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|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, but 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, who was obsessed with degraded characters. Le Désert de l'amour (1925) continued Mauriac's theme of the futility of love. In the novel 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 Mauriac portrayed his characters. 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, but after a spiritual crisis he solved this conflict in favor of the spirit: "Christianity makes no provision for the flesh. It suppresses it." In the aftermath of his religious crisis, 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, but was somewhat at odds with its conservative mood after adopting more liberal views. Along with his evolving political thinking, he 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 Franco's actions. 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 ahis praise for Mussolini removed from an article republished in 1937.
At the beginning of the German occupation of France in World War II, Mauriac first supported Pétain, but then joined the side of de Gaulle. After 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 condemned the use of torture by the French army in Algeria. As a result of his sympathies toward the Gaullist 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 writers, who expressed his disappointment in Mauriac's enthusiastic allegiance to the President. From the mid-1950s Mauriac wrote a weekly newspaper column, Bloc-Notes, which gained a large audience. 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 write 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, ed. 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); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. Steven R. Serafin (1999); 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) - 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