Cover image for The impostor
The impostor
Bernanos, Georges, 1888-1948.
Uniform Title:
Imposture. English
Publication Information:
Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
250 pages ; 22 cm
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The Impostor is a searching account of the torment that besets Father Cénabre, historian of mysticism and controversial star of the Parisian clergy, when his faith suddenly deserts him. As the priest struggles to cope secretly, he crosses paths with associates on the complex margins of a Church facing modern politics in the early twentieth century. Georges Bernanos's compelling and dark portraits of that shadowy world's inhabitants throw into stark relief the determination of a humble priest, Father Chevance, who alone knows Cénabre's secret and struggles to save him. By turn touching and scathing, The Impostor explores the delicate balance between redemption and damnation and illuminates the fragility of our constructed selves. Georges Bernanos (1888-1948), one of the twentieth century's most powerful and idiosyncratic writers, was also the most original Roman Catholic writer of his time. The Impostor , the second of his novels published in French, is the last to be translated into English.

Author Notes

A novelist and essayist, Georges Bernanos was interested in the struggle between good and evil within saintly individuals. He was born in Paris in 1888. He studied at the Sorbonne where he received a degree in law and in literature in 1909. He served in the military from 1909 to 1910 and again during World War I. After the war, Bernanos worked as an inspector for an insurance company.

Bernanos's first major success as a writer came in 1926 with the publication of the novel Under the Sun of Satan. His well-known work The Diary of a Country Priest followed in 1936. Both novels traced the unknowing submission of characters, after some early disappointing experience, to the forces of Satan and the subsequent destruction of their moral selves.

From 1930 to 1932, Bernanos wrote for Le Figaro. In his articles and essays, Bernanos pleaded for a renewed spirituality in France and a renewed moral integrity. Mouchette, a short novel set in a bleak village untouched by the twentieth century was published in 1937. As was The Diary of a Country Priest, Mouchette was made into a film by Robert Bresson.

The writings of Georges Bernanos are concerned with the struggle between pride and innocence that lies within every individual. They treat spiritual concerns and the mystery of Christianity. Bernanos is considered among the most original of Roman Catholic novelists.

Bernanos died of cancer in Paris on July 5, 1948.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This 1927 novel by Bernanos (1888- 1948), newly translated by Whitehouse, centers on a priest with a soul-searing dilemma. Father C‚nabre, member of the Parisian theological illuminati, the brilliant author of celebrated texts on mysticism, is a cool, even arrogant defender of the need to live a Christian life in a secular world. When he confronts Monsieur Pernichon, a priest manqu‚ who writes a religious column in a radical paper, Pernichon is at first appreciative of the critique (as Parisians who come in contact with C‚nabre tend to be), but soon recoils under Cenabre's heartless, relentless X-ray scrutiny. Shortly afterward, C‚nabre discovers that he has lost his faith. Sustaining his public image, he shares this realization only with an aging, humble cleric named Chevance, who poses no threat in competition for the Parisian limelight, and for whom C‚nabre finds a place in the diocese of Paris after a profane exorcism Chevance performs in the provinces goes awry. What follows may best be termed a religious detective story as C‚nabre and Chevance search for C‚nabre's missing soul. Traversing the intellectual minefields of C‚nabre's present and the sometimes harrowing alleyways of his past, Bernanos runs his plot on two clocks. The surprising resolution centers around the question of to whom the dying Chevance should entrust the pure flame of a young female parishioner. Austere, intellectually challenging and, occasionally, achingly poignant in the tradition of French-Catholic mysticism, the novel achieves a certain quiet spiritual triumph, a faith-at-low-ebb form made popular in the English-speaking world by The Power and the Glory. (May) FYI: J.C. Whitehouse is the author of The Human Being in the Catholic Novels of Graham Greene. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Perhaps it's because Father C‚nabre has just gone through another wearying round of confessions with Monsieur Pernichon. Perhaps it's because he has spent years in study and writing without having arrived at a palatable system of ideas. But one gloomy night the good father comes to a terrible realization: he no longer believes. It hardly helps to summon meek Father Chevance for discussion, and trying to do violence to himself doesn't work either, so Father C‚nabre sets out on a much more desperate course of action and in his self-serving despair brings down a host of people with him. An early work by a distinguished 20th-century French novelist and his last to be translated into English, this is a novel of ideas featuring a hardened, arrogant man whose predicament doesn't necessarily provoke sympathy. Penetrating if slow-moving, the text winds itself out over 250 pages without a single chapter break. Serious readers will be rewarded, however. Mostly for academic collections.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Over the years, The Imposter has proved to be one of Bernanos's least successful novels, in terms of both critical acclaim and reader interest. It first appeared in 1927 with the notice that it would be continued in a sequel. That work, Joie (1929), was very successful and was translated into English in 1946. But this positive reception did nothing to salvage The Imposter, which appears here for the first time in English, many years after all of the author's other novels. Dealing with the extremely difficult subject of spiritual hypocrisy, its protagonist, a celebrated priest/intellectual who has lost his faith, is not an easy character to portray, and the subject is not of great interest in post-Christian France. The book's merits as a psychological and religious novel have been forgotten, while its most serious shortcoming--its incoherent structure, the result of haste that Bernanos later regretted--has turned readers away. This excellent translation truly brings the original text to life. Its only drawback is the lack of both a critical introduction and notes to clarify certain textual references. For large collections supporting courses in European literature in translation at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. D. O'Connell; Georgia State University