassed in childhood and adolescence into a work of art, that third term providing the resolution of the clash of polarities. In Paris he will distance himself from Bordeaux, only to realize it, to understand and transform it, to return to it through the medium of art. He understands that “un livre brochétrois francs sera l’aboutissement de toutecette souffrance. Le nouvel homme en moi manifestera sa force et son courage en osantutiliser pour son avancement le destin qui sera devenu la matière d’un livre broché trois francs” (the outcome of all this agony will be a three-franc paperback. The new man born within me must show his strength and courage by daring to exploit for his own advancement the destiny which will have become the substance of a three-franc paperback).
Mauriac planned a sequel to Un Adolescent d’autrefois, dictating, because of failing eyesight, to his wife, who typed all his manuscripts, contributed her comments, and thus participated to a certain extent in the creative process. He fell into a coma while dictating and died a month later, on 1 September 1970.
François Mauriac’s achievement as a writer is often of great quality. A few of his novels lean toward melodrama, but in a writer of his prolific output this tendency is not surprising. Mauriac was, first of all, a consummate artist, bringing to literature his distinctive tone, a symbolist style, and new techniques. He was a great Catholic essayist who maintained his faith in its public application against all opposition and who produced writings that, as Cecil Jenkins put it, “through the reality of their tensions bear witness to the continuance of the Christian sense of life as an element in the culture of his time.” His fiction can be viewed as one of the most complete attacks mounted on the middle class in this century. He is a complex psychologist, defining his novelistic enterprise in Freudian terms, providing insight into human sexuality. However, his fiction can also be read in a Jungian light, as giving form to the darkest part of man while at the same time constituting a search for wholeness of self. Above all, Mauriac is the explorer in the modern novel of the poet’s psyche and his predicament in the world. He belongs to a group of major representative writers of the twentieth century–Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Georges Bernanos, André Malraux–whose literary work postulates a value: this value is neither religion nor intellectuality, neither tradition nor revolution, but human creativity. Art for them is a “duty,” a “mission”–the very words used in Le Mystère Frontenac– a quasi-sacerdotal activity able to bring a new creative order of the self, give meaning and justification to life.
Jean Labbe, “Choix de lettres de Francis Jammes à François Mauriac,” Table Ronde (February 1956): 86–108;
Correspondance André Gide—François Mauriac, 1912-1950,edited by Jacqueline Morton (Paris: Gallimard, 1971);
Correspondance entre François Mauriac et Jacques Emile Blanche (1916-1942),edited by Georges-Paul Collet (Paris: Grasset, 1976);
Lettres d’une vie (1904-1969),edited by Caroline Mauriac (Paris: Grasset, 1981);
Les Amies de jeunesse: Lettres de François Mauriac à Robert-Vallery Radot, 1909-1931,Cahiers François Mauriac, no. 12 (Paris: Grasset, 1985);
La Vague et le rocher: Paul Claudel, François Mauriac, correspondance, 1911-1954,compiled by Michel Malicet and Marie-Chantal Praicheux (Paris: Lettres modernes/Minard, 1988);
Nouvelles lettres d’une vie (1906-1970): Correspondance,edited by Caroline Mauriac (Paris: B. Grasset, 1989);
Le Croyant et l’humaniste inquiet: Correspondance, François Mauriac—Georges Duhamel (1919-1966), edited by J.J. Hueber (Paris: Klincksieck, 1997);
Mauriac and Jean Paulhan, Correspondance 1925-1967,edited by John E. Flower (Paris: Claire Paulhan, 2001).
Frédéric Lefévre, “Francois Mauriac,” in his Une Heure avec..,first series (Paris: Gallimard, 1924);
Jean Marchand, “Francois Mauriac,” Paris Review,1 (Summer 1953): 33–39;
Maxwell A. Smith, “My Interview with Mauriac,” American Society Legion of Honor Magazine (winter 1963);
Fernand Séguin rencontre François Mauriac (Montreal: Editions de L’Homme, 1969; Ottawa: Editions Ici Radio-Canada, 1969);
Souvenirs retrouvés: Entretiens avec Jean Amrouche,edited by Béatrice Avakian (Paris: Fayard/Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, 1981);
Les Paroles restent,edited by Keith Goesch (Paris: B. Grasset, 1985).
Fernand Vial, “François Mauriac Criticism: A Bibliographical Study,” Thought,27 (Summer 1952): 235–260;
Keith Goesch, François Mauriac: Essai de bibliographie chronologique, 1908-1960 (Paris: Nizet, 1965).
Robert Speaight, François Mauriac: A Study of the Writer and the Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1976);
Claude Mauriac, François Mauriac, sa vie, son oeuvre (Paris: F. Birr, 1985);
Jeanne Mauriac and Claude Mauriac, Mauriac intime (Paris: Stock, 1985);
Jean Touzot, Mauriac sous l’Occupation (Paris: La Manufacture, 1990);
Pierre Mauriac, François Mauriac, mon frère, edited by Jacques Monférier (Bordeaux-les-Bouscat: L’Esprit du temps, 1997);
Bernard Cattanéo, François Mauriac: Aux sources de l’amour (Helette: J. Curutchet, 1998);
Violane Massenet, François Mauriac (Paris: Flammarion, 2000).
Véronique Anglard, François Mauriac, Thérèse Desqueyroux (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1992);
John T. Booker, “Mauriac’s Næud de vipères:Time and Writing,” Symposium, 35 (Summer 1981): 102–115;
Nathan Bracher, Through the Past Darkly: History and Memory in François Mauriac’s Bloc-notes (washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004);
Catharine Savage Brosman, “Point of View and Christian Viewpoint in Thérèse Desqueyroux,” Essays in French Literature (November 1974): 69–73;
Cahiers François Mauriac (Paris: Grasset, 1974— );
Caroline Casseville, Mauriac et Sartre: Le Roman et la liberté (Bordeaux: L’Esprit du temps, 2006);
Connaissance des Hommes,special Mauriac issue, 46 (Autumn 1972);
Paul Cooke, Mauriac: The Poetry of a Novelist (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2003);
Cooke, Mauriac et le mythe du poète: Une lecture du “Mystère Frontenac” (Paris & Caen: Archives des Lettres Modernes, 1999);
Claude Escallier, “Mauriac et Thérèse,” Etudes de Langue et littérature françaises,64 (March 1994): 131–145;
Figaro Littéraire,special Mauriac issues (15 November 1952; 7 September 1970);
John E. Flower, A Critical Commentary on Mauriac ’s “Le Nœud de vipères” (London: Macmillan, 1969);
Flower, Intention and Achievement: An Essay on the Novels of François Mauriac (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969);
Flower, “Towards a Psychobiographical Study of Mauriac—The Case of Génitrix,”in Literature and Society: Studies in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century French Literature,edited by C. A. Burns (Birmingham: Birmingham University Press, 1980), pp. 166–177;
Flower and Bernard C. Swift, eds., François Mauriac: Visions and Reappraisals (Oxford & New York: Berg, 1989);
François Mauriac (Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard, 1975— );
Edward J. Gallagher, “Photo Negativity in Madame Bovaryand Thérèse Desqueyroux,” French Studies Bulletin—A Quarterly Supplement,88 (Autumn 2003): 9 14;
François George, La Traversée du désert de Mauriac (Quimper: Calligrammes, 1990);
Keith Goesch, François Mauriac (Paris: Editions de l’Herne, 1985);
Goesch, Mauriac in the English-Speaking World (Oxford: Berg, 1989);
Richard Griffiths, Le Singe de Dieu: François Mauriac entre le “roman catholique” et la littérature contemporaine, 1913-1930 (Bordeaux-les-Bouscat: L’Esprit du Temps, 1996);
William Holdheim, “Mauriac and Sartre’s Mauriac Criticism,” Symposium,16 (Winter 1962): 245–258;
Cecil Jenkins, Mauriac (Edinburgh & London: Oliver & Boyd, 1965; New York: Barnes & Noble, 1965);
Slava M. Kushnir, Mauriac journaliste (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1979);
Jean Lacouture, François Mauriac (Paris: Seuil, 1980);
Claude Mauriac, Mauriac et fils (Paris: B. Grasset, 1986);
Susan Mcwean McGrath, “François Mauriac’s Thérèse Desqueyroux: A Liberating Dream,” Cincinnati Romance Review,9 (1990): 76–86;
Elinor S. Miller, “The Sacraments in the Novels of François Mauriac,” Renascence,31 (Spring 1979): 168–176;
Michael Moloney, François Mauriac: A Critical Study (Denver: Swallow, 1958);
Robert North, Le Catholicisme dans l’œuvre de François Mauriac (Paris: Conquistador, 1950);
David O’Connell, François Mauriac Revisted (New York: Twayne, 1995);
Kathleen O’Flaherty, “François Mauriac, 1885-1970: An Effort of Assessment,” Studies,60 (Spring 1971): 33–42;
Parisienne,special Mauriac issue, 4 (May 1959);
Revue du Siècle,special Mauriac issue (July—August 1933);
Jean-Paul Sartre, “François Mauriac et la liberté,” in his Situations I (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), pp. 36–57;
Malcolm Scott, Mauriac et de Gaulle: Les Ordres de la charité et de la grandeur (Le Bouscat: L’Esprit du temps, 1999);
Scott, Mauriac et Gide: La Recherche du Moi (Bordeaux-les-Bouscat: L’Esprit du temps, 2004);
Scott, Mauriac: The Politics of a Novelist (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1980);
Maxwell A. Smith, François Mauriac (New York: Twayne, 1970);
Bernard C. Swift, Mauriac et le symbolisme (Bordeaux-les-Bouscat: L’Esprit du temps, 2000);
Table Ronde,special Mauriac issue (January 1953);
C. B. Thornton-Smith, “Sincerity and Self-Justification: The Repudiated Preface of La Fin de la nuit,” Australian Journal of French Studies,5 (May—August 1968): 222–232;
Jean Touzot, François Mauriac, une configuration romanesque: Profil rhétorique et s ylistique (Paris: Archives des Lettres Modernes, 1985);
Touzot, Mauriac avant Mauriac 1913-1922 (Paris: Flammarion, 1977);
Touzot, La Planète Mauriac (Paris: Klincksieck, 1985);
Touzot, ed., François Mauriac (Paris: Editions de l’Herne, 1985);
Travaux du Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches sur Mauriac (Bordeaux: Université de Bordeau III, 1977— );
Martin Turnell, The Art of French Fiction: Prévost, Stendhal, Zola, Maupassant, Gide, Mauriac, Proust (London: Hamilton, 1959; New York: New Directions, 1959);
Susan Wansink, Female Victims and Oppressors in Novels by Theodor Fontane and François Mauriac (New York: Peter Lang, 1998).
The majority of François Mauriac’s manuscripts can be found at the Bibliothèque Jacques Doucet in Paris; some have been deposited at the Bibliothèque Municipale of Bordeaux, While the manuscript of Thérèse Desqueyrouxis at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.