Georges Bernanos

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Georges Bernanos
Photo of Georges Bernanos.jpg
Born (1888-02-20)20 February 1888
Paris, France
Died 5 July 1948(1948-07-05) (aged 60)
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Occupation Writer
Nationality French
Period 20th century
Genre Novel

Georges Bernanos (French: [ʒɔʁʒ bɛʁnanɔs];[1] 20 February 1888 – 5 July 1948) was a French author, and a soldier in World War I. Of Roman Catholic and monarchist leanings,[2] he was critical of bourgeois thought and was opposed to what he identified as defeatism. He thought this led to France's eventual occupation by Germany in 1940 during World War II.[3] Most of his novels have been translated into English and frequently published in both Great Britain and the United States.


Bernanos was born in Paris, into a family of craftsmen. He spent much of his childhood in the Pas de Calais region, which became a frequent setting for his novels. He served in the First World War as a soldier, where he participated in the battles of the Somme and Verdun. He was wounded several times.

After the war, he worked in insurance before writing Sous le soleil de Satan (1926, Under the Sun of Satan).

Despite his anti-democratic leanings and his allegiance to the Action Française (he was a member of their youth organization, the Camelots du Roi), which he left in 1932, Bernanos saw the danger in Fascism and National Socialism (which he described as "disgusting monstrousness") before World War II broke out in Europe. He won the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française for The Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un curé de campagne), published in 1936.

He initially supported Francisco Franco and the Falange at the outset of the Spanish Civil War.[4] But Bernanos spent part of the conflict in Majorca, observed 'a terrorized population,' and became disillusioned with the nacionales, which he criticized in the book Diary of My Times (1938). He wrote, "My illusions on the enterprise of General Franco did not last long - two or three weeks - but while they lasted I conscientiously endeavoured to get over the disgust which some of the men and means inspired in me."[5] Most of his important fictional works were written between 1926 and 1937.

With political tensions rising in Europe, Bernanos emigrated to South America with his family in 1938, settling in Brazil. He stayed there until 1945, for most of the time in Barbacena, where he tried his hand at managing a farm. His three sons returned to France to fight when World War II broke out, while he fulminated at his country's 'spiritual exhaustion,' which he saw as the root of its collapse in 1940. From exile he mocked the 'ridiculous' Vichy regime and became a strong supporter of the nationalist Free French Forces led by the conservative Charles de Gaulle.

Plaque at the birthplace of Georges Bernanos

After the liberation, de Gaulle invited Bernanos to return to France, offering him a post in the government. Bernanos did return but, disappointed that no signs of spiritual renewal were to be perceived, he did not participate actively in French political life.[6]


  • The Diary of a Country Priest was the first novel by Bernanos to be adapted as a film, called Diary of a Country Priest (1951); it was directed by Robert Bresson, and starred Claude Laydu in his debut role, called one of the greatest performances in the history of film.[7]
  • In 1947, Bernanos had been hired to write the dialogue for a film screenplay, through Raymond-Léopold Bruckberger and the scenario writer Philippe Agostini, based on the novella Die Letzte am Schafott by Gertrud von Le Fort, based on the 1794 history of the Martyrs of Compiègne. The screenplay was judged unsatisfactory at the time. Following Bernanos' death, his literary executor, Albert Béguin, found this manuscript. To assist Bernanos' survivors, Béguin sought to have the work published, and requested permission from von Le Fort for publication. In January 1949, she agreed, and gifted her portion of the royalties due to her, as creator of the original story, over to Bernanos' widow and children. However, von Le Fort requested that Bernanos' work be titled differently from her own novella.[8] Béguin chose Dialogues des Carmélites as the title. The work was published in 1949. It was translated into German as Die begnadete Angst (The Blessed Fear), published in 1951, and first staged in Zurich and Munich that year.[9] The French stage premiere was in May 1952 at the Théâtre Hébertot. Francis Poulenc adapted Bernanos' work into his opera from 1956. A film based on Bernanos' work was released in 1960.
  • Under the Sun of Satan was adapted as a film of the same name, produced in 1987 in France. The film won the Palme d'Or prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[10]

Works in English translation

  • The Star of Satan. London: The Bodley Head, 1927 (New York: Macmillan, 1940; H. Fertig, 1975).
    • Under the Sun of Satan. New York: Pantheon, 1949 (University of Nebraska Press, 2001).
  • The Crime. London: Hale, 1936 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1936).
  • The Diary of a Country Priest. London: The Bodley Head, 1937 (New York: Macmillan, 1948, 1962; Carroll & Graf, 1983, 2002).
  • A Diary of My Times. New York: Macmillan, 1938 (London: The Bodley Head, 1945).
  • Plea for Liberty. New York: Pantheon, 1944 (London: Dobson, 1946).
  • The Open Mind. London: The Bodley Head, 1945.
  • Sanctity Will Out. London and New York: Sheed & Ward, 1947.
  • Joy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1946 (London: The Bodley Head, 1948; Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1948).
  • Tradition of Freedom. London: Dobson, 1950 (New York: Roy, 1951).
  • The Fearless Heart. Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1952 (London: The Bodley Head, 1961).
  • Night Is Darkest. London: The Bodley Head, 1953.
  • Dialogues of the Carmelites. Milan: Ricordi, 1957.
    • The Carmelites. London: Collins, 1961.
  • Mouchette. London: The Bodley Head, 1966 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966; New York Review Books, 2006).
  • The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1955 (Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1968).
  • Heroic Face of Innocence: Three Stories. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999.
  • The Impostor. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  • Saint Dominic. Tacoma: Cluny Media, 2017.




  1. "Bernanos", Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
  2. Allen 1948
  3. Tobin 2007
  4. Hellman 1990
  5. Georges Bernanos. A Diary of My Times, London: Boriswood, 1938, p. 85.
  6. Bergan, Robert (August 7, 2011). "Claude Laydu Obituary", The Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  7. Gendre, Claude (1995). "The Literary Destiny of the Sixteen Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne and the Role of Emmet Lavery," Renascence, 48 (1), pp. 37–60.
  8. Gendre, Claude (1999). "Dialogues des Carmélites: the historical background, literary destiny and genesis of the opera." In: Francis Poulenc: Music, Art and Literature, ed. by Sidney Buckland and Myriam Chimènes. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, p. 287. ISBN 1859284078


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Further reading

External links