Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

29 Sept 2011

(Short Story) A Man of Letters by: Francois Mauriac

(Reaction) Loving an Artist Against Type by: Antonio Conejos

Mauriac's A Man of Letters details how love is riven by contradictions. First there is Gabrielle who drives her lover away by precisely doing all the things which are pleasing to him. You were free... I left you quite free, implores Gabrielle to Jerome. Yet he claims he never wanted such freedom, But we create only under constraint.... You poisoned me in an atmosphere of what you call 'beauty'.

Then there is the lover himself, Jerome, who leaves Gabrielle for a woman who gets on his nerves even more than I [Gabrielle] did. As the short story progresses another contradiction appears. It seems Gabrielle and Jerome cant only express their lover by hurting each other.

Even as he leaves her, Jerome still yearns to be with Gabrielle, so much so that he admits to her, 'You alone Gabrielle,' and pressed my hand against his brows and eyes. The misery of the lovers then is self imposed, each contributes to the manufactured anguish both revel in.

The narrator notes how the lovers take pride in this masochism of sadness which they inflect on themselves, He's a dramatist, is your Jerome. He dramatizes everything. Do you suppose that people have not long ago found us out? Literature is full of lepers who stand by the roadside and cry, 'Look at my fine sores!'

Jerome in turn says the same thing about Gabrielle: You, Gabrielle, you like to smart. You hate not being in pain.

The intricacies of this messy love affair are blamed on the fact that Jerome is a writer, domestic life is slow poison to a man of letters... The faithful heart that beats beside an artist fidgets him by its very beat. Both Jerome and Gabrielle blame the necessity of inflicting pain to demonstrate love as an inescapable facet of being in a relationship with an artist.

Indeed, in the end Jerome affirms this stereotype of an artist in search of a muse by admitting to the narrator that this is the only way that he can find inspiration. However both Gabrielle and Jerome go through their motions of inflicting pain and calling it love not because it is necessary but because this is how they conceive how loving an artist should be.

Both characters go on and on about the pitfalls of loving an artist. Ironically though, while art is against pretension and stereotype, the characters who claim to value art fall into art's anathema: a relationship which is a caricature, one built up not on how they wish to love but how they think society expects love to be expressed.


This short story is filled with paragraph long lines of dialogue masquerading as plot. This exposition certainly lays bare the workings of the characters but all the telling instead of showing gets tiresome and tedious quickly. Mauriac's writing reminded me of Anatole France's style which I have already previously stated I have difficulty cottoning to.

Moreover, the principal characters of A Man of Letters weary the soul with their self imposed problems. Essentially they make a mess of their life, pretend to be miserable about it but secretly take perverse joy in shouting their misshapen tale of drama to anyone who will listen. This joyous fixation on wailing is in turn perversely enjoyed by the narrator, ...I should pretend to change the subject, if only for the pleasure of seeing the young woman seize upon anything I said that would help her return to her anguish.

Certainly you met people like this all the time in real life: those who create their own drama and then claim they're sick of all the drama and intrigue and high emotion while secretly revelling in it. I try to avoid these kinds of people, both in real life and in fiction.

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