Therese Desqueyroux by Francois Mauriac

Published 1927  this translation by Gerard Hopkins, 1928

[She] gave her whole attention to the passers-by. Some of them seemed to be waiting, walking up and down the pavement. There was a woman who twice turned and smiled at her (a working-girl, or someone got up to look like a working-girl?) It was the hour of the day at which the dressmakers’ workrooms empty. Therese had no intention of leaving…

In the window of the Old England tea-shop she saw herself reflected, and realized how young she was. The close–fitting travelling suit became her well. But those years at Argelouse had left their mark upon her face. She looked worn and haggard. She took note of her short nose and too prominent cheek-bones. ‘I’m not an old woman yet’, she thought. She lunched (as so often in her dreams) in the rue Royale. Why go back to the hotel? She had no wish to. The half-bottle of Pouilly she had drunk filled her with a warm sense of well-being. She asked for some cigarettes. A young man at the next table snapped his lighter and held it out to her. She smiled.

observations: Should be read in conjunction with the entry earlier this week.

It is very hard to remember that this is a book of 1920s, written by a rather stern and moral man. Therese is endearing and has been unhappy and not very moral at all - but things will not end up so badly for her.

Mauriac was a great French man of letters, winner of a Nobel Prize, though almost unknown in England. He, rather surprisingly, said that he wrote this story using techniques which had been introduced by the then-new medium of silent film (which came up in this novel and this work of non-fiction). He seems to have had a huge, non-judgmental soft spot for Therese - he follows her in some later stories, rounding off her life with The End of the Night: the blog is treating it as one long story. Like Thackeray with Becky in Vanity Fair, Mauriac wants her to be redeemed – and Therese is in the end - but he knows she is much more lovable in her sinful state, smoking away endlessly. Here she has, astonishingly, got away from her husband and the provinces, and is hoping for a brighter future. She is at the mid-point of the four stories, and we can leave her there happy.

The reference to a working-girl – I couldn’t decide if this was meant to have implications of a street-walker, but the original French ouvriere, and consultation with (as ever) JDS, show he really does mean a person who works at the ‘ateliers de couture.’ So perhaps this one IS a prostitute, but is trying to look like one of the midinettes.

Links on the blog: Therese has longed to live in Paris, and imagines it as being very like this scene in Michael Arlen’s Green Hat. The final plotline for her resembles, of all unlikely books, The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp – the estranged daughter returns, the mother tries to help with a love affair. But perhaps Therese and the lovely Julia aren’t so far apart. Therese’s maid sews for her trousseau – something that also happens in this entry.

Both pictures are originally from Vogue, via the marvellous Clover Vintage Tumblr