I want to lace together snippets of François Mauriac’s 1953 interview in the Paris Review, specifically where he’s talking about the novel. I lived unaware of Mauriac until I read Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save the World. His best books I can’t even buy at Powell’s. He was highly influential for many of America’s esteemed writers.
My opinion hasn’t changed. I believe that my younger fellow novelists are greatly preoccupied with technique. They seem to think a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside. In fact, however, this preoccupation hampers them and embarrasses them in their creation. The great novelist doesn’t depend on anyone but himself. Proust resembled none of his predecessors and he did not have, he could not have, any successors. The great novelist breaks his mold; he alone can use it. Balzac created the “Balzacian” novel; its style was suitable only for Balzac.
There is a close tie between a novelist’s originality in general and the personal quality of his style. A borrowed style is a bad style. American novelists from Faulkner to Hemingway invented a style to express what they wanted to say—and it is a style that can’t be passed on to their followers…
I believe that the crisis of the novel, if it exists, is right there, essentially, in the domain of technique. The novel has lost its purpose. That is the most serious difficulty, and it is from there that we must begin. The younger generation believes, after Joyce and Proust, that it has discovered the “purpose” of the old novel to have been prefabricated and unrelated to reality…
The crisis of the novel, then, is metaphysical. The generation that preceded ours was no longer Christian, but it believed in the individual, which comes to the same thing as believing in the soul. What each of us understands by the word soul is different; but in any case it is the fixed point around which the individual is constructed.
Faith in God was lost for many, but not the values this faith postulates. The good was not bad, and the bad was not good. The collapse of the novel is due to the destruction of this fundamental concept: the awareness of good and evil. The language itself has been devalued and emptied of its meaning by this attack on conscience.
Observe that for the novelist who has remained Christian, like myself, man is someone creating himself or destroying himself. He is not an immobile being, fixed, cast in a mold once and for all. This is what makes the traditional psychological novel so different from what I did or thought I was doing. The human being as I conceive him in the novel is a being caught up in the drama of salvation, even if he doesn’t know it.