Essais de psychologie contemporaine, 1883
Nouveaux Essais de psychologie contemporaine, 1885
Études et portraits, 1889, 1906
Sensations d’Italie, 1891 (Impressions of Italy, 1892)
Outre-mer: Notes sur l’Amérique, 1894 (Outre-mer: Impressions of America, 1895)
Pages de critique et de doctrine, 1912 (2 volumes)
Nouvelles Pages de critique et de doctrine, 1922 (2 volumes)
Quelques témoignages, 1928, 1934
Cruelle Énigme, 1885 (A Cruel Enigma, 1887)
André Cornélis, 1886 (The Story of André Cornélis, 1909)
Un Crime d’amour, 1886 (A Love Crime, 1888)
Mensonges, 1887 (Lies, 1892)
Le Disciple, 1889 (The Disciple, 1898)
Physiologie de l’amour moderne, 1889
Un Coeur de femme, 1890 (A Woman’s Heart, 1890)
Cosmopolis, 1893 (English translation, 1893)
L’Émigré, 1907 (The Weight of the Name, 1908)
Le Démon de midi, 1914
Le Sens de la mort, 1915 (The Night Cometh, 1916)
Nouveaux Pastels, 1891 (Pastels of Men, 1891, 1892)
Voyageuses, 1897 (Antigone, and Other Portraits of Women, 1898)
Complications sentimentales, 1898
Les Deux Soeurs, 1905
Conflits intimes, 1925
De petits faits vrais, 1930
La Barricade: Chronique de 1910, pb. 1910
Un Cas de conscience, pb. 1910 (with Serge Basset)
Le Tribun: Chronique de 1911, pb. 1911
La Crise, pb. 1912 (with André Beaunier)
La Vie inquiète, 1875
Les Aveux, 1882
Paul Charles-Joseph Bourget (bewr-zheh) is perhaps the outstanding French novelist of a period of French literature not distinguished in that genre, the interval between Émile Zola and Marcel Proust. Bookish and precise by nature, Bourget received an education that tended to accentuate rather than diminish these qualities. When viewed against a materialistic age, his life represents a struggle to find a personal religion–one he later advocated for France as a whole–consisting, for him, of a return to the Catholic Church and to the political point of view of the extreme Right. This struggle is reflected in most of Bourget’s novels.
His father was a brilliant professor of mathematics and physics, his mother well-educated but neurotic, and she died young. Bourget himself later commented on the dichotomous analytical-emotional character he considered he owed to his parents. For all his own neuroses and lifelong tendency toward hypochondria, however, he led a full life and produced more than one hundred volumes. His private life he kept scrupulously to himself; scholars know little about it. In 1890, he married Minnie David; it was seemingly a happy union. Bourget traveled extensively most of his life: England, Italy, Greece, the Near East, and the United States. He was elected to the French Academy on May 31, 1894 (a signal honor, especially for an author so young) and remained “a great man of letters” for the rest of his days. He was intimate with many of the finest authors of his time, notably Henry James, Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine, Edith Wharton, Guy de Maupassant, and Henry Bordeaux.
Bourget’s first works were poetry and criticism, and he continued to write in the latter field throughout his life. His Essais de psychologie contemporaine and Nouveaux Essais de psychologie contemporaine, in which he studies the works of ten great French writers of the period, represent a successful attempt to “disengage life from the mass of books and sketch a moral portrait of my generation.” Bourget’s thesis is that his generation is imbued with pessimism deriving from its faith in materialistic science, which, he says, is no faith at all. Strongly influenced by Taine, who would not have approved his conclusions, Bourget sees the writers he studies, together with their works, only as symbols of their environment; his criticism of their philosophy is by no means personal and it is not allowed to cloud his opinion of their craftsmanship as artists. In all, Bourget’s critical essays fill eleven volumes.
It was as a novelist, however, that Bourget made his greatest contribution to French literature. His early works–A Cruel Enigma, A Love Crime, and Lies–represent a period of philosophical searching. As in all of his later novels, his first works are primarily psychological studies of his characters, who are invariably drawn from the upper strata of society. These works, however, while valuable as pictures of the period, show more sensibility than true psychological insight.
The appearance of The Disciple in 1889 marks Bourget’s entry into French literature as a truly serious novelist. The work also coincides with a decided change in Bourget’s own ideas concerning religion and politics. Bourget, when younger, had been an admirer of Taine, the great determinist. In The Disciple, he tells the story of a youth who is similarly influenced by a deterministic psychologist, whose principles he tries to apply to his own life. The work is a thesis-novel that marks the first of many writings by Bourget in which the bankruptcy of science and materialism is foretold. A return to the Catholic faith and to the virtues of patriotism (equated with adherence to royalist, not republican, ideals) is strongly implied.
The “lessons” of The Disciple created a critical storm and deeply affected French youth of the day. In all of his later novels, Bourget leans more and more heavily on these “lessons.” Yet his construction is always excellent, and he examines his fictional subjects with the same discerning eye with which he examines literary ones.
Bourget wrote almost until the end of his life, though his later years where saddened by a sense that the world in which this former boulevardier had felt at home had passed him by. He died, fittingly enough for a staunch Catholic, on Christmas Day, 1935.