By: Gabriela Yareliz
Thérèse Desqueyroux. Does that name ring a bell? Thérèse Desqueyroux is François Mauriac’s most respected novel. It was turned into a film with the brilliant Audrey Tautou starring as Thérèse.
Spoiler and storyline breakdown (it was published in 1927– so if you haven’t read it by now— *eye roll*): It’s about a young woman who is a free spirit.
How free, is often debated. She grows up and marries a family friend, who is a financially well off, emotionally unavailable man who can add on to her own wealth. She marries him, and basically fulfills her wifely duties. She is quiet when she is expected to be, and she speaks when called upon. She had a child and forms part of the inner family gossip circle and high society. Her husband’s family is unsettlingly unpleasant.
Throughout, she begins to acknowledge what has been clear to her all along: her choices have not been true to who she is. Long story short, her husband has health issues and through his medication and treatment, she almost kills him by overdose. Yep. Super crazy. Interestingly enough, she isn’t sure why she has almost killed her husband (until later on). It’s a French novel, ok? If you want a real dark tale, read Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal. I remember it was one of my college love interest’s favorite books, so we read it together, and boy was that unromantic. I remember writing him a long letter about it and my analysis. He was so amused by my frustration that he wallpapered his French dorm room walls with my letter about Stendhal. Anyway, I digress.
The book opens with her trial, and her husband’s false testimony saves her (and their reputations), but the family subsequently keeps her in the house like a prisoner; she is only allowed to go in public for show, with her husband, for mass, on holidays, for funerals and weddings. At the end, her husband “releases” her, and she moves to Paris, health and spirit renewed.
Why am I sharing the disturbing tale of Thérèse? Something about this story has always stayed with me, and it’s the fact that we can all be Thérèse. (And no, I don’t mean her attempted murder; instead, I mean what drove her to her desperation).
How many people have you seen out there who have dreams, and the dreams are not acted on? Or people who rely on false realities and social expectation, when making important life choices. Some make themselves prisoners of other’s capriciousness, overbearingness or emotional unavailability. Some of us live as slaves to a system, whether it be the economy, politics, cultural expectations, work force or society, in general.
This isn’t about quitting your 9-to-5, or a piece against marriage or some piece justifying her almost poisoning of her husband. No way. That was crazy. That is wrong and always will be wrong.
This is about a conversation Thérèse has with her husband (wonderfully depicted in the film), where he asks her if she hated him. He wants to know what her motivation was for her strange actions. She simply said that she didn’t want to live just for show, as a puppet. She was tired of being a public spectacle that wasn’t truly seen, loved or understood but just fulfilled “her duty” which was dictated by everyone but her. I think anyone can relate to that.
In the film, there is a scene where she sees a small beautiful bird, and it is dead on the ground. She looks at it and sees herself.
For Thérèse, in her time, marriage was the jail of every woman who was treated like property. Today, we have other prisons. The thing is, in a time where media and technology, plus information flowing through it consumes us, we have all these values and expectations and responsibilities competing for our attention and demanding our submission.
Thérèse’s story reminds me about how important it is to always be mindful of our hearts and how we feel, and whether we are living in God’s purpose for our lives. Are you happy where you are? And if you are not, what are you willing to do to get what you want?
“There are only three requirements for success. First, decide exactly what it is you want in life. Second, determine the price that you are going to have to pay for the things you want. And third, and this is most important, resolve to pay that price.” H.L. Hunt
When looking at Thérèse, I think she thought she knew what she was supposed to want, but it was at odds with who she was and what she truly wanted. She focused on external things and factors, rather than her heart.
Are you happy with who you are? Do you have a dream? What is driving your decisions? Are you passive? Or are you actively pursuing? Are you doing things to appear a certain way? Who are you trying to please?
Our mindset is so important.
“Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output, and your output determines your future.” Zig Ziglar
What is your input? What are you doing each day to challenge yourself? To inspire yourself? To feed your true essence and to honor where you are and who you are? Do you worry more about others? Do you pay more attention to your fears rather than God’s promises? Do you respect yourself? How do you speak to yourself?
In the end, we are all that colorful beautiful bird. We are all Thérèse. Each person faces the same choices. The difference is whether we become the crushed bird who can no longer fly or whether we will be the one that keeps soaring and contributing beauty to the world.
This is all about where we want to go. This is not about where we have been. Dr. Stephen Covey states: “Live out your imagination, not your history.”
Tonight, think. What is in your heart? Let Thérèse’s story always remind you that you are meant to be free. It’s a cautionary tale. (And in France, perhaps just a tale). You are meant to be free. The minute you forget that, you have forgotten that you can fly. Be true.
“You are meant to be free. The minute you forget that, you have forgotten that you can fly. Be true.”
Let’s take a page from Gabrielle Chanel who said, “I decided who I wanted to be, and that is who I am.”