Bernadette Fournier

We first meet Bernadette Fournier, servant girl at Le Pomme d’Or, in In the Name of the King, and know little of her past beyond that she was ‘born in the army’. Her mother was ‘happy there’, so would probably have been a married woman rather than a camp prostitute, and it seems possible she may have come from quite a respectable background. Certainly Bernadette’s aunt is sufficiently well off to keep her own house at Saint-Jean Aux Bois, and Bernadette herself speaks with a formality that suggests at least a degree of education. It also suggests a woman who is being very careful not to betray any more of herself than she chooses…

She is also frighteningly perceptive, and I think even the formidable interview technique of the Abbé met its match in Bernadette. In the original documents her first interview began with the following preamble, which I have omitted from the final text of In the Name of the King:

You are a strange priest, M. l’Abbé, and there is that in your eyes that tells me you expect to meet lies and are confident in your ability to see through them. I think perhaps you have not yet taken Orders, am I right? That you are an Abbé I believe, for see, I am quite as trusting as you, but I do not think you have taken Orders.

So much the better for us both. If you really wish the truth, Monsieur, and only a man as young as yourself would ask such a thing, then it will not be enough for me to tell you that such and such happened on such a day, for that is not truth, that is fact, and dull as a Saint-Germain sermon. If you wish the truth, then I will give it you, but it will contain much it is uncomfortable for a priest to hear. Yes, Monsieur, I talk of feelings, that which is human but never sounds from a pulpit, I speak of that which is true. Have you the stomach for such a thing, I wonder? Very well, it is a bargain. I shall speak truth and you will listen without judgment, and we shall see who tires first, Monsieur, we shall see.

Is she truthful? I am inclined to think so, if only because she tells us so much to her discredit, but with someone like Bernadette it is impossible to be entirely sure…