Thérèse Desqueyroux

By François Mauriac

4,045 ratings - 3.72* vote

Pour éviter le scandale et protéger les intérêts de leur fille, Bernard Desqueyroux, que sa femme Thérèse a tenté d'empoisonner, dépose de telle sorte au'elle bénéficie d'un non-lieu. Enfermée dans la chambre, Thérèse tombe dans une prostration si complète que son mari, effrayé, ne sait plus quelle décision prendre. Doit-il lui rendre sa liberté? Dans ce livre envôutant, F Pour éviter le scandale et protéger les intérêts de leur fille, Bernard Desqueyroux,

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Book details

Mass Market Paperback, 189 pages
November 28th 1972 by Le Livre de Poche

(first published December 1st 1927)

Original Title
Thérèse Desqueyroux
2253004219 (ISBN13: 9782253004219)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I have said before I am so thankful for Goodsreads…a number of the books I have read and really enjoyed I would never have read if it hadn’t been for this site. I had read a novel by Georges Simenon, the famous French novelist who specialized in the roman durs style: The Truth About Bebe Donge, a novel about a women who poisoned her husband! I became a fan of Simenon because of several Goodread friends who are ardent admirers of his writing. Anyway, a GR friend recommended 'The Truth About Bebe Donge', and so I read it and liked it…and was reading the GR friend’s review of the book over again and also reading other people’s comments about his review and there was one person who made this comment “Simenon's story reminded me of Mauriac's Thérèse Desqueyroux”. What’s this? ? Given I liked The Truth About Bebe Donge so much, I was intrigued by what Thérèse Desqueyroux was about, so I procured that book, and hence this review.

The book I read was 'Thérèse: A Portrait in Four Parts' and consists of four ‘portraits’ of Thérèse — two novellas and two short stories (Thérèse and the Doctor & Thérèse at the Hotel), the two novellas beginning and ending the portrait. The first novella is his masterpiece and it is entitled by the protagonist’s married name, Thérèse Desqueyroux. I read it in one sitting it was so good. He published it in France in 1927. Therese is a young married woman in her twenties who may have poisoned her husband. The novella concerns that and what led up to the possible poisoning and what happened after the possible poisoning. An interesting character study on both her and some other characters in the novella. And the writing is really good. I wavered between 4 and 5 stars for this one so I gave it 4.5 stars. ?

François Mauriac published Thérèse Desqueyroux in 1927 (it came out in English translation a year later). He still had Thérèse on his mind for he wrote his two short stories about her in 1933 and then in 1935 another novella about her, longer than Thérèse Desqueyroux entitled The End of the Night. The End of the Night while longer (196 pages) is not half as good as Thérèse Desqueyroux (134 pages), and I would give it 2.5 stars at most. So I would recommend putting Thérèse Desqueyroux on your TBR list (or at least read other reviews of the book) and either get it by itself or get Thérèse: A Portrait in Four Parts, and get it for Thérèse Desqueyroux…

How good is Thérèse Desqueyroux? Here is something from the Wikipedia link of the book:
• The novel is Mauriac's best known work, and was described as "outstanding" in the biography that accompanied his Nobel Literature Prize citation. On 3 June 1950 Le Figaro named it as one of the winners of the "Grand Prix des meilleurs romans du demi-siècle", a prestigious literary competition to find the twelve best French novels of the first half of the twentieth century. Nominations were judged by a distinguished French literary jury chaired by Colette, and the winners were included the following year in a specially published and illustrated collection. In 1999 it came 35th in a national poll to find the 100 best French works of the 20th century. (from:

Mauriac (1885-1970,) was writing at the same time that three other famous French writers were publishing, Albert Camus, Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir (Beauvoir and Sartre did not think highly of Mauriac). Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Prize winner For Literature, has a very interesting history — he was part of the French Resistance in WWII. Here is a link to Mauriac’s life:

You know, they made a movie out of Thérèse Desqueyroux, twice, the first time in 1962 and the second time in 2012 and starring in the eponymous role Audrey Tautou! It’s ironic she can play the sinister Thérèse and the role which I remember her most by, the charming woman, Amélie.

From a blogsite:
From another blogsite:

I believe editions available in English of Thérèse Desqueyroux are: Thérèse (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1951); Therese (Penguin, 1959); Thérèse Desqueyroux (translation, introduction, and notes by Raymond N. Mackenzie, Foreword by Joseph Cunneen, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Incorporated, 2005); and Thérèse Desqueyroux (Routledge, 1996). The book I read, Thérèse: A Portrait in Four Parts, is available in its original printing (Henry Holt and Company, 1947) or in paperback (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1972/3), and I also think the Penguin classic published in 2003, Therese, is actually Thérèse: A Portrait in Four Parts because it is over 300 pages longs.


I know nothing of love save that it is the constant object of my desire, a desire that possesses me and blinds me, setting my feet on the ways of the waste land, dashing me against the walls, forcing me into bogs and quagmires, stretching me exhausted in the muddy ditches of life.

Run away, Thérèse. The trees where she suffered alone moan that is human. She's not alone. Mauriac is right that it is a huge family, the unresting, and a recognition would burn like an outbreak of forest fire. I don't believe it is as easy as saying no to the oppression of life. It isn't a choice to be happy. The suffocating husband Bernard is smugly snug in his bed that no one lies in another they didn't make. When young Thérèse is a sleepwalker, sold on settling down. Time she doesn't have. Hell is decisions too late. Bernard was a cold lover. I've been reading a lot of books lately that recall the selfish new husband in David Lean's film Ryan's Daughter. When I get married my dream lover will--- this is it? Forever? (The pitchforked everyone else come along too. How dare she want anything else?!) I don't know how she accepted the shallow waters of convent friend, and Bernard's half-sister, Anne, as affection. Anne and her kind don't know anymore than Thérèse does about happiness. Indeed, she must have maintained her stream of pious instruction as self assurance that she knew what she was in for. People like Anne and her father she can grace with nothing they needed her to give them so long as they are absent. Run away. It is so true that there is the personal understanding she is starving for, before Thérèse and after her. I think there's a truth closer to when she is before the judgement. The new Curé in the parish (the town don't think he's up to scratch either. Won't play sports, nose in books). Something akin to the person who can't let you down as rock shoulders of seashell oceans. If you went to flesh and blood and stone wouldn't let you in. Worse if every day went on without you in a foreign language of peace. The huge family is in The Curé's being and Thérèse can watch him without expecting anything. I have found that I feel relief from something that knows (though it's true that I have to have them all of the time. It is constant getting up) that cannot be called on to see you. She allows her husband to overdose himself, acts against her prison. Run away, run away, run away! In the first story 'Thérèse Desqueyroux' she is constructing her own defense, let off the judicial hook on lies for the family name but shut out from the same path others walk. It's that film "Bed-nobs and broomsticks" and she's drifting in her too late in a sky of cold beds, with strange heads of sleep she can't catch up. I wanted her to end it all, couldn't see that it was worth living in her home prison and nothing else. Bernard sees her emaciated living corpse and instead of his wife it is a picture of female inmates in his vision. There's some truth between this, the closest she gets to a reprieve, and knowing the prison of her husband's immovable fatness of himself. Their family are sitting on her. I can put myself in Thérèse's shoes to wish it had never happened, that she hadn't gone to the pharmacist with a forged prescription to poison the Bernard cell. To wish she had run away. To see the danger in the prison shells. That was pretty great this reality of what happened and what didn't have to happen. Don't do it, don't get married, don't have a baby. Don't get on the sides of mercy.

I don't understand why Mauriac and Thérèse believed that Thérèse corrupts others. How can he believe that and also believe in that she isn't alone? What kind of sheltered dreams did daughter Marie have, the young would-be lover of 'Thérèse at the Hotel', Marie's conquest Georges, his idol Mondoux (Thérèse knew his type as the pimply afraid of women young man who the other young men adopt their cold fires), etc. etc. etc. lead that they went through every day with their bubbles in tact? It gave me a perverse pleasure when the high and mouse Anne is knocked down from her the world is too big for me and the empty suit that suits my romantic vision. The young man who loves to hear himself talk never loved her. She wouldn't have what she wanted, however much she blamed Thérèse. What is Marie winning by keeping the first and only life she imagines in marrying Georges? He doesn't want to marry her, tells her again and again that she will not be his life. What is this complete ownership that doesn't breed its own darkness? It made me happy that she is not "set". I don't know why it made me so happy. Really, I feel impatient hearing love plans, resent not being allowed to do what I want to scratch my soul's itching. See?! I wanted to cry. It isn't guaranteed that YOU are so special, and Thérèse is not, that it all works out to say this person and I don't have to do anything else. Thérèse herself would take her pin to their balloon and bring them down to where she lives. She doesn't live anywhere realer than them, though. Where when the person who understands you is enough. That it would take away the inconsolable ache, the I don't know what to do when the nights are too long. Whenever anyone has told me that I made them feel less alone I'd feel sick for the impending drop. I can't do anything and feeling those same feelings of loneliness and darkness isn't ever enough. I'm a dripping blanket, unable to uplift anyone else. What else do you DO after you've admitted to not knowing what to do? Why isn't acceptance enough? I want to cry how bleeding unfair it is that it is never enough to be. I have felt just as Thérèse does when she's the confident to the lovesick Anne and Marie. They only care about her to stand in the way of reality of family who say no to their this marriage is gonna set me for life shit. But what would have happened if one of those drunks attached to a deaf bench had had proof of light in making through another day? What if the maid she counts on to live and breathe as a human in the inhuman night had a mutual dependence on we're all a big family in Thérèse? What if the old Aunt Clara had once entered the room when her niece wanted her to be there? Thérèse was as big of a jerk as anyone else in that. And all I could think of for her to do was to say fuck it to the whole thing. If there was peace in doing that then go ahead and do that. When I was very young my mother railed at me for my ability to be happy in "worthless" things like books and movies. She would have had only accepted the Marie kind of world of cleaving to a husband and no one else exists. I had to get into a really good book to not feel sick about her anymore, I remember, but I did it. Thérèse didn't do anything to Georges when she knew about the young attached friend who he couldn't bear clinging to him. Why is the choice Thérèse's but it wasn't the choice of Georges to accept what weighted him down from the human-shark swimming? Flip no was it Georges fault that that young man died, either. If it is her choice, then it is their choice. I don't understand this either/or. I think people are torn between what it looks like all gone to hell. I think there's more than you are where you want to be when people can want opposing ends. To live your life and to see the end. If she corrupts, then they corrupt. Would anyone see Thérèse when she pulls back her hair to reveal her mangled brow and not see only the burst? Mauriac wrote more of her ending, a spiritual kind of acceptance that she couldn't feel in her human family. He consulted a real life priest about it and everything, but only after. I'm glad it isn't included. Watching her sleep like she did with baby Marie feels right to me.


In this brief novel boiling with tension, we see the inner conflicts of the type in Madam Bovary or Anna Karenina, but a lot more compressed and intense. Usually, I don’t like dark novels of this type, but what kept me hooked is the powerful story-telling of Mauriac, an absolute masterpiece. A deeply flawed character, Therese, keeps us engaged, because Mauriac has skillfully transferred her point of view upon us, so we are with her even if we know she is doing something unethical.


There is a new movie version of this book but I always want to read the book first.

A gift from my brother.

This novel is based on a true story when in May 1905 (thanks Wayne for your important remark about it!), the author attended the trial of the poisoner Mrs. Canaby: L’affaire des Chartrons.

Therese, as well as Madame Bovary in some way, lives in her own world since her husband is not able to understand her feelings. Even with the birth of their daughter, their faith won't change any more.

The author uses the flashback technique in order to tell the story. But, since it's a novella, sometimes the scale of time is too short.

Page 33:
Chloroforme: 30 grammes
Aconitine granules: no. 20
Digitaline sol: 20 grammes

The first movie version of this book was made in 1962: Therese (1962) with Emmanuelle Riva and Philippe Noiret.

A new version was made in 2012: Thérèse (2012) with Audrey Tautou and Gilles Lellouche.

Roger Brunyate

Crime and…?

In 1906, in Mauriac's home town of Bordeaux, a young woman named Blanche Canaby was put on trial for attempting to poison her husband, but found guilty only of a lesser charge. Two decades later, Mauriac used the case as inspiration for his most famous novel, Thérèse Desqueyroux. Not only that, he would return to the character in four later novels. Why this fascination with an obscure criminal? Why this most unusual crime story, steeped in noir atmosphere (a night journey to the isolated pine forests on the SW French coast), but beginning where most crime novels leave off: with the release of the accused from jail?

Mauriac was a devout Catholic, and there is evidence that he provisionally entitled this Conscience, the Divine Instinct, making the entire book a confession to a priest. If so, he would have been pursuing the particular Catholic paradox whereby even the most terrible sinners can be brought in the end to God's grace, much as Graham Greene was to do in such books as Brighton Rock. But no; Thérèse remains essentially agnostic, and our one glimpse of the local priest shows him virtually useless in his pastoral role. Yet traces of the original design remain. The author, who addresses his protagonist directly in the prologue and on and off throughout the book, talks of his hope that she will one day be brought to God. And Thérèse herself, in her long journey from the jail back into the care of her husband, rehearses the confession she will make to him, in much the same manner and with the same hope of absolution as if she were performing the sacrament in church.

The imagined confession admirably serves the novelist's need for exposition. Beginning as it does with the proclamation of "non-lieu" (insufficient grounds), the withdrawal of the case because of the husband's refusal to pursue it, the reader has a lot of back-story to catch up, and indeed we are two-thirds of the way through the book before Thérèse returns home to Bernard Desqueyroux and the action can move forward. We hear of her growing up motherless in the great pine forest that she will one day inherit, her close friendship with her younger neighbor Anne de la Trave, and the virtual inevitability of her marriage to Anne's half-brother Bernard, owner of the adjacent property, a marriage largely to give her a settled status.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Mauriac's treatment is his refusal to load the dice. Bernard is a man of little imagination, interested only in business and hunting, but no monster. He can be thoughtless in bed and certainly cold, but he is not brutal. Mauriac was conscious of the example of Flaubert before him, but Thérèse is no Emma Bovary. Although she is jealous when Anne de la Trave falls into passionate love with a young man who has recently come into the district, she does not seek other lovers. Indeed, as with several other Mauriac books, I picked up hints of homosexual attraction, and wondered whether she could be satisfied in marriage at all.

Although Thérèse is referred to once or twice as a monster, she is not portrayed as one either. But nor is she entirely sympathetic. She is a chain-smoker, self-centered, and an indifferent mother. But yes, she is trapped in a marriage that takes away her freedom without giving her anything in return, a situation that will become blindingly obvious when she returns to Bernard. There is almost a unique trajectory to this novel. Thérèse's mental confession does indeed have the effect of making her crime seem less heinous, but there is no absolution. Bernard's deposition at the beginning of the book may have released his wife from jail, but it was made for the sake of the family only, it is not forgiveness. This is Crime and… what? Punishment, but of what kind? Redemption? Hardly. Whatever Mauriac's original intention, his characters take their own course into a cold purgatory of their own making. No wonder he felt the need to return to Thérèse again and again.


"One can make the most contrary judgements about the same person, and yet be right- that it is all a question of the way the light falls and that no one form of light is more revealing than another."

This novel may be a foreign country to a male reader (despite the fact it was written by a man!) because it describes the servitude of women who, throughout history, have ached and desired and cried in silence for freedom. I, as a fellow woman, pity Theresa when she attempts to poison her husband by degrees- what a gentle form of death she chose! for it would be the same death by inches she herself would experience throughout her miserable life. In our blind pity for her, we become complicit in her murder of the Male.
But Theresa, having seemingly freed herself from one prison, enters another, one harder to leave than Alcatraz. For the prison she enters in Paris is one of countless, nameless crimes below the radar of the law but nonetheless as lethal. She needs the Male to define her, fulfill her silence; it is as if she unconsciously seeks to murder all men to compensate for the life she never could take, that of her husband.
When Marie enters into her life unexpectedly, she does not spare her daughter's lover and his strange friend Mondoux. She envies her daughter and in her wild imagination entertains her forbidden love with Georges. She reverts to childhood, falls victim to heart problems exacerbated by paranoia and suspicion. At the end, she doesn't seek the hand of her daughter but that of her nurse-child Anna. Or is she merely interested in keeping her around for her chauffeur boyfriend? One wonders when the chase will be over? Theresa craves the end of life and the end of night but if given the chance, we feel that she would leave the chaffeur no less enchanted. Her power, that ageless feminine mystique, is shown to be subversive and we modern readers might call attention to Mauriac's misogynistic portrayal of women but upon deeper inspection, Mauriac has found us out, we men murderers.

Eddie Watkins

Compassionate disgust. That’s how I’d sum up Mauriac’s view of humanity, or rather not of humanity but of the flesh of which humanity is composed. But this “flesh” extends beyond the actual flesh into all the background, all the buried impulses and motivations that lurk within our lives, leading our flesh into situations and traps, leaving it stranded and suffering and vying for an out, or at least a moment of tainted pleasure. The receptacle for this compassionate disgust in this volume is Therese Desqueyroux. Almost unconsciously, through no will of her own, she slowly and systematically poisons her husband, is exonerated with the help of her husband, and then is forced into exile from her family in Paris, where she continues to almost unconsciously, through no will of her own to wreak havoc in others’ lives, even though those others often welcome it, not as masochists exactly, but rather because she offers them a view into life’s depths of which they were previously unfamiliar. Each day offers new age-old traps so one must step lightly through life, but then again what’s the use? Flesh is tainted, and the only untainted pleasures are the pleasures of childhood. I suppose this is where his Christianity steps in, though that’s left out of the novels and sketches in this volume. Any kind of salvation is implied, existing outside of literature, outside of fleshy life itself. Here the flesh is left to fend for itself, and Mauriac makes us care for that flesh.


François Mauriac begins Thérèse Desqueyroux with her criminal case being dismissed. Accused of poisoning her husband, Thérèse, is acquitted by Bernard’s own felonious testimony only to become victim herself of a virtual house arrest as much for propriety’s sake as punitive vengeance. The family has closed ranks to hide the dirty secret of her guilt, determined Thérèse will remain captive in one room for the remainder of her life. And yet it’s Thérèse’s ambivalence about the crime which confounds her as well as us, the readers, as to the extent of her actual guilt, premeditation and remorse. She certainly seems to have committed this unspeakable atrocity, but how much did she actually plan her actions before she carried them out and how much did she just let things happen? We struggle to understand Thérèse as she struggles to know herself. Thérèse’s inner grappling have an eerie familiarity. Watching our heroine there is a sense a feeling of déjà vu. Her introspective efforts reminded me of similar self-examinations of conscience. Culpability is universal; ‘all have sinned’. Thérèse—through her criminal act—becomes scape goat for the collective weight of her accusers’ guilt. Her appeal as a character is her willingness to accept responsibility for her crime and yet still long for love, however little she expects to find it.

Mauriac has surrounded Thérèse with the deeply flawed not to mention mostly hostile and yet we know Thérèse herself to be far from ideal. Often we’re not sure who to sympathize with. Again this seemed familiar. How often we are in a quandary, caught among the many forces and choices—unsure which is more or less evil, more or less good, but all is opaque. And just when we seem to be on the verge of a discovery or decision, the scene changes and the discernment process begins again. I found myself moved again and again by Thérèse, especially as/when she was at her most introspective. Her mistakes and her pain only endeared her to me all the more.

Thérèse Desqueyroux is the first and the most famous of François Mauriac’s stories about the dark woman, but there are three sequels. Thérèse and the Doctor and Thérèse at the Hotel are both short stories, vignettes if you will. They give us glimpses of Thérèse from the time she is released to Paris from her house arrest until near the end of her life.

The End of the Line is the final story in the quartet known as Thérèse and it is my personal favorite. Here many earlier threads of Thérèse’s life come together and Mauriac reveals the true character of our heroine for all who can see, delivering a very satisfying, yet not unbelievable or saccharine ending.


Thérèse Desqueyroux brings to mind perhaps the most dangerous word encountered in a relationship ... contempt, for it seems this thought defies both prevention and cure and, worse, is terminal. Thérèse and Bernard never experienced the transitory, foolish joy first present in most marriages; no, it was sour from the start. Contempt soon followed, with dark consequence. I sensed at least some morsel of hope for Thérèse in the end. I wonder, is it not hope that propels us with hidden purpose and renewable, though perplexing, energy? And when hope fails?