Paul Charles-Joseph Bourget (bewr-zheh) is perhaps the outstanding French novelist of a period of French literature not distinguished in that genre, the interval between Émile Zola and Marcel Proust. Bookish and precise by nature, Bourget received an education that tended to accentuate rather than diminish these qualities. When viewed against a materialistic age, his life represents a struggle to find a personal religion—one he later advocated for France as a whole—consisting, for him, of a return to the Catholic Church and to the political point of view of the extreme Right. This struggle is reflected in most of Bourget’s novels.
His father was a brilliant professor of mathematics and physics, his mother well-educated but neurotic, and she died young. Bourget himself later commented on the dichotomous analytical-emotional character he considered he owed to his parents. For all his own neuroses and lifelong tendency toward hypochondria, however, he led a full life and produced more than one hundred volumes. His private life he kept scrupulously to himself; scholars know little about it. In 1890, he married Minnie David; it was seemingly a happy union. Bourget traveled extensively most of his life: England, Italy, Greece, the Near East, and the United States. He was elected to the French Academy on May 31, 1894 (a signal honor, especially for an author so young) and remained “a great man of letters” for the rest of his days. He was intimate with many of the finest authors of his time, notably Henry James, Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine, Edith Wharton, Guy de Maupassant, and Henry Bordeaux.
Bourget’s first works were poetry and criticism, and he continued to write in the latter field throughout his life....
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