Titus Didn’t Love Berenice ("Titus n'aimait pas Bérénice"), by Nathalie Azoulai
In Titus n’aimait pas Bérénice, Nathalie Azoulai explores the feelings of a contemporary woman who exorcises her romantic demons through the figure of the great 17th-century tragedian Jean Racine.
A well-recognized novelist
A graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and with a higher-education certification in French language and literature, Nathalie Azoulai was a teacher before trying her hand at publishing and writing. In 2002, she published Troubled Mother (“Mère agitée”), a debut novel that announces her favourite theme: the confusions of maternity.
This book was be followed by several novels that oscillate between intimate concerns (It’s the Story of a Woman who had a Brother (“C'est l'histoire d'une femme qui a un frère”), 2004; The Girls Have Grown Up (“Les filles ont grandi”), 2010) and political discourse (The Protests (“Les Manifestations”), 2005).
Praised by the critics, Nathalie Azoulai won the Prix Médicis for Titus Didn’t Love Berenice (2015).
A contemporary Berenice
Titus is a contemporary man who breaks up with his mistress, Bérénice, to devote himself fully to his legitimate wife, Roma, and his family. Bérénice, tormented by her sorrow, confides in her friends and family and finds comfort in Racine’s poetry. Thus she begins reading the plays of the French tragedian, becoming intimately close to his heroines.
To understand the works she is reading, whose language still resonates today, the abandoned narrator throws herself into a fascinating investigation into the life of the author of Andromaca, Phaedra and Berenice.
A novelistic tribute to Racine
Having discovered Racine's work as an adult, Nathalie Azoulai pays tribute to him in her sixth novel, combining two narratives: the romantic break up of a contemporary Bérénice and a revisited history of the French tragedian.
Through the subjective gaze of her narrator, the novelist imagines a Racine who was close to many women and allows herself biographical inaccuracies and novelistic inventions.
The writer thus intends, as she said to Le Monde in 2015, "grasp the headstone" of this great man of the seventeenth century, caught between Port-Royal's Jansenist fundamentalism and his own outsized ambitions, which would carry him to the lavish setting of the Louis XIV’s Versailles.
A universal novel
Drawing on the poignant verse of Racinian tragedies, Nathalie Azoulai rationalises romantic suffering, whose universal language crosses space and time.
Titus Didn’t Love Berenice has been translated in many countries, from Germany to Korea, including Russia and Lebanon.
In 2016, this luminous novel was read (in French and Hebrew) at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, on the occasion of 5th Livres en Scene literary festival.
Titus Didn't Love Bérénice (“Titus n'aimait pas Bérénice”) has been translated into Arabic, Serbian and Russian with the support of the Institut français.
Through its translation support programmes, the Institut français participates in the global dissemination of French-language literature.