''Hell is to cease to love,'' the young priest protagonist of Diary of a Country Priest
tells a parishioner in danger of such lovelessness. The clash of the worlds of love and lovelessness, of God and Satan, that underlies all our lives; the reality of which is so clear to the saints and from which, at least in its starkest manifestations, the rest of us are perhaps mercifully insulated -- this is the reality that Georges Bernanos (1888-1948) sought to expose. He named the demons of the modern world, and unmetaphorically connected them to the evil one. Slipping near the edge of pessimism and despair in that dark vision, Bernanos could write about the experience of grace and saving love all the more convincingly. Monsieur Ouine
(1943, English trans. 2000) is a story Bernanos himself claimed as his ''great novel''-- ambiguous, mysterious, full of quirky characters and paradoxical twists and turns, it also explores the nature of spiritual degeneration, in this case of a dying, retired professor.
An Eighth Day View:
In a small village in northern France, Monsieur Ouine, a retired professor, is taken in by the dull local squire, Anthelme de Nereis, and soon rules the life of both Anthelme and his wife, Ginette. A fourteen-year-old fatherless boy, Philippe Dorval, flees home and, on impulse, follows Madame de Nereis to her chateau. There the squire, who is dying, tells the boy that his father is actually alive and well--that despite what Philippe's mother had told him, his father had not died in World War I. The forsaken boy finds himself on that fatal evening succumbing to Monsieur Ouine's embrace after falling into a drunken sleep in the old professor's bed. The events of the tempestuous night lead to upheaval in the village the next morning, when, at dawn, a boy's body is found afloat in a stream near the chateau.