Posts Tagged ‘Francois Mauriac’

Some More Fiction Writers Who Were Too Good to be Forgotten

 

Here are some more fiction writers whom I consider just too good for us to forget about them.

 

Henry Handel Richardson (Real Name: Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson) (1870 – 1946) She chose a male nom de plume, because woman fiction writers weren’t accepted in her time. The trilogy ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahony’ (comprising the novels: Australia Felix, The Way Home and Ultima Thule), which is based on her traumatic but colorful early years and her childhood family in Australia, is up there as one of the finest works of fiction in English ever written.

Her Must-Read Fiction: The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, The Getting of Wisdom

José Maria de Eça de Queirós (1845 – 1900) He was the first of Portugal’s great triumvirate of literary virtuosos: Eca de Queirós, Fernando Pessoa, and Jose Saramago. He had a wicked sense of humor. Himself a Portuguese diplomat, he wrote the following: “The number of dolts, dullards and nincompoops who represent us overseas is enough to make one weep. This really is a most unfortunate country.” But you can tell by his writing that he loves Portugal and especially its women.

His Must Read Fiction: The Maias, The Relic, The Sin of Father Amaro

Nella Larsen (1891 – 1964) She worked as a nurse and a librarian in New York, but Nella Larsen got caught up in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and she wrote and published two short novels and a few short stories. Then she went back to being a nurse. She died in obscurity, but her work has now achieved the status of classic and is taught in many literature courses. I have read all of her fiction and consider it wonderful. ‘Passing’ was probably the first novel ever to deal with being of mixed race in the United States. I was moved by the efforts of Heidi Durrow to get a proper gravestone for Nella Larsen which you can read about here.

Her Must-Read Fiction:  Passing, Quicksand, The Short Fiction of Nella Larsen

Theodore Dreiser (1871 – 1945) If you have ever watched the great classic movie ‘A Place in The Sun’ starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters, you are familiar with Theodore Dreiser’s work. That movie is based on Dreiser’s novel, ‘An American Tragedy’. Who can ever forget the scene in the movie where he rows his fiancée out to the middle of the lake and then pushes her out of the boat into the water, knowing she cannot swim? All because he had found a beautiful new love from a rich family. Some critics found Dreiser’s work crude and rude, but I have found his fiction to be vivid and powerful.

His Must-Read Fiction:  Sister Carrie, The Financier, An American Tragedy

Arnold Bennett (1867 – 1931) – He wrote the best novel ever about a second-hand bookstore, ‘Riceyman Steps’. To the Bloomsbury Group including Virginia Woolf, Arnold Bennett was considered one of the Old Guard whose work was so prosaic that they were rebelling against it. However from my later vantage point I recommend Bennett’s work for its fine eye for detail and his strong empathy for the lower classes.

His Must-Read Fiction: Riceyman Steps, Anna of the Five Towns, The Card, An Old Wives Tale

Jean Stafford (1915 – 1979) – She was seriously injured and facially disfigured when she was 23 in a car accident in 1938. The reckless, angry, and intoxicated driver was the mentally unstable poet Robert Lowell whom she would soon marry and 8 years later divorce. She suffered from alcoholism and depression for much of her life. After publishing only three novels, all of which won critical acclaim, she wrote only short stories, many of which were published in the New Yorker. Of her work, ‘The Mountain Lion’ is my favorite.

Her Must-Read Fiction: The Mountain Lion, The Catherine Wheel, The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford

Francois Mauriac (1885 – 1970) – In early Mauriac, Evil is so attractive and Good is so smug that a winner is by no means assured. After those early novels, in 1928 Mauriac turned to Christianity and Catholicism with a vengeance, and the critical consensus was that he then stacked the deck in his fiction in favor of Good, and that his work weakened due to his new-found religious fervor. However one of his novels that I most admire, ‘The Vipers’ Tangle’, was written in 1933 after his conversion. One of the qualities that make Mauriac’s earlier fiction so appealing is how he depicts the life of Evil as quite delightful, just like it is in real life.

His Must-Read Fiction: The Desert of Love, Thérèse Desqueyroux, Flesh and Blood, Vipers’ Tangle

 

Here and here are two earlier lists of writers who wrote some mighty fine fiction.

‘Lines of Life’ by Francois Mauriac – The Attractions of Wickedness

‘Lines of Life (Destins)’ by Francois Mauriac   (1928) –  153 pages    Translated by Gerard Hopkins

mauriac-lines (1)

I was first tuned in to the awesome fiction of French novelist Francois Mauriac by my trusty literary critic Martin Seymour-Smith whose ‘Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature’ was and is my constant guide.

Seymour-Smith shares the view of most critics that Mauriac wrote all of his greatest work before 1933.  Up until then Mauriac wrote intense moral dramas about the ongoing battle between Evil and Good in everyday life. In early Mauriac, Evil is so attractive and Good is so smug that a winner is by no means assured. After that Mauriac turned to Christianity and Catholicism with a vengeance, and the critical consensus was that he then stacked the deck in his fiction in favor of Good, and that his work weakened due to his new-found religious fervor.   I still follow Seymour-Smith’s advice and have not read any of Mauriac’s work written in 1933 or after. By this point, Mauriac was already 47 years old and had written several masterpieces including ‘A Kiss for the Leper’, ‘Genitrix’, ‘The Desert of Love’, ‘Therese Desqueyroux’, and ‘The Knot of Vipers’, all of which I have read.  ‘Lines of Life’ is considered a near masterpiece in Mauriac’s work.

One of the qualities that make Mauriac’s pre-1933 fiction so appealing is how he depicts the life of Evil as quite delightful, just like it is in real life.  The ‘hero’ of ‘Lines of Life’ is Bob Lagave, the dissolute son of a landowner in Bordeaux.  Bob is “a young man whose only concern is to seduce others, to soil others, to lead them to damnation”.  His hardworking father has only contempt for his son:

“But there’s some as takes their fun and does a bit of work too.  There’s a time and a place for all things.  But this young man’s a no-good, if not worse.”

Bob has taken up the Paris high life which his father despises.

But the real moral center of the novel is the neighbor Elizabeth who closely observes one of Bob’s romantic exploits and develops a passion for him even though she is much older than he.  Elizabeth’s son Pierre who is a religious fanatic accidentally spies on Bob and his young woman trysting in Elizabeth’s yard and condemns Bob in no uncertain terms, after which Bob punches him in the face.

Women are not off the hook in this morality drama either.  The young woman who was caught trysting with Bob later says,

“After all,” she said: why should one give up a young man on the ground that he is not worthy to be one’s husband? Marriage is one thing, love quite another.”

 Now that is a statement that would make any devout Christian cringe.

A Bordeaux Wine Farm

A Bordeaux Wine Farm

One of the ways to measure the impact of a writer is to look at his or her followers.  Two of Mauriac’s ardent followers are the writers Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor, two writers I hugely admire. I suppose it is somewhat strange that I, born and raised a Lutheran, am so enamored of the Catholic novelist Mauriac, but one cannot help liking what one likes, and I find Mauriac a simpatico spirit.

I find that these pre-1933 fictions of Francois Mauriac go deeper into analyzing the souls of the characters than other writers.  Even though Bob in ‘Lines of Life’ is held in contempt by his father and is condemned by the religious, he is ultimately viewed sympathetically as we all must be.  The battle between Good and Evil is not as clear-cut as it is sometimes made out to be.

 

Grade: A-  

 

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