UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Francoise Mauriac: critique du milieu bourgeois Moore, Sheila Geraldine


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the "middle-class" society of Francois Mauriac's novels and, in the light of his religious convictions, to understand his severe criticism of this social group. It will be noticed however that Mauriac's admonishment of the comfortable bourgeoisie is not restricted to the provincial and predominantly Roman Catholic setting of his novels; it can pertain, in reality, to the entire contemporary world. Some knowledge of Mauriac's concept of Christianity is necessary in order to understand his criticism of bourgeois society. An attempt is therefore made in the first chapter to clarify not only his general philosophy (which is of course Christian), but more precisely his notion of the Christian's commitment. Since the latter proves to be essentially a constant search for closer union with God, there ensues a conflict between the flesh and the spirit— a conflict in which, claims Mauriac, the complacent and self-righteous bourgeois refuses to participate. Pharisaism is therefore the accusation which Mauriac levels against this society. The Mauriacian Pharisee, discussed in Chapter II, differs not at all from his Biblical counterpart, but the author's psychological presentation of him affords us a more intimate view than that presented by the traditional definition. He is marked first of all by a mediocre temperament which allows him to be easily satisfied in his spiritual aspirations. Since satisfaction by definition removes all possibility of repentance, the Pharisee thus fails to meet the primary requisite of his religion. He is marked as well by a lack of perception which prevents him from seeing his inadequacies. The Pharisee is then, perforce, an "unconscious" hypocrite, claiming to be saved when his salvation is in fact far from secure. Some of Mauriac's characters are examined in Chapter III with the purpose of bearing out his charge of pharisaism. Conformists to a great extent, these characters consequently lack individuality and are therefore discussed under three main headings: the family, the "head of the family," and the "women of the family." Their values, which vary only slightly, together with their inherent self-righteousness, result in a behaviour that belies any claim to sanctity and moreover reveals them all to be impervious to charity. More relevant however to this study is the fact that their negative and hypocritical spiritual life has very positive and devastating effects on those around them. They contribute largely and quite unwittingly to the perpetration of evil. Mauriac's universe is unquestionably one where evil prevails. His concept of evil and its inevitable infection are explained in Chapter IV. Evidence of Mauriac's "determinism" comes to light here because of his belief that heredity and environment together play an important role in the moulding of a personality. His heroes, generally great sinners who are aware of their faults, are viewed in this chapter as the best witnesses to the forces of evil. The "saintly middle-class," on the other hand, remains oblivious of the part it plays in strengthening these forces. In spite of the predominance of evil in Mauriac's universe, some good is evident. The effects of Grace, discussed in Chapter V, can be seen in a few individuals who have not refused the "light" which, according to Mauriac, is offered in some degree to everyone. These few witnesses to Christ, all endowed with great lucidity and compassion, are all mystics, although in varying degrees. That they are few in number is due to the fact that the greater part of Christendom, indeed of humanity, refuses to accept what Mauriac calls the "sublime folie chrétienne." Since most of the human race does have pharisaic traits, it appears, in conclusion, that Mauriac's criticism of "middle-class" society is justified. It is more difficult, however, to justify his condemnation of this society when one considers his highly "determined" world.

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