Georges Bernanos


French Novelist, Political Writer and Soldier

Author Quotes

Chantal's only ruse... was her shattering simplicity. While a weak man or an imposter is always more complicated than the problem he is trying to solve, and thinking to encompass his adversary, merely keeps prowling interminably around himself, the heroic nature will throw itself into the heart of the danger to turn it to its own use, just as captured artillery is turned about and aimed at the backs of the fleeing enemy.

I have done no passably decent job in this world which did not at first seem to me useless - absurdly useless, useless to the point of nausea. My secret demon is called :What's the use?

No one ever discovers the depths of his own loneliness.

The cradle is shallower than the grave.

What does the truth matter? Haven't we mothers all given our sons a taste for lies, lies which from the cradle upwards lull them, reassure them, send them to sleep: lies as soft and warm as a breast!

Civilization exists precisely so that there may be no masses but rather men alert enough never to constitute masses.

I have just discovered something I have always known: we can no more escape from one another than we can escape from God.

Oh! I know the compassion of others relieves a moment, I do despise. But it does not désalèere it flows into the soul as through a sieve. And when our suffering password pity pity, as well as word of mouth, it seems that we can no longer respect or love.

The modern state no longer has anything but rights; it does not recognize duties any more.

When marine officers called on me at Palma, they remarked on the clean roads, the punctual trams and so on. 'Why', they exclaimed, 'business as usual - and you say there's killing going on? what nonsense!' They didn't realise that any tradesman who closed down, closed down at his peril. They didn't know that the relatives of the executed were not allowed to go into mourning. How can you expect the outside appearance of a town to be affected, just because the staff of its prisons is double, treble, ten times, a hundred times what it was? The discreet slaughter of fifteen or twenty wretched people per day, will not prevent tramways from running to schedule, cafés from being full, or churches resounding with the Te Deum.

Democracies cannot dispense with hypocrisy any more than dictatorships can with cynicism.

I know that the Crusaders of Majorca put to death, in a single night, all the prisoners who were huddled in the Catalonian trenches. They took the whole herd down to the shore and shot them, one beast at a time - they were quite leisurely about it. The Lord High Archbishop of Palma arranged to be represented at the ceremony, by a certain number of his priests. You can picture the scene can't you? 'Come on, father, isn't that one ready?' - 'Just a moment captain, I'm handing him over to you at once.' When the job was finished, the Crusaders piled their cattle in two heaps - those who'd been given absolution and those who hadn't- then sprinkled petrol over them. It is quite likely that this purification by fire may then have taken on, by reason of the presence of priests officiating a liturgical significance. Unfortunately I only saw these blackened, shiny creatures two days after that, contorted by the flames, some of them counterfeiting obscene poses in death, which must have been very distressing for the ladies of Palma and for their eminent confessors. A reeking tar oozed out of them.

Once or twice, when she [Chantal] had adroitly avoided an opportunity of pleasing or winning admiration (for her shrewd wit and vivacity made her popular), she was astonished at his [Abbé Chevance's] disapproval. [She asked him why.] Blushing he had replied, I will tell you, my daughter. I used to try very hard to be admired, to be liked. That is the world! Then, with that profound finesse which no one had ever had the wit to recognize in the former priest of Costerel-sur-Meuse, he at once added, I had more to fear from the world than you have.

The most dangerous of our calculations are those we call illusions.

When you think of the huge uninterrupted success of a book like Don Quixote, you're bound to realize that if humankind have not yet finished being revenged, by sheer laughter, for being let down in their greatest hope, it is because that hope was cherished so long and lay so deep!

Everybody in Palma knew that my son was a lieutenant in the Phalange, and I was often seen at mass. For months I had been friendly with insurgent leaders who were feared by all the suspects. And yet people I hardly knew spoke freely to me, when the slightest indiscretion on my part would have cost their liberty, or their lives. I'll tell you why it was. It was because it is still known in the world that a Frenchman doesn't let himself become a policeman's pawn - that's why. Because a Frenchman is a free man.

I know the compassion of others is a relief at first. I don't despise it. But it can't quench pain, it slips through your soul as through a sieve. And when our suffering has been dragged from one pity to another, as from one mouth to another, we can no longer respect or love it.

Only the present counts.

The population of Majorca has always been noted for its absolute indifference to politics. In the days of the Carlistes and the Cristinos, George Sand tells us how they welcomed with equal unconcern the refugees of either side. According to the head of the Phalange, you could not have found a hundred Communists in the whole island. Where could the Party have got them from? It is a country of small market-gardening, of olives, oranges and almonds, without industry, without factories. I declare on oath that during the months preceding the civil war there was no attempt of any kind made against persons or belongings. 'There was killing in Spain,' you say. 'A hundred and thirty-five political assassinations between March and July 1936.' But in Majorca there were no crimes to avenge, so it could only have been a preventative action, the systematic extermination of suspects.

Who are you to condemn another's sin? He who condemns sin becomes part of it, espouses it.

Fact is Our Lord knew all about the power of money: He gave capitalism a tiny niche in His scheme of things. He gave it a chance. He even provided a first instalment of funds. Can you beat that? It's so magnificent. God despises nothing. After all, if the deal had come off, Judas would probably have endowed sanatoriums, hospitals, public libraries or laboratories.

I saw a woman of thirty-five, living peacefully in the bosom of her family after an interrupted novitiate, show sudden signs of incomprehensible nervous terror, speak of possible 'reprisals', and refuse to go out alone. A very dear friend, took pity on her, offered her shelter. 'Come, child, what have you to fear? You're one of God's little lambs...' 'Harmless? That's all you know! Everybody thinks as you do, and nobody's frightened of me. Well - you can find out for yourself. I had eight men shot, madame...'

Optimism has always seemed to me the cunning alibi of egoists, anxious to cover up their state of chronic self-satisfaction. They are optimists in order to avoid pitying other men and their misfortune. ~~ Yet pity is a vexed question.

The world is eaten up by boredom. You can't see it all at once. It is like dust. You go about and never notice, you breathe it in, you eat and drink it. It is sifted so fine, it doesn't even grit on your teeth. But stand still for an instant and there it is, coating your face and hands. To shake off this drizzle of ashes you must be forever on the go. And so people are always "on the go.”

You don't wage civil war in kid gloves. The Spanish bishops know it so well that they have been obliged to refer to 'regrettable excesses' and 'inevitable abuses'. They seem to think that war is like Shrove Tuesday, that it's a jolly respite, as it were, from social morality, and that men can give themselves up to being cruel just as gay sparks at carnival-time indulge in bottom-pinching! Once the illuminations go out, we must welcome the dear lad home with a smile that's both knowing and fatherly. 'Don't worry, my dear boy. We can none of us resist a little fun sometimes. Think no more about it.' But, Your Excellencies, this is something more than a little fun!

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French Novelist, Political Writer and Soldier