Critical Context

Mouchette is the archetypal, suffering adolescent found in many of Bernanos’ fictions, but here, in his last conceived novel—Monsieur Ouine (1943, revised 1955; The Open Mind, 1945), a later novel, was started in 1931 but not finished until 1940—she is also a fully realized individual. Mouchette and her thoughts and feelings are the constant center of attention in this remarkably compressed work. Bernanos, fresh from the spectacular success of his Journal d’un cure de campagne (1936; Diary of a Country Priest, 1937) is here at the top of his stylistic bent.

He portrayed in Mouchette yet another of his self-giving saint-heroines. She is one, however, for whom, in her poverty, there is no exit except in suicide and God. In an interview, the author said that the inception of the novel came from his being struck by the sight of a truckload of Spanish peasants going uncomprehendingly to their deaths at the hands of one of Franco’s firing squads. Bernanos had already written in his early Sous le soleil de Satan (1926; The Star of Satan, 1927; also known as Under the Sun of Satan) of a character named Mouchette who killed herself. Bernanos stated, however, that the two girls have nothing in common except the same tragic loneliness in which they lived and died. It was his fervent hope that God would have mercy on both of them.

This simple Christian avowal is typical of Bernanos in all of his works and in his life. What is unusual here is that no priest figure is present, beyond the narrator. The reader is told that no one in the village is attending Mass now, including the Sunday on which Mouchette dies. The pattern of the humiliation, rejection, and death of Christ is played out only by her. She needs love and sympathy to realize herself; they are not available. Such, more than in the writings of other well-known French Catholic novelists, such as Francois Mauriac, is Bernanos’ sympathetic position as he views the wretchedness and poverty of much of humanity. As long as communication remains a problem for individuals, Bernanos deserves to be read for the compassionate voice that sings in Mouchette.