Thérèse Desqueyroux

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Rowman & Littlefield, 2005 - Fiction - 144 pages
2 Reviews
Francois Mauriac's masterpiece and one of the greatest Catholic novels, Therese Desqueyroux is the haunting story of an unhappily married young woman whose desperation drives her to thoughts of murder. Mauriac paints an unforgettable portrait of spiritual isolation and despair, but he also dramatizes the complex realities of forgiveness, grace, and redemption. Set in the countryside outside Bordeaux, in a region of overwhelming heat and sudden storms, the novel's landscape reflects the inner world of Therese, a figure who has captured the imaginations of readers for generations. Raymond N. MacKenzie's translation of Therese Desqueyroux, the first since 1947, captures the poetic lyricism of Mauriac's prose as well as the intensity of his stream-of-consciousness narrative. MacKenzie also provides notes and a biographical and interpretive introduction to help readers better appreciate the mastery of Francois Mauriac, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1952. This volume also includes a translation of "Conscience, The Divine Instinct," Mauriac's first draft of the story, never before available in English."

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User Review  - liamfoley - LibraryThing

Just as soon as I want to feel sorry for Thérèse's husband Bernard, he utters a misogynistic or anti-Semitic remark. Thérèse herself is an immature brat who attempts to kill her husband. There's not ... Read full review

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Hats off to Raymond MacKenzie's stylish translation of Francois Mauriac's masterpiece, Therese Desqueroux (ISBN 0-7425-4865-1). Set in Bordeaux and Paris in the early 20th Century, this is a story of love, despair, sin, and forgiveness. For Mauriac, these are key themes in his own Catholic identity--and this characteristic transcends his book and characters. Therese is a troubled heroine who experiences each of these very Catholic themes.
She loves life and its colorful passions. She questions her sexual identity, finding it easier to get close with the coy Anne de la Trave than her brother, Bernard, who would become her husband. Therese lives in a world of restrictions--from stringent family loyalties, social expectations for women, and parochial worldviews in the arid countryside--which trap her. This book examines this phase in her life when she realizes how caged she is and what she does about it. Some regard it as a novel of rebellion against the family as a nurturing social unit (6). Perhaps this topic is what so closely ties the novel to future generations of readers, regardless of language.
In this situation of feeling locked in and cut off, Therese despairs. She contemplates suicide--even when pregnant with Marie--but seems too curious with life to carry it out. She eventually resorts to allowing Bernard to become poisoned. When the story opens, she has already weathered the trial and has been acquitted due to the lack of circumstantial evidence and some political agendae. Much of the first few chapters addresses her long ride home to her still-recovering husband and her prepared reconciliation with him.
Mauriac treats the world of sin as a key component of personal identity. For Therese, her sin of attempted murder is a symptom of the despair in her inability to do anything about her situation. This translation includes an initial draft by Mauriac which is in the form of her confession. Its concise depiction renders a similar effect on the reader: a comprehensive psychological portrait of an individual struggling to balance individual identity with social mores and Catholic expectations.
In this context, I find Therese Desqueyroux to be a fundamentally Catholic novel because it allows the reader to experience the same struggles we all must face in our own way and time. Some critics claim the work is anti-Catholic, but I agree that it demonstrates that life is infused with God and grace (3). For Therese, whom Bernard releases to the streets of Paris as a free woman at the end, this struggle is essential for her turmoil and survival. Even Bernard, the victim, is tragic because he is "incapable of loving" which means that "nothing is ever truly grave" for him (93). Mauriac invites the reader into this struggle by introducing us to this Therese, one who has found a better self-understanding, without providing any answers (x).
What makes Therese Desqueyroux a masterpiece is that its message not only applies to all readers of any generation but also makes them actively participate in self-discovery. Mauriac himself would later confide that he was like his heroine in many respects and that we all must have compassion: "We know that evil is an immense fund of capital shared out among all people, and that there is nothing in the criminal heart, no matter how horrible, whose germ is not also to be found in our own hearts" (4). For Mauriac, every person is a body within a soul with the inner and outer worlds inextricably linked (9). The reader experiences this philosophy in this work of art and is better for it.
 

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About the author (2005)

Raymond N. MacKenzie is professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN.

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