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French Forum 26.2 (2001) 67-90

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"L'Eglise Invisible" and "La Maison du Messie Charnel": The Saintly and Prophetic Voices of Les Grands cimetières sous la lune 1

L. Scott Lerner

Drumont and Péguy

In a characteristically audacious moment in Les Grands cimetières sous la lune (1938 ), Georges Bernanos imagines the funeral of his former political ally and "maître," 2 Charles Maurras, as "une grande manifestation d'union nationale"--only to declare that "on n'y verra pas Drumont, ni Péguy, ni moi." 3 Writing in 1937 , six years after his stormy break with Maurras, Bernanos makes his present allegiances clear. That he buries a living "maître" while resuscitating two others, long dead, is not in itself surprising. Nor is it difficult to conceive either Edouard Drumont or Charles Péguy, as Bernanos imagines now one, now the other, snubbing Maurras along with him. It is their proximity that gives us pause. Only in Bernanos, and especially beginning with Les Grands cimetières, do we find Drumont and Péguy hailed as partners in influence. 4 Bernanos, of course, looked well beyond their vehement opposition from either side of the Dreyfusard divide. He saw each as the author of an impassioned denunciation of modern politics and society: Péguy, disabused Socialist turned monarchist, lone defender of mystique over politique; 5 "le vieux" Drumont--after the Affair, after the decline of La Libre parole--obscure prophet of La Fin d'un monde (1889 ). Even if we concentrate on whatever their destinies may have had in common, suspending other associations--Drumont's frenzied vilification of Jews in La France juive (1886 ), Péguy's near-sanctification of Bernard Lazare in Notre jeunesse (1910 )--these two remain an odd pair of masters.

We might ask how the grouping of Drumont and Péguy relates to [End Page 67] the question of whether Les Grands cimetières marks a change in Bernanos's thinking. For his part, he denies that he has changed (386 ). The pamphlet contains several indicators of change or evolution, the most obvious being political. Although Bernanos had already broken with Maurras and L'Action française when he and his family set out for Majorca in October 1934 , it was very much expected that he would back the "Christian" side in the Spanish War. He did, in fact, support the Rebel cause during the early stages of the conflict. This early partisanship, however, was overshadowed by a subsequent condemnation of Franco and his fascist allies and of the role of the Catholic Church of Spain in the war. In contrast to the split from Maurras in 1932 , which, though never to be reversed, had nonetheless been over a relatively trivial political issue, his position on the Spanish War signaled a major turning point. The former member of Les Camelots du roi and L'Action française would go on to oppose the Maurrasians over the signing of the Munich Pact (Scandale de la vérité, 1939 ) and throughout the war he would write on the side of the Resistance (Nous autres Français 1939 ; Lettre aux Anglais, 1942 ). 6

Bernanos's acknowledgment of Drumont and Péguy together as "maîtres" underscores what perhaps ought to be obvious--that his vision was only in the final instance political. Although he was constantly taking political stands and was long an active participant in political debates, he saw the world primarily through a metaphysical lens. At the same time, he never shied from confrontation with what Maurice de Gandillac, speaking about the evolution of thinking on the French Right, has called "la réalité politique":

. . . pour tous ceux qui ont pu subir l'influence de Drumont, de Maurras et d'autres, la ligne de clivage essentielle se situe au moment où ces idées qui étaient, sinon de purs concepts, tout au moins des idées assez abstraites, sont passées dans la réalité politique. Mussolini avait été relativement modéré d...


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