Mauriac was reportedly one of Flannery O’Connor’s favorite authors. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1952 and he is supposed to be one of the greatest Catholic novelists of all time.
Francois Mauriac (1885 - 1970)
The novel I just finished, Viper’s Tangle (1932), is the story of a miserly old lawyer, Louis. Nearing the end of his life (at the ancient age of 68!) Louis begins writing a letter to his wife to explain why he hates her and their children and does not intend to leave them any of his vast fortune.
Over the course of this confession, we find out that Louis moved into a separate bedroom and stopped loving his wife over thirty years ago because she admitted to him that she had once loved another man. Convinced that his wife, Isa, could only have married him for his money, Louis becomes a hateful miser. When a beloved daughter is sick, Louis refuses to allow a specialist to be called because it will cost too much. The daughter dies.
All through his life, Louis has attacked Isa’s conventional Catholic religious beliefs. Although he allows a seminarian to come in as tutor to the children, throughout his life he ridicules Catholic faith and morals. On Fridays and other fast days, he insists on eating a steak cutlet in front of the rest of the family who are fasting from meat.
Through the years, Louis has been unfaithful to Isa and has had many mistresses and has even fathered a bastard son with one of his former criminal clients. While Louis is away in Paris trying to make arrangements to give his entire vast fortune to Robert the illegitimate son so that his own children and grandchildren will not get it, Isa has a stroke and dies. After Isa’s death, Louis gives his entire fortune over to his children and finds that he is much happier.
Although Louis was a spiteful and hateful man for most of his life, we see that he was the happiest when he allowed himself to love others. The death of little Marie, who offered her death to God for her father’s conversion, devastated Louis. Louis also loved his sister in law and, Luc, the son she died in childbirth having. When Luc came home from leave from the First World War, Louis tried to give him a large amount of gold coins. Luc refuses saying there is nothing he can do with them at the front. Luc is reported missing in action and dies in the war. All of Louis’ vast fortune can do nothing to save those he loves from death.
In the end, Louis loved Isa deeply and we see that the hate he harbored for her all those years was really a kind of affection. After her death, Louis finds fragments of letters which Isa tried to burn which she exchanged with a priest asking how to forgive Louis.
Louis says that the “tangle of vipers” is his heart. But the “tangle of vipers” is probably also the greedy children and grandchildren who are only interested in Louis’ money. The “tangle of vipers” is sin on all its many levels. In the end, Divine Grace breaks through to Louis and he is able to see that God’s Grace was there all the time if only he had let it in.