Thérèse Desqueyroux (novel)

Last updated
Thérèse Desqueyroux
AuthorFrançois Mauriac
TranslatorGerard Hopkins
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint
Followed byLa Fin de la nuit 

Thérèse Desqueyroux (French pronunciation:  [teʁɛz dɛskɛʁu] ) is the most famous novel by François Mauriac.

François Mauriac French author

François Charles Mauriac was a French novelist, dramatist, critic, poet, and journalist, a member of the Académie française, and laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1952). He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur in 1958. He was a lifelong Catholic.



The novel is set in the Landes, a sparsely populated area of south-west France covered largely with pine forests. As it opens, a court case is being dismissed. The narrator, the titular Thérèse, has been tried for poisoning her husband Bernard by overdosing him with Fowler's Solution, a medicine containing arsenic. Despite strong evidence against her, including prescriptions she forged, the case has been dropped; the family closed ranks to prevent scandal and Bernard himself testified in her defence. On the journey home, Thérèse reflects at length on her life so far, trying to understand what brought her to continue poisoning her husband after she observed him taking an accidental overdose. She suggests that her actions were part of an "imperceptible slope", caused in part by the pressures of motherhood and marriage and the stifling life of a Catholic landowner's wife in 1920s rural France. However, neither Thérèse nor the narrator himself provides a clear explanation for her behaviour. [1]

Landes (department) Department of France

The Landes is a department in southwestern France.

Thérèse assumes that she will be able to leave her husband quietly now the case is over. Instead, Bernard announces that she is to live at his family house, in an isolated spot in the pine forest, at Argelouse. He effectively confines her there, giving out that she suffers from a nervous complaint, and making the occasional public appearance with her to quell any gossip. His concern is that the forthcoming marriage of his younger sister Anne, to a suitor approved by the family, is not prevented by any scandal. He allows Thérèse no company other than unsympathetic servants, keeps their daughter away from her, and threatens to send her to prison for the poisoning if she does not cooperate. Thérèse lives mainly on wine and cigarettes, falls into a passive stupor and takes to her bed. When she is ordered to attend a dinner party for Anne, her fiancé and his family, she does so, but her emaciated appearance shocks the guests. Bernard decides that the scandal will never be fully forgotten unless Thérèse is allowed to disappear without controversy. He promises she can leave after Anne's wedding, and moves back to Argelouse to supervise her recovery. The wedding over, he takes Thérèse to Paris and bids her farewell. There will be no official separation and no divorce, and she has an allowance to live on. She is free to go.

Argelouse Commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Argelouse is a commune of the Landes department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France.


The book is characterised by some unusual structural devices, including a long internal monologue which often switches perspective, revealing the thoughts of several characters. The vast majority of characters in the book are seen as quite unpleasant people; Thérèse's father is revealed to be a callous sexist more concerned with protecting his political career than looking after his daughter, while Bernard himself is portrayed as an emotionally unavailable man obsessed solely with hunting and serving the needs of the family. As in much of Mauriac's work, physical imperfection signifies moral destitution[ citation needed ] and most characters have some sort of flaw – phrases such as "hard black nails", "short bow legs" and "fat little Hippolitus" all describe various male characters, just within the first few chapters.

Thérèse herself is proud of her intelligence and self-perceived wisdom, as well as apparently having an unrequited crush on former childhood friend and sister-in-law Anne – at one point destroying a love letter from Anne to a local Jewish man. Critics[ who? ] have suggested that this could parallel with Mauriac's own struggles with sexuality.

Puppy love is an informal term for feelings of romantic or platonic love, often felt during childhood and adolescence. It is named for its resemblance to the adoring, worshipful affection that may be felt by a puppy.

Mauriac commented on the novel's structure in an interview in The Paris Review in 1953. He said: " ... in Thérèse Desqueyroux I used some devices that came from the silent films; lack of preparation, the sudden opening, flashbacks. They were methods that were new and surprising at that time". [2]


The character of Thérèse recurs in other works by Mauriac, including The End of the Night, Thérèse and the Doctor and Thérèse at the Hotel.

Development history

In 1925, Mauriac asked his brother Pierre for documents about the trial in Bordeaux, [3] in 1906, of Madame Canaby, who had attempted to poison her husband. She was acquitted, but convicted of forging prescriptions. [4]

Literary significance and reception

The novel is Mauriac's best known work, and was described as "outstanding" in the biography that accompanied his Nobel Literature Prize citation. [5] On 3 June 1950 Le Figaro named it as one of the winners of the "Grand Prix des meilleurs romans du demi-siècle", a prestigious literary competition to find the twelve best French novels of the first half of the twentieth century. Nominations were judged by a distinguished French literary jury chaired by Colette, and the winners were included the following year in a specially published and illustrated collection. In 1999 it came 35th in a national poll to find the 100 best French works of the 20th century.

Mauriac also attracted negative criticism. Jean-Paul Sartre famously attacked his work in 1939, accusing him of denying his characters free will and, like God, imposing external fates and moral judgements on them. He singled out the character of Thérèse Desqueyroux as an example of this; Mauriac had recently published The End of the Night, stating in its preface that he wished to "save" Thérèse, prompting Sartre's attack. [6]


The novel was filmed as Thérèse Desqueyroux by Georges Franju in 1962, with Emmanuelle Riva as Thérèse. [7] Riva reprised the role in the 1966 TV film La fin de la nuit, directed by Albert Riéra. [7]

In 2010 it was announced that Claude Miller was to remake the film, with Audrey Tautou as Thérèse. [8] The film was released at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival on May 27 2012.

In 2015, Nicole Garcia played Thérèse in the French TV film La fin de la nuit, directed by Lucas Belvaux. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Audrey Tautou french film actress

Audrey Justine Tautou is a French actress. Signed by an agent at age 17, she made her acting debut at 18 on television and her feature film debut the following year in Venus Beauty Institute (1999), for which she received critical acclaim and won the César Award for Most Promising Actress.

Françoise Sagan French writer

Françoise Sagan – real name Françoise Quoirez – was a French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter. Hailed as "a charming little monster" by François Mauriac on the front page of Le Figaro, Sagan was known for works with strong romantic themes involving wealthy and disillusioned bourgeois characters. Her best-known novel was her first – Bonjour Tristesse (1954) – which was written when she was a teenager.

<i>Thérèse Raquin</i> novel by Émile Zola

Thérèse Raquin[teʁɛz ʁakɛ̃] is an 1868 novel by French writer Émile Zola, first published in serial form in the literary magazine L'Artiste in 1867. It was Zola's third novel, though the first to earn wide fame. The novel's adultery and murder were considered scandalous and famously described as "putrid" in a review in the newspaper Le Figaro.

Anne Wiazemsky French actress

Anne Wiazemsky was a French actress and novelist. Through her mother, she was the granddaughter of novelist and dramatist François Mauriac. She made her cinema debut at the age of 18, playing Marie, the lead character in Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), and went on to appear in several of Jean-Luc Godard's films, among them La Chinoise (1967), Week End (1967), and One Plus One (1968). She and Godard were married from 1967 to 1979.

Madame de Brinvilliers French murderer

Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d'Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers was a French aristocrat accused of three murders. She was convicted on the strength of letters written by her dead lover and a confession obtained by torture, so her guilt remains uncertain.

Therese or Thérèse is a variant of the feminine given name Teresa. It may refer to:

Anna Mouglalis French actress

Anna Mouglalis is a French actress.

Emmanuelle Riva French actress

Emmanuelle Riva was a French actress, best known for her roles in the films Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Amour (2012).

<i>Thérèse Desqueyroux</i> (1962 film) 1962 film by Georges Franju

Thérèse Desqueyroux is a 1962 French film directed by Georges Franju, based on the novel of the same name by François Mauriac. Written by Franju and François Mauriac and Claude Mauriac, it stars Emmanuelle Riva and Philippe Noiret. Riva won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, the Étoile de Cristal award for Best Actress, and the Silver Goddess Award from the Mexican Cinema Journalists for her performance.

Claude Mauriac was a French author and journalist, the eldest son of the author François Mauriac.

Claude Miller French film director, producer and screenwriter

Claude Miller was a French film director, producer and screenwriter.

Françoise Arnoul actress

Françoise Arnoul is a French actress, who achieved popularity during the 1950s.

Francis Perrin (actor) French actor, scriptwriter and film director

Francis Pierre Horton Perrin is a French actor, screenwriter and film director.

<i>Angélique, Marquise des Anges</i> 1964 film by Bernard Borderie

Angélique, Marquise des Anges is a 1964 French film, based on the novel of the same name by Anne and Serge Golon.

Caroline Reboux (1837–1927) was a well-known Parisian milliner and French fashion designer.

<i>Le Bonheur</i> (1965 film) 1965 French film by Agnès Varda

Le Bonheur ("Happiness") is a 1965 French drama film directed by Agnès Varda. The film is associated with the French New Wave and won two awards at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival, including the Jury Grand Prix.

Takako Takahashi was a Japanese author. Her maiden name was Takako Okamoto.

Thérèse Desqueyroux is a 2012 French drama film directed by Claude Miller. It is an adaptation of the François Mauriac novel of the same name, first published in 1927. The last work of Claude Miller, who died in April 2012, this film closed the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened out of competition.

Kate Brooke is a British screenwriter.


  1. Loddegaard, Ann. "The Silence of God in the Modern Catholic Novel" (PDF). Forum on Public Policy. Retrieved 2008.Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. François Mauriac, The Art of Fiction No. 2, The Paris Review, March 1953. Accessed 4 December 2010
  3. Favreau, Bertrand. "The Law Courts of Bordeaux (1846)" . Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  4. "Thérèse Desqueyroux ou l'itinéraire d'une femme libre". etudes-litteraires. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  5. Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901–1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969. Accessed 29 November 2010
  6. Sartre, J.-P., "M. François Mauriac et la liberté", Nouvelle revue Française, February, 1939
  7. 1 2 3 Thérèse Desqueyroux (Character). IMDb, Accessed 14 May 2017
  8. Audrey Tautou sera Thérèse B. pour Claude Miller Archived 2010-05-16 at the Wayback Machine ., 14 May 2010. Accessed 4 December 2010