A Catholic novelist in context : suggestions for a reassessment of the work of Francois Mauriac
This thesis focuses on a writer who was a constant presence in the French literary field for a large part of the 20th Century and who, by the time of his death, had established himself as one of the major post-war intellectuals, yet who is increasingly typecast simply as a 'Catholic Novelist'. The thesis aim to counter this tendency by highlighting other, intriguing and overlooked aspects of his work and career : the pervasive presence of the body in his novels, his Sartrean sensitivity to the problem of intersubjectivity, or his post-war intervention over decolonisation, and the ethical questions this forced him to confront. The distinctiveness of the thesis lies in its stress on the need to resituate literary texts and other works of art in their socio-cultural contexts - that is to say, in the context of other discourses or representations of the world in circulation at the same time. Thus, Part 1 explores how both his artistic theory and practice are shaped, in unpredictable ways, by the ideological framework of Catholicism into which he is inserted in his early years. Part 2 argues that despite, or perhaps because of, his innate conservatism, Mauriac emerges as a writer who is sensitive to, and captures the nature of, the modern world, and the experience of living in that world. His modern sensibility is reflected in his preoccupation with intersubjectivity, one he shares with other writers of the period who are, perhaps, more recognisably modern. Part 3 examines how his political interventions, and his corresponding transformation from novelist to intellectual, are managed by L'Express magazine, and how in fact he came to collaborate with a journal whose politics were radically different from his own. Overall, through an approach which can be described as materialist and, from a religious perspective, agnostic, the thesis aims to demonstrate how Mauriac can still be seen to have relevant and interesting things to say to a contemporary audience.