BERNARD QUESNAY is the story of the enslavement of a man to his family tradition. Bernard Quesnay is a middle-class Frenchman who returns from the war to become a partner in his grandfather's cloth mills in Normandy. He is an ardent, artistic youth whose spirit revolts at the thought of spending life in bondage to industrialism.
He has seen his brother grow dull-eyed and prosaic in the business, his father has died while in the harness, and his ancient grandfather still lives for the mills.
Bernard lacks the stolidity of a true Quesnay. Yet he cannot break away from the mill because he reasons that it is a slacker to society who enjoys the privileges of his class without bearing the class responsibilities.
Throughout the novel the reader expects Bernard to do something. To the very end there is a feeling that it is a long prologue on a fully set stage. The characters are introduced, the minor ones involve themselves in minor episodes, but nothing much ever happens to the hero. One love-affair fizzles out, another is aborted, but these are merely by the way. When at last the formidable grandfather dies, Bernard has been in the rut too long and has forgotten his dreams. The cloth-mills are the inevitable, the Fates, to Bernard Quesnay. Their prosperity, strikes, slumps, trade-wars, absorb the hero until at last he is absorbed by the mills.
The plot is neither new nor many-sided. Only a writer of M. Maurois' taste and charm could have kept out of all danger of becoming trite or tiresome. Under his pen the story keeps up one's expectant interest although it never becomes absorbing. His chapters often glint with quiet humor as when "Daddy Leroy", and old mill-hand, is perched on a pile of cloth, holding a pistol to his head, and his superiors discuss the pros and cons of suicide with him, while his fellow hands sit by with their fingers in their ears.
Perhaps the most delightful feature of M. Maurois' style is his refreshing use of similes. For a haphazard example: "Just as occupants of a motorcar, seeing themselves driven to certain disaster by a drunken driver, from a sentiment of honour do not intervene to mitigate his speed so Renaudin's inveterate determination and Monsieur Pascal's grandiloquence led the owner and the hands to a collision which both feared."
One continually remembers the power of the author of "Aried" to breathe life into his characters and superbly to relived. In comparison with "Ariel," "Bernard Quesnay" is rather weak. It is a disappointment that this novel is not more significant and fails to become more than moderately good.