Under the Sun of Satan Summary
by Georges Bernanos

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Under the Sun of Satan Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Under the Sun of Satan is divided into three quasi-independent sections. Part 1, a sort of prologue entitled “The Story of Mouchette,” is an account of a teenage victim of child abuse. Germaine Malorthy, nicknamed “Mouchette,” is sixteen and pregnant. The father of the unborn child is a forty-five-year-old nobleman, the Marquess of Cadignan. Germaine will not re-veal his name to her parents, but her father, Antoine, correctly suspects his identity and goes to confront the philanderer at his chateau. Cadignan denies everything, and Germaine, when quizzed again by her parents, remains silent. That night, she sneaks out of the house, hoping never to return.

She goes to see Cadignan, who recognizes a certain obligation for causing her predicament and agrees to sell some property and give her part of the proceeds. Germaine, however, wants him to marry her. He refuses, and she tries to get back at him by denying that she is pregnant and by claiming that she is the mistress of the local physician, Dr. Gallet. This admission puts Cadignan into such a rage that he rapes her. Afterward, when she tries to leave, he makes an effort to stop her, but in the scuffle, she grabs a loaded hunting rifle from the wall and shoots him at close range, under his chin. She then returns home before her parents are awake. The authorities rule that the death of Cadignan is a suicide.

Germaine now takes a new lover, Dr. Gallet. During one of their regular trysts, she tells him the truth about Cadignan’s death, although Gallet does not believe her. She wants her lover to give her an abortion, but he refuses. Germaine is by now so upset that, after her confession of murder, she goes into a hysterical fit and has to be hospitalized. A month later, following the stillbirth of her child, she is released as cured.

Part 2, entitled “The Temptation of Despair,” is the section that Georges Bernanos wrote last, after he wrote part 3. “The Temptation of Despair” deals with the struggle of the young, naive curate of Campagne, Father Donissan, to discover his proper relationship to God and to his fellowman. His search will be long and difficult, compounded as it is by his own lack of education and by the obstinacy of his nature. He “has neither education nor manners, and there is more zeal than wisdom in his extreme piety,” his superior, Father Menou-Segrais, observes.

One night, as Donissan is on his way to a nearby village to help with confession during a local retreat, he becomes lost and stumbles across the fields in the darkness. Yet he is not alone. Satan appears in the guise of an itinerant horse trader and offers to help him find his way back to the road. At first, Donissan does not realize to whom he is speaking. He regards the stranger as a friendly presence upon whom he can rely for support. When the truth is known, however, Donissan meets it without flinching: “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

The confrontation continues. Satan is up to his old tricks and even changes his appearance to that of Donissan himself, a resemblance so subtle that it is “like the unique and profound idea which every human being has of himself.” Finally, Satan leaves, realizing that he has met his match, but before he goes, he issues a warning that he will continue to work his evil on Donissan. “There isn’t a lout we can’t make use of,” he says tauntingly.

Donissan, alone once again, decides to return to his village. On the way, he meets Germaine. His encounter with the Devil has led him to discover that he has been given the gift of reading people’s souls, and thus he is able to reveal to Germaine details about her shooting of Cadignan. Donissan hopes for her salvation, but the encounter only convinces Germaine of the meaninglessness of her life. When she returns home, she desperately calls on the Devil for succor. Then, she takes her father’s straight razor and “fiercely and coldly” slashes her throat in front of a mirror.

Meanwhile, Donissan tells...

(The entire section is 1,196 words.)