The Desert of Love
The Desert of Love was originally published in France in 1925 as Le Desert de l’Amour, appearing in English translation by Gerard Hopkins in 1949 in an edition by Eyre & Spottiswoode, and then again by Methuen in 1984. The novel revolves around three main characters, Dr Courreges, his son Raymond, and one of the doctor’s patients; Maria Cross, Maria is the object of the Doctor’s desire, a past relationship of sorts between the two is sometimes mentioned but the details of it remain unclear, as the novel progresses it’s revealed that Madame Courreges knew that her husband knew Maria Cross but she is also unaware to the depth of their relationship. Maria Cross is presented as a woman ravaged by loneliness almost to the point of hysteria, at the start of the novel she is in a distant relationship with Victor Larousselle who pays for her keep and this relationship grows throughout the book, but it appears as a somewhat loveless one. The narrative of the novel turns to that of Raymond and his desolate relationship with his family, in his late teenage he is rarely at home, often staying away for long periods at a time, riding the tram his attentions begin to fixate on another regular traveller that he sees, an older woman, who through Bertrand Larousselle, (Victor’s young son), Raymond learns is Maria Cross, Maria visits the grave of her son Francois at the church of Talence. Maria and Raymond set a date for a meeting but Maria slightly panicked at what she’s doing writes to cancel the meeting but nonetheless Raymond turns up, Maria plays down the importance of the meeting in an attempt to prevent anything happening, and to pacify Raymond. The Desert of Love is an incredibly controlled exploration of desire, both declared and undeclared, which also explores in the background the relationship between Dr Courreges and his wife. Mauriac avoids choosing the path of setting Father against son in a battle for Maria, the culmination of the three’s passions veers into three differing paths, which in a certain light and degree restores the characters to their former selves at the start of the novel.
What a dreary life he’d lead! But would a course of debauchery have freed him from his passion? – that was the question. Everything serves as fuel for passion: abstinence sharpens it. It terrifies and fascinates. But if we yield, our cowardice is never abject enough to satisfy its exigence. It is a frantic and a horrible obsession. He should have asked his father how on earth he managed to live with the cancer gnawing at his vitals…Of what use is a virtuous existence? What way of escape can it provide? What power has God over passion?