Birdsong

by

Sebastian Faulks

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René Azaire Character Analysis

Isabelle’s husband and the father to Lisette and Grégoire. René runs the textile factory that Stephen Wraysford comes to France to observe, and he is a shrewd businessman and a cruel husband. He treats his textile employees badly, replaces their labor with new technology, and doesn’t pay them a livable wage. René represents the patriarchy, and when he fails to get Isabelle pregnant, he feels that his place within society is compromised. René is emasculated by his inability to father more children, and he begins to beat Isabelle in lieu of a sexual release. René is condescending and controlling, and when Isabelle leaves him for Stephen, he is broken and humiliated. René is ultimately taken prisoner by the Germans during the war.

René Azaire Quotes in Birdsong

The Birdsong quotes below are all either spoken by René Azaire or refer to René Azaire. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and the Future Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Birdsong published in 1993.
Part One: France 1910 Quotes

“This morning I was out doing some errands in the town. There was a window open in a house near the cathedral and someone was playing the piano.”

Madame Azaire’s voice was cool and low […].

Monsieur and Madame Bérard looked startled. It was evidently not the kind of thing they had expected. Azaire spoke with the soothing voice of one use to such fancies. “And what was the tune, my dear?”

“I don’t know. I had never heard it before. It was just a tune like Beethoven or Chopin.”

“I doubt it was Beethoven if you failed to recognize it, Madame,” said Bérard

gallantly. “It was one of those folksongs, I’ll bet you anything.”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Monsieur Bérard (speaker), Stephen Wraysford, Madame Bérard
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

“Madame,” said Azaire, “I assure you that Isabelle has no fever. She is a woman of a nervous temperament. She suffers from headaches and various minor maladies. It signifies nothing. Believe me, I know her very well and I have learned how to live with her little ways.” He gave a glace of complicity toward Bérard who chuckled. “You yourself are fortunate in having a robust constitution.”

Related Characters: René Azaire (speaker), Isabelle Azaire, Monsieur Bérard, Madame Bérard
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Yet despite her formality toward him and her punctilious ease of manner, Stephen sensed some other element in what he had termed the pulse of her. It was impossible to say through which sense he had the impression, but somehow, perhaps only in the tiny white hairs on the skin of her bare arm or the blood he had seen rise beneath the light freckles of her cheekbones, he felt certain there was some keener physical life than she was actually living in the calm, restrictive rooms of her husband’s house with its oval door handles of polished china and its neatly inlaid parquet floors.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Azaire’s gaze had filled with something like amusement. “I don’t’ like to think of you having some kind of fit. I could easily—.”

“For goodness’ sake, René,” said Madame Azaire. “He’s told you there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you just leave him alone?”

Azaire’s fork made a loud clatter as he laid it down on his plate. For a moment his face had an expression of panic, like that of the schoolboy who suffers a sudden reverse and can’t understand the rules of behaviour by which his rival has won approval. Then he began to smile sardonically, as though to indicate that really he knew best and that his decision not to argue further was temporary indulgence he was granting his juniors. He turned to his wife with a teasing lightness of manner.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

“And have you heard your minstrel again in your wanderings in the town, my dear?”

She looked down at her plate. “I was not wandering, René. I was doing errands.”

“Of course, my dear. My wife is a mysterious creature, Monsieur,” he said to Stephen. “No one knows—like the little stream in the song—whither she flows or where her end will be.”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

[René] saw the production of further children as important proof of his standing in society and a confirmation that this was a balanced match in which his age and the difference in tastes were not important. He approached his wife in a businesslike and predatory manner; she reacted with the submissive indifference which was the only response he left open to her. He made love to her each night, though, once embarked on it, he seemed to want it to be over quickly. Afterward he never referred to what they had done together. Madame Azaire, who was initially frightened and ashamed, slowly became frustrated by her husband’s attitude; she could not understand why this aspect of their lives, which seemed to mean so much to him, was something he would not talk about, nor why the startling intimacy of the act opened no doors in her mind, made no connections with the deeper feelings and aspirations that had grown in her since childhood.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire, René Azaire
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

René Azaire had no suspicions of what was happening in his house. He had allowed his feelings toward Isabelle to become dominated by anger and frustration at his physical impotence and by what he subsequently experienced as a kind of emotional powerlessness toward her. He did not love her, but he wanted her to more responsive toward him. He sensed that she felt sorry for him and this infuriated him further; if she could not love him then at least she should be frightened of him.

Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

[René] remembered the pleasure he had taken in being the first man to invade that body, much younger than him, and the thrill he could not deny himself when she had cried out in pain. He remembered the puzzled look in her eyes when she gazed up at him. He could feel that she, more than his first wife, had the capacity to respond to the physical act, but when he saw the bewildered expression in her face he was determined to subdue it rather than to win her by patience. At that time Isabelle, though too willful for the father’s taste, was still docile and innocent enough to have been won over by a man who showed consideration and love, but with Azaire these things were not forthcoming. Her emotional and physical appetites were awakened but then left suspended as her husband turned his energy toward a long, unnecessary battle with his own shortcomings.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire, René Azaire
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

“I don’t want this.” Isabelle shook her head. The words came from her mouth without thought or calculation in their purity of feeling. “I don’t know what to do or how to behave now. I could be happy in the simplest way, like any other woman with a family of her own, without this terrible pain I’ve caused. I won’t listen to ether of you. Why should I? How do I know that you love me, Stephen? How can I tell?” Her voice fell to the low, soft note Stephen had heard when she spoke on his first evening in the house. It was a beautiful sound to his ears: pleading and vulnerable, but with a sense of strength in its own rightness. “And you, René, why should I trust you when you have given me so little reason even to like you?”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford, René Azaire
Page Number: 92-3
Explanation and Analysis:
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René Azaire Character Timeline in Birdsong

The timeline below shows where the character René Azaire appears in Birdsong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: France 1910
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
The Azaires are already seated at the table. Madame Azaire stands up and her husband, René, introduces her quickly and dismissively. The children, Lisette, who is sixteen, and Grégoire, who is... (full context)
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René mentions that the laborers’ unions have made it difficult for him to run his business,... (full context)
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The friends begin to talk over drinks, and Bérard tells René that the dyers employed by other factories have called a strike to begin the next... (full context)
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Bérard and René are subtly critical of England. They are surprised when Stephen says that they have trains... (full context)
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As the friends talk, birds can be heard singing from the garden. René mentions that he has a fondness for patriotic songs, such as “Marseillaise,” which the French... (full context)
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René suggests a game of cards, and Madame Azaire excuses herself, claiming that she has a... (full context)
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As the foursome play cards, talk turns to the dyers’ strike. René states that what the dyers really need is “someone to call their bluff.” He doesn’t... (full context)
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...crying and the unmistakable sound of someone being struck. He recognizes Madame Azaire’s voice begging René, and Stephen clenches his fists in anger, before slipping back up the stairs to his... (full context)
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Stephen returns to his journal entries. His journey from England, the train through France, and René Azaire and his children are all noted in the pages. Stephen has even mentioned Bérard... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen accompanies René to his factory, which is located in a poverty-stricken area of town called the Saint... (full context)
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René informs Meyraux that Stephen is visiting from a textile company in Manchester, which happens to... (full context)
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Meyraux is suspicious of Stephen, and suspects that René is looking to import English workers and machinery, costing French jobs. Meyraux notes that what... (full context)
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René claims he doesn’t have any money to invest in the business, and instead can “only... (full context)
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Meyraux is calm and unsurprised, and remarks that René is offering his workers less than the striking dyers. René calls their strike “nonsense” and... (full context)
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René quickly dismisses Lucien as a threat and continues his disagreement with Meyraux. As the two... (full context)
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 Days later, René suggests that Meyraux bring Stephen with him to eat lunch with the factory workers. He... (full context)
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The next day, René asks Stephen if he is feeling better, and he quickly dismisses his symptoms as a... (full context)
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Madame Azaire quickly tells René to leave Stephen alone. After all, she says, he says he’s fine. René appears irritated,... (full context)
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...and Grégoire are her step-children. Their mother had died two years earlier, and she is René’s second wife. Suddenly, Stephen reaches out and grabs Madame Azaire’s hand “without thinking.” (full context)
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...their families who are in need, since many of them “find it hard to live.” René doesn’t know, she claims, but since the dyers don’t technically work for him, she doesn’t... (full context)
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...opinions.” Isabelle’s father tired of her independence, and when he heard of the death of René Azaire’s wife, he quickly arranged their marriage. René promised Isabelle some independence once they were... (full context)
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...Grégoire, and she is an “affectionate and dutiful wife to her husband.” She doesn’t love René and he knows it, but he views love as “unnecessary emotion.” (full context)
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René believes children are “important proof of his standing in society,” and Isabelle agrees to have... (full context)
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When Isabelle does not become pregnant, René blames himself, and his frustration affects his ability to perform sexually. He begins to ignore... (full context)
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...to catch Isabelle’s eye, but she avoids his gaze. Exhausted in the heat, Bérard allows René to captain the boat and they soon stop for lunch. (full context)
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On shore, no one is particularly hungry, and as René smokes and Bérard naps, Stephen carves a small figure out of wood. Lisette asks him... (full context)
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As their trip comes to a close, René begins to remark on how wonderful the day has been and how beautiful the river... (full context)
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...begins to swell, he realizes that he has fallen in love with Isabelle. At dinner, René comments on the disruption at the factory and Stephen tells him he thinks it best... (full context)
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 The next day after René departs for the factory, Stephen feels like a child home sick from school who is... (full context)
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...Isabelle that he doesn’t have the strength to watch her about the house, living as René’s wife. “I shall give myself away,” he says. “You won’t,” says Isabelle. “And nor shall... (full context)
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Later, when René returns home from the factory, he is in a surprisingly good mood. The dyers’ strike... (full context)
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 Stephen arrives at the dining room door for dinner, and he briefly acknowledges René and Isabelle before quickly sitting in a chair. Stephen ignores Isabelle throughout dinner, engaging René... (full context)
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...to wash the red bedcover without drawing attention, and she plans instead to throw it away—René will find nothing suspicious about a new bedcover. Isabelle feels “no revulsion for the stains... (full context)
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...and is suddenly “overpowered” by her “shame and guilt.” She begins to markedly blush, and René asks if she is feeling well. Isabelle insists that she is simply warm and excuses... (full context)
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...come to check that she is alright. He kisses her quickly and returns downstairs to René, Bérard, and their card game. (full context)
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The next day, Stephen takes a walk into town. René has told him not to return to the factory for a few more days, and... (full context)
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...asks Isabelle about the night he heard sounds from her bedroom. Isabelle tells Stephen that René “becomes frustrated” with her. After she failed to become pregnant, René assumed that there was... (full context)
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Isabelle tells Stephen that René hits her, and while it is not terribly painful, she finds his strange sexual acts... (full context)
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Meanwhile, René has no reason to suspect Isabelle and Stephen’s affair. He is not threatened by Stephen,... (full context)
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Later René tells Stephen and Isabelle that he heard a “strange story” about someone visiting Lucien during... (full context)
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Isabelle confesses suddenly. “I don’t think it’s strange. It was me.” Isabelle tells René that the people were hungry and she fed them. She would do it again, she... (full context)
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Isabelle apologizes to René, claiming it was not done to hurt him. René demands to know where in the... (full context)
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...you expect from a woman you have treated as you have treated Isabelle?” Stephen asks. René, clearly embarrassed that Stephen knows his secret impotence, kicks him out of the house. “I... (full context)
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...“How do I know that you love me, Stephen? How can I tell?” Turning to René, Isabelle asks, “Why should I trust you when you have given me so little reason... (full context)
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Isabelle tells René that she is going to her room to pack, and as she leaves the room... (full context)
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The children stand terrified as René goes from room to room, tearing apart beds and searching for evidence of Isabelle and... (full context)
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Their life together is quiet but comfortable, and Isabelle doesn’t miss her life with René. They spend most of their time together, even in sleep, but Stephen finds that “the... (full context)
Part Four: France 1917
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...After Isabelle left Stephen, Jeanne says, Isabelle returned to Rouen and eventually went home to René. After the German occupation, when René was led away by the Germans, Isabelle was injured... (full context)
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...back to Amiens, and after Lisette and Grégoire begged her to return, she finally agreed. René had become an “ashamed” and “diminished” man. (full context)
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...before the war broke out, Isabelle says, and after Amiens was occupied by the Germans, René was taken as a prisoner. He was eventually released, but then the Germans ordered all... (full context)