The novel The Dark Angels (1936), by Francois Mauriac, presents us with the complicated Gradere, a man who allows himself to sink into utterly foul illegality. A particular woman, Aline, is a threat to him because of Gradere’s dirty business practices, and an elderly man named Desbats uses her to deepen the threat. Gradere determines to do something about it.
The novel’s prologue consists of a letter Gradere has written to the village priest, Alain, a good man. The priest recoils passionately from some information in the letter: Gradere was once told by another priest that “there are human souls that have been given to [the Devil].” The reader is left to ask whether this is so. Mauriac seems to see a half-truth in it, but also expresses, of course, his Christian optimism about God, He Who is “greater than the strength of our mad desire to achieve damnation.” Withal, he brings Gradere to faith and repentance.
Frankly, this might be deemed implausible and even forced—it is not like the conclusion of, say, Read’s A Married Man—and yet it takes place at the same time that the priest is afflicted with a troubled, self-doubting mind. This seems to make Gradere’s conversion artistically acceptable. . . The Dark Angels is a wise and poetically written book. As for the title, well, if certain souls (or all souls?) are given to the Devil, maybe it is the “dark” angels, as it were, who effect it.