“Alla mia età la morte appare così lontana che l’esperienza quotidiana della nostra propria mediocrità non ci persuade ancora.” – Diario di un Curato di Campagna
“At my age death seems so far away that the daily experience of our own mediocrity is not yet convincing to us.” – The Diary of a Country Priest
I found Diario di un Curato di Campagna or The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos in the bookcase back at home. It was a novel which my mum had said she particularly enjoyed reading when she was growing up. I know this may come across as a superficial observation but I love the way this book looks. Its simple white cover surrounds a painting of a country scene, the fonts are modest and unadorned.
I brought the The Diary of a Country Priest with me to Ireland in an attempt to brush up on my rusty Italian (the book was originally written in French, my copy is a translation) during the darkening autumn evenings. I had a set of assumptions concerning its content and thought the book might be a series of amusing anecdotes about rural life. How wrong I was.
Bernanos’s novel contains elements of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It is an intense story about the existence of a member of the priesthood. The narrative unfolds in a village in the Flemish countryside in the early twentieth century. The protagonist is appointed as the local religious leader. He is an intelligent and enlightened man but suffers greatly from doubt about his own vocation. Many of his parishioners are described as uncouth and sometimes grotesque, they dislike him and mistrust his actions. Nonetheless, the young priest does come across some kindred spirits.
The Diary of a Country Priest is a meditation on religious life. Bernanos, an intriguing personage in his own right and worth reading up on, was educated in Roman Catholic schools in France. His novel is insightful about religion and replete with complex characters who struggle to reconcile a physical existence with a spiritual one.
I read Bernanos’s novel around the time of visiting the Press Café, located in a conservatory round the back of Dublin’s National Print Museum. Their coffee is supplied by Cloudpicker and is deliciously bitter. Combined with a slice of toasted banana bread and butter, an overcast afternoon becomes infinitely more bearable.