Georges Bernanos Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Louis Georges Bernanos (behr-nah-nohs) spent his childhood in the Artois village of Fressin, surrounded by the idyllic landscape that later provided the background for his eight novels. His education and family life were steeped in an uncompromising Catholicism, which deepened and intensified during his studies in law and letters at the University of Paris. After receiving his degree, he began a career as a political journalist, contributing mostly to such royalist conservative periodicals as Action française and Revue universelle. Bernanos believed that democratic reforms were too closely linked to consumer capitalism and would result in spiritual alienation as well as political and social exploitation.

During World War I, Bernanos served at the front for four years. Afterward, he suffered from periodic bouts of depression. The publication of his first novel, The Star of Satan, brought him considerable notice. In this compelling story, a troubled priest fluctuates between mystical spirituality and the haunting appeal of determinism. Bernanos contributed to the development of the modern theological novel, in which the priest as savior/preserver/destroyer represents the spiritual cleansing of the Church.

The Diary of a Country Priest, for which Bernanos was awarded the Grand Prix du Roman of the French Academy, reinforces the idea that the fate of the priest is connected to that of the parishioners....

(The entire section is 461 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although the life of Georges Bernanos, born Paul Louis Georges Bernanos, began and ended in Paris, the word “restless” best describes the many wanderings that led him to towns and cities in France, Spain, South America, and Africa. Possibly of Spanish descent, his father, Émile Bernanos, was an interior decorator of good business ability. The family, which included Bernanos’s sister, Thérèse, spent the summers at Fressin, in Pas-de-Calais, and the north of France was to be the scene for almost all of Bernanos’s novels. Bernanos was influenced both by his mother’s staunch piety and by his father’s anti-Semitism. Although Bernanos was an avid reader, his childhood was marked by frequent changes in schools, for he was not a model student. He formed close ties, however, with some of his teachers—such as Abbé Lagrange at Bourges and later Dom Besse—and always showed great enthusiasm for spiritual pursuits.

In 1906, Bernanos became strongly attracted to Charles Maurras’s militant royalist movement, Action Française, to which he adhered faithfully until the beginning of the 1930’s. From 1906 to 1913, he pursued both a licence in letters and one in law at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In 1913, he moved to Rouen, where he became editor in chief of the local royalist newspaper L’Avant-garde de Normandie. It was there that he met his future wife, Jeanne Talbert d’Arc, a direct descendant of Joan of Arc’s brother....

(The entire section is 550 words.)