Between 1872 and 1873, he produced a volume of verse, Au Bord de la Mer, which was followed by others, the last, Les Aveux, appearing in 1882. Meanwhile, he was making a name in literary journalism and in 1883 he published Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine, studies of eminent writers first printed in the Nouvelle Revue, and now brought together. In 1884 Bourget paid a long visit to Britain, where he wrote his first published story (L'Irréparable). Cruelle Enigme followed in 1885; then André Cornelis (1886) and Mensonges (1887) - inspired by Octave Mirbeau's life - were received with much favour.
Bourget, who had abandoned Catholicism in 1867, began a gradual return to it in 1889, fully converting only in 1901. In 1893, in an interview he gave in America, he spoke about his changed views: "For many years I, like most young men in modern cities, was content to drift along in agnosticism, but I was brought to my senses at last by the growing realization that...the life of a man who simply said 'I don't know, and not knowing I do the thing that pleases me,' was not only empty in itself and full of disappointment and suffering, but was a positive influence for evil upon the lives of others." On the other hand, "those men and women who follow the teachings of the church are in a great measure protected from the moral disasters which...almost invariably follow when men and women allow themselves to be guided and swayed by their senses, passions and weaknesses." These were the themes of his novel Le Disciple (1889), which he wrote, as he says in his American interview, just after abandoning his "drifting and comfortable belief in agnosticism". It is the story of philosopher Adrien Sixte, whose advocacy of materialism and positivism wields a terrible influence over an admiring but unstable student, Robert Geslon, whose actions, in turn, lead to the tragic death of a young woman. Le Disciple caused a stir in France and became a bestseller. Exemplifying the novelist's graver side, it was one of Gladstone's favourite books. John Cowper Powys listed Le Disciple at number 33 in his One Hundred Best Books.
Bourget early in his career.
Études et portraits, first published in 1888, contains impressions of Bourget's stay in England and Ireland—especially reminiscences of the months which he spent at Oxford and in 1891 Sensations d'Italie, notes of a tour in that country, revealed a fresh phase of his powers; and Outre-Mer (1895), a book in two volumes, is his critical journal of a visit to the United States in 1893. Also in 1891 appeared the novel Coeur de Femme, and Nouveaux Pastels, "types" of the characters of men, the sequel to a similar gallery of female types (Pastels, 1890). His later novels include La Terre Promise (1892); Cosmopolis (1892), a psychological novel, with Rome as a background; Une Idylle tragique (1896); La Duchesse bleue (1897); Le Fantôme (1901); Les Deux Sœurs (1905); and some volumes of shorter stories—Complications Sentimentales (1896), the powerful Drames de famille (1898), and Un Homme d'Affaires (1900). L'Etape (1902) was a study of the inability of a family raised too rapidly from the peasant class to adapt itself to new conditions. This powerful study of contemporary manners was followed by Un Divorce (1904), a defence of the Roman Catholic position that divorce is a violation of natural laws. He was admitted to the Académie française in 1894, and in 1895 was promoted to be an officer of the Légion d'honneur, having received the decoration of the order ten years before.
Several new novels were to follow, including La Vie Passe (1910), Le Sens de la Mort (1915), Lazarine (1917), Némésis (1918), and Laurence Albani (1920), as well as three volumes of short stories and plays, La Barricade (1910) and Le Tribun (1912). Two other plays, Un Cas de Conscience (1910) and La Crise (1912) were written by him in collaboration with others. A volume of critical studies appeared in 1912, and another set of travel sketches, Le Démon du Midi, in 1914.
Caricature of Paul Bourget, by Dessins de Rouveyre, 1907.
On 16 March 1914, he was present in the offices of the newspaper, Le Figaro when the newspaper's editor, his friend Gaston Calmette was shot and killed by Henriette Caillaux the wife of a former Prime Minister of France. Her subsequent trial caused an enormous scandal at the time.
He was a contributor to Le Visage de l'Italie, a 1929 book about Italy prefaced by Benito Mussolini.
Bourget died on Christmas Day 1935, aged 83, in Paris.