In 1937, French author Roger Martin du Gard
was awarded the Literature Nobel Prize for "The Thibaults
." Written between 1922 and 1929, this 800-page chronicle of a Parisian family is a rewarding work for readers interested primarily in psychological motivations of complex, life-like characters.
The book consists of six novels of varying length, although reading the novels out of sequence may result in a lack of overall clarity. The setting of the first novel is 1898, while the last novel concludes in 1913.
The panaoramic novels of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky were the main literary influences on du Gard's writings. Like those famous Russian authors, du Gard applied objectivity to produce incorruptible realism.
Of course, well-developed characters are integral to "The Tibaults." And, I have rarely witnessed such a wealth of information, offering insights into the characters' minds. Du Gard begins his voluminous tale by introducing the reader to two of the three central characters: Oscar and Jacques Thibault, father and son. As the story progresses, a son named Antoine complements the triad. Each of these dynamic characters distinct values, which generate conflict within and without the family. Again, this work is a deep study of human behavior.
Oscar Thibault is a widowed lawyer, a strict disciplinarian, seemingly incapable of demonstrating tender emotions. Behind his piety looms the desire to rule, to be admired, and to be respected. Owing to his allegiance to Catholicism, he is intolerant of Protestants, and faith is a fraction of the source of the first conflict with Jacques. Oscar's autocratic demeanor instills in Jacques a surge of rebellion that he soon projects to the society that his father represents.
Jacques, a mediocre but creative student, desires to protest against the rules set by his milieu, and his father punishes him in a way that may shock the reader. The punishment causes a rift between father and son, and the boy's soul has been scarred for life. Further, reconciliation is thwarted by one attribute, common to all Thibaults: pride.
Antoine, Oscar's oldest son, is the most sympathetic character. Antoine, a physician, is the most introspective individual in the book. With his inner soliloquies, he has profound insights. He is a disciple of rationalism, but he is not immune to suffering from situations and events beyond his understanding. His personality exudes a deep warmth. Antoine's idiosyncracies only add to the charm of his personality. And, one of the most endearing episodes of "The Thibaults
" is the one that details Antoine's first great love--both wonderful and tragic.
Bibliophiles will discover that "The Thibaults
lacks boredom and produces joyous commitment to the pages. After 800 pages, I craved more.