Novelist, Nobel Prize winner; b. Bordeaux, Oct. 11, 1885; d. Sept. 1, 1970. Mauriac wrote two dozen works of fiction, and also achieved distinction as a political essayist, critic, biographer and writer of spiritual works. Mauriac was the youngest of five children in what can be termed a landed, prosperous, middle-class family. His father died when he was 18 months old and he was raised by his pious mother, who appears as Mme. Dezaymeries
in the novel Evil. As a child, Mauriac was frail and shy, admittedly guilt ridden, unhappy, and introverted. Upon leaving secondary school in the region of his birth, Mauriac went to Paris (1906) to study paleography and medieval archeology. He left school to be a writer, however.
In November 1909 Mauriac privately published his first work, a collection of poems (Les Mains jointes ), that gained favorable notice from influential critics. A second book of poetry followed two years later and then, in 1913, L'enfant chargé de chaines (Young Man in Chains), Mauriac's first novel, appeared. That same year he married. In 1914 he published La robe prétexte (The Stuff of Youth) but did little other writing until well after World War I, in which he served in a medical unit.
Prolific Years. Beginning in 1920, Mauriac published almost a novel a year for two decades (in all, he authored nearly 100 volumes). Among those which served to establish his reputation as a novelist were La chair et le sang (Flesh and Blood) ; in 1922 Le baiser au lepreux, a story of a destructive yearning for love; in 1923, Genetrix, about the evil effects of possessive maternal love; in 1925, Le desert de l'amour (The Desert of Love), wherein a father and son vie for the attentions of the same, unvirtuous, woman; in 1927, Therese Desqueyroux (Therese), about a sinful woman who shares mankind's common guilt.
What may be Mauriac's masterpiece, Le noeud de vipers (Vipers Tangle), came out in 1932. It is a story of impure human love wherein sinful creatures struggle to find grace. The next year he was elected to the French Academy at the relatively early age of 48. La fin de la nuit (1935) brings Therese Desqueyroux to the brink of salvation, and another major novel, La pharisienne (A Woman of the Pharisees), was published in 1941 concerning a hypocritically religious woman and the evil effects she has on others.
In the 1930s Mauriac wrote some minor dramas and polemical works condemning totalitarianism in all forms. When France fell in World War II he wrote vigorously on behalf of the resistance movement, which he joined. He was a strong supporter of General Charles de Gaulle and wrote a biography of this friend (1964) beginning with "The history of a man is the history of an age." Men I Hold Great (1951) includes biographical chapters on Pascal, Flaubert, Balzac, Graham Greene, and others.
Spiritual Writings and Major Themes. Mauriac's spiritual writings include God and Mammon, The Eucharist, The Mystery of Holy Thursday (the theme of which is Christ lives in individuals as a sacramental reality), and St. Margaret of Cortona, whose martyrdom distracted him from the World War II martyrdom of his nation. What I Believe (with a chapter on "Purity," that illuminates much of his fiction), Life of Jesus, and The Son of Man, in which the author clearly proclaims a Christian hope, are other primarily religious volumes.
In November 1952 Mauriac earned the Nobel Prize for fiction. His major themes may be summarized as including the isolation of individuals, the abuse of maternal authority, the influence of childhood on adulthood (the individual past on the individual present), and the penetration of the human heart by God alone as well as the eternal conflict between good and evil within the soul.
Mauriac never recovered from a serious fall in April 1969 which led to his death. His last novel, Un adolescent d'autrefois, was published posthumously in the U.S. as Maltaverne. It is regarded as an autobiographical work and contains many of his important themes, proving that to the end Mauriac continued to be a brilliant psychologist of the anguished person who is led astray by temptations of the world and passions of the flesh.
Bibliography: a. m. caspary, François Mauriac (St. Louis 1968). n. cormeau, L'art de François Mauriac (Paris 1951). m. f. maloney, François Mauriac: A Critical Study (Denver 1958). e. pell, François Mauriac in Search of the Infinite (New York 1947).
[h. j. cargas]
The French author François Mauriac (1885-1970), a fervent Catholic, is best known for his novels, usually set in Bordeaux or the Landes district of southwestern France, with their central themes of faith, sin, and divine grace.
François Mauriac was born in Bordeaux on Nov. 11, 1885, of a prosperous middle-class family. He lost his father in infancy, but the influence of his mother, a stern and puritanical Catholic, pervades his literary works. Educated at a Catholic school and at Bordeaux University, Mauriac moved to Paris in 1906, determined to become a writer. He published his first volume of poems in 1909; more poetry and two novels followed before he was mobilized as an army medical orderly in 1914. He was invalided out 3 years later. From 1920 date Mauriac's most productive years as a novelist, his novels including Le Baiser au lépreux (1922; A Kiss for the Leper), Genitrix (1923; Genitrix), Le Désert de l'amour (1925; The Desert of Love), and Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927; Thérèse ).
About 1928 came a religious crisis in Mauriac's life, with a corresponding change of emphasis in his works. Earlier he had been criticized for portraying sinners more attractively than believers in the narrow, provincial, middle-class families of his novels, where, as all sexuality implies sin, love and happiness become impossible. Now he began to stress the possibility of divine grace, even for the hardened atheist and family tyrant who is the hero of Le Noeud de vipères (1932; Vipers' Tangle), the most successful of the later novels. In 1933 Mauriac was elected to the French Academy. Other works of this period include biographies, more poetry, and religious essays.
In the late 1930s Mauriac found politics coming to the forefront of his attention: he denounced Gen. Franco's insurrection in Spain and later, after the German defeat of France in 1940, helped the cause of the French Resistance with his pen. After the Liberation he continued to write hard-hitting political articles in several newspapers. More novels, stage plays, volumes of criticism, memoirs, and diaries brought Mauriac's total number of books to over 60. Awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1952, Mauriac became, after De Gaulle's return to power in 1958, one of the President's most passionate supporters. Mauriac died on Sept. 1, 1970.
Mauriac's fictional world is that of his childhood and adolescence in the Landes region in the period about 1900, which he evokes with poetic intensity; his primary theme, the clash between sin and the desire for religious salvation. "I try to make the Catholic universe of evil palpable, tangible, odorous." This powerful creation of atmosphere and shrewd psychological insight—if perhaps in a somewhat narrow field—have brought Mauriac an extremely high reputation as a novelist.
Books devoted to Mauriac include Martin Jarrett-Kerr, François Mauriac (1954); M. F. Moloney, François Mauriac: A Critical Study (1958); Cecil Jenkins, Mauriac (1965); and J. E. Flower, Intention and Achievement: The Novels of François Mauriac (1969). There are discussions of Mauriac in Martin Turnell, The Art of French Fiction (1959); Conor Cruise O'Brien, Maria Cross (1963); and Philip Stratford, Faith and Fiction (1964).
Simon, Pierre Henri, Mauriac, Paris: Seuil, 1974 1953.
Speaight, Robert, François Mauriac: a study of the writer and the man, London: Chatto and Windus, 1976. □