Georges Bernanos

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Bernanos" redirects here. For Georges Bernanos's son, a poet and fantasy writer, see Michel Bernanos.
Georges Bernanos
Born (1888-02-20)20 February 1888
Paris, France
Died 5 July 1948(1948-07-05) (aged 60)
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Occupation Writer
Nationality French
Period 20th century
Genre Novel

Georges Bernanos (French: [ʒɔʁʒ bɛʁnanɔs];[1] 20 February 1888 – 5 July 1948) was a French author, and a soldier in World War I. Of Roman Catholic and monarchist leanings,[2] he was critical of bourgeois thought and was opposed to what he identified as defeatism. He thought this led to France's eventual occupation by Germany in 1940 during World War II.[3] Most of his novels have been translated into English and frequently published in both Great Britain and the United States.


Bernanos was born in Paris, into a family of craftsmen. He spent much of his childhood in the Pas de Calais region, which became a frequent setting for his novels. He served in the First World War as a soldier, where he fought in the battles of the Somme and Verdun. He was wounded several times.

After the war, he worked in insurance before writing Sous le soleil de Satan (1926, Under the Sun of Satan).

Despite his anti-democratic leanings and his allegiance to the Action Française (he was a member of their youth organization, the Camelots du Roi), which he left in 1932, Bernanos saw the danger in Fascism and National Socialism (which he described as "disgustingly monstrous") before World War II broke out in Europe. He won the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française for The Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un curé de campagne), published in 1936.

He initially supported Francisco Franco and the Falange at the outset of the Spanish Civil War.[4] But Bernanos spent part of the conflict in Majorca, observed 'a terrorized people,' and became disillusioned with the nacionales, which he criticized in the book Diary of My Times (1938). He wrote, "My illusions regarding the enterprise of General Franco did not last long - two or three weeks - but while they lasted I conscientiously endeavoured to overcome the disgust which some of his men and means caused me."[5] Most of his important fictional works were written between 1926 and 1937.

With political tensions rising in Europe, Bernanos emigrated to South America with his family in 1938, settling in Brazil. He stayed there until 1945, for most of the time in Barbacena, State of Minas Gerais, where he tried his hand at managing a farm. His three sons returned to France to fight after World War II broke out, while he fulminated at his country's 'spiritual exhaustion,' which he saw as the root of its collapse in 1940. From exile he mocked the 'ridiculous' Vichy regime and became a strong supporter of the nationalist Free French Forces led by the conservative Charles De Gaulle.

After France's Liberation, De Gaulle invited Bernanos to return to his homeland, offering him a post in the government. Bernanos did return but, disappointed to perceive no signs of spiritual renewal, he declined to play an active role in French political life.[6]

Adaptations of selected works[edit]

  • The Diary of a Country Priest: this was the first novel by Bernanos to be adapted as a film, called Diary of a Country Priest (1951); it was directed by Robert Bresson, and starred Claude Laydu in his debut role, called one of the greatest performances in the history of film.[7]
  • Under the Sun of Satan: his novel was adapted as a film of the same name, produced in 1987 in France. The film won the Palme d'Or prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.
  • Dialogues des Carmélites: in 1947, Bernanos had been hired to write the dialogue for a film screenplay, through Raymond-Léopold Bruckberger and the scenario writer Philippe Agostini, based on the novella Die Letzte am Schafott by Gertrud von Le Fort, based on the 1794 history of the Martyrs of Compiègne. The screenplay was judged unsatisfactory at the time. Following Bernanos' death, his literary executor, Albert Béguin, found this manuscript. To assist Bernanos' survivors, Béguin sought to have the work published, and requested permission from von Le Fort for publication. In January 1949, she agreed, and gifted her portion of the royalties due to her, as creator of the original story, over to Bernanos' widow and children. However, von Le Fort requested that Bernanos' work be titled differently from her own novella.[8] Béguin chose Dialogues des Carmélites as the title. The work was published in 1949. It was translated into German as Die begnadete Angst (The Blessed Fear), published in 1951, and first staged in Zurich and Munich that year.[9] The French stage premiere was in May 1952 at the Théâtre Hébertot. Francis Poulenc adapted Bernanos' work into his opera from 1956. A film based on Bernanos' work was released in 1960.

Works in English translation[edit]

  • The Star of Satan. London: The Bodley Head, 1927 [New York: Macmillan, 1940; H. Fertig, 1975].
    • Under the Sun of Satan. New York: Pantheon, 1949 [University of Nebraska Press, 2001].
  • The Crime. London: Hale, 1936 [New York: E.P. Dutton, 1936].
  • The Diary of a Country Priest. 1936 in Paris, France; London: The Bodley Head, 1937 [New York: Macmillan, 1948, 1962; Carroll & Graf, 1983, 2002].
  • A Diary of My Times. New York: Macmillan, 1938 [London: The Bodley Head, 1945].
  • Plea for Liberty. New York: Pantheon, 1944 [London: Dobson, 1946].
  • The Open Mind. London: The Bodley Head, 1945.
    • Monsieur Ouine. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
  • Sanctity Will Out. London and New York: Sheed & Ward, 1947.
  • Joy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1946 [London: The Bodley Head, 1948; Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1948].
  • Tradition of Freedom. London: Dobson, 1950 [New York: Roy, 1951].
  • The Fearless Heart. Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1952 [London: The Bodley Head, 1952].
  • Night Is Darkest. London: The Bodley Head, 1953.
  • Mouchette. London: The Bodley Head, 1966 [New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966; New York Review Books, 2006].
  • The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1955 [Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1968].
  • The Impostor. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.


  1. ^ "Bernanos", Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
  2. ^ Allen, W. Gore (1948). "George Bernanos: A Mystic in the World," The Irish Monthly, Vol. 76, No. 903, pp. 414-416.
  3. ^ Tobin, Michael R. (2007). Georges Bernanos: The Theological Source of his Art. McGill-Queen's University Press.
  4. ^ Hellman, John (1990). "Bernanos, Drumont, and the Rise of French Fascism," The Review of Politics, Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 441-459.
  5. ^ Georges Bernanos. A Diary of My Times, London: Boriswood, 1938, p. 85.
  6. ^ Robert Bergan (2011-08-07). "Claude Laydu obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-06-15. 
  7. ^ Gendre, Claude, 'The Literary Destiny of the Sixteen Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne and the Role of Emmet Lavery'. Renascence, 48.1, pp 37-60 (Fall 1995).
  8. ^ Gendre, Claude, 'Dialogues des Carmélites: the historical background, literary destiny and genesis of the opera', from Francis Poulenc: Music, Art and Literature (Sidney Buckland and Myriam Chimènes, editors). Ashgate (Aldershot, UK), ISBN 1859284078, p 287 (1999).

Further reading[edit]

  • Blumenthal, Gerda (1965). The Poetic Imagination of Georges Bernanos: An Essay in Interpretation. The Johns Hopkins Press.
  • Braybrooke, Neville (1954). "Georges Bernanos," The Irish Monthly, Vol. 83, No. 969, pp. 174–179.
  • Bush, William (1969). Georges Bernanos. Twayne Publishers.
  • Field, Frank (1975). Three French Writers: Studies in the Rise of Communism and Fascism.
  • Hebblethwaite, Peter (1965). Bernanos, an Introduction. London: Bowes and Bowes.
  • Molnar, Thomas (1960). Bernanos: His Political Thought and Prophecy. New York: Sheed and Ward.
  • Molnar, Thomas (1995). "The Case of Georges Bernanos," Modern Age 38 (1), pp. 61–68.
  • Noth, Ernst Erich (1949). "The Prophetism of Georges Bernanos," Yale French Studies, No. 4, Literature and Ideas, pp. 105–119.
  • O'Malley, Frank (1944). "The Evangelism of Georges Bernanos," The Review of Politics, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 403–421.
  • Reck, Rima Drell (1965). "George Bernanos: A Novelist and His Art," The French Review, Vol. 38, No. 5, pp. 619–629.
  • Speaight, Robert (1973). Georges Bernanos: A Study of the Man and the Writer. London: Collins & Harvill Press [New York: Liveright, 1974].

External links[edit]