(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Mouchette is the brief story of a humble girl’s last miserable hours. It is a tale told with a marvelous economy of words and in a limpid style, taking the reader through the series of encounters the child experiences in her misery. The tale begins as Mouchette slips away from the singing class at the village primary school, where she has been rejected both by the teacher and by the other students. She takes to the road. Having cut across the taillis (a stunted wood, periodically cut back for charcoal making), she takes refuge between two trees to shelter from a rainstorm. By this time, she has lost both a shoe and her scarf. (Even the finest of details Georges Bernanos makes reverberate meaningfully in subsequent stages of her wandering and loss.)

Mouchette is then found by a friend of her smuggler-father, the drunk poacher Arsene, who takes her to his hut. There he gives her a drink from his small remaining stock of alcohol. He boasts graphically of having saved her from the “cyclone” raging outside, confesses in detail to killing the gamekeeper, Mathieu, and falls unconscious in an epileptic fit. Mouchette cradles his head and, though she hates music at school, sings lovingly and beautifully to him. When he recovers, Arsene rapes her. A brief glimmering of hope is thus extinguished. The small fire in the hut has become ashes. Mouchette takes to the road again.

At dawn, she arrives at the hovel where she lives only to find her...

(The entire section is 538 words.)