Short summary - The Thibaults - Roger Martin du Gard

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Thibaults
Roger Martin du Gard

The beginning of the XX century. A tender friendship binds two classmates - Jacques Thibault and Daniel de Fontanen. The opening of a correspondence between the boys by one of the teachers leads to a tragedy. Offended in the best feelings by his school mentors, who rudely took possession of his cherished "gray notebook" and vilely interpreted his friendship with Daniel, Jacques and his friend decide to run away from home. In Marseille, they try in vain to board the ship, then decide to get to Toulon on foot, but they are detained and sent home. Daniel's departure shocked his little sister Jenny, and she falls seriously ill. Jerome de Fontanin, the father of Daniel and Jenny, left the family and appears there extremely rarely. Madame de Fontanin, an intelligent woman, full of nobility and dedication, is forced to constantly lie to her children, explaining the absence of her father. Jenny's recovery and Daniel's return brought happiness back to the house.
Things are different in the Thibault family. Jacques hates and fears his father - an old despot, selfish and cruel. The father treats his youngest son like a criminal. The success of Antoine's eldest son, a medical student, flatters his ambition. He decides to send Jacques to Cruy, to the correctional colony he founded for boys. Antoine is outraged by his father's cruelty, but he fails to persuade him to reverse his decision.
Several months pass. Antoine is worried about the fate of Jacques. Unbeknownst to his father, he goes to Krui and conducts an investigation in the penal colony. With outward well-being, everything that he sees there, and first of all, Jacques himself, causes in him a vague feeling of anxiety. This rebel became too educated, obedient, indifferent. During the walk, Antoine tries to win the trust of his younger brother, and although Jacques at first keeps silent, but later, crying, tells everything - about complete loneliness, about constant surveillance, about absolute idleness, from which he becomes dull and degrades. He does not complain about anything and does not blame anyone. But Antoine begins to understand that the unfortunate child lives in constant fear. Now Jacques does not even seek to run away, let alone return home: here he is at least free from his family. The only thing he wants is to be left in the state of indifference into which he fell. Returning to Paris, Antoine vigorously explains with his father, demands that the punishment be canceled. Monsieur Thibault remains unforgiving. Abbot Vekar, the elder Thibault's confessor, achieves the release of Jacques, only by threatening the old man with the torments of hell.
Jacques settles in with his older brother, who has already received a medical degree, In a small apartment on the first floor of his father's house. He renews his relationship with Daniel. Antoine, believing that the ban on friendship imposed by their father, is unfair and ridiculous, he himself accompanies him to the Fontanens. Jenny Jacques doesn't like it - unconditionally and at first sight. She cannot forgive him the evil that he has done to them. Jealous of her brother, she is almost glad that Jacques is so unattractive.
A few more months pass. Jacques enters Ecole Normal. Daniel paints, edits an art magazine and enjoys the joys of life.
Antoine is called to the bedside of the girl crushed by the van. Acting quickly and decisively, he operates it at home, on the dinner table. The merciless struggle he wages with death for this child is universally admirable. Rachel's neighbor, who helped him during the operation, becomes his mistress. Thanks to her, Antoine frees himself from inner constraint, becomes himself.
At the dacha, in Maison-Laffitte, Jenny gradually, almost against her will, changes her mind about Jacques. She sees Jacques kissing her shadow, thereby confessing his love. Jenny is confused, she cannot understand her feelings, denies her love for Jacques.
Rachel leaves Antoine and goes to Africa, to her former lover Hirsch, a vicious, dangerous man who has mystical power over her.
Several years pass. Antoine is a well-known and successful physician. He has a lot of practice - his visiting day is filled to overflowing.
Antoine visits his sick father. From the very beginning of the disease, he had no doubts about its lethal outcome. He is attracted to him by the pupil of Father Zhiz, whom he and Jacques are accustomed to consider as their sister. Antoine tries to explain to her, but she refuses to talk. Giz loves Jacques. After his disappearance three years ago, she alone did not believe in his death. Antoine thinks a lot about his profession, about life and death, about the meaning of being. At the same time, he does not deny himself the joys and pleasures of life.
Monsieur Thibault suspects the truth, but, comforted by Antoine, enacts a scene of an edifying death. Antoine receives a letter addressed to his younger brother. The fact that Jacques is alive does not surprise Antoine too much. He wants to find him and bring him to his dying father. Antoine reads the short story "Sister", written by Jacques and published in a Swiss magazine, attacks the trail of his younger brother. Jacques, after three years of wanderings and ordeals, lives in Switzerland. He is engaged in journalism, writing stories.
Antoine finds his brother in Lausanne. Jacques violently rebelled against his older brother's intrusion into his new life. Nevertheless, he agrees to go home with him.
Monsieur Thibault realizes that his days are numbered. Antoine and Jacques arrive in Paris, but their father is already unconscious. His death shocks Antoine. Sorting through the papers of the deceased, he longingly realizes that, despite his majestic appearance, he was an unhappy man and that, although this man was his father, he did not know him at all. Zhiz comes to Jacques, but during the conversation he realizes that the bonds that bind them are torn forever and irrevocably. Summer 1914 Jacques is back in Switzerland. He lives surrounded by revolutionary emigration, carries out a number of secret assignments of socialist organizations. The report of the terrorist attack in Sarajevo is alarming for Jacques and his associates. Arriving in Paris, Jacques discusses current political events with Antoine, trying to involve him in the fight against the impending war. But politics is far from Antoine's interests. He doubts the seriousness of the threat and refuses to participate in the fight. Jerome de Fontanen, entangled in dark machinations, tries to shoot himself in a hotel. At the bedside of the dying man, Jacques meets with Jenny and Daniel. Jenny tries to sort out her feelings. She again has hope for happiness with Jacques. Daniel leaves for the front. Jacques explains to Jenny, and the young people indulge in love that gripped them.
War has been declared, Jacques believes that something else can be done to stop it. He writes anti-war leaflets, going to scatter them from an airplane over the front line. Jacques does not have time to fulfill his plan. When approaching the positions, the plane suffers an accident in the air. The badly wounded Jacques is mistaken for a spy, and when the French troops withdraw, he is shot by a French gendarme.
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1918 Antoine Thibault, poisoned at the front with mustard gas, is treated in a military hospital. After leaving there, he spends several days in Maison-Laffitte, where Jenny, Daniel, Madame de Fontanin and Giz now live. The war made Daniel an invalid. Jenny is raising a son, whose father was Jacques. Zhiz transferred all her feelings for Jacques to his child and Jenny. Antoine is thrilled to discover the features of his deceased brother in the face and character of little Jean-Paul. He already knows that he will never recover, that he is doomed, so he considers the child of Jacques and Jenny as the last hope for an extension of the family. Antoine keeps a diary, where he writes clinical records of his illness every day, collects literature on the treatment of poisoned with gases. He wants to be useful to people even after death. On the verge of death, Antoine finally understands his younger brother, soberly and without illusions assesses his life. He thinks a lot about Jacques' little son. The last words of Antoine Thibault's diary: “Much easier than you think. Jean-Paul ".