The Frontenacs are a family in whom a sense of family bond is strong. They can assimilate and convert those who marry into their circle, like Blanche, the mother in this story, who accepts her destiny of loneliness without a protest. Their mystic ambience even extends to those illicitly connected with them, like Xavier Frontenac's vulgar mistress, Josepha, one of the rare characters in whom the writer indulges his sense of humour. The Frontenacs are a characteristic 'Mauriac' family; small landed gentry of the Bordeaux region, solidly placed but always exercising stringent control of finance. The burden of this control falls mainly on Blanche, who is widowed at an early age, with five children to bring up. It falls also upon her brother-in-law, Xavier, who was deeply devoted to his brother Michel and is terrified lest his sister-in-law should discover his illicit menage.
The scenes of family life in this novel are among the most touching which even Mauriac has written. The growing up of the three boys, Jean Louis, Jose and the special problem child, Yves, shows the novelist at his most perceptive. The clou of the book is the relation of Yves with his mother, a study in which many critics have seen autobiographical traces, but, however regarded, it reflects Mauriac's feelings for his countryside and its people at its most passionate intensity.