Mauriac was born on 11 October 1885 in Bordeaux, France. His father died soon after, leaving his mother to raise five children, of which he was the youngest. He studied at the University of Bordeaux and then at the École Nationale des Chartes, Paris, but soon left to pursue a career in literature. He managed to publish his first work, a collection of poems - Les Mains jointes - in 1909. But, it was to novels that he soon turned, publishing L’Enfant chargé de chaînes and La Robe prétexte in 1913-1914. In 1913, he married Jeanne Lafon and, between 1914 and 1924, they had four children. In 1923, Le Baiser au lépreux (The Kiss to the Leper) made him famous in France, and established his literary reputation.
Further novels followed, including Le Noeud de vipères in 1932, a marital drama often considered Mauriac’s masterpiece. The following year, he was elected to the Académie Française. As the decade progressed, he wrote more novels, but also plays. He took a strong stance against totalitarianism, and denounced Fascism in Italy and Spain. During the war he lived in occupied territory, and worked with writers of the Resistance. After the war, he was a great supporter of Charles De Gaulle, who made him Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour. From the mid-1950s, he wrote a popular weekly newspaper column, Bloc-Notes.
Mauriac was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952. Though his fame did not spread far outside France, some consider him the country’s greatest writer after Marcel Proust. He died in 1970. One of his sons, Claude, was a writer and also worked as personal secretary to Charles de Gaulle. And, through a daughter, he was the grandfather of Anne Wiazemsky, actress and novelist who married Jean-Luc Godard. Further biographical information is available in English at Wikipedia (a fuller bio can be found at the French Wikipedia), the Nobel Prize website, Encyclopædia Britannica or Authors’ Calendar. A little more information can also be gathered from English reviews of Jean-Luc Barré’s biography of Mauriac (at the TLS for example).
9 June 1916
‘Paris. Temptations. Passions go on velvet feet in the jungle. Huge beasts. Perfume of sensuality.’
18 July 1916
‘Must free our body of desire.’
28 January 1917
‘My son Claude to keep me pure.’
2 March 1917
‘Paris is disgusting.
‘The war is ending on a picture postcard where we see the French re-entering Metz and Strasbourg . . . Frightening absence of God in the triumphal cries of Clemenceau.’
‘Perhaps it is always enough that a creature we love should live beside us, not perhaps that we should love them less, but that we should no longer realise that we love them.’
‘Still, after many years, to have so much to say to one another, from the most trivial to the most serious, without any desire to astonish or to be admired - what a wonderful thing that is!. No more need of lies; man and wife have become so transparent to each other that lying can no longer be of any use. This is the only love that cherishes immobility, that feeds on the habitual and daily round.’
29 July 1953
‘At my age, the conflict between the Christian and the novelist has moved on to another plane. It’s much less a question of the Jansenist scruples that used to trouble me in describing the passions than a kind of disenchantment with everything to do with art in general, and with my own art in particular. A feeling that art is literally an idol, that it has its martyrs and its prophets, and that for many people it is a substitute for God. And not art alone, but the word - the word that has not been made flesh. [. . . Having resumed work on a new novel, L’Agneau, he is determined not to put it aside] ‘until I have found the balance that I’m looking for, and the young saint, my hero, is burning at the heart of the furnace.’
[Whatever the motives