Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Therese Desqueyroux by Francois Mauriac

Published 1927  this translation by Gerard Hopkins, 1928  Chapter X




At the funeral [of Aunt Clara] she occupied the place allotted to her. On the next Sunday she went to church with Bernard, who, instead of entering by a side-aisle as was his custom, made a point of walking down the nave for all to see. Therese kept her crape veil down until she had taken her seat between her husband and her mother-in-law. A pillar hid her from the congregation. There was nothing between her and the choir. On every other side she was hedged in. Behind her was the crown of worshippers, on her right hand Bernard, Madame de la Trave on her left. Only in front of her was there a free and open space, empty as is the arena to the bull when he comes from the darkness into the light – space where, flanked by two small boys, a man in fancy dress was standing, his arms a little spread, whispering.



observations: A film of Therese has just been released: there was a previous one in 1962, and the mystery is why there haven’t been endless versions of the story. Actresses should be queuing up to play her…

She has tried to poison her husband Bernard. He and their two families work hard to cover up this scandal – the case against her is dismissed, but she is now at the mercy of her husband. She lies around smoking a lot (she smokes more than any character in any book ever) and looking unhappy and being bored. Aunt Clara has just died, and locals are saying ‘For all we know, it may be her as done it.’ (She didn’t.)

Mauriac is something like Evelyn Waugh** – very strongly Catholic, in a rather unbending way, living the life of an intellectual and sounding as if he might be pompous and priggish, yet occasionally able to produce a miracle of unlikely empathy. Therese is a wonderful creation, on a level with Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. We have every sympathy for her, even though she is obviously an awful person who would be very annoying in real life. She is outraged when her husband wrongly guesses the motive for her attempted murder of him:
Among all the myriad causes which had prompted her act, this fool had not been able to understand a single one

-- which you feel is just a little unreasonable.

In case the great symbolism of the passage above is not evident, the man in fancy dress is the Priest celebrating Mass. So you might think that she will repent and become a nun, say. But you’d think wrong – the blog will check in on her future later this week.
**Nancy Mitford once criticized an article on religious matters by Mauriac as dull: Waugh claimed this proved she had no understanding of religion, and there was no point talking to her about it.

Links on the blog: Therese is played by Audrey Tautou in the new film – she also played the heroine in the marvellous A Very Long Engagement, set in France a few years earlier.

The picture is of a mourner at the funeral of King George V, from the LSE library
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