The Silence of God in the Modern Catholic Novel: Graham Greene and French Catholic Novelists Adopting a Pascalian Deus Absconditus Perspective on Faith, Truth and Reason

By Loddegaard, Anne | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Silence of God in the Modern Catholic Novel: Graham Greene and French Catholic Novelists Adopting a Pascalian Deus Absconditus Perspective on Faith, Truth and Reason


Loddegaard, Anne, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

This paper examines the narrative representation of God in Graham Greene's Catholic novels. On the basis of examples mainly taken from the novel The Power and the Glory (1940) I aim to show that Graham Greene's God is basically a silent God, and that this representation of God is decisive for the modernity of his Catholic works.

Greene's Catholic novels are often, somewhat misleadingly, connected with the literary Catholic revival (1), a term used too inclusively not only about the original current of traditional Catholic literature emerging in France in the 1880s (2), but also about the French Catholic novel of the interwar and post war period. This broad use of the term has the unfortunate effect of creating the impression that all Catholic literature written in this period is essentially traditional and static, thus concealing possible historical, theological and aesthetic changes.

This paper adopts the perspective of change in one specific field of investigation, namely the narrative representation of God. I argue that an important rupture can be observed within this field between the traditional, early revival novel (1880-1914) and a more modern Catholic novel in the interwar and post war period, and that this rupture is closely related to the narrative representation of God. Whereas the early French revival novel constructs a present and communicating God, the new Catholic novel emerging after the First World War constructs an absent and silent God. These two distinct representations of God are constructed by different uses of specific narrative techniques such as characterization, plot, narrative voice and focalisation. In France this new type of Catholic novel is developed by major novelists such as Francois Mauriac, Julien Green and Georges Bernanos, and my purpose is to show that Graham Greene belongs to this group of modern novelists.

I shall also try to point out some interesting parallels between the silent God in the modern Catholic novel and the hidden God in the Jansenist philosopher Blaise Pascal's apology for the Christian faith, Pensees, from 1670. My purpose is not to claim that Graham Greene shares Pascal's Jansenist views in general, but to show that he may be inspired by central aspects of Pascal's Pensees: the consistent use of the human perspective of the individual believer, to whom God necessarily appears as hidden.

The present and speaking God in the early Catholic revival novel

In order to show the novelty of Graham Greene's novels, I shall begin by presenting two examples of the narrative representation of God in the early revival novel. The first example is Leon Bloy's novel La femme pauvre (1897). The setting is the artistic circles of the reactionary Catholic revival movement. The heroine Clotilde is surrounded by flamboyant writers and artists who make vehement speeches against the French anticlerical republic and celebrate the saints, the miracles, the ideal Catholic community of the golden Middle Ages and the necessity to imitate the poverty, humiliation and suffering of Christ. Clotilde embodies all these religious ideas. She is a stock character endowed with the attributes of the traditional female saint: the face of a saint, a pious life in poverty borne with humble nobleness, a disposition to suffer, and mystical gifts resulting in recurrent mystical experiences, presentiments, dreams and visions. The initial prophecy made by an Orthodox missionary that one day she will be consumed by flames (3) is a central leitmotif. One example is when Clotilde wakes up surrounded by flames (her bed curtains have caught fire) after a dream of premonition in which she sees her benefactor being stabbed to death and her future husband Leopold burning to death in flames (La femme pauvre, 236-38).

These predictions are not mere words or imagined inner experiences of the characters, since the predicted events actually happen at the reality level of the novel.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Silence of God in the Modern Catholic Novel: Graham Greene and French Catholic Novelists Adopting a Pascalian Deus Absconditus Perspective on Faith, Truth and Reason
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.