The 20th of October 1898, Mother Agnes of Jesus and Mother Marie de Gonzague, had been working on a project, to publish an exceptionally long obituary (476 pages !) to be sent to all the Carmels in France. The surplus copies were sold off (print run : 2 000 copies ; price : 4 francs).
In fact, Mother Agnes had put together her little sister’s manuscripts (which were later called A, B and C) which had been written « under obedience, » corrected the (frequent) spelling mistakes, brought paragraphs together, removed some paragraphs, and divided the works into chapters. Of the three addressees only one remained : Mother Marie de Gonzague. In accordance with her request, it was completed with Thérèse’s poems and some letters. The Carmel feared a low price for the book, which was financed without enthusiasm by her generous Guerin uncle. To everyone’s surprise, a second edition was required six months later (4,000 copies) and soon a third . . . It was an explosion. By 1956 there were 40 editions, not to mention the translations which began in 1901. There were more than 50 listed, with figures always being exceeded and uncontrollable as the pirate editions multiplied.
The book was an instrument of conversion, of various cures, and found in all parts of the world. It is the book which pushed the enthusiastic pilgrim to come to pray to the « little saint, » as they say, at her grave in the Lisieux cemetery. Soon, pastoral needs would protect this place from pious vandalism.
It was only in 1956, after the death of Mother Agnes, who had practically rewritten her sister’s texts, that Pius XII ordered a return to the original manuscripts and the three texts of Thérèse were published.
The critical edition – an exact copy – completed by the Carmelite priest François de Sainte Marie (who died in 1961), with the help of the Carmelite nuns in Lisieux, was a considerable achievement. Finally, the real Thérèse appeared « stripped, » not sweetened.
From 1969, a team took up the task and continued the critical edition of 266 known letters, 54 poems (1979), 8 plays (1985), 21 prayers (1988) and the Final Conversations (1971).
This work (1969-1988), which received the Cardinal Grente Grand Prize from the Académie Française in 1989, was to eventually lead to the New Centenary Edition, in eight volumes (CerfDDB).