The River of Fire
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By François Mauriac
“We do not know what we desire: we do not love those whom we think we love.” This musing from the lips of Mauriac’s protagonist in Vipers’ Tangle might well sum up the entirety of his fictional works, but particularly his 1922 novel The River of Fire. Daniel Trasis finds sanctuary from his troublesome Parisian mistress at a hotel in the French countryside. There he encounters the seductively innocent Gisèle de Plailly and her forbidding companion, Lucile de Villeron. Amid his budding relationship with Gisèle, Daniel is afflicted with warring obsessions with purity and lust, frustrated all the while by memories of his promiscuous past.
“The River of Fire is within us. It was in Gisèle now, with the wounds of love’s caresses still a living memory, more burning hot than physical scars; a poisoned memory.”
Planting the seeds of characters and themes that will come to full flower in his later, and highly regarded, The Desert of Love, Mauriac crafts in The River of Fire a suspenseful drama wherein the gloom of sin can yet be a “darkness in which the faithful can hear and see their Savior.”