Therese (1927-1935, edition 2002) is a series of four novels in one compilation, covering the 1920s to the 1930s when Therese Desqueyroux is 30-45 years of age. The four novels are set in Argelouse, near Bordeaux, and in Paris.
Mauriac wrote Therese Desqueyroux in 1927, followed by Therese and the Doctor (1928), Therese at the Hotel (1928), and The End of the Night (1935). The English version of the first book was issued in 1928. English versions of the other three books were published in 1947. Therese and the Doctor – 20 pages – and Therese at the Hotel – 19 pages – are sandwiched between the main volumes – the beginning and the end. Mauriac wrote the remaining three novels to explain what happened to Therese after an abrupt and ambiguous ending to the first book.
The first book begins with Therese, 30 years of age, emerging from the courtroom where charges against her, for attempting to poison her husband, were dismissed. She is in a carriage driving home where she will be reunited with her husband, Bernard, who is recovering. Readers know that she did indeed plan to poison her husband, but her husband is not so sure, though he suspects that she is guilty. She is thinking about what she will tell him. He is thinking about her punishment.
Why did she do it? Although her father ‘was the only truly remarkable man she had ever known’ she thinks that ‘when all was said, Bernard wasn’t so bad.’ She had a husband, a two-year old daughter Marie, and a profitable plantation of pine trees – what more could she want?
The second book begins three years after the poisoning when she is 33 years old. The third book begins when she is 40 years old.
In the last book she is 45. Mauriac says that The End of the Night is not a sequel, but ‘a portrait of a woman in her decline.’ Therese is in Paris – with a heart condition and feeling old and alone. She has not seen Marie in three years, when suddenly Marie knocks at her mother’s door. Marie is now 17 years old, in love with Georges who is 22. Her happiness is entirely in the hands of her mother, because if Georges believes, as others do, that her mother is evil, there will be no chance of a wedding. Marie wants to know the truth.
Therese is complex. Is she evil, or mad, or paranoid, or a schemer, or a victim of circumstance? Mauriac’s writing is clever, never fully revealing Therese’s motives and true character. It is the reader who decides.
MARTINA NICOLLS is the author of:- The Shortness of Life: A Mongolian Lament (2015), Liberia’s Deadest Ends (2012), Bardot’s Comet (2011), Kashmir on a Knife-Edge (2010) and The Sudan Curse (2009).