The Diary of a Country Priest presents the journal of a recently ordained priest in his first year in the parish of Saint Vaast in the French countryside. The priest is an ordinary young man from a working-class background with a decidedly intellectual bent and an above-average preoccupation with his physical health. He began writing for comfort, but more than likely also as a substitute for contemplative prayer, a spiritual requirement that he is not completely comfortable with, but which he would never admit the journal replaces. He determines this writing exercise will be his experiment for only the next year and vows, “On the 25th of November I’ll stuff these pages in the fire and try to forget them.”
His approach to helping with the spiritual well-being of his parishioners consists of an intellectual debate. He approaches his young catechism students in this manner and views them as adults of miniature stature, a fact that endears him neither to the children nor to their parents. On one occasion, the mother of one of his students declares to the priest that he is treating her daughter Seraphita entirely too harshly. The young priest, confident in his sacred duty to guide the girl down the correct path to God, tells the woman that her daughter is far too advanced for her age, a trait that is causing her to be a problem in class and implies future problems of a much more severe nature. In the process of the discussion, the priest makes the mistake of describing Seraphita as “coquettish,” a word that her mother objects to because of the priest’s youth and inexperience. Later it is this very girl who befriends the priest when he falls ill on the road near her home. Seraphita, who had been sent out that night to deal with the cattle, literally stumbles across the priest. After seeing the priest is not dead as she had originally feared, the girl decides not to inform her brutish father of the priest’s condition. She is very understanding as she bring cold pond water to wash his face of blood and vomit and cleans him up until he is somewhat presentable. She stays with him until he gets some strength back and walks with him down the rough road toward his home until her father comes to the door of her house and calls to her to hurry up and come inside.
The youth of the priest...
(The entire section is 948 words.)