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The Passionate Heart
by Béatrix BECK
Published in 1952
THIS BOOK COUNTS FOR THE FOLLOWING READING CHALLENGES
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
I read this book in French, prompted by one of my French students. I have to say, I had never heard of Béatrix Beck before, or never paid attention to her name (a Goodreads reviewer says her name is mentioned in A Novel Bookstore!), though she won the Goncourt!
Her writing is direct, abrupt even. I found The Passionate Heart to be rather on the dark side, not only because it is set on the background of the French Resistance, but mostly because the faith journey Beck describes never really brings any joy to the one who goes through it. Barny is presented almost liked trapped on her conversion journey, which she embarked as a quasi joke, or at least full of sarcasm towards the Church.
The figure of the priest is very rich and ambiguous: is he really trying to convert this lady? If so, what is his deep motive? Is he trying to flirt with her, as the movie tends to interpret?
The book evolves little by little into short vignettes on different characters, and how these people change. I was a bit surprised by the end, but I guess that was a smart way of resolving the conflict, if conflict there was.
I watched the movie right after, but did not like the way they interpreted the novel: the figure of the priest, played by a young Jean-Paul Belmondo, is made even more ambiguous, the religious and philosophical dialogues do not seem as real as in the book.
If you are looking for something different in French, that’s worth the read. I have not read the English version, so not sure of the quality of the translation.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
The Passionate Heart (French: Léon Morin, prêtre) is a 1952 novel by Béatrix Beck, which won the Prix Goncourt. It was published in the UK as The Priest (1953) and in the US as The Passionate Heart (1953).
A movie version was made in 1961 called Léon Morin, Priest (French: Léon Morin, prêtre), directed and scripted by Jean-Pierre Melville, and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva. Belmondo was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor.
In a small French town during the Occupation, Barny is a young, wayward, sexually frustrated widow, living with her little girl. She is also a communist militant who long ago decided that the easiest way was the best. One day she enters a church, randomly chooses a priest and starts criticizing the religion. But the priest is Leon Morin, who is young, handsome, clever and altruistic. He believes that any sin can be expunged by a good dose of faith, and does not offer her the reaction she was expecting. She is disturbed. She starts frequenting Morin, impressed by his moral strength, while he makes it his mission to steer her onto the right path. [wikipedia]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Béatrix Beck (14 July 1914 – 30 November 2008) was a French writer from Belgian origin.
She was born at Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, the daughter of the poet Christian Beck. After several jobs, she became the secretary of André Gide who encouraged her to write about her experiences: her mother’s suicide, the war, her poverty, etc.
Beck died in Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 2008. [wikipedia]
Photo Louis Monier
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