Through the Past Darkly
History and Memory in Francois Mauriac's Bloc-notes
Widely renowned as the 1952 Nobel Prize winning author of novels depicting stark yet searing clashes of passion, possession, society, and spirituality within the Catholic bourgeoisie of the Bordeaux region, François Mauriac is now gaining long overdue recognition as France's premier editorialist of the 1950s and 1960s. This book, the first English-language study of Mauriac's Bloc-notes, presents these poignant, incisive editorials on social justice, war, and human rights in postwar France as both symptomatic of a culture imbued with the past and emblematic of a Christian humanist's ethical approach to history and memory.
François Mauriac lived history past and present most intensely. Filtering his perception of decolonization in general and the Algerian war in particular through the tumultuous episodes of the Crusades, the religious wars, the French Revolution, the Dreyfus affair, and the German Occupation, he delivered the earliest and most stinging indictments of torture and oppression in the Algerian war.
Through the Past Darkly explains how Mauriac returns to the momentous figures and events of history neither to sacralize France's past nor to justify its present but rather to narrate the ongoing story of history as the universal human drama engaging the political integrity of the French Republic as well as the moral responsibility of each person. At the same time, the Bloc-notes constitutes a "place of memory," a deliberate crystallization of the past aimed at rescuing the pathos of public and private experience from oblivion. Mauriac, argues Nathan Bracher, articulated a distinctive approach to history: in contrast to de Gaulle's nationalist epic and Sartre's commitment to the dialectics of class struggle, its lucid, uncompromising assessments of French society and politics have withstood the test of time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nathan Bracher is Associate Professor of French at Texas A & M University. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and the translator of Jews in France during World War II by Renée Poznanski.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK:
"This study fills a gap by offering a critical reading of the Bloc-notes, Mauriac's informed, intense, eloquent, and courageous commentary on French history in the making and its relation to the past. There is no comparable treatment of the subject in either French or English."— Jean-Pierre Cauvin, University of Texas
"Mauriac's status as one of the most distinguished French novelists of the 20th century is secure, but in recent years Mauriac's political writings, concentrated for the most part in his newspaper column 'Bloc-Notes,' have also become the object of academic study. Stressing Mauriac's consciousness of his own immersion in the flow of French history and politics, Bracher chronicles Mauriac's migration from the traditional Catholic right of his birth and upbringing to the progressive left. He describes Mauriac's strong support of Jews and Jewish causes, motivated by the injustice he believed had been done to Dreyfus, and shows how Mauriac courageously supported the independence movements in France's former colonies, especially Algeria, in the postwar years. Mauriac emerges in these pages as a man of honor and integrity. Highly recommended."—D. O'Connell, Choice
"Nathan Bracher has done us the signal service of restoring Mauriac to the place of honor he deserves by an incisive and sympathetic study of the editorials Mauriac published as Bloc-notes during those two decades."—Bernard Doering, Christianity and Literature
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