Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Mouchette (mew-SHEHT), a fourteen-year-old peasant girl living in northern France. She is a highly sensitive and perceptive young girl who is desperate for attention and exhausted with being brutalized by the adults in her life. She is raped by the drunken poacher Arsène and tries unsuccessfully to tell those in authority about the experience. Isolated and completely friendless, she is overwhelmed with feelings of disgust but finds a strange kind of consolation even in the brutal rape. She announces to Mathieu that she is Arsène’s lover. The growing consciousness of the depth of her despair drives her to suicide by drowning.


Arsène (ahr-SEHN), a young, alcoholic, epileptic poacher. He warns Mouchette that there is a devastating cyclone destroying the countryside; the fabrication is his means of getting her to stay with him in his forest hut. He also tells her that he may have killed the game warden, Monsieur Mathieu, thus gaining her trust and loyalty. As he becomes progressively more intoxicated, he has an epileptic seizure, after which Mouchette tenderly cradles his head and sings to him. After coming to, he brutally rapes her.

Mouchette’s mother

Mouchette’s mother, a middle-aged woman dying of tuberculosis. She is from a family of alcoholics and is dying an early death because of her weakened hereditary background. She is emaciated, malnourished, and in severe pain, because her lungs have virtually ceased to function. A bitter woman whose life has been nothing but grinding poverty and abuse from her family, she endures her last moments by drinking as much gin as possible to anesthetize...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The summary of events, sketched above, gives a most inadequate rendering of the power of this elegantly crafted tale. It also does little more than suggest the complex responses aroused in a reader by Bernanos’ rendering of his innocent heroine’s death following a series of rejections on all fronts. The book’s focus is exclusively on the inarticulate Mouchette in her few moments of joy and in her lifetime of suffering. At least (such is Bernanos’ skill), it seems like a lifetime; in fact, however, it cannot be more than eighteen hours from the start to the finish of the action. No other characters’ motives are examined by the omniscient narrator.

The reader follows with increasing sympathy Mouchette’s growing confidence in her abductor, her half-desirous, half-terrified involvement in her rape, and her painful realization that she has lost her virginity to a liar. Such is the potent effect of the stunted landscape, the incessant downpour, and the closed rural society that the reader comes to sympathize deeply with Mouchette and even to feel like something of an accomplice in her suicide. People do not understand her, she is unable to express herself adequately, and so she is rejected. Her life is miserable. With all the stubbornness, timidity, and incomprehension of a small animal, she is hunted from place to place, from person to person, increasingly degraded with each encounter. From the potentially life-giving meeting with Arsene, she travels to her ominous encounter with a devotee of Death (in the person of the wake-goer, Philomene).

The minor characters in the story are developed only insofar as they have an impact on the “chase,” to use Bernanos’ hunting metaphor; they are the dogs who pursue the game to its death.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Asti, F.D. “Failures in Communication in La Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette,” in Nottingham French Studies. XX (1981), pp. 42-62.

Blumenthal, Gerda. The Poetic Imagination of Georges Bernanos: An Essay in Interpretation, 1965.

Bush, William. Georges Bernanos, 1969.

Hebblethwaite, Peter. Bernanos: An Introduction, 1965.

Speaight, Robert. Georges Bernanos: A Study of the Man and the Writer, 1974.