Bruce Allen wrote recently to recommend the novels of FranÃ§ois Mauriac:
I wonder how many readers remember FranÃ§ois Mauriac (1885-1970), whose best novels (e.g., ThÃ©rÃ¨se Desqueyroux, Vipers’ Tangle, Woman of the Pharisees, A Kiss for the Leper, and at least a half dozen others) began appearing in English translations during the 1960os.
An un-apologetic Catholic apologist, Mauriac has always been marginalized as a writer of narrow sympathes and range. But at his best he’s an eloquent composer of stark tragedies of ancestral and faith-driven conflicts framed as allegories of sin, redemption, and retribution – often complicated by the unruly realities of sex and greed. No novelist ever understood, and engaged the seven deadly sins (and all the other un-numbered ones) as well as Mauriac. He ought to be revived every generation or so, and readers who’ve never sampled the brimstone pungency of his best work have missed out on one of the great 20th century bodies of work.
Fortunately for would-be readers, a good deal of Mauriac’s work is in print and easily available for purchase online. All of the above books are in print, as are several less-known works: The Frontenacs, The Mask of Innocence, and Young Man in Chains. Actually, A Kiss for the Leper is in print by virtue of its inclusion in A Mauriac Reader, which collects it and four other novels under one cover, with an introduction by Wallace Fowlie. Farrar, Straus and Giroux have heroically kept it in print for over forty years now.
Mauriac is often compared with Graham Greene: both Catholics, both dedicated to writing about modern and his struggle with sin. “I have tried to make the Catholic universe of evil palpable, tangible, odorous. If theologians provided an abstract idea of the sinner, I gave him flesh and blood,” Mauriac once remarked. Asked about the comparison, however, Greene drew a fine distinction between their works: “Mauriac’s sinners sin against God wheareas mine, however hard they try, can never quite manage to.” Mauriac also won, in 1952, the Nobel Prize for Literature, an honor that eluded Greene.