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n French Studies in Southern Africa - Engagement et séparation chez Vailland et Mauriac
Although coming from totally different backgrounds, Mauriac and Vailland can be compared in their respective attitudes to commitment. Mauriac is always conscious of his responsibilities as a Christian writer; Vailland, the Communist author, attempts to project the communist ideal in his novels. A similar separation and struggle existed in both authors as each tried to reconcile the demands of their beliefs and the artistic norms to which they adhered with equal loyalty.
For Mauriac, the problem revolved around two poles. On the one hand, should the Christian writer write idealised novels which run the risk of falsifying life by emphasising doctrine, or should he, on the other hand, create a work of art regardless of its moral implications or consequences? These are the challenges which the committed writer has to accept and the dilemmas that face him. Mauriac did not compromise his artistic principles and, even though some criticized him, he managed to write convincing novels which incorporated the supernatural and, indeed, the Christian message.
In principle, Vailland was faced with the same problem. Born into a conservative, middle-class family, he joined the Communist party and his writing became much influenced by the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism, which emphasised ideological correctness above all. The dilemma he faced revolved around reconciling art and social duty. His attempts to 'demystify' literature resulted initially in going against his personal convictions regarding individualism of character and the portrayal of ideological correctness at the expense of true art. Some of his characters are good communists but lack artistic depth. Vailland was painfully aware of this dichotomy and was later successful in reestablishing a balance and reconciliation between the demands of ideology and art, finally returning to a greater measure of psychological depth in the portrayal of his characters.
Ultimately, both Mauriac and Vailland, by the recognised quality of their work, showed that it was possible to reach a balance between personal convictions and the demands of literary art.
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