French novelist. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1933 and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952.
Mauriac was born in Bordeaux, the setting for many of his novels, into a pious family of the upper middle classes. His strict Catholic upbringing had a marked effect on his literary works, the first of which was a collection of poems, Les Mains jointes (1909). In his early novels Mauriac began to develop the themes that were to recur throughout his works of fiction: the conflict between religion and passion, the problems of human relationships, and the narrowness and oppression of life in the provinces. He made his name with Le Baiser au lépreux (1922; translated as The Kiss to the Leper, 1923) a study of marital incompatibility and unsatisfied yearning for love. This was followed by Génitrix (1923), which centres on a mother's possessive love, and Le Désert de l'amour (1925; translated as The Desert of Love, 1949), awarded the Grand Prix du Roman of the Académie Française. Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927; translated in 1928), in which the young heroine, stifled by provincial life, finds herself driven to poison her husband, and Le Noeud de vipères (1932; translated as Viper's Tangle, 1933), a tale of avarice and family conflict, are generally considered to be Mauriac's finest novels. Later works of fiction include Le Mystère Frontenac (1933; translated as The Frontenac Mystery, 1951), which paints a somewhat rosier picture of family life in the provinces, and La Pharisienne (1941; translated as A Woman of the Pharisees, 1946).
Mauriac also wrote for the theatre, his most notable play being Asmodée (1938). Later plays, such as Les Mals Aimés (1945) and Passage du Malin (1948) were less successful. Events of the 1930s prompted him to polemical writings; he condemned totalitarianism and fascism, worked with the Resistance movement in World War II, writing under the clandestine pseudonym ‘Forez’, and openly supported General de Gaulle in the early 1960s. Sensitive to criticism, he justified his moral attitudes and literary intentions in such studies as Dieu et Mammon (1929) and Le Romancier et ses personnages (1933). Further insight into his methods, values, and political views may be gleaned from his Journal (1934–51) and Mémoires (1959–67). His Bloc-Notes (1958–71) are collections of journalistic articles written for Le Figaro and L'Express.