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Georges Bernanos

  • HEATHER KING

Georges Bernanos (1888-1948), French writer, authored the iconic novel "Diary of a Country Priest".


bernanosGeorges Bernanos
1888-1948

Born in Paris to a devout Roman Catholic family of craftsmen, as a youth Bernanos joined the conservative Action Française movement.  After serving as a soldier in World War I, however, he broke with the movement.  At the time France was deeply divided: conservative monarchists, liberal republicans, anti-Catholic agnostics.  Bernanos began noticing the poor and disenfranchised, and wondering why the Church didn't do more for them.

He married in 1917.  He and his wife would go on to have six children.

Bernanos was a wanderer, perpetually short of money and fiercely contemptuous of literary salon society.  In 1932, he moved with his family to Majorca where he wrote what would be his masterpiece: Diary of a Country Priest.

The protagonist, a sickly young priest, has a heart on fire for Christ, parishioners who are "bored stiff," and stomach cancer.  Unable to keep down more than bread and a glass of wine, he's accused by the townsfolk of being a drunkard.  When he tries to help a young girl, she jeeringly tries to seduce him.  The countess, whose soul he desperately tries to save, rages against God for taking her infant son.

Small wonder the priest notes: "How glibly we talk about 'family-life,' as we do also of 'my country.'  We ought to say many prayers for families.  Families frighten me.  May God be merciful with them."

Published in 1936, the novel was both popularly and critically acclaimed, winning the coveted Grand Prix du roman de Académie française.

But Bernanos was increasingly disillusioned by the spiritual bankruptcy of European politics, and by the failure of his beloved Church to model the teachings of Christ.  In 1938, he published Les Grands Cimetières Sous la Lune ("the great cemeteries under the moon"), decrying the terror that was being inflicted by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco on innocent men, women, and children in the name of Catholic nationalism.

The priest's dying words are "Grace is everywhere." But perhaps his very last word is this: "Hell is not to love anymore."

That same year, he emigrated to South America with his family and settled in Brazil.  Over the course of his career, he wrote essays, plays, and several more novels.

Courted by President Charles de Gaulle, Bernanos returned to France in 1945, but the homecoming was a disappointment.  A loner till the end, he died near Paris at the age of sixty.

In 1951, French director Robert Bresson released a film based on Diary of a Country PriestThe Guardian called the performance of Claude Laydu, in his debut role, one of the greatest in the history of film.  Bernanos could have been the protagonist of his most well-known book.  Like his sickly young priest, he consented to open his veins for the flock he served, to remain faithful in a world hostile to religion, to live with results so meager he must have wondered whether they were results at all.  To feel oneself an ineffective witness, to plow forward anyway: this is the lot of every follower of Christ.

The priest's dying words are "Grace is everywhere."  But perhaps his very last word is this: "Hell is not to love anymore."

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Acknowledgement

king Heather King. "Georges Bernanos." from Magnificat (April,  2018).

Reprinted with permission from Magnificat.

 

The Author

king king1 Heather King is a sober alcoholic, an ex-lawyer, a Catholic convert, and a full-time writer. She is the author of: Parched, Redeemed: Stumbling Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Poor Baby, Stripped, Holy Days and Gospel Reflectionsand Stumble: Virtue, Vice, and the Space Between. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her website here

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