- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Press (January 9, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786709618
- ISBN-13: 978-0786709618
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 63 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Diary of a Country Priest: A Novel Paperback – January 9, 2002
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An idealistic young Catholic priest in an isolated French village keeps a diary describing the unheroic suffering and the petty internal conflicts of his parish. This may sound like a thin plot for a novel, but Diary of a Country Priest, by George Bernanos, remains one of the 20th century's most vivid evocations of saintly life. First published in 1937, Bernanos's Diary describes a faithful man's experience of failure. In his diary, the priest records feelings of inferiority and sadness that he cannot express to his parishioners. And as he approaches death, from cancer, the priest's saintliness remains unclear to him, but becomes undeniable to the reader. "How easy it is to hate oneself! True grace is to forget. Yet if pride could die in us, the supreme grace would be to love oneself in all simplicity--as one would love any one of those who themselves have suffered and loved in Christ." --Michael Joseph Gross
About the Author
Georges Bernanos, a winner of the Prix Femina, also wrote the novels Under Satan's Sun and The Open Mind, among many others.
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Unfortunately, if you miss those books as a young person, you may not be able to recapture the magic of those books. I've read a few of these books as a mature adult and I found the characters mostly insufferable. Listening to them express disappointment in the world and how it does not measure up to their expectations can set my teeth on edge.
This book is almost the opposite of those books, and, strangely, it is one that I can relate to more - now, perhaps, than I could have at a younger age. In this appraisal, I am perhaps like the writer of the preface, whose reading of it caused him to leave the seminary.
The story is about a young, unnamed priest who takes over an isolated, inbred, suspicious, bored and mostly unchristian parish. The priest is from the lowest order of peasants and had an impoverished childhood, but somehow he has learned an incredible humility and patience. His parishioners are suspicious of him and play pranks on him and take advantage of him when they can. His upbringing without money or business knowledge leaves him vulnerable to his parishioners. He also suffers stomach pain, which prevents him from eating, leaving him emaciated and weak. But the priest's innocence and humility have an effect on his parishioners, which he seems to be unaware.
The age of the priest is never specified - I get the sense of him being in his late 20s, based on one passage. If you've lived through that age and been given charge of some special responsibility to others, then you know that the sense of responsibility is intense, with constant questioning of what is the right thing to do and the knowledge of a lack of experience and wisdom. I found that part of the character to be quite an accurate representation of the process of growing into a mature adulthood.
The story is formed in the manner of a diary, and like a diary it is episodic. The diarist does not tell everything he knows. Sometimes we watch exchanges that are perplexing in their development. The discussion with Mlle. Chantal, for example, seems to beg the question of how the priest knew about the letter that she was carrying. Likewise, the death of Dr. Delbende starts out as a hunting accident but gradually is identified as a suicide, with a foreshadowing of issues for the priest. But, again, this is supposed to be a diary, and we don't write everything down in our diaries. The reader should just let the book flow and follow along.
For me, the story started out slow, but toward the middle, particularly the meeting with Madame Contess, it picked up steam. By the end, particularly when the priest is diagnosed and has his conversation with the woman his former seminary friend is living with, it becomes powerful, particularly with the closing lines that "Does it matter? Grace is everywhere...."
There is a story here, and character development, but there are also long orations by particular characters which express what must have been Bernanos views on religion, culture and the state. These are worth reading and contemplating, such as the offhand comment by a friendly French soldier that the "The last real soldier died on May 30, 1431, and you killed her, you people." (p. 245.) I particularly liked this:
"It greatly comforts me also, to think that nobody has been guilty of real harshness towards me - not to say the great word: injustice. I certainly respect those victims of iniquity who are able to find in that knowledge some basis of strength and hope. Somehow I should always hate to think myself - though unwittingly - the cause or merely the pretext of another's sin.
Even from the Cross, when Our Lord in His agony found the perfection of His saintly Humanity - even then He did not own Himself a victim of injustice: They know not what they do. Words that have meaning for the youngest child, words some would like to call childish, but the spirits of evil must have been muttering them ever since without understanding, and with ever-growing terror. Instead of the thunderbolts they awaited it as though a Hand of innocence closed over the chasm of their dwelling." (p. 292.)
Clearly, this is an introspective book about religion and spiritual matters. If the reader is looking for something with more action, then they should pass this by, but if they want an interesting examination of the journey of a soul, this is a book worth reading.
Most recent customer reviews
A true translation: “All is grace.”