‘The world must be touched at its heart’

Just back from a trip to France. En route I read Francois Mauriac’s brilliant Le Noeud de Viperes (‘Knot of Vipers’). A few brief extracts:

I felt, I saw, I had it in my hands – that crime of mine. It did not consist entirely in that hideous nest of vipers – hatred of my children, desire for revenge, love of money; but also in my refusal to seek beyond those entangled vipers. I had held fast to that loathsome tangle as though it were my very heart – as though the beatings of that heart had merged into those writhing reptiles.

It had not been enough for me, throughout half a century, to recognise nothing in myself except that which was not I. I had done the same thing in the case of other people. Those miserable greeds visible in my children’s faced had fascinated me. Robert’s stupidity had been what struck me about him, and I had confined myself to that superficial feature. Never had the appearance of other people presented itself to me as something that must be broken through, something that must be penetrated, before one could reach them.

In fact, nobody goes through life with his face uncovered – nobody at all. Most people ape highmindedness, nobility. Unknown to themselves, they are conforming to types, literary or otherwise. The saints know this: they hate and despise themselves because they see themselves as they really are.


If I were younger, the lines would be less marked, the habits less deeply rooted; but I doubt whether, even in my youth, I could have broken the spell of this enchantment. One needed some strength, I said to myself. What kind of strength? Someone.

Yes, Someone in Whom we are all one. Who would be the guarantor of my victory over myself, in the eyes of my family; Someone Who would bear witness  for me, Who would have relieved me of my foul burden, Who would have assumed it…

Even the elect do not learn to love all by themselves. To get beyond the absurdities, the failings, and above all the stupidity of people, one must possess a secret of love which the world has forgotten. So long as this secret is not rediscovered, you will change human conditions in vain.

I thought that it was selfishness which made me aloof from everything that concerns the economic and the social; and it is true that I was a monster of solitude and indifference; but there was also in me a feeling, an obscure certitude, that all this serves for nothing to revolutionise the face of the world. The world must be touched at its heart. I seek Him Who alone can achieve that victory; and He must Himself be the Heart of hearts, the burning centre of all love.


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