Song of Bernadette falls on deaf ears

Sanctuary of Lourdes
Sanctuary of Lourdes

Fleeing the Nazis as France collapsed, Franz Werfel took refuge in Lourdes. When he reached safety in America, he wrote a fictionalized biography of the peasant girl whose visions brought fame to Lourdes and sainthood to herself. That background is the most interesting part of The Song of Bernadette.

In 1858 Bernadette Soubirous, a dull-witted girl from the poorest strata of French society, is preparing for her first communion. While gathering firewood with some other girls, she sees a vision of a beautiful lady. The vision has scarcely faded before news gets around that the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette, though Bernadette says the lady never identified herself.

When a neighbor claims her son was miraculously healed by water from a spring Bernadette unearthed at the lady’s direction, church and state suspect Bernadette and her family are hatching some scheme to defraud the public.

The public, however, supports Bernadette.

Unable to disprove the healings or find any fraud, the Church hustles Bernadette into a convent where she spends the rest of her life.

Readers will find Bernadette as dull as did the 19th century clergy and politicos who interrogated her. Worse, they’ll find Werfel’s ponderous, page-long paragraphs a real bore.

The Song of Bernadette
Franz Werfel
Trans. Ludwig Lewisohn
Viking Press, 1942
575 pages
1942 Bestseller #1
My Grade: C-

Photo Credit: Sanctuary of Lourdes 1 (2008) Uploaded by optitech

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni