The latest addition to my website is François Mauriac‘s Le Baiser au lépreux (A Kiss for the Leper). I first read Mauriac many, many years ago. Indeed, Le Mystère Frontenac (The Frontenac Mystery) is the first adult novel I read in French. Mauriac is a Catholic writer and it is his Catholicism that informs his writing (though certainly not all that informs his writing). As the Millions reports, Catholic writers seem far fewer than they were. The Millions is reporting on the USA and UK but I think the same applies in other parts of the world. Mauriac was a very important writer in France, as was Georges Bernanos who also appears on my site. Both are still read today in France but far less so in the English-speaking world. This is a pity as both are superb writers and are well worth reading, whatever your religious views. There are several other well-known French Catholic writers of that period, such as Paul Claudel, Julien Green and Charles Péguy, many of whom are still read in France today, often by non-Catholics.
Mauriac was not well served by the film industry. Apart from Thérèse Desqueyroux, made by the legendary but very much underestimated Georges Franju (there is also a very recent film version of the book), his films did not translate well to the screen. Bernanos was far more fortunate, not least because two of his books were filmed by the brilliant director Robert Bresson and are now classics of French cinema.
Le Baiser au lépreux (A Kiss for the Leper) is not a fun book. It is gloomy and miserable, both trademarks of Mauriac’s writing, and all the major characters end up far worse off than they were at the beginning. Mauriac was from les Landes, the area around Bordeaux, very conservative and Catholic and very rural. These features are reflected in many of his novels, including this one. It tells of the marriage of the son of the rich landowner to an attractive woman. Jean, the son in question, is small and ugly and tends to keep himself to himself. Noémi, who marries him at her parents’ insistence, does her best but cannot help finding him repulsive and he is well aware of this. He feels guilty about having married her and spends his time wandering the countryside in order to keep away from her. It all ends badly. Nevertheless, it s a very well-written novel and one worth reading. It has been translated into English but is out of print and not cheap to obtain, which is a pity.