One of the great mavericks of French literature, Georges Bernanos combined raw realism with a spiritual focus of visionary intensity. Mouchette stands with his celebrated Diary of a Country Priest as the perfection of his singular art.
“Nothing but a little savage” is how the village school-teacher describes fourteen-year-old Mouchette, and that view is echoed by every right-thinking local citizen. Mouchette herself doesn’t bother to contradict it; ragged, foulmouthed, dirt-poor, a born liar and loser, she knows herself to be, in the words of the story, “alone, completely alone, against everyone.” Hers is a tale of “tragic solitude” in which despair and salvation appear to be inextricably intertwined.
Bernanos uncompromising genius was a powerful inspiration to Flannery O’Connor, and Mouchette was the source of a celebrated movie by Robert Bresson.
“Nabokov complained that Turgenev essentially moved characters around in order for them to have conversations; and Bernanos moves them around in order for them to confess to each other. These confessions, which involve long speeches, sometimes of many pages, are extraordinarily affecting and frequently beautiful. Bernanos is, like Dostoevsky, something of a sensationalist of the soul. While Dostoevsky’s characters speak to each other in the same kind of mashed and ripely careless prose in which Dostoevsky writes, Bernanos’s priests and parishioners speak a formal and poetic discourse, full of metaphor and figure.”—James Woods, The New Republic
“It possesses the linear perfection of the French classic novel and a concentrated power out of all proportion in its length.” —Martin Turnell, The New York Times
“A tragedy in the great tradition, piteous, harrowing—and ennobling.” —Walker Percy
“Simply and directly told, this novel relates the story of the young outcast peasant girl, Mouchette . . . and her search for the compassion and strength to combat her loneliness. A beautiful and moving short novel—compassionate, perceptive, lyrical.” —Publisher’s Weekly