Authors: Georges Bernanos

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French novelist

Identity: Catholic

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Sous le soleil de Satan, 1926 (The Star of Satan, 1927; better known as Under the Sun of Satan, 1949)

L’Imposture, 1927 (The Imposter, 1999)

La Joie, 1929 (Joy, 1948)

Monsieur Ouine, wr. 1931-1940, pb. 1943, 1955 (The Open Mind, 1945)

Un Mauvais Rêve, wr. 1935, pb. 1950 (Night Is Darkest, 1953)

Un Crime, 1935 (A Crime, 1936)

Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936 (The Diary of a Country Priest, 1937)

Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette, 1937 (Mouchette, 1966)

Short Fiction:

Dialogue d’ombres, 1955

Drama:

Dialogues des Carmélites, pb. 1949 (The Fearless Heart, 1952)

Nonfiction:

Le Crépuscule des vieux, wr. 1909-1939, pb. 1956

Saint Dominique, 1926

Noël àla maison de France, 1928

Jeanne, relapse et sainte, 1929 (Sanctity Will Out, 1947)

La Grande Peur des bien-pensants, 1931

Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune, 1938(A Diary of My Times, 1938)

Nous autres français, 1939

Lettre aux anglais, 1942 (Plea for Liberty, 1944)

Français, si vous saviez, wr. 1945-1948, pb. 1961

La France contre les robots, 1947 (Tradition of Freedom, 1950)

Les Enfants humiliés, 1949 (included in Tradition of Freedom, 1950)

Georges Bernanos: Essais et témoignages, 1949

Frère Martin: Essai sur Luther, 1951 (Brother Martin, 1952)

Miscellaneous:

Œuvres de Bernanos, 1947 (6 volumes)

Œuvres romanesques, suivies de “Dialogues des Carmélites,” 1961

The Heroic Face of Innocence, 1999

Biography

Paul Louis Georges Bernanos (behr-nah-nohs) spent his childhood in the Artois village of Fressin, surrounded by the idyllic landscape that later provided the background for his eight novels. His education and family life were steeped in an uncompromising Catholicism, which deepened and intensified during his studies in law and letters at the University of Paris. After receiving his degree, he began a career as a political journalist, contributing mostly to such royalist conservative periodicals as Action française and Revue universelle. Bernanos believed that democratic reforms were too closely linked to consumer capitalism and would result in spiritual alienation as well as political and social exploitation.{$I[AN]9810001522}{$I[A]Bernanos, Georges}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Bernanos, Georges}{$I[geo]CATHOLIC;Bernanos, Georges}{$I[tim]1888;Bernanos, Georges}

During World War I, Bernanos served at the front for four years. Afterward, he suffered from periodic bouts of depression. The publication of his first novel, The Star of Satan, brought him considerable notice. In this compelling story, a troubled priest fluctuates between mystical spirituality and the haunting appeal of determinism. Bernanos contributed to the development of the modern theological novel, in which the priest as savior/preserver/destroyer represents the spiritual cleansing of the Church.

The Diary of a Country Priest, for which Bernanos was awarded the Grand Prix du Roman of the French Academy, reinforces the idea that the fate of the priest is connected to that of the parishioners. This agonizing parable–which bears the stamp of Fyodor Dostoevski’s influence–is a powerful study of the solicitations of divine grace. Monsieur Ouine is an innovative Kafkaesque fable that depicts a group of villagers suffering from collective guilt; each character plunges into personal chaos, a world of hallucinations and madness, and zones of darkness and incoherent mystery surround these tormented souls.

During the Spanish Civil War, Bernanos was living on the island of Majorca, where he witnessed atrocities committed by agents of Francisco Franco against Republican sympathizers and supporters. His account, A Diary of My Times, led to a break with “renouveau” Catholics in France. In reaction to the Munich Pact of 1938, Bernanos moved with his wife, Jeanne Talbert d’Arc (a descendent of Joan of Arc’s brother), and their six children to Brazil, where he actively encouraged the Free French led by his former classmate Charles de Gaulle. His Plea for Liberty is a collection of seven articles written for the Dublin Review. In 1945, he returned to France, and the following year he was one of fifty European delegates to the Geneva Peace Conference.

The theme in Bernanos’s writing of sin and death as roads to fulfillment may appear, on the surface, bitter and disconcerting, but an abiding belief in an inward light offers consolation and redemption. This uplifting affirmation is evident in Bernanos’s last work, the libretto for Francis Poulenc’s three-act opera Dialogue des Carmélites (1956).

BibliographyBalthasar, Hans Urs von. Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence. Translated by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. San Francisco, Calif.: Ignatius Press, 1996. Balthasar, a theologian, analyzes Bernanos’s works. He describes Bernanos as a “deeply prayerful, practicing sacramental Catholic” who made everything he wrote an “ecclesial existence that has been given form.”Blumenthal, Gerda. The Poetic Imagination of Georges Bernanos: An Essay in Interpretation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. Focuses primarily on The Diary of a Country Priest, but Blumenthal’s discussion of Bernanos’s mystical explanation of human behavior can be applied to all of the author’s work.Brée, Germaine, and Margaret Guiton. “Private Worlds.” In An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1957. A literary history that places Bernanos within the context of twentieth century French novelists. Brée and Guiton view Bernanos’s reticence and revelation as complementary.Bush, William. Georges Bernanos. New York: Twayne, 1969. This volume in the Twayne Authors’ series provides an overview of Bernanos’s life and work. Bush suggests that totalitarian order was a major preoccupation of Bernanos.Curran, Beth Kathryn. Touching God: The Novels of Georges Bernanos in the Films of Robert Bresson. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. French filmmaker Bresson adapted two of Bernanos’s novels to the screen: The Diary of a Country Priest and Mouchette. Curran explains how both Bernanos and Bresson articulate grace and redemption in their work through the suffering and death of their protagonists.Fraser, Theodore P. The Modern Catholic Novel in Europe. New York: Twayne, 1994. Fraser traces the development of the modern European Catholic novel from nineteenth century France through the Vatican II reforms of the 1960’s. Chapter 2 focuses on Bernanos and other French novelists.Hebblethwaite, Peter. Bernanos: An Introduction. New York: Hillary House, 1965. A volume in the series Studies in Modern European Literature and Thought.Molnar, Thomas. Bernanos: His Political Thought and Prophecy. 1960. Reprint. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1997. An examination of Bernanos’s conservative political and social views. Includes a new introduction by the author.Schroth, Raymond A. Dante to “Dead Man Walking”: One Reader’s Journey Through the Christian Classics. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2001. Schroth, a Jesuit priest and college professor, provides overviews of fifty literary works, including The Diary of a Country Priest, to discover what each book says about Christian faith and doctrine.Speaight, Robert. Georges Bernanos: A Study of the Man and the Writer. New York: Liveright, 1974. A compelling literary biography.Tobin, Michael R. Georges Bernanos: The Theological Source of His Art. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007. A biography and a literary critique of Bernanos’s work. Tobin analyzes the themes of Bernanos’s novels and other works to demonstrate how the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ was the fundamental theological truth common to all of his writings.Whitehouse, J. C. Vertical Man: The Human Being in the Catholic Novels of Graham Greene, Sigrid Undset, and Georges Bernanos. London: Saint Austin Press, 1999. Whitehorse analyzes and compares the works of the three novelists, concentrating on how they depict the relationship of the individual human being with his or her God.
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