Thérèse Desqueyroux

François Mauriac is unquestionably one of the top fiction writers of the Twentieth Century and a very deserving Nobel laureate. One of his most widely admired works is the short novel, Thérèse Desqueyroux.

The  story starts in medias res with the eponymous Frenchwoman on trial for attempting to poison her husband. Despite sufficient evidence including forged prescriptions, her husband testifies on her behalf and Thérèse is set free. But in a plot turn, the husband feels he must not allow any further chance of scandal to destroy the chances of his younger sister making a proper marriage, so Thérèse is forced to live under what we might call “house arrest,” only to be drug out periodically to suggest the masquerade of a happy marriage. But Thérèse is profoundly unhappy and her health declines on a diet of cigarettes and wine and a lack of human closeness and understanding.

Eventually the sister is married and Thérèse is released from her captivity to remake her life in Paris.

Audrey Tautou

It’s a lot more complex than that but the details should be more apparent if you read the novel yourself. Mauriac is very much a Catholic writer but he explores the different aspects of his faith and doesn’t just accept them with an un-examined mind. Even an old atheist like me can find interesting questions to think about in a novel like Thérèse Desqueyroux.

Just a side note: none of the characters in Thérèse Desqueyroux are particularly likable so you might balk at seeing Audrey Tautou in the title role but I also recommend the movie, both for the story and also to practice your French.

Other novels by Mauriac include (from Wikipedia):

1913 – L’Enfant chargé de chaînes («Young Man in Chains», tr. 1961)
1914 – La Robe prétexte («The Stuff of Youth», tr. 1960)
1920 – La Chair et le Sang («Flesh and Blood», tr. 1954)
1921 – Préséances («Questions of Precedence», tr. 1958)
1922 – Le Baiser au lépreux («The Kiss to the Leper», tr. 1923 / «A Kiss to the Leper», tr. 1950)
1923 – Le Fleuve de feu («The River of Fire», tr. 1954)
1923 – Génitrix («Genetrix», tr. 1950)
1923 – Le Mal («The Enemy», tr. 1949)
1925 – Le Désert de l’amour («The Desert of Love», tr. 1949) (Awarded the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française, 1926.)
1927 – Thérèse Desqueyroux («Thérèse», tr. 1928 / «Thérèse Desqueyroux», tr. 1947 and 2005)
1928 – Destins («Destinies», tr. 1929 / «Lines of Life», tr. 1957)
1929 – Trois Récits A volume of three stories: Coups de couteau, 1926; Un homme de lettres, 1926; Le Démon de la connaissance, 1928
1930 – Ce qui était perdu («Suspicion», tr. 1931 / «That Which Was Lost», tr. 1951)
1932 – Le Nœud de vipères («Vipers’ Tangle», tr. 1933 / «The Knot of Vipers», tr. 1951)
1933 – Le Mystère Frontenac («The Frontenac Mystery», tr. 1951 / «The Frontenacs», tr. 1961)
1935 – La Fin de la nuit («The End of the Night», tr. 1947)
1936 – Les Anges noirs («The Dark Angels», tr. 1951 / «The Mask of Innocence», tr. 1953)
1938 – Plongées A volume of five stories: Thérèse chez le docteur, 1933 («Thérèse and the Doctor», tr. 1947); Thérèse à l’hôtel, 1933 («Thérèse at the Hotel», tr. 1947); Le Rang; Insomnie; Conte de Noël.
1939 – Les Chemins de la mer («The Unknown Sea», tr. 1948)
1941 – La Pharisienne («A Woman of Pharisees», tr. 1946)
1951 – Le Sagouin («The Weakling», tr. 1952 / «The Little Misery», tr. 1952) (A novella)
1952 – Galigaï («The Loved and the Unloved», tr. 1953)
1954 – L’Agneau («The Lamb», tr. 1955)
1969 – Un adolescent d’autrefois («Maltaverne», tr. 1970)
1972 – Maltaverne (the unfinished sequel to the previous novel; posthumously published.)

2 thoughts on “Thérèse Desqueyroux

  1. I really must get around to reading some of Mauriac’s work.. It sounds like this novel would make a good one to start with. Thanks for yet another stimulation post.


    1. Truth be told, I haven’t read as much Mauriac as I would like (only three novels) but it may be more of an availability question over here in the land of Stephen King. Perhaps there is a collection available (but my French and my eyes are growing weaker as the years go by .. digital books?).


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