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by Bamber Gascoigne

François Charles Mauriac (1885-1970)


French novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, journalist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952. François Mauriac belonged to the long tradition of French Roman Catholic writers, who examined the problems of good and evil in human nature and in the world.

"There is no accident in our choice of reading. All our sources are related." (in Mauriac's Mémoires Intérieures, 1959)

François Mauriac was born in Bordeaux, the youngest son of Jean-Paul Mauriac, a wealthy businessman. When Mauriac was not quite two years old, his father died, and the family lived with grandparents. His mother was a devout Catholic, who was influenced by Jansenist thought. From the age of seven, Mauriac attended a school run by the Marianite Order. The author never ceased to acknowledge the importance of his early education although he was unhappy at Ste Marie.

After studies at the University of Bordeaux, Mauriac received his licence (the equivalent of an M.A.) in 1905. Next year he went to Paris to prepare for entrance in the École des Chartes, where he was accepted in 1908. However, Mauriac remained at the school only a few months and then decided to devote himself entirely to literature.

Mauriac's work show influence from several writers. Though he published studies on Racine and Marcel Proust, Pascal was perhaps the most important thinker for him. Mauriac's style was poetic, full of suggestion. He said, "I believe that only poetry counts and that only through the poetical elements enclosed in a work of art of any genre whatever does that work deserve to last. A great novelist is first of all a great poet." Mauriac began his literary career as a poet with Les Mains jointes (1909). Many of his novels are connected to his verse. However, Mauriac's prose has always attracted more attention from both critics and the reading public. Once he remarked that Orages (1925) and Le Sang d'Atys (1941) formed the glacier from which all his novels had flowed. (Mauriac: The Poetry of a Novelist by Paul Cooke, 2003, p. 246.) Mauriac's plays never achieved the success of his novels, but Asmodée was performed 100 times in 1937-1938 at the Comédie Française.

In 1913 Mauriac married Jeanne Lafon; their first child, Claude, became also a novelist. During WW I Mauriac served in the Balkans as a Red Cross hospital orderly. After the war he wrote two novels. It was Le Baiser au Lépreux (1922, The Kiss to the Leper), in which he found his own voice. The tragic story was about a wealthy but hideously ugly young man who is destroyed by an arranged marriage with a beautiful peasant girl.

Mauriac's following novels about tormented souls were viewed with increasing distate by Catholic right wing and eventually the Catholic press in general labelled the author as a renegane, obsessed with degraded characters. Le Désert de l'amour (1925) continued Mauriac's theme of the futility of love. In the story a sexually frigid young widow provokes the passions of both her physician and his son. 

Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927), based on an actual murder trial of Madame Henriette-Blance Canaby, is acclaimed as one of the best French novels. She was accused of having attempted to poison her husband, but he refused to testify against his wife. In the story a young wife, Thérèse, is driven to murder her husband, a coarse landowner. This work contained some of the central themes running through Mauriac's fiction: the oppression of French provincial life, the sexual pressures, the mystery of sin and redemption. The savage beauty of the countryside to the south of Bordeaux provided the backgroud against which the characters portrayed. Fascinated by the fate of Thérèse, Mauriac went on to write two short stories and one more novel about her. 

Mauriac's early works depicted the struggle of passion and conscience. Following a spiritual cul-de-sac he solved this conflict in favor of the spirit: "Christianity makes no provision for the flesh. It suppresses it." In the aftermath, Mauriac wrote novels which emphasized the force of God's love, and developed a technique, in which the authorial voice, a God-like observer, expresses his own opinions. An exception was Le Nœaud De Vipères  (1932, Viper's Tangle), a family drama, one of Mauriac's greatest novels. Written in the form of a series of letters and narrated in the first person, it tells of an old man named Louis, an atheist and misanthrophic, whose determination to keep his money from his wife and children start a counterpoint against him. Again materialism creates an obstacle for spiritual growth. The death of his wife leads Louis to investigate his soul.

Mauriac was elected in 1933 to the Académie Française. He somewhat at odds with its conservative mood after adopting more liberal views. Yet strangely, Mauriac gave his support to the Fascist-leaning Belgian Catholic monarchist journal Rex. Its publisher Léon Degrelle later joined the Waffen-SS and fought on the eastern front. Without hesitation, Mauriac warned of the seduction of dictatorship in the editorial article 'L'homme qui ne vient pas' (L'Écho de Paris, 1 er juillet 1933).

Along with his evolving political thinking, Mauriac began to contribute to the French newspaper Le Figaro, where he often attacked the rising Fascism. During the Spanish Civil War, he campaigned actively for the Republicans, though he had first supported Francisco Franco. When Franco's generals claimed that they were leading a holy war, connecting thus Christianity and fascism, Mauriac expressed his outrage in an article published on 30 June 1938. He also had his praise for Mussolini removed from an article republished in 1937.

At the beginning of the German occupation of France in World War II, Mauriac sympathiced with Philippe Pétain, but then joined the side of de Gaulle. Upon writing under the pseudonym of Forez a protest against German tyranny, he was forced to hide with his family for some time. This work, Le Cahier Noir (1943) was published by Les Editions de Minuit and was then smuggled to London, where it was used used as a propaganda tool. La Pharisienne, which came out in 1941, was read as an allegory of France's surrender to Nazi Germany. Noteworthy, Mauriac was the only member of the Académie Française to join Resistance movements such as the Front National and the Comité Nationale des Ecrivains. (François Mauriac: The Making of an Intellectual by Edward Welch, 2006, p. 56.)

Mauriac was a supporter of de Gaulle and his policies in Morocco, but protested the use of torture by the French police and military forces in Algeria. "They haven't stopped using bludgeons, you know! And how about the bathtub, or rather the bucket of filthy water in which the head is dunked to the point of asphyxiation, and the electric shocks under the armpits and between the leegs, and the fouled water forced into the mouth with a pipe until the patient faints . . . " ('Friday, January 14, 1955,' in François Mauriac on Race, War, Politics, and Religion: the Great War through the 1960s, 2015, pp. 178-182) As a result of his sympathies toward the regime, Mauriac lost his stature as a political analyst and a free-thinking voice, especially in the eyes of the Left. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the intellectuals, who expressed his disappointment in Mauriac's enthusiastic allegiance to the President. However, like Sartre, Mauriac contributed to L'Express, which sought to liberalize the state and society. When Graham Greene's banned novel  The Power and the Glory was published in France, Mauriac wrote for it an introduction. 

From the mid-1950s, Mauriac was much occupied with his weekly newspaper column, Bloc-Notes, which he wrote for L'Express. He also published a series of personal memoirs and a biography of de Gaulle, who embodied his own vision of France. In 1955 Mauriac met the young writer Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and encouraged him to complete his Yiddish memoir: "You are wrong not to speak.... Listen to the old man that I am: one must speak out ? one must also speak out." Much of Mauriac's focus in his later writings was on the destruction and mechanization of the world around him. Mauriac died on September 1, 1970, in Paris.

For further reading: François Mauriac by J. Robichon (1953); François Mauriac by M. Jarrett-Kerr (1954); François Mauriac: A Critical Study by  M.F. Moloney (1958); François Mauriac by M. Alyn (1960); Faith and Fiction by P. Stratford (1964); Mauriac by C. Jenkins (1965); François Mauriac by M.A. Smith (1970); Mauriac by E. Kushner (1972); Mauriac by M. Alyn, et al. (1977); François Mauriac by J. Lacouture (1980); Mauriac: The Politics of a Novelist by M. Scott (1980); Francois Mauriac: Visions and Reappraisals, edited by John E. Flower, et al. (1991); Francois Mauriac Revisited by David O'Connell (1995); Female Victims and Oppressors in Novels by Theodore Fontane and Francois Mauriac by Susan Wansink (1998); Mauriac: The Poetry of a Novelist by Paul Cooke (2003); Through the Past Darkly: History and Memory in Francois Mauriac's Bloc-Notes by Nathan Bracher (2004); François Mauriac: The Making of an Intellectual by Edward Welch (2006); Desire and Persecution in Therese Desqueyroux and Other Selected Novels of Francois Mauriac by Timothy J. Williams (2007); Le Bordeaux de François Mauriac by Michel Suffran (2021) - Claude Mauriac (1914-1996) French novelist and critic, the eldest son of novelist François Mauriac, interpreter of the avant-garde school of nouveau roman, "new nove.l" Mauriac worked a private secretary to Charles de Gaulle in 1944-1949 and later as a film and literary critic for the newspaper Le Figaro. Selected works: Toutes les femmes sont fatales, 1957 (All Women Are Fatal); L'allitérature contemporaine, 1958 (The New Literature); Le Dîner en ville, 1959 (The Dinner Party); La Marquise sortit à cinq heures, 1961 (The Marquise Went Out at Five); L'Agrandissement, 1963 (The Enlargement); La Conversation, 1964; Le Temps immobile, 1974-1988, 10 vols. (Time Immobilized); Une certaine rage, 1977; L'Éternité parfois, 1978 (Occasional Eternity) - See also: Graham Greene, Elie Wiesel, Georges Bernanos, Jerzy Andrzejewski

Selected works:

  • Les Mains jointes, 1909
  • L'Adieu à l'adolescence, 1911
  • L'Enfant chargé de chaînes, 1913
    - Young Man in Chains (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1961)
  • La Robe prétexte, 1914
    - The Stuff of Youth (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1953)
  • De quelques cœurs inquiets, 1920
  • La Chair et le Sang, 1920
    - Flesh and Blood translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1954)
  • Préséances, 1921
    - Questions of Precedence translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1958)
  • Le Baiser au lépreux, 1922
    - The Kiss to the Leper (translated by James Whitall, 1923) / A Kiss for the Leper (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1950)
    - Pyhä suudelma (suom. Arvi Nuormaa, 1943)
    - TV film 1979, dir. by André Michel, starring Nathalie Juvet, Michel Caccia, Georges Goubert
  • Le Fleuve de feu, 1923
    - The River of Fire (translated by Gerald Hopkins, 1954)
  • Genitrix, 1923
    - Genetrix (tr. in The Family, 1930)
    TV film 1973, dir. by Paul Paviot, starring Maria Meriko, Michel Auclair, Monique Lejeune
  • Le Mal, 1924
    - The Enemy (with The Desert of Love, translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1949)
  • Vie et la mort d'un poète, 1924
  • Orages, 1925 (rev. ed., 1949)
  •  Le Désert de l'amour, 1925
    - The Desert of Love (with The Enemy, translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1929)
  • Bordeaux, 1926
  • Le jeune homme, 1926
  • Proust, 1926
  • Fabien, 1926
  • La Province, 1926
  • La Rencontre avec Pascal, suivi de L'Isolement de Barrès, 1926
  • Le tourment de Jacques Rivière, 1926
  • Thérèse Desqueyroux, 1927
    - Thérèse (translated by Eric Sutton, 1928; Gerard Hopkins, 1947) / Thérèse Desqueyroux  (translation, introduction, and notes by Raymond N. MacKenzie, 2005)
    - Myrkyttäjätär (suom. Anna-Liisa Sohlberg, 1946)
    - Film 1962, dir. by Georges Franju, starring Emmanuelle Riva, Philippe Noiret, Edith Scob
  • Destins, 1928
    - Destines (translated by Eric Sutton, 1929) / Lines of Life (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1957)
    TV film 1965, dir. by Pierre Cardinal
  • Le Roman, 1928
  • La Vie de Jean Racine, 1928
  • Dieu et Mammon, 1929
    - God and Mammon (translated by Raymond N. MacKenzie, 1936)
  • Trois récits, 1929
  • Voltaire et centre Pascal, 1930
  • Trois grands hommes devant Dieu, 1930
  • Ce qui était perdu, 1930
    - Suspicion (translated by Harold F. Kynaston-Snell, 1931) / That Which Was Lost (with Dark Angels, translated by J.H.F. McEwen, 1951) / What Was Lost (with God and Mammon; translation, introduction, and notes by Raymond N. MacKenzie, 2003) 
  • Souffrances et bonheur du chrétien , 1931
    - Anguish and Joy of the Christian Life (translated by Harold Evans, 1964)
  • Commencement d'une vie, suivi de Bordeaux, 1931
  • Le jeudi-saint, 1931
    - Maundy Thursday (tr. 1932) / The Eucharist (translated by Marie-Louise Defeenoy, 1941)
  • L'affaire Favre-Bulle, 1931
  • Blaise Pascal et sa sœur Jacqueline, 1931
  • René Bazin, 1931
  • Pèlerins, 1932 (as Pèlerins de Lourdes, 1933)
  • Le nœud de vipères, 1932
    - Viper's Tangle (translated by Warre B. Wells, 1933) / The Knot of Vipers= Le Noeud de vipères (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1951)
    - Käärmesolmu (suom. Mary Ohlström, 1936)
    - TV film 1980, dir. by Jacques Trébouta, starring Pierre Dux, Suzanne Flon, Michel Peyrelon
  • Le Romancier et ses personnages, 1933 (reprinted as L'Education des filles, 1936)
  • Le Mystère Frontenac, 1933
    - The Frontenacs (translated by Gerard Hopkins) / The Frontenac Mystery (tr. 1952)
    TV film 1975, dir. by Maurice Frydland, starring Gilles Laurent, Alain Liboltm, Gérard Ismaël
  • Pèlerins de Lourdes, 1933
  • Le Drôle , 1933
    - The Holy Terror translated by Anne Carter, 1964)
  • Journal, 1934-51 (5 vols.)
  • ‎Le Mal, 1935
    - The Enemy (tr. with The Desert of Love, 1949)
  • La Fin de la nuit, 1935
    - The End of the Night (in Therese: A Portrait in Four Parts, tr. Gerard Hopkins, 1947)
    - TV film 1966, dir. by Albert Riéra, starring Emmanuelle Riva, Rachel Cathoud, Suzanne Michel
  • Les anges noirs, 1936
    - The Dark Angels (with That Which Was Lost, translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1951) / The Mask of Innocence (tr. 1953)
  • La Vie de Jésus, 1936
    - Life of Jesus (translated by Julie Kernan, 1937)
  • Asmodée, 1937 (play)
    - Asmodee; or, The Intruider (translated by Basil Bartlett, 1939) / Asmodeé: A Drama in Three Acts (translated by Beverly Thurman, 1957)
    - TV film 1966, dir. by Håkan Ersgård
  • Plongées, 1938
  • Les Chemins de la mer, 1939
    - The Unknown Sea (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1948)
  • Les maisons fugitives, 1939
  • La Pharisienne, 1941
    - A Woman of Pharisees (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1946)
    - Täydellisyyden kudos (suom. Anna-Liisa Sohlberg, 1944)
    - TV film 1980, dir. by Gilbert Pineau, Alice Sapritch, Thierry Fouques, Luc Olivier
  • Le Sang d'Atys, 1941
  • Le Cahier noir, 1943
    - The Black Notebook (translated by Robert Speaight, 1944)
  • Ne pas se renier, 1944
  • La rencontre avec Barrès, 1945
  • Sainte Marguerite de Cortone, 1945
    - Saint Margaret of Cortona (translated by Bernard Frechtman, 1948)
  • Le bâillon dénoué, 1945
  • Les Mal-aimés, 1945 (play)
  • Du côté de chez Proust, 1947
    - Proust's Way (translated by Elsie Pell, 1950) 
  • Passage du malin, 1948 (play, prod. 1947)
  • Journal d'un Homme de trente ans, 1948
  • Le Désert de l'amour, 1949
    - The Desert of Love (with The Enemy, translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1949)
  • Terres franciscaines; actualité de St-François d'Assise, 1950
  • Mes grands hommes, 1950
    - Men I Hold Great (translated by Elsie Pell, 1951) / Great Men (tr. 1952)
  • Oeuvres complètes, 1950-56 (12 vols.)
  • Le Sagouin, 1951
    - The Little Misery (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1952) / The Weakling and The Enemy (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1952)
    TV film 1972, dir. by Serge Moati, starring Marie-Christine Barrault, Muse Dalbray Gilles Laurent
  • La Pierre d'achoppement, 1951
    - The Stumbling Block (tr. 1952)
  • Le Feu sur la terre, 1951 (play, prod. 1950)
  • Lettres ouvertes, 1952
    - Letters on Art and Literature (translated by Mario A. Pei, 1953)
  • Galigaï, 1952
    - The Loved and the Unloved (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1952)
  • Écrits intimes, 1953
  • Paroles catholiques, 1954
    - Words of Faith (translated by Edward H. Flannery, 1955)
  • L'Agneau, 1954
    - The Lamb (translated by Gerard Hopkins, 1955)
    - Karitsa (suom. Maija Lehtonen, 1955)
  • Le Pain vivant, 1955 (play)
  • Le fils de l'homme, 1958
    - The Son of Man (translated by Bernard Murchland, 1958)
  • Bloc-notes, 1952-1957, 1958-71 (5 vols.)
  • Mémoires, 1959-67
  • Mémoires intérieurs, 1959
    - Mémoires Intérieurs (tr. 1960)
  • Rapport sur les prix de vertu, 1960
  • Le Nouveau Bloc-Notes, 1958-1960, 1961
  • Second Thoughts: Reflections on Literature and Life, 1961 (translated by Adrienne Foulke)
  • La Vie de Jean Racine, 1962
  • Cain, Where Is Your Brother?, 1962
  • Ce que je crois, 1962
    - What I Believe (translated by Wallace Fowlie, 1963)
  • Thérèse, 1963 (screenplay, with Claude Mauriac and Georges Franju)
  • De Gaulle de François Mauriac, 1964
    - De Gaulle (translated by Richard Howard, 1966)
  • Nouveaux mémoires intérieurs, 1965
    - The Inner Presence (translated by Herma Briffault, 1968) / Nouveaux mémoires intérieurs = More Reflections from the Soul (translated by Mary Kimbrough, 1991)
  • Le Nouveau bloc-notes, 1961-1964, 1965
  • D'autres et moi, 1966
  • Mémoires politiques, 1967
  • A Mauriac Reader, 1968 (translated by Gerard Hopkins, introd. by Wallace Fowlie)
  • Un Adolescent d'Autrefois, 1969
    - Maltaverne (translated by Jean Stewart, 1970)
    - TV  film 1983, dir. by André Miche, starring Madeleine Robinson, Jean-Pierre Klein, Catherine Salviat
  • Le dernier bloc-notes, 1968-1970, 1971
  • Correspondance André Gide-François Mauriac: 1912-1950, 1912-1950, 1971 (ed. Jacqueline Morton)
  • Thérèse, 1972 (translated by Gerard Hopkins)
  • Correspondance entre François Mauriac et Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1916-1942, 1976
  • Lacordaire, 1976 (ed. Keith Goesch)
  • Mauriac avant Mauriac, 1977 (ed. Jean Touzot)
  • Chroniques du Journal de Clichy, 1978 (with Paul Claudel, ed. François Morlot and Jean Touzot)
  • Œuvres complètes Œuvres romanesques et théâtrales complètes, 1978-81 (3 vols., ed.  Jacques Petit)
  • Lettres d'une vie (1904-1969), 1981 (ed. Caroline Mauriac)
  • L'imitation des bourreaux de Jésus-Christ, 1984
  • Œuvres autobiographiques complètes, 1990 (ed. François Durand)
  • Bloc-notes 1952-1970, 1993 (5 vols., edited and annotated by Jean Touzot)
  • Mozart & autres écrits sur la musique, 1996 (ed. François Solesmes)
  • Le croyant et l’humaniste inquiet: correspondance, François Mauriac-Georges Duhamel, 1997 (ed. J.-J. Hueber; foreword by Jean Touzot) 
  • La paix des cimes: chroniques, 1948-1955, 1999 (ed. Jean Touzot)
  • Correspondance 1925-1967 / François Mauriac & Jean Paulhan, 2001 (ed. John E. Flower)
  •  D'un Bloc-notes à l'autre: 1952-1969, 2004 (ed. Jean Touzot)
  • Les mains jointes: et autres poèmes, 1905-1923, 2005 (ed. Paul Cooke)
  • François Mauriac, le chrétien, le romancier, le journaliste: choix de textes, 2006 (ed. Gilles Marcotte)
  • On n’est jamais sûr de rien avec la télévision: chroniques 1959-1964, 2008 (eds. Jean Touzot and Merryl Moneghetti)
  • Journal; Mémoires politiques, 2008 (ed. Jean-Luc Barré, et al.)
  • François Mauriac, journaliste: les vingt premières années, 1905-1925, 2011 (ed. John Flower)
  • Correspondance intime: 1898-juillet 1970, 2012 (edited by Caroline Mauriac) 
  • François Mauriac on Race, War, Politics, and Religion: the Great War through the 1960s, 2015 (translated and edited by Nathan Bracher)
  • Le livre de raison de Malagar, 2020 (préface de Philippe Baudorre; présentation par Caroline Casseville) 

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