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François Mauriac

  • HEATHER KING

François Mauriac (1885–1970), French author and journalist, won the Nobel Prize in Literature "for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life."


mauriacA lifelong Catholic, Mauriac was born in Bordeaux, the youngest of five.  His father died when he was eighteen months old.  He was raised by his almost fanatically pious mother—"We went to sleep with our arms crossed and our palms clamped to our bodies, clutching the holy medals and the scapular of Mount Carmel," he later wrote—and educated by Marianites.

His twenty-three novels, written mostly between 1921 and 1941, explore sin, grace, and redemption, often in conjunction with deep moral struggles.  A Kiss for the Leper (1922) made him famous.

For the last thirty years of his life, he focused on weekly opinion pieces about politics and culture in the French press: "Bloc-Notes" he called them.

He spoke out against the Franco regime, torture, capital punishment (in particular the death sentences of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg), and the Vietnam War.  He also quarreled publicly with Albert Camus, arguing for mercy rather than vengeance after World War II, and Roger Peyrefitte, a diplomat and author who witheringly criticized the Vatican.

He won the Nobel in 1952, and in 1958 was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur.

The Nobel Prize official website states: "The religious novels of Mauriac have been a puzzle to many critics, for they abound in evidences of the dark side of life, and their religious content is not directly apparent."

They are not puzzles to Catholics, who know that "religious content" and "the dark side of life" are not antithetical but rather could not exist one without the other.

To that end, two of Mauriac's lesser-known works may be his deepest contribution.

Of Life of Jesus (1936), The New York Times observed: "It tells, perhaps unconsciously, the story of a sincere man's struggle to find peace and rest for his tortured soul."

He dedicated The Son of Man (1958) "To Elie Wiesel, who was a crucified Jewish child."

He writes from a place of the crucified child in each of us.  Ostensibly happily married with five children, he hints at the anguish of unrequited love.

"It seems to me there is one page of the Gospel for each one of us," he observes.  "Some weep with Mary Magdalene before the empty tomb…. Others put their fingers in the open wounds with Thomas.  For my part, I have walked all my life with the two tired travelers who entered Emmaus in the evening."

"Vigils, sleep, agony, death—God shares all of these states of the human condition with us because he was also a man, but a man present everywhere because he was God…. He is present first of all in the Church; he is present in the Sacrament of the Altar; he is present where two or three are gathered together in his name as he is present in each one of our brothers."

Mauriac died at his Paris home on September 1, 1970.

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Acknowledgement

king Heather King. "François Mauriac." Magnificat (July, 2019).

Reprinted with permission from Magnificat.

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The Author

king king1 Heather King is a sober alcoholic, an ex-lawyer, a Catholic convert, and a full-time writer. She is the author of: Parched, Redeemed: Stumbling Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Poor Baby, Stripped, Holy Days and Gospel Reflectionsand Stumble: Virtue, Vice, and the Space Between. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her website here

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