Short summary - The Knot of Vipers - Vipers' Tangle - François Mauriac

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Knot of Vipers - Vipers' Tangle
François Mauriac

On a wealthy estate, Callez is slowly dying of angina pectoris by his sixty-eight-year-old owner, a formerly successful lawyer. His family is eagerly awaiting its end. He himself writes about this in a diary letter, which he addresses to his wife and in which he sums up his life.

As a child, he imagines himself a "gloomy fellow" who lacked what is called the "freshness of youth." However, he was proud and proud. And therefore, not possessing charm, he worked hard to achieve the title of the first student wherever he had to study. The mother, who raised him alone, doted on Louis in her. His relationship with the rest of humanity was more complicated. Proud and at the same time vulnerable, he acted like this: "I was deliberately in a hurry not to please, fearing that it would come of itself."

And now, when he was twenty-three, a young girl from a wealthy bourgeois family fell in love with him. And he loved her. The hero was shocked that "he can like, captivate, excite a girl's heart." "You once saved me from hell ..." - he confesses to his wife in his diary. And then came five decades of "great silence ...".

The hero tries to understand how from the happiest lover he turned into an evil old man with a ball of snakes in his heart. To himself, he is also merciless in his diary.

The newlyweds loved in the evening, lying in bed, "whispering" about how the day had passed, or indulge in memories ... And in one of these moments of special emotional closeness, his wife, his dear Izya, admitted that she already had a fiancé, Rudolph ... But, having learned that her two brothers died of consumption, under the pressure of the family, he refused to marry. And her parents were terribly afraid that rumors would spread about the illness in the family and Izya would not be married at all. Not noticing the state of Louis, she continues to make her completely innocent confessions. It turns out that Rudolph was "handsome, charming, liked by women." And my husband from these confessions "his heart was breaking with torment ...".

So, everything was a lie and deception, it means that they did not love him, as he imagined, but he just turned up on the arm at the right moment.

His wife, without knowing it, plunged him into "hell."

However, alienation did not immediately turn into hatred. One case confirmed the complete indifference of his wife to him. Louis was a wonderful lawyer. And once in court he acted as a defender in the case of the Vilnav family. The wife took the blame for the attempt on her husband's life, which was actually committed by the son. She did this not only for the sake of her son, but also because it was the child of her beloved husband, and he asked her to take the blame upon herself. Such love and such selflessness could not but shake the hero. He did a great defense. In connection with this case, all the newspapers wrote about him, his portraits were placed on the front pages - and only at home no one congratulated him, no one asked about anything ...

So gradually alienation arises in the family more and more. In his diary, he calls himself a lover of money, believing that he inherited this trait from his peasant mother. It seemed to him that only with the help of a wallet he could manage a family. “Gold attracts you, but it protects me,” he writes in his diary, mentally goes over the options for dividing the inheritance and revels in the imaginary reaction of his children and wife. His wife is afraid of him, children are afraid and hate. The hero reproaches his wife for the fact that she completely went into caring for children, then about grandchildren, excluding him from life, without trying to understand him. For her and her children, he is only a source of well-being. The wife considers herself a believer - she and her children sacredly observe all religious holidays, go to church. But when her husband deliberately provokes her into religious disputes, it is revealed how superficial this belief is, how little it corresponds to the real life of his wife and children. There is no real Christian love and humility in herself or in her children; it all comes down to caring for money.

The hero tries to find contact with the children, but only one - the youngest of Marie's daughters “with her childish affection” touches his heart. But she dies due to the ignorance of the doctor. The hero takes this loss hard. He always remembers her warmly, and this helps him survive among the wolf pack, which he sees as his own family. And the hero recalls another affection - to Luke, the nephew he adopted, because his mother, his wife's sister, died. He fell in love with the boy because he was “so different” from him. Sincere, open, cheerful and direct, he was completely devoid of the love of money that oppresses the hero in himself and his children, he alone did not look at him, "like a scarecrow." But Luke dies in the war.

Abbot Hardouin lives in the family of Louis - he understands the soul of the hero, speaks simple words that shock him, accustomed to the callousness of his family. These words: "You are kind." And they turn him away from an unjust act and make him see another person in himself.

The hero, in order to somehow drown out the pain, to take revenge on his wife, embarked on "all serious", not looking for love, but avenging her for deceit. He also had a long romance, from which a son was born, but that woman left for Paris, unable to bear the hero's despotism.

All this worries children who do not know how he will dispose of the inheritance. And one evening they gather in the garden and discuss how to make it happen to declare the father crazy. The hero is furious. Here is a real ball of snakes. His own children are capable of such treachery! And he decides to go to Paris in the morning in order to transfer all his huge fortune to his illegitimate son. Before leaving, he had a conversation with his wife, which was destined to be the last. From it, the hero realizes with surprise that his wife suffered because of him and, perhaps, even loved. “I did not dare to put a single child with me in bed at night - I was waiting for you to come ...” Hope dawned. But he still leaves for Paris. There he accidentally sees his son Hubert and son-in-law Alfred, who tracked him down and came to prevent him from carrying out his plans. He late learns about the death of his wife and only has time for her funeral. She never had time to explain herself, she would never read his diary. "Now nothing can be rebuilt anew <...> she died without knowing that I was not only a monster and an executioner, but that another person lived in me."

There is a difficult explanation with the children - the son of Hubert and the daughter of Genevieve. The hero explains that he feels all the time, "like a seriously ill old man against a whole pack of young wolves ...". They justify themselves by saying that their behavior was "legitimate self-defense."

And all that was good in him, suddenly forced him to make a decision - to give the children all the multimillion-dollar inheritance, stipulating the rent to the illegitimate son.

"I tore out of my soul what I thought I was deeply attached to ... However, I experienced only relief, a purely physical feeling of relief: it was easier for me to breathe."

Reflecting on this, the hero exclaims: “All my life I was a prisoner of passions that did not really possess me! Think wake up at sixty-eight! Reborn before death! "

And yet, he learns joy and peace with his granddaughter Yanina, from whom Fili's unlucky, empty, but beloved husband escaped and who, together with her daughter, finds shelter with her grandfather, And when the great-granddaughter climbed into his lap and he clung to her soft like fluff to her hair, to her cheeks, peace visited him. Remembering Marie, Luc, Abbot Arduin, he accepted faith in his heart, realized that his family was just a "caricature of the Christian life." He defeated his own tangle of snakes.

The novel ends with two letters: Hubert to Genevieve, in which he informs about the death of his father and about the strange notes that his father left, the inner meaning of which he did not understand, and Janina to Huber, in which she asks permission to read her grandfather's diary, which in fact brought her back to life.

It seems that she was the only one from the family who understood the proud, restless soul of her grandfather: “I consider him to be right in front of us, because where our treasures were, there was our heart - we thought only about the inheritance, which we were afraid to lose <...> All the strength of the soul we were aspiring to possessing material goods, while grandfather <...> Will you understand me if I say that his heart was not where his treasures were <...> He was the most religious of us ... "